I was not the least bit athletic as a kid. I could tell you story after story of my klutzy ineptitude.
And I really, really dreaded gym class.
It wasn’t just that I couldn’t do a push up or climb a rope. It’s that my deficits would get rubbed in my face every time we played team sports. Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about. You know what it’s like to be the last person chosen for a team, or worse — to be treated as a negative bargaining chip (“Okay, I’ll take him if you take that other loser”).
Guess I’m not quite over it yet, am I? Just give me another five decades or so.
It’s from that perspective that I wonder about the story in Acts 1 of the choosing of Matthias as a replacement for Judas. Two candidates were proposed. By lot, Matthias was chosen, and Joseph, who was called Barsabbas (possibly because he was born on the Sabbath), was not.
Did Matthias feel like the winner? And did Barsabbas walk away feeling like a loser?
The answer is… Luke couldn’t care less.
But let’s back the story up a bit.
As we’ve seen, Peter noted the absence of Judas and led the charge to replace him. The fact that Jesus chose twelve disciples had always been meant as a sign pointing to God’s renewal of the twelve tribes of Israel. Eleven simply wouldn’t do. But note that later, in Acts 12, James the son of Zebedee will be martyred, and no move will be made to replace him — so it’s not a matter of needing twelve apostles to share the administrative workload.
Why, then, did Judas need to be replaced?
Judas’ betrayal not only removed him from the immediate ministry of witnessing to the resurrection, it removed him from the role of being one of the judges of the twelve tribes of Israel after Jesus’ return (Matt 19:28). A resurrected James could still fulfill that role. Judas, however, could not, because — to put it euphemistically — he had “turned away to go to his own place” (Acts 1:25, CEB).
A fiery one at that.
Peter suggested that the person chosen to complete their number be someone who had been with them since day one, when Jesus was baptized. Two candidates were put forward: Matthias and Barsabbas. The group began by praying for God to reveal his will through the lot they were about to cast.
Though the use of lots is controversial today (imagine choosing elders, deacons, or board members by drawing numbers out of a hat), there’s good precedent for that procedure in the Old Testament. Note, too, that the word for “lot” is the same one used to describe Judas’ “allotment” or “share” in the ministry in verse 17. As God directed the first choice, so they prayed that God would direct this one. The lot fell to Matthias. He was the chosen one, and Barsabbas was out.
But this wasn’t a contest or lottery. There were no spiritual winners or losers.
We know nothing of the two men from Scripture, beyond what is said here. Some ancient sources give us legends: Barsabbas, to convince unbelievers, drank snake venom and lived; Matthias was a missionary to Ethiopia.
But we have to keep all of this in perspective, given the tale Luke intends to tell. With the exception of Peter, James, and John, Scriptures is also silent about the rest of the Eleven, and as mentioned above, James will be killed. Peter will play a large part in the early going, but will then be supplanted by Paul, who doesn’t meet the qualifications to be one of the Twelve.
Luke, in other words, is simply more interested in telling Theophilus about the mission to the Gentiles rather than the mission to the Jews. He gives us one angle a much bigger story than anyone can know or tell: God’s story. It’s not about the individual players. It’s not even about the team. It’s about the Spirit-driven movement of God’s grace to every corner of the world.
That’s why Paul can speak of himself as the last guy to be chosen for the team (1 Cor 15:8-9) — and rejoice that he was chosen at all.
If you’re a follower of Jesus, you’re on his team. You shouldn’t bench yourself, and you don’t need to be the star player.
You just need to get in the game.