Transition to the Future
The Book of Acts serves as a book of transitions. It takes us from the birth, life, ministry, and teachings of Jesus to the beginning and spread of the church. Within this book of transitions, we see another transition as the Holy Spirit guides the apostles to selecting Matthias to replace Judas and later, Jesus appoints Paul to continue carrying the gospel into all the world.
Although not part of the original twelve apostles, these two men were apostles among the first-century church who faithfully served our Lord, and in doing so, teach us valuable lessons. As one chapter in the ministry of Jesus ends and another begins, we see that God's Word continues and that He is active in the flow of that plan. Let us begin by looking at the choosing of Matthias and his role in that plan.
We learn of Matthias after Jesus had ascended back to heaven (Acts 1:12-26). About 120 disciples, including the remaining 11 apostles gathered in Jerusalem for fellowship and prayer as they waited for events to happen. Peter proposed that another man be chosen to take Judas Iscariot's place among them to maintain their number and ministry (Acts 1). He based his statements on prophecy from Psalm 109:8 and Psalm 69:25.
Peter then offers qualifications for selection: followers of Jesus from John's baptism until the ascension. Matthias and Joseph (Joseph was also called Justus and Barsabbas) were selected as candidates. Scripture does not give us information about them, but based on Peter's stated qualifications and their selection, it is obvious that they had been faithful disciples of Jesus. After praying together, the disciples cast lots to discern who the chosen man would be, and the lot fell on Matthias. Nothing else is stated in Scripture about Matthias.
It is worthy to note a bit about Joseph (also called Justus and Barsabbas), the one not chosen. He had the qualifications Peter put forward. He had demonstrated faith and a servant heart. Further, although not selected, there is no record in Scripture of any hostility or bad feeling because he was not selected. Indications are that he continued to serve in whatever capacity God required of him. Some scholars believe, because of variations in his name that he might be the "Judas called Barsabbas" mentioned in Acts 15:22. If so, we are assured he remained faithful and active in the early church. We all serve in different capacities, and all roles are important to serving the Lord and His church.
Given that this is the only mention of Matthias, it would seem there is little we can learn, but do not discount Matthias' impact. There are insights and lessons to gain even by what is not said.
We learn from Matthias (and Justus) to be faithful.
We clearly see that the two men put forward for decision were first faithful. That is our lesson. We first dedicate our life to Him and commit to faithful living.
Being ready and being faithful are intertwined.
Certainly, none of the disciples thought anyone would need to replace Judas Iscariot. Although the biblical record always states he was the one that betrayed Jesus, it was not known until after he did what he did. Recall that even at the Last Supper, as Jesus stated that one would betray Him, they asked Jesus to identify him. After Jesus' identified him by handing him a piece of the bread and instructing Judas to do what he had to do, they did not understand Judas as the betrayer (John 13:18-29).
None of us knows for certain the future ahead of us, but we must submit our will to God's and be ready to serve as He desires. Our role is to identify our capabilities and dedicate ourselves to making them available for God's service. We might think we know how our Lord wants us to serve, but all too often the opportunity presents itself in ways we least expect.
We also learn that we serve on God's time, not ours.
We can try as we might to move ahead in our service to fit our timetable, or even to seek to delay our submission to Him, but it does not always work out that way. God takes an eternal view and knows the future for us as we do what we can to be ready. Opportunities to serve will always be there, so we need to remain faithful and ready.
Matthias was chosen, but both he and Justus were faithful and ready. The second apostle later chosen was not ready to serve when he was called. Paul had to learn the hard way that God was ready for him.
NOTE: Paul is referred to as Saul until Acts 13:9. For convenience, I will refer to him as Paul.
Paul is first mentioned in Acts 7:58 and Acts 8:1 during the stoning to death of Stephen. In Acts 9, as the church is persecuted and driven out of Jerusalem, Paul is appointed by the High Priest to travel to Damascus to bring the Christians there to Jerusalem to face further persecution. Paul adds additional details of this in Acts 22.
As he nears Damascus, Paul is struck down and blinded by a bright light and hears a voice calling to him, and the speaker identifies Himself as Jesus. He tells Paul to go into Damascus where he will be told what to do. Meanwhile, Jesus tells Ananias, a faithful Christian in Damascus, to go to Saul and teach him what to do.
A point to note: In Acts 9:11 Jesus states that Saul is praying. We can imagine that he was praying like never before and asking God what he needed to do. The immediate answer to that prayer was that he needed to become a disciple of Jesus. That is exactly what Ananias did. He healed Paul and then taught him what he needed to do for his salvation. Paul responds by immediately being baptized, thus making him a disciple of Jesus. Following this, he spent the rest of his life teaching Jesus and building up the church.
It is an understatement to say we can learn things from Paul. Paul would go on to write thirteen of the twenty-six New Testament books, and untold other writings and letters to the Christians of the early church. Some scholars feel Paul also wrote the book of Hebrews, although we do not know for certain.
What We Learn from Paul
Like the rest of the apostles, Paul was not perfect, but he was faithful.
In a moment of introspection, Paul shares with us his thoughts about his failings (Romans 7:14-25). He relates how he continues to do what he knows not to do and does not do what he knows to do. This giant of faithfulness even refers to himself as a "wretched man." Yet in that moment, as always, Paul points us to Jesus and His power to save us from our sins. Paul also stated in Romans 3:23 that all have sinned; "all" includes himself.
Paul teaches us to strive for God's standard of perfection as seen through the saving blood of Jesus Christ and our baptism (Romans 6:1-10).
Paul shows in this passage, and many others that repentance, baptism, and the saving blood of Jesus are inextricably connected.
Like Peter, Paul teaches us what did not come easily to him: humility.
Paul teaches us that humility is a characteristic of Jesus and one in which we must grow. The expression "knocked off his high horse" would fit Paul. As he traveled to Damascus, he was full of himself and the righteousness in his cause. He was literally knocked down and shown that he was indeed the servant, not the master. Paul would often speak about always keeping himself in check and relying on God's power, not his own as he lived to glorify the Lord (I Corinthians 9:24-27).
Paul teaches us how to live as citizens in God's Kingdom.
Paul goes beyond teaching us how to become a citizen in God's Kingdom to focusing on how to live as God expects. Throughout Paul's writings, he teaches us to prepare for service to God in this lifetime with the view that what really matters is being prepared for judgment. Paul takes the principles of godly living and teaches us what they look like in real-time. We spend a lifetime learning how to apply the teachings of Jesus as Paul instructs us in the New Testament.
As we have noted, there is no mention of Matthias beyond his selection to replace Judas Iscariot. Traditions within the Greek Orthodox church-state that after Matthias taught the gospel in the region of Judea, he spread the gospel into Cappadocia and the region of the Caspian Sea. He is also thought to have traveled with the gospel to Ethiopia. There is a tradition that says he was stoned to death in Jerusalem and then beheaded. One other tradition states that he died of old age in Jerusalem. Scripture is silent on Matthias and history offers very little.
Paul we know served our Lord vigorously throughout his lifetime following his conversion. He was a prolific writer, teacher, and defender of the faith and Christians. There is some debate as to how Paul died. We know he endured multiple instances of house arrest and prison. We also know that he recognized his death was eminent as he wrote to Timothy, Titus, and the others (II Timothy 4:6-8). Based on various historical accounts, Paul was apparently beheaded around the same period Peter was crucified (AD 64-66). Beheading would be the form of death due to Paul's Roman citizenship rather than crucifixion since it was against Roman law to execute a Roman citizen by crucifixion.
These two later appointed apostles, Matthias and Paul, give us the overall lesson of preparedness in service to our Lord. The process of preparing for this service begins with our conversion to Christ and continues into eternity. We should always be ready to serve as our Lord needs us. The opportunities are all around us. Paul further teaches us that the service to our Lord is not on our terms, but the Lord's. Paul learned to submit to the Lord, and he teaches us to do so as well.
Matthias would love the song we sing, "Teach Me Lord to Wait."
"Teach me, Lord to wait down on my knees,
till in Your own good time You answer my pleas;
Teach me not to rely on what others do,
but to wait in prayer for an answer from You."
Paul would sing long and loud the song, "Years I Spent in Vanity". He likely would tremble (as the second verse states) as he remembered his life.
"By God's Word at last my sin I learned;
Then I trembled at the law I'd spurned,
Till my guilty soul imploring turned to Calvary."
- Summarize the selection of Matthias from Acts 1:12-26 to replace Judas and what we can learn from the event.
- What are some lessons we can learn from Joseph, the disciple not chosen to replace Judas?
- Summarize the conversion of Saul (Paul) and how this changed his life.
- List some things we learn from Paul's conversion and life.