13 May 2018
15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. 17 He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.”
21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”
23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen 25 to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” 26 Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.
New Testament 1 John 5
9 We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
Gospel John 17
Jesus Prays for His Disciples
6 “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. 8 For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. 9 I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.
13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
How many believers—early church at start of Acts? Hard to believe only 120 people recorded by Luke who were listening to Peter’s address to them. Not just men—Peter refers to them as “Brothers and Sisters.”
How many Methodist chapels in Bucks does this represent in numbers? 6? Yet even after the momentous events of Easter—resurrection of Christ and his appearing to his disciples—gift of the Holy Spirit—Peter can only count 120 people to take forward the great commission given to the believers by Jesus himself. No wonder Jesus in today’s gospel passage prays earnestly to the Father for the followers he will leave behind after his ascension. It’s like we can listen in to what he prays:
11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.
The gap left in the number of apostles by Judas Iscariot was also a first priority for the early church. The number 12 was important to the Jews in very many ways, but how were they to make up the number—who to choose—what qualities they must have—how to go about appointing them?
The background was one of crisis—which explains the priority given to strengthening the leadership.
1. They were frustrated that the resurrection of the dead did not immediately lead to the restoration of Israel—their hopes dashed with the death of Jesus on the cross [Emmaus]—they rose to the pinnacle of expectation on his resurrection. Jesus had told them it was not their business to know the place or the time—nor was it his but God’s own time.
2. The believers were forced to wait—no one likes waiting do they?—in the meantime God would deliver on his promise through Jesus to give them the Holy Spirit—but the longing for restoration never really went away—there was short term thinking—that led to a delay for many years writing down the gospels.
3. There was a leadership crisis—which explains the priority given over other matters to the replacement of Judas. For 3 years Jesus had led them—interpreted the scriptures—taught his disciples—resolved disputes—prepared them for the time when he would no longer be with them. Now they had to work out a transition—how would the group be directed?—who would lead them?
4. They had a short list of two men—Joseph Barsabbas known as Justus—and Matthias. They prayed to God for guidance on how to choose between the candidates—drew lots and Matthias was chosen.
To us today, this sort of recruitment looks like an act of desperation—Matthias does not appear anywhere else in scripture—but there is a tradition that he took the gospel to Cappadocia and the Caspian Sea region.
We know that the extra apostle in effect was not Matthias but Paul—so the choice may not have been for the best and the method of selection crude—but Paul’s vocation revealed by God on the road to Damascus was probably the single most critical factor in the spread of the gospel around the Mediterranean and Roman world.
What are we to make of the fact Jesus hand picked Judas as his disciple—yet after his treachery and betrayal the remaining believers cast lots for his replacement? Sin can appear to triumph and derail our hopes—but in the end we know that God’s will will be done—that is exactly what happened here. Despite the shared prayers of the believers—it was the Holy Spirit that overruled and chose Paul as the twelfth disciple—and the rest, as they say, is history—but the early church moved from only 120 followers to millions in the next 2 or 3 centuries, thanks to Paul the twelfth apostle and his boldness and leadership.
No wonder Jesus prayed for his disciples at some length—and continues to do so, as we offer our prayers to the Father through him.
Today’s gospel reading is actually only a part of the extended discourse by Jesus with his disciples that stretches from chapter 13 to 17. The most significant theme is that of ‘giving’ — mentioned 9 times in this chapter alone. Here are 6 in three verses alone:
6 “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. 8 For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. 9 I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.
Knowing we belong
Both God the Father and the Son are extravagant givers through grace—we are inheritors of the grace given to us through Jesus—and in this state of grace we are enabled to live. We have only to accept the word that comes from God, and believe in him. We are identified as belonging—we belong to Jesus
Knowing the Father’s name
Knowing his name stands for knowing all that God is and has done—if we wonder why we are enabled to know Jesus as Lord, it is because we have been given to him from the very beginning
Knowing the Word
8 For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me.
We are sanctified—made holy—we are sent into the world—belonging to God, knowing his name, and accepting the Word. Guarded and sustained in that Word we can know ourselves as disciple community—constituted in the power of Christ's death and resurrection and in the promise of his presence in the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Counsellor and Comforter—about which we may hear more next week—Pentecost.