On a recent trip, we visited the Cathedral Church of St. Andrew in Wells, England, and were able to take part in Evensong on the eve of St. Matthias’ Day. His day used to be commemorated in February, but was moved to the week between Ascension and Pentecost because that’s where his story happens in the first chapter of Acts. Both Matthias and Joseph (or Barsabbas or Justus—maybe he wasn’t chosen because they couldn’t decide what to call him?) were put forth as candidates. In the last instance of casting lots recorded in Scripture, Matthias was chosen.
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.
In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) “For it is written in the Book of Psalms,
‘May his camp become desolate,
and let there be no one to dwell in it’;
‘Let another take his office.’
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.” And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, “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 from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
Acts 1:12-26 (ESV)
Matthias was only elevated because someone else fell. He replaced Judas Iscariot, and it’s not an easy role to take over the reigns from someone who has fallen from grace. It often comes with the smell of suspicion still in the room. We know almost nothing about him outside of Acts, chapter 1.
Here’s the hymn we sang for Evensong:
The highest and the holiest place
Guards not the heart from sin;
The Church that safest seems without
May harbor foes within.
Thus in the small and chosen band,
Beloved above the rest,
One fell from his apostleship,
A traitor-soul unblest.
But not the great designs of God
Man’s sins shall over throw;
Another witness to the truth
Forth to the lands shall go.
The soul that sinneth, it shall die;
Thy purpose shall not fail;
The word of grace no less shall sound,
The truth no less prevail.
Righteous, O Lord, are all Thy ways;
Long as the worlds endure,
From foes without and foes within,
Thy Church shall stand secure.
Henry Alford (1810-1871)
The first two stanzas are worthy of introspection as a sobering reminder that we are never in a safe position. Just like soldiers in uniform are never totally secure from the enemy, neither are we as Christians. Even in a historic cathedral, the enemy lurks. God’s sovereignty, however, shines in verses three, four, and five. Even the deplorable wickedness of our sin cannot stop the plans of God. This is a good reminder on days when the world seems dark and getting darker. The church may be challenged and beleaguered, but God will not abandon his bride.