And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.…
We look back upon the career of Judas, who by transgression fell from "this ministry and apostleship"; and, secondly, see what is to be learnt from the election of Matthias.
I. Judas has been described as "one of the standing moral problems of the gospel history." He is not a lay figure, draped in the historical dress provided by the Psalter, a mythical personage. His portrait stands out from the canvas of the Gospels life-like, vivid, .terrible. He is no creation of the imagination, no mere foil to bring out into stronger relief the transcendent virtues of the Christ; but a real man, who betrayed his Master, and then hung himself. He illustrates the possibilities of evil, and the doctrine that "the corruption of the best becomes the worst." And first it must be remembered that Judas "fell." He is sometimes depicted as though he had always had the heart of an alien; and when chosen by our Lord to be one of His apostles, was then a traitor in spirit. This is a mistake. When our Lord said, "Have I not chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?" He says "is a devil." He does not say "was." Judas Iscariot had a genuine vocation to the apostolate; that is, he had in him the makings of an apostle; otherwise, our Lord would not have chosen him. But vocations may be lost. Judas fell through yielding to temptation. Two sins mark the stages of his downward course — avarice and despair. It may be asserted, that however hardening may be the effect of this vice of avarice, when it has led to the committal of some heinous crime the benumbed conscience is often painfully and suddenly aroused from its state of torpor, and filled with dismay. The sinner is startled at the lengths which he has gone. Judas, doubtless, had tampered with the moral faculty, and persuaded himself that though he had betrayed his Master, Christ would, after all, escape from the hands of His enemies. His remorse, when he saw the effects of his treachery, bear witness, not to the absence of covetousness, but to the power of conscience, whose voice, though it may be for a time smothered, will assert itself in terrible tones at last. The disciple was not subjected to the trial without sufficient helps and cautions to enable him, had he willed, to vanquish his dominant passion, and to grow into the likeness of his Master. But a greater sin than covetousness followed — that of despair. The sins which are opposite to those great virtues, Faith, Hope, and Love, which have God for their Object, are sins of a deep dye. They are unbelief, despair, and hatred of God. Among these, despair is especially fraught with danger to us, because it takes away the hope "which recalls us from our sins and lead us to good." Despair is a sin against Divine mercy, that attribute in the exercise of which God is said to "delight." If Judas had sought for mercy, he would have found it. He had the semblance of repentance without its spirit. He had no hope; and, so in a frenzy of despair, he fled from the temple, and ended his life — in the strange and awful language, "that he might go to his own place."
II. We turn now to brighter thoughts. Our Lord chose twelve apostles. It seems to have been important that this number should be preserved. It has been called "emphatically the Church number." It occurs again and again in Holy Scripture. There were twelve patriarchs, twelve altars, twelve precious stones in Aaron's breastplate, twelve judges, twelve wells at Elim, twelve loaves of show-bread. In the Book of the Revelation there are twelve stars round the head of the woman clothed with the sun, twelve foundations and gates of the heavenly Jerusalem. The first act of the apostles after the ascension of Christ is to fill up the gap in their number. Matthias was more than a successor of Judas; he was to take his place, to be invested with the dignity of an original apostle. But note how this vacancy was supplied. First, by united prayer — prayer, mark you, to Christ — they sought to know His choice, Who is the discerner of hearts; and then they cast lots; "and — the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles." The Holy Spirit was not yet given, and thus they resorted to a method which had often been adopted for settling doubtful questions by different nations, that of casting lots, not as any precedent for the Church in the future; but as a means for discovering the mind of God in that interim between the missions of Divine persons, when they were left without a guide. Many are the lessons which may be drawn from our subject. Many are the warnings which it suggests. The excess of hope is presumption; its defect, despair. The history of Judas shows the peril of both. "Be not high-minded, but fear." No office or position can insure us against falling. We see those who have had the highest privileges fall from God. Lucifer and the angels, Adam and Eve, David, Solomon, Peter, and Judas. Secondly, let us, on the other hand, never despair. There is no evil in the creature which the mercy of God cannot remedy — "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." Despair is worse than covetousness: for "with the Lord there is mercy"; it has its home and origin in the Divine character, and "with Him is plenteous redemption."
(W. H. Hutchings, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.