Jonathan is the pastor of a small country church. Each week he stands in front of mostly empty pews and preaches to an ever-dwindling congregation. Around thirty people show up for church on a good Sunday, but the crowd numbers closer to twelve most weeks. Jonathan encourages the attendees to sit closer to the front, but they refuse. Somehow, the scattered crowd appears even smaller than twelve.
After finalizing his sermon notes on Saturday night, Jonathan drives to the dollar store to buy pipe cleaners, cotton balls, goldfish, juice boxes, and anything else the teacher needs for children’s church. There are no children in attendance some Sundays, and the craft supplies go unused. The same can be said of the juice and crackers Jonathan prepares for communion. Though he fills thirty cups, most remain untouched at the end of the service. Jonathan can’t help but wonder what he is doing wrong as he dumps Welch’s down the sink. He is keenly aware that he will never shepherd a mega-church, write a best seller, or have a clip from his message turned into a sermon jam for YouTube. Nevertheless, he continues to serve Jesus and his congregation in relative obscurity.
Does Jonathan’s obscure service matter? I found myself pondering that question as I read the first chapter of Acts. In these verses, the apostles are choosing a replacement for Judas. Peter announces that Judas’ replacement should come from the group disciples who had accompanied Jesus and the apostles from the very beginning. The apostles put forward two men for consideration: Joseph Barsabbas (“Joseph”) and Matthias. After praying, the apostles cast lots, and the lot fell on Matthias.
Joseph’s biblical footprint begins and ends with his “loss” to Matthias in Acts. After the lots are cast, Joseph slips off into biblical obscurity. Luke tells us that Joseph was with Jesus from the beginning of his ministry, but, other than longevity, what qualified Joseph for apostleship? Undoubtedly, he witnessed countless miracles. Perhaps he performed some. Was he a wedding guest at Cana? Did he taste Jesus’ wine? Did he carry baskets of bread and fish at the feeding of the five thousand? Did he hear Jesus tell Nicodemus, “You must be born again”? We can’t know for sure. What’s certain is that Joseph played a significant role in Jesus’ earthly ministry. Still, his impact is merely a footnote in Acts.
I wonder if Joseph questioned whether he was making a difference for the kingdom of God when the lot fell on Matthias. Nikolaus von Zinzendorf famously said, “Preach the gospel, die, and be forgotten.” But putting those words into practice isn’t easy when you’re dumping grape juice after communion. I imagine they’re equally difficult to apply when the lot doesn’t go your way after years of faithful service.