I wrote this for Christianity 201, but as I was writing, it evolved into something greater than I intended, so I’m sharing it here. Apologies to those who subscribe to both.
Last month several churches in my area held their annual meetings. Part of this is required by law and is intended to include the election of officers. Because one church has a rather unique take on this, I looked into the choosing of Matthias (to replace Judas Iscariot) in Acts 1, but ended up with a completely different takeaway.
First, the text (all scriptures today are NLT)
20 Peter continued, “This was written in the book of Psalms, where it says, ‘Let his home become desolate, with no one living in it.’ It also says, ‘Let someone else take his position.’
21 “So now we must choose a replacement for Judas from among the men who were with us the entire time we were traveling with the Lord Jesus— 22 from the time he was baptized by John until the day he was taken from us. Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus’ resurrection.”
23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24 Then they all prayed, “O Lord, you know every heart. Show us which of these men you have chosen 25 as an apostle to replace Judas in this ministry, for he has deserted us and gone where he belongs.” 26 Then they cast lots, and Matthias was selected to become an apostle with the other eleven.
Some commentaries believe that they cast lots because they had two equally viable candidates and there was no clear consensus for choosing one or the other.
But it was verse 20 that got my attention; and I left the other consideration aside. Sometimes that happens when you’re reading scripture; you’re looking for topic “A” and find topic “B” jumping out at you!
First, some background. In Matthew 16, Peter starts the chapter doing really well. As the lead follower of Rabbi Jesus, he’s got the right answer.
13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
14 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”
15 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being.
But then things fall apart for Peter a few verses later:
21 From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead.
22 But Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. “Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!”
I think you know what happens next.
23 Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”
What I think is clearly stated here is that Peter is unaware that everything Jesus is doing is following a divine script. It’s “necessary for him to go to Jerusalem.” This is all part of God’s plan. But Peter doesn’t see it that way.
Now, flash forward to where we began, in Acts 1. Peter is invoking two prophetic passages from the Psalms foretelling of the replacement of Judas:
Ps. 69:25 Let their homes become desolate
and their tents be deserted.
Ps. 109:8 Let his years be few;
let someone else take his position.
Suddenly, Peter realizes that he and the other disciples are following a divine script. He sees it as equally necessary for them to appoint a 12th apostle. He gets it!
At first, I thought this was even more remarkable considering Pentecost had not happened. I mistakenly concluded they were not yet filled with the Holy Spirit. This is, after all Acts chapter one, not Acts chapter two where we read:
3 Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. 4a And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit…
But in terms of The Twelve (and any others that were with them at the time) that’s not the case. If we backtrack to the time before Christ’s ascension, John 20 points out:
19 That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. … 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
The point is that Peter is now a changed person, and he recognizes the fulfillment of the Messianic Psalms in everything he is experiencing in his lifetime.
There is another example of the Psalm connection I want to end with. In Matthew 27, we see Jesus on the cross:
46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
This one verse is so rich and contains much we could discuss as to Jesus being abandoned by The Father. But one preacher I heard said that in saying what he did, it was like a giant, neon, flashing billboard saying “READ PSALM 22.” (The people of the day knew the Psalms by their first lines, the numbering system wasn’t around then.)
This is the clearest Psalm in terms of predicting the crucifixion which is taking place at that exact moment:
7 Everyone who sees me mocks me.
They sneer and shake their heads, saying,
8 “Is this the one who relies on the Lord?
Then let the Lord save him!
If the Lord loves him so much,
let the Lord rescue him!”
14 My life is poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart is like wax,
melting within me.
15 My strength has dried up like sunbaked clay.
My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.
You have laid me in the dust and left me for dead.
16 My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs;
an evil gang closes in on me.
They have pierced my hands and feet.
17 I can count all my bones.
My enemies stare at me and gloat.
18 They divide my garments among themselves
and throw dice for my clothing.
Imaging being there and knowing you are right in the middle of everything spoken prophetically in the Psalms.
Peter figured that out, and from this point on his ministry moves on a new trajectory, with confidence and power.