“Filling the Office” (Acts 1:12-26)

Seventh Sunday of Easter
May 16, 2021

“Filling the Office” (Acts 1:12-26)

Let’s see, where are we on the calendar? On the church-year calendar, I mean. This past Thursday was Ascension Day, forty days after Easter. Fifty days after Easter–that’s next Sunday–will be the Day of Pentecost. So now we’re in the ten-day period between Ascension and Pentecost. Our reading for today from Acts puts us into that time frame. We’re with the apostles and other believers in Jerusalem in the days immediately following Christ’s ascension. And we’re waiting for the ascended Lord to pour out the Holy Spirit, which he promised would happen soon. So we’re in that in-between time.

But during this in-between time, there is some important business to conduct. Because a vacancy has occurred in the pastoral office. One of the twelve apostles has fallen by the wayside, and his spot needs to be filled. Our text, from Acts 1, is the story of the filling of that office. And so our theme this morning: “Filling the Office.”

But this story has meaning for us beyond what happened way back then. Indeed, it tells us of our Lord’s ongoing care for his people. It tells us of our Lord Jesus Christ and what he has done and continues to do for us. It tells of how Christ continues to fill the Office of the Holy Ministry, which he has given to his church. And it tells us that he will equip all of us to fulfill the various offices we have in our lives. May our ears be open, then, to hear the word that God has for us today.

As I say, a pastoral vacancy has occurred in the first church. Oh, not that there aren’t any pastors around! In fact, there are eleven of them: Peter, James, John, Andrew; Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew; another James, Simon, and Jude. Jesus himself had selected and trained these men as his disciples. He had designated them to be apostles, “sent ones,” commissioned to go and preach in his name. And so these eleven are there to serve in that capacity.

But the thing is, there should have been twelve! One of the twelve, Judas Iscariot, had fallen out along the way. More than that, he had betrayed the Master. For a sack of silver, Judas handed Jesus over to the authorities, who hated him and crucified him. Judas betrayed the trust that the Lord had placed in him. He forfeited his office, even as he took his own life. So now the number of apostles is down to eleven.

Which raises the question: Why not leave it there? What difference does it make whether there are eleven apostles or twelve? After all, soon there would be other pastors coming along to help spread the gospel. They wouldn’t be apostles, but they still would be pastors. What’s the big deal about having twelve apostles rather than eleven? In our text, Peter says that there “must” be someone to take Judas’s place. But why was it necessary? Why not just leave the position vacant and go with eleven?

Well, this is where we see what our Lord has in mind by filling this office. He had picked twelve in the first place. Now he is going to have his twelve, after all. Eleven would be incomplete. That’s because of what the Lord is doing. He’s having himself a people, that’s what he’s doing! He’s forming a people for himself, and that will take twelve, not eleven, to lead the way.

Think back to the Old Testament people of God. When God decided to set aside a people for himself, he did it through a twelve–the twelve sons of Jacob–literally, the children of Israel. These twelve patriarchs–Judah, Reuben, Simeon, and so on–these men established the twelve tribes that would bear their names. They were the foundation of the Old Testament people of God, the people from whom would come the Messiah, the people who thus would be a blessing to all the peoples of the earth.

So now, when the Lord is about to form a new people, the church of the New Testament, once again he is going to have himself a twelve. He arranges for a twelfth man to be chosen to fill out that number. The company of believers pray: “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship.” And Matthias is the one chosen. So now we’re back to twelve. The number of the apostles signals what the Lord is doing, what he’s about. Eleven just won’t do. There’s got to be a twelve. Because the Lord is having himself a people.

Brothers and sisters, you and I are part of that people, the church. We are the church, the “one holy Christian and apostolic church,” built on the foundation of the apostles, Christ Jesus himself being the chief cornerstone. We are the church, the people of God formed by his grace. We are the people called to declare that grace, the good news of salvation in Christ, and thus be a blessing to the world around us. For the Lord will have himself a people in this world, a people belonging to him, a people who will carry out his mission in the world. And you and I are privileged to belong to his people, the church.

Not only does our text tell us of our Lord’s intent to have a people, it also tells us about what our Lord Jesus did to save us. Peter says: “So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us–one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.”

Notice the qualifications for the replacement apostle. They don’t have so much to do with the man himself as with his simply having been around while Jesus was doing his ministry! The new apostle would be one who had been with Jesus from the time of his baptism to his ascension. He would be one who had seen Jesus resurrected from the dead. The new apostle then would bear witness to what he had seen and heard. He would testify to what he knew about Jesus. These qualifications have more to do with Jesus than with the man himself. Because an apostle does not preach himself, he preaches Jesus Christ as Lord.

The Lord Jesus, baptized by John in the Jordan, taking his place alongside sinners, setting out on his journey to the cross. The Lord Jesus, betrayed, arrested, and crucified, taking the place of us sinners, dying the death we deserve by our sins. The Lord Jesus, risen from the dead, showing forth his victory over sin and death and hell for us. The Lord Jesus, taken up into heaven at his ascension, there to pour out his Spirit on his people, there to guide and govern his church until the day he returns to take us home to be with him forever.

This same Lord Jesus is the one to whom the apostles continue to bear witness to this day. By the witness of their lives, by the testimony of their teachings, recorded in the pages of the New Testament, the apostles still point us to the one who is our life, the Lord Jesus Christ. Our text today tells us not so much about Peter or Matthias or any of the others, as it tells us of Christ, our wonderful Savior, our risen and ascended Lord.

The apostolic office bears witness to Christ. And the Lord will not have that holy office left vacant. He filled it. Now the office of apostle of Christ was a unique and unrepeatable position, limited to those men personally selected by Christ for the foundation of the church. But the apostolic ministry has its successor today in the pastoral office. And Christ continues to fill that office also, with men who likewise bear witness to him.

Christ selects and sends men today to be pastors in his church. He puts men into that holy office. Out of his great love and care for you, he has chosen a pastor for this congregation. He has filled the office here. And what is the office that pastors carry out? It is the Office of the Holy Ministry. Your pastor preaches the gospel to you. He tells you the good news of your Savior. Pastors administer the sacraments, according to Christ’s institution. Your pastor baptizes new children of God. Your pastor places in your mouth the body and blood of Christ for your forgiveness. By virtue of his office, the pastor absolves you of your sins, in the stead and by the command of his Lord Jesus Christ. Your pastor is your shepherd–that’s what the word “pastor” means, “shepherd.” His task is to guide the flock to where there is good food to eat. He guards the sheep from danger to their souls. Your pastor is an undershepherd of Christ, the Chief Shepherd.

The fact that Christ sends you a pastor shows how much he cares for you. The same love he showed when he laid down his life for the sheep, Christ now shows by sending pastors in his name. The Lord is having himself a people, and he fills the office he has established, so that the people of God will be fed and strengthened and protected in their faith.

What’s more, the God who made sure that the apostolic office would be filled, the God who makes sure that the pastoral office is filled–this same God will make sure to help you in whatever office or vocation you serve: husband, wife, father, mother, employer, citizen, church member, you name it. His word will supply you with the wisdom, perseverance, and love you need to do the job. His forgiveness will more than cover the failings that you and I will surely have as we stumble along the way.

Today we have seen how the Lord filled the office of apostle–all twelve spots filled, none left vacant. We have seen how the Lord fills the office of pastor, the successor to the apostolic ministry, also for the good of his church. And God will help you to fill your office, your particular calling in life, whatever that may be. For the Lord is having himself a people, and he will see that the job is done right. Just look at the one who is doing it: Jesus Christ, who perfectly fills his office as Lord of the church and Savior of sinners!

Published in: on May 15, 2021 at 10:04 am  Leave a Comment  
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