Rejoice that Your Name Is Written in Heaven.
Sexagesima Sunday | St. Matthias, Apostle – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Acts 1:15-26
In Christ Jesus, who through His Word and Sacraments equips us and strengthens us for the work He has given us to do, dear fellow redeemed:
We know very little about the life of Matthias the Apostle. We do not know what his hometown was or his trade before becoming a disciple of Jesus. We do not know anything about his age, his personality, or his social standing. Some historical sources indicate that after becoming an apostle he worked near modern-day Turkey where he was killed. Others suggest that he was stoned and beheaded in Jerusalem. Ultimately those details—as interesting as they might be—are not important.
What is important is the reason Matthias was considered for the office of apostle: he had followed Jesus from the time of His baptism all the way to His ascension. Matthias must have witnessed many of the events recorded about Jesus in the four Gospels. He was not selected as one of the original twelve disciples, whom Jesus later named “apostles” (Luk. 6:13). But it is assumed that he was among the seventy-two, whom Jesus appointed to go ahead of Him “into every town and place where he himself was about to go” (10:1). They were supposed to proclaim to all the people they met: “The kingdom of God has come near to you” (v. 9).
When the seventy-two returned from their mission, they were filled with joy. They said to Jesus, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” (v. 17). And Jesus replied, “do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (v. 18). What a statement that was! An even greater thing than the power to cast out demons, was to have one’s name recorded in heaven.
Matthias may well have remembered Jesus’ words when he was one of two put forward by his brothers to become an apostle. Of the two men, the Lord chose Matthias. So Matthias now stepped into the office vacated by the death of Judas Iscariot. This would have been humbling. Judas had followed Jesus like Matthias had. He had heard and seen what Matthias had. But Judas let himself be overcome by Satan. He was greedy (Joh. 12:6). He even agreed to betray Jesus to the Jewish authorities for thirty pieces of silver (Mat. 26:15).
Peter told the brothers that this betrayal had been prophesied long before in the Psalms by David. Psalm 69 told of those who hated the Lord without cause and desired to destroy Him (v. 4). Therefore the Lord cried out to God for retribution, “May their camp be a desolation; let no one dwell in their tents” (v. 25). And a couple verses later, “Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous” (v. 28). These verses applied to Judas. He had every good blessing from God but threw them away for earthly gain. By rejecting his Savior, Judas was rejected by God.
His terrible fall was a warning not just to Matthias and the other apostles, but it is for us as well. The devil is constantly trying to destroy our faith. He would like nothing more than for our names to be blotted out of the Book of Life. We could think on the one hand that the devil won’t bother with us. We don’t have nearly the prominence or status that Judas did. But on the other hand, if one of the chosen twelve disciples of the Lord could fall, we certainly could too.
Whatever good thing the Lord has prepared for you to do, the devil and his fellow demons want to ruin it. If you are a member of a congregation, the devil wants you to become secure in your sin or to find things to criticize in others. If you have a good reputation at your job, the devil wants you to become proud or to take advantage of your status for wrong purposes. If you are a parent, the devil wants you to resent your children or to spoil them. If you are a child, the devil wants you to disobey your parents or try to manipulate them.
The devil is a liar. He wants you to think that you deserve more, and that you can take what you don’t have without losing what you do. In other words, he wants you to ignore all the blessings God has given you (blessings too many to count) and to desire things that God has not given you.
Judas was chosen to be one of the Twelve. He was selected to accompany Jesus—the God-Man, the incarnate Christ—in His earthly work. He heard the promise Jesus spoke, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Mat. 19:29). But Judas thought thirty pieces of silver was more appealing than the glories of heaven.
Now Judas was replaced – “Let another take his office.” Matthias had known Jesus personally, but his most important qualification was that he had witnessed Jesus’ resurrection. That was the key. Matthias was now called to join the apostles in preaching Christ’s atoning death and His resurrection.
Without the resurrection, the apostles would have never left the security of their self-imposed prison following Jesus’ death. His resurrection changed everything. As the Catechism students can tell you, the resurrection of Christ proved that He is the Son of God, that He has made full satisfaction for sins, that all who believe in Him will also rise, and that He is now with us to help us forsake sin and live a new life (ELS Catechism, chapter 20, paragraph 165).
If the traditions are accurate, every one of the apostles faced violent opposition for preaching this message. How could they carry on? Why didn’t they lose courage? It was because a dead Man had come back to life. Jesus had risen! That meant He was the Lord of all, whom no earthly power or authority could overcome. When Peter and John were summoned before the leading Jewish Council, they boldly declared, “we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). The apostles would not have been willing to die for a lie, but they were willing to die for the truth.
It was a privilege for Matthias to be chosen as an apostle, but the privilege came at a cost. The Lord who gave His life for Matthias, asked for Matthias’ life in return. He asked for Matthias’ faithfulness to Him and His holy Word, even when the temptations of the world were great and he was surrounded by terrifying enemies. I expect there were many times that Matthias wondered why he had been chosen to succeed Judas instead of “Joseph called Barsabbas” or someone else.
You have probably wondered something like this too in your own callings. Why did God put you in your family, where maybe you had to face a lot of challenges? Or you could wonder why God didn’t let you pursue your dreams, and you feel like you got stuck where you are. Or maybe you have had to shoulder more responsibility for family members or friends than you think you can carry. The devil would tempt you to run away from these callings, to go where your heart is leading you, to put yourself first.
But in the middle of these doubts and struggles, Jesus says, “Come to Me.” “Come to Me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” The burden of living a life to God’s glory can feel awfully heavy at times. That is mostly because our sinful nature wants to pull us in the opposite direction of our life of faith. But with our eyes fixed on Jesus, who carried the heaviest burden before us, our burdens become much lighter.
Matthias was cheered by the same promises that cheer us. He had not volunteered himself for the position of apostle; God chose him for the work. And the One who died and rose again promised to be with him “always, to the end of the age” (Mat. 28:20). God has also chosen you for your work, and He promises to be with you always.
Like Matthias, you may often go through life unnoticed, with the attention on others. For all we know, Matthias was content with this. But then God called him out of the shadows, so to speak, and made him one of the Twelve. You don’t know what God might be preparing for you either. You may feel like most of the things you do go unnoticed. You may even wonder at times about the value of your life.
But God sees you. He has plans for you. In many ways that you don’t even think about, He is already blessing the people around you through your humble service. “For [you] are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that [you] should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). God has called you to do important things in your life, because your love for others is a reflection of His love. He does His work through you, just as He proclaimed the Gospel through Matthias and the other apostles.
You can go about this work He has prepared for you with joy, knowing that Jesus forgives all your failures and rights all your wrongs. Your glory is not in your own accomplishments or the honor given you for a job well done. Your glory is in Jesus, who died for you, and who rose again triumphant over death itself. Because of what He has done in your place, you have every reason to dedicate your life to Him. And along with Matthias and all the faithful, you can Rejoice that Your Name Is Written in Heaven.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(painting by James Tissot of Jesus sending out the seventy-two disciples by twos)