Connections 05.12.2024: Out of the Crowd

Acts 1:12-17, 21-26

After Jesus’s ascension (Acts 1:1-11) and before the festival of Pentecost (Acts 2), Jesus’s followers gather in Jerusalem, where they are “constantly devoting themselves to prayer” (1:14). They have a task before them: to find someone to fill the place of Judas Iscariot, the once-disciple who had betrayed Jesus and had died (quite dramatically, according to Acts 1:16-20). The eleven remaining disciples of Jesus need to restore their original number before they take up Jesus’s ministry in his absence.

This story of the calling of a new twelfth disciple may be familiar to modern readers of Acts, mostly for the manner in which the disciples decide between the two candidates, Justus and Matthias. To choose Judas’s replacement the disciples pray for God’s guidance, then they “cast lots.” (Wikipedia lists many biblical and some modern instances of casting lots or “cleromancy,” based on the word kleros or “lots.” The article also notes the linguistic connection between the word “cleromancy” and the words “cleric” and “clergy.”) But before this there is a fascinating detail that is almost unsaid.

We might typically think of Jesus’s followers as a fairly small group of the twelve disciples and a few faithful women. But when Peter addresses the believers who have gathered in Jerusalem, he speaks to a crowd of around a hundred and twenty people. Out of that large group the disciples want someone who has “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” (1:22). We don’t know how many people in the crowd that day met these conditions, but there were at least two—and we can presume there may have been more. This crowd is not just a mob of rubberneckers; these are faithful witnesses, some of whom have been with the disciples throughout Jesus’s ministry. Out of this crowd of witnesses the disciples will call out someone who can continue to be “a witness with us to his resurrection.” Out of this crowd, they will be called to serve.

Discussion

  • How does it change your perception of the Gospels to recognize that there were other faithful people who were part of Jesus’s whole ministry?
  • Why do you think it was important to Peter and the remaining eleven disciples to call someone who had been with them from the beginning and who had witnessed Jesus’s resurrection?
  • Peter wants to replace Judas with someone who had “accompanied us… until the day when he was taken up.” Note that Judas himself did not meet that requirement—he had been absent after his betrayal, and then had died. Peter wants someone who had personally been a witness of Jesus’s ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension so that that person can now “be a witness with us to his resurrection.” What do you think Peter means about being a “witness” in the days ahead? What might the new disciple expect to do going forward?
  • How can you relate to Matthias and Justus, and to other followers who were not in the “inner circle” of disciples and yet were faithful to Jesus from start to finish? Could it be that, like them, you are being prepared to answer a call to serve? How would you know?

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is the lead editor of Connections. She is a graduate of Samford University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary. She and her husband Scott and sons Sam and Levi live in St Louis, Missouri. In recent years, Nikki has written Smyth & Helwys curricula as well as devotionals for d365.org and Baptist Women in Ministry. She weaves clergy stoles, knits almost anything, and dreams of making her dreadful novel drafts into readable books. She blogs about faith and making things at amovingyarn.com.

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