Acts 1:12-26: The Office is Greater than the Man

Most of us don’t realize how much North Africans influenced our Christian thinking.  For instance, they became the first to worship in Latin.  So, much of western Christian thought came from them, as we in the West later adopted the Latin language.

In the first three centuries, a higher percentage of Christians lived in the northern climes of Africa than anywhere else.  So, when the Emperor of Rome tried to snuff out Christianity, those in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia suffered the most.

Over the years, as persecutions came and went, their mindset started to change.  Around the late 200s, some bishops said some sins are unforgivable, such as a divorce, adultery, and apostasy (recanting the Faith).  To this day, the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t commune a divorced person because of the influence of this teaching.

Well, if denying Christ is unpardonable, this put many people in a bind over pastors who caved in during torture.  Now, people began to question the baptisms their pastors performed.  “Are they valid or does my child need a real baptism by a legitimate pastor?”  A dispute over this now scorched the landscape of our Lord’s Church.

Imagine how alarmed the first disciples became when they learned of Judas betraying Jesus.  More than the deceitfulness of his betrayal, reflect on their fear and anxiety.  For Judas did more than bring about the arrest and crucifixion of their Savior.  No, this “son of destruction” (John 17:12) also baptized people (John 4:1), pointing others to Jesus through his words, “Heaven’s Kingdom is at hand” (Matthew 10:5-7).

Like Christians some 300 years later, what about those to whom Judas delivered the Word, Jesus?  Today, we can thank the Truth-revealing Spirit for inspiring Luke to write what He did in the book of Acts.  For he used his ink well, “[Judas] was numbered among us and shared in this ministry.”  In other words, like the other Apostles, God also brought Judas to serve in the Office of Pastor.

Ponder the Bible’s usage of the term “office.”  Today, “office” often refers to a room where people may work.  Not so for Luke.  No, he meant something different, recording Peter speaking to the first congregation about Judas.  “Let another take his office.”

So, “office” doesn’t refer to a physical space where someone works but a position of authority and responsibility.  In what way?  In Luke’s first book, his Gospel, he wrote, “[Jesus] summoned his disciples, and he chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles” (Luke 6:13).  The Lord placed Judas into the apostolic office, where he, likewise, served as a pastor.  To do what?  Ah, Luke again reports, to forgive sins (Luke 5:24, Acts 1:8).

The day before Jesus dies, Judas forsakes his Lord-given office.  So, another must take his place.  Some other man will fill the void, left vacant, which Jesus earlier gave to Judas.  Through the Church, a new man will now exercise the authority Judas discarded, taking up the task, which he abandoned.

Many sometimes wonder if Judas ever followed Christ in faith.  “Hey, what a pretender and hypocrite from the first day.”  Some others give him more leeway, thinking he did believe but later fell away.

Let’s consider Judas as being a phony from the start.  So what?  The point Peter makes takes personal faith off the table.  So, whether Judas believed or not, Jesus still gave him a part in His apostolic work.

Remember the hungry crowd of 5,000 Jesus fed?  With the other disciples, Judas broke apart the five loaves to feed the thousands.  The betrayer’s hands touched and supplied the bread, which Jesus took and gave them to distribute.  Those Judas went to, still ate a miraculous meal, despite a future betrayer distributing the food.

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, John tells us Jesus’ disciples baptized (John 4:1).  Now, these took place before the risen Lord instituted His baptism in the name of the Triune God.  So, those baptisms served the same purpose as John the Baptizer’s, to direct others toward Jesus as the Messiah.

Among those baptizing is Judas.  Later, they learn he is a turncoat.  So, did his sullied character invalidate the purpose of those baptisms?  No, for Christ’s gifts are mightier than the one who distributes them!

Let’s assume again Judas never believed.  Though a fake and fraud from the first, he still proclaimed the words Jesus instructed him to preach: “The kingdom of heaven is near.”  Did his unbelief cancel or nullify the words from his mouth?  No, for the Kingdom Judas preached referred to Jesus.  Many centuries earlier, Isaiah spoke of the power of this Word.  “The Word … will not come back to me empty, but will accomplish what I want and achieve what I intend” (Isaiah 55:11).

Now consider your pastor.  What if I’m an imposter?  The “washing of rebirth” (Titus 3:5), the baptisms I perform, still take place because God’s accomplishing the work.  Also, if I’m preaching what Jesus told pastors to proclaim, the incarnate Word is here as He pledges, working His will.  In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus is still here blessing you with His body and blood, His amnesty, and His life.  For salvation is His doing, so no one may boast and claim credit for what God does, including the pastor.

Consider what Jesus commanded of His Apostles.  In our mind, we recall this phrase, “Make disciples of all nations.”  In the Greek, the word “make” isn’t in our Lord’s commission.  No, “disciple” is, as a verb.  For pastors don’t make anything, they disciple others by baptizing and teaching.  The Lord does the doing, the making.

Let’s ponder something else for a moment.  What if you don’t like the man serving in this Jesus-created Office?  “Yes, you’re all right, pastor, but I prefer the other one a lot better.”  Today, we learn personal preferences don’t matter, any more than if I like or don’t like you.  With faith-illumined eyes, we recognize the distinction between the person in the Office and the Office itself.

So, Judas showed himself unworthy, allowing greed to consume him.  Still, this shouldn’t change how we think of the Office in which he served.  For Jesus established this Office, which means to disrespect the Office is to dishonor Jesus.  An immoral Office-holder doesn’t make the Office unholy, for its holiness comes from Christ.

So, Jesus appointed Judas to be a pastor, which is why another filled “his office.”  For if Judas didn’t become a real pastor, another didn’t need to occupy his vacant office.  So, when an office becomes open or abandoned, God will provide, in His way and time, as He did so with Matthias.

The Office of the Holy Ministry isn’t shriveled away by an incompetent pastor, for Christ chose and put both in place for His purposes.  All pastors are temporary, who arrive, serve, and go, who die as you one day will.  The Office, however, will remain until Christ returns on the Last Day.

Think about the implications of this!  Such a wondrous truth God gives us this day.  For your forgiveness, redemption, and righteousness depend on the faith-creating, life-generating Word, not the piety of some pastor.  Of this, our Lutheran fathers wrote:

Though a scoundrel takes or distributes the Sacrament, a person still receives the real Sacrament, Christ’s body and blood … For His Supper is not founded on human holiness but the Word of God.  [Formula of Concord, SD VII.  24].

Yes, God works through pastors, but a pastor’s lack of virtue doesn’t destroy what God promises to accomplish through them.  Through the heaven-sent Spirit working through the Word, you come to believe.  So, if you discover your pastor is sinful, which he is, do not let this fact demolish your faith.  For when another filled the Office vacated by Judas, this shows us our faith grounds itself, not on a fallen man, but on the Giver of the Office, Jesus.

For your everlasting deliverance, God placed me in an office to convey His pardon.  Still, I am a corrupted creature, as you are.  So, if I trip up when carrying out my pastoral duties, please don’t allow my sin to impede what God achieves through His Office.  Glimpse beyond the sin-infected man and focus on Christ coming through His Pastoral Office, which He established for your comfort, certainty, and salvation.

The betrayal of Jesus is a dark and sad story.  Through the Scripture, we discover God enters those dank and dour places to shine His light on us.  For unbelief doesn’t hinder the Holy Spirit.  So, He can turn the labors of the wicked and work them into something valuable.  Doesn’t our Redeemer’s cross reveal this to be true?  Yes!

An unbelieving pastor doesn’t destroy the Almighty’s work, for He creates and fortifies faith, not the individual pastor.  Through another pastor, named Judas, an unbeliever, God shows us the restoration we receive in Christ.  In His love, God reveals your eternal well-being is too valuable to leave to the faith or strength of a mortal pastor.

In my duties, I don’t bring you Jesus’ forgiveness because I think you deserve His absolution.  No sinner deserves His divine acquittal, which is why God saves us by grace.  No, I forgive your failings because of the Office into which God places me, which authorizes me to do what I do.

The Office is more than the pastor.  Thank God!  For this means the forgiveness, life, and salvation I speak to you is not my own, which would be useless, but Christ’s.  Now, this changes everything into all eternity!  So, “as a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  Amen.