After Jesus left to return to his place by the Father’s side, there was still a short period in which they had to wait for the promised Holy Spirit to be sent. So what to do in the meantime? They weren’t supposed to be his witnesses until they were led and empowered by the Spirit. They weren’t supposed to travel anywhere—they were directed to stay in Jerusalem until he gave them the “Green Light.”
Before we get to what they ended up doing, let me make a couple of notes about the setting. Luke lists the eleven remaining apostles, along with some other believers. The author makes special mention of two other groups, and since every word of Scripture is significant, we might want to take a quick look. First, Luke tells us that the group of Jesus’ followers were praying along with “the women” and Mary the mother of Jesus. Please notice that they were not praying to Mary. I have some dearly beloved Catholic friends, but—to be quite frank—the very notion that we need to pray to Mary (or any other person besides Deity) is blasphemous. I know they don’t mean it to be, but it is. We have one Mediator between us and the Father, and he's all we need or could want. This is the last time that Mary is mentioned in all of Scripture. After this, the Spirit didn’t see fit to mention her any further. The book of Acts, the letters of Paul, Peter, James, John, the author of Hebrews—none of these tell us anything further about her. She fulfilled her (admittedly unique and honored) role in God’s redemptive plan, and then she faded from history.
The other group he refers to are the (half) brothers of Jesus. Just eight months prior they were not believers in Jesus at all. Then something changed, and they became followers of Christ and eventual leaders. James was the leader of the church in Jerusalem and wrote the book of the N.T. that bears his name. Also people tend to forget that the book of Jude was also written by a brother of Jesus. The only explanation I’ve ever heard that makes sense is that Christ himself appeared to James personally after the Resurrection.
Then we get to the main story today. Peter stood up in front of all the gathered believers (about 120) and made an announcement/proposal. He quoted Scripture from the Psalms which predicted the betrayal of Judas, and made some commentary about the traitor’s fate. Then came the proposal. He submitted that they should cast lots for--and thus designate--a successor to Judas.
Now, I’m going to put forward a pretty radical notion, but I have some evidence to back me up: I think Peter and the disciples were well-intentioned but dead wrong to do this. Can you find for me one scrap, one scintilla of evidence to support what they did? Did Jesus ever mention his intention to fill the spot right now? The last recorded instructions from our Lord were to wait for the Holy Spirit to come.
With every ounce of respect due, is there any direct evidence that they actually sought God’s guidance on this? Look carefully at the prayer they prayed: “Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry.” Not "Please show us what the next step should be. Do you want us to go ahead and appoint a successor, or wait?" What if I prayed thus: “Father, I’ve already decided that I’m going marry one of these two girls. Please show me which one I’m supposed to marry within the next six months.” I’ve already decided what I’m going to do, and I want God to bless it. If there's any point at which they did pray for guidance from the Lord as to whether or not a new Apostle needed to be named, it's not recorded.
And here’s something else to consider. The lots chose Matthias. I'm sure he was a wonderful follower of Jesus. Although I'm not condemning the use of lots as categorically sinful, I have to point out that after this incident there's never any recording of believers--indwelt by the Spirit--using lots to make a decision. I can't say that someone is definitely sinning when they use lots or dice or something similar in making decisions, but something about it really doesn't seem appropriate in our post-Pentecost age.
But there is one other, a man who called himself an apostle on the same level as the other Eleven, who was certified as an apostle by the church and by the other Eleven, and who went on to perform miracles, open up doors for the Good News, and who wrote half the New Testament. But the disciples in chapter one, without the advantage of the Holy Spirit (who didn’t come until chapter two), decided that they needed a replacement right here and right now. Everything in this passage looks all the world like apostles taking it upon themselves something which was a unique prerogative of the Lord himself.
I might need to remind you of this principle, and it applies to the rest of the book of Acts: Narratives only tell us what happened, not necessarily what should've happened. We interpret narrative portions by using the didactic (teaching) portions. The Sermon on the Mount is a didactic portion of Scripture. The Mosaic Law is didactic. We can't simply look at what someone (no matter how noble his character) did, either in the O.T. or N.T. and follow his example blindly. And I would point out that while the writings of the Apostles (and their chosen delegates) are infallible, Paul's public calling out of Peter--as recorded in the book of Galatians--shows that their actions, even after Pentecost, were still liable to mistakes.
Keep in mind that an "apostle" literally is a "sent one." There's a sense in which each one of us as followers of Jesus is a "sent one," but there are twelve men whom Jesus chose as his special and authoritative representatives who had unique authority to speak for him. As best as I can tell, it looks all the world like Mathias was chosen by men, not the Lord.
But let me say--for the sake of fairness--that there are tons of Bible teachers whom I highly respect who disagree with me and who approve of what the disciples did here. For the reasons I've just stated, we just interpret this story very differently. It's not a hill I'd die on.***
Assuming that my interpretation is correct, however, then I see a pretty big application here. We now have the Holy Spirit. There’s no further precedent of lots to be found in Scripture. But even with the Spirit living within us, we tend to “jump the gun” and go forward without consulting the Source of all Wisdom. And then we wonder why things didn’t work out like we planned. Duh.
Father God, you're the Source of all wisdom and all goodness. When I tend to go with my own plan, please rein me in. Please give me listening ears and a soft heart.
***If you strongly disagree with me on my interpretation of this passage and want to pursue it in further depth, then you can take a look at this if you're so inclined. I did some research and laid out the best of the arguments I could find against my position. I then examine them and go into detail as to why I end up leaning towards the position I hold here. Be warned, it's eight pages long and goes into some depth on this issue.
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