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“Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.” And they proposed two: Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, “You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.” And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias. And he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
(Acts 1:21-26)

Dear fellow saints in Christ Jesus, our Savior: 

Before us today are two relatively obscure saints: Joseph Barsabbas and Matthias. Perhaps you remember Matthias as the one who filled Judas Iscariot’s place in the chosen circle of the twelve, while Joseph Barsabbas, nominated for that position but not chosen, disappears into obscurity.

Behind that lies the lesson. “To whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:48). To both of these men God had given three years of in-the-field experience whereby they saw the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus; they received a wonderful soul-saving and life-enriching discipleship; they also witnessed the resurrection, the turning point in the history of the world.

So while both Joseph and Matthias were equally qualified for the holy Christian ministry, only one of them could fill the empty apostleship and be elevated to the full-time, life membership of the Twelve; the other would probably remain one of the many obscure saints among other thousands in the early Church.

Did Joseph have no holy calling, therefore, and does not the ordinary Christian in the pew serve Jesus with witness and testimony? Do not our congregations have and need ordinary saints in the pews?

Picture to yourself Joseph Justus, graduated from the seminary, presented to the Church as a 100% qualified candidate, ready and willing to serve—but not being called to rank among the Twelve. Do you think he left the meeting in a sulk, nursing a wounded pride and becoming sour about the whole thing of discipleship?

NO, for Joseph was still one to whom much had been committed by Jesus, and Jesus still required of Joseph that he be found faithful. After Jesus had bypassed him for Matthias, Joseph turned his attention back to the work he could do in the congregation as a dedicated Christian; he was faithful in humble duties. He lived by the principle, “Let this mind be in you [every obscure saint among us] which was also in Christ Jesus, who humbled Himself and became obedient…” (Philippians 2:5-8). Christian congregations grow and thrive if they have such people among them! Your name belongs there!

If we return for a moment to Matthias—what was his new assignment? He got the privileged responsibility of being one of the twelve apostles–to do what? To have a full load of work for Jesus; to have heady responsibilities and heavy labors, to be charged with duties of the highest order of Christian discipleship. His pastoral ministry would be not only difficult but dangerous as he shared the lifestyle Jesus led, receiving tribulation, cross, and even death—as Stephen also was soon to experience.

One might be tempted to say, “Who needs it?

Let’s face it: our pastors live under heavy burdens; every day they see sinners self-destructing. It eats away at a conscientious pastor to see teenagers turn away from the Center of their soul-life and to see young couples raising children without piety and godliness.

Further, the pastor in a large congregation has little time to relax, and he craves more time for soul-enriching study of the Word. The phone gets him out in the dead of night for crisis intervention and family counseling; he agonizes to find ways to help parents with their wayward daughter or rebellious son; he endures the heartache of seeing the younger generation growing up to reject the wisdom of their elders and head down paths that will bring them much sorrow.

Why serve in such a ministry? Because it is sharing in God’s efforts to save souls from hell and for heaven.

Only Jesus’ power from His throne of grace makes Christian pastors sufficient for these things! Jesus enables pastors to endure all, knowing the goal is worth the struggle, for every soul is priceless! God puts us on this Earth in a family of saints so that we may be nurtured in the love of God and edified in study of the Scripture IN ORDER to serve others in the greatest work this side of the grave!

In our larger family there are many obscure saints like Joseph Barsabbas and like you, prepared to be witnesses even if not called into the public ministry, for Jesus has important work for His obscure saints; don’t give up your place in His receiving line.

God’s obscure saints are partners with and co-workers with their pastors; they support the seminary graduate called to serve a little congregation in the Midwest or to begin a mission in Megapolis or to assist a senior pastor in a large congregation. All are high callings in His Kingdom! God bless them all!

It is not likely that any Joseph or Matthias among us today will achieve much renown or public acclaim, and a hundred years from now perhaps nobody will know that we have passed this way—BUT in the halls of heaven precious souls will be at home with Jesus because of Matthias and because of Joseph and because of you!

These meditations were delivered as chapel talks by Prof. Paul R. Koch while he served on the faculty of Immanuel Lutheran High School/College, Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Now retired, Prof. Koch continues to serve his Lord as Assistant Editor of the Lutheran Spokesman. God bless us all as we ponder the rich contents of these Bible-based messages!

Great and eternally important deeds are done by obscure saints! Let us be our brother’s brother! Let us support our fellow Christians in the good fight of faith! Let us serve our fellowman!

From such a saint (also once obscure) we hear God’s voice encouraging us, “He who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:20).

That’s not an obscure message.

Lord Jesus, help us cherish Your Word in our hearts and serve under Your guidance. Amen!