Whatever Happened to Justus?
Text: Acts 1:15-26
by Robert J. Young


If you are only hearing the question of our title, you may misunderstand. What happened to justice? But that is not our question. Whatever happened to Justus? Bible scholars know there are three men in the Bible named Justus: (1) in Acts 1, it is the surname of Joseph Barsabbas, (2) in Acts 18:7, it is the name of a Christian in Corinth whose house adjoined the synagogue, a Christian who received Paul, and (3) in Col. 4:11, it is the name of a fellow-worker of Paul. These are all represented in Scripture as good men, all were disciples, all were Christians. The question of this sermon is about the man in Acts 1.

Scripture Reading: Acts 1:15-26

In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about 120) and said, "Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus--he was one of our number, and shared in this ministry."
(With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)
"For," said Peter, "it is written in the book of Psalms, 'May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,' and, 'May another take his place of leadership.' Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John's baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection."
So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, "Lord, you know everyone's heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs." Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

Introduction--The Lucan Narrative Modernized
It is Sunday morning. The Justus family gets up. They are going to church, with new suits and new clothes for the whole family. This is a special day because today Daddy may be appointed an apostle. He name has been put up for the apostleship. This is something special and important. You and I know today that only once in history did such occur. Jesus had chosen the original twelve. Paul was one called out of due season. But in this situation, someone has to be chosen to take Judas' place. Two have been nominated, their names are before the congregation. One is to be chosen. But when the Justus family gets to church, the one chosen is Matthias, not Justus. This is the background of our question. What happened to Justus?

The Textual Background
Remember the text. Judas has died, he killed himself, now there are 11 instead of 12. About 120 are present, including the mother and brothers of Jesus. They were praying. May I suggest the events of Acts 2 occur because of the prayers in Acts 1. We need that reminder today. Pray, then work, and God gives the increase. Not only were they praying, they were waiting. They were waiting on God. We are not good at waiting. We cannot be still.

Acts 1 is repeated again and again in the church today. Elders are appointed. This actually happened, the names of two men were before the congregation. They came to church expecting to be appointed to the eldership. But late Saturday evening, an objection has been raised, and one is not ordained. What would you do? What would happen if that were your story?

Bitterness? Withdrawal from the work of the church? Go back into your shell? Think you must now be useless to the church? Think you can never qualify now? What happens to those who are put up as preachers, elders, teachers, deacons, others who are given responsibility, and then lose it? What happens when you are rejected? What happens when you are in second place?

We cannot even be sure why this happened as it did. When Jesus chose the twelve, he prayed all night, he chose the twelve, none had to be rejected or embarrassed. No conflict arose. Why didn't God just tell them to choose Matthias? God, just tell us which one. No embarrassment, no problems, Justus could have continued to serve in whatever capacity with no egg on his face. Why not have the apostles meet in the back room and make the choice, save the problems, for discretion's sake. That is often our approach today.

Here are many lessons. Acts 1 says that a congregation is to selected as far as they can, a lesson reinforced in Acts 6. The congregation was involved. Leaders are chosen by followers, officially or unofficially. God asks us to do only what we can do. Leadership selection should not be secretive. Those involved in selection must not be limited. Acts 1 is public. God is involved. The Christians were praying, and made a choice, but God's hand was involved. The lot went to Matthias.

The early church prayed often, read Acts 6 and Acts 13 as selections were made. Prayer and fasting were involved. We do not fast. Perhaps we should. In the OT, the Urim and Thummim revealed the will of God. It is interesting, in the NT, there is no more casting of lots after Acts 1. We do not understand precisely, in our modern parallels we think of flipping coins, drawing straws, casting dice. Here God has spoken. Two men, equally qualified so far as we know, but only one can serve. God chose Matthias.

Thinking About Human Nature
Anytime there is a choice to be made, a job to be done, the question arises, "who is to do it?", and there is potential conflict. Some will not be pleased. Some will not like what is done. Criticisms, no helpful ideas, such is human nature. But here, Peter does not reject Justus, nor the congregation, nor the eleven, but God. Perhaps one can live with human rejection, but Justus was rejected by God. What a jarring problem! This is more than human politics. This is the dream of a man, a goal shattered. Justus has literally reached up and touched the apostleship. So our question remains, what happened to Justus?

The Bible doesn't say. Nor what happened to Matthias. But we can consider lessons in leadership and in life. I like his name, not because of its parallel to justice, but because he is "just us." You and I are here, all the things we fear, hate, the things that tear us asunder. This is lesson requiring imagination, but knowing human nature, we can evaluate and conclude, and we can talk about ourselves as much as about Justus. What would you do?

I. I might be very, very hurt. I might imagine my influence is gone, my worth diminished, that I will never be worth anything, never be able to preach or teach. I might be hurt or embarrassed. I might see myself as a failure. I might refuse to be involved again. I fumbled the ball, I will just kind of ½ drop out. I will just sit down for the rest of my Christian life. That is our human tendency. Some wouldn't even have the nerve to show up at church again. Was Justus embarrassed? Did he start coming in late, sit in the back, leave early. He could have felt inadequate and insufficient. What are you thinking? Are you thinking something must have been wrong with him? Would you want him in your eldership, in your pulpit if he moved to town?

II. I might become very critical. Things aren't going my way. He could have started comparisons, started tearing down Matthias, or the selection process. Matthias isn't really involved. I'm often here when he is not. He could have started tearing down every idea advanced. We are talking about human nature. We have the idea that we earn a church office, a church job, that we build up points, and then we are appointed because of our outstanding achievement. We hesitate to appoint newcomers. If we read Acts 1, Justus is listed first, but then rejected. Matthias was selected by God.

III. I might bounce back. I am going to get hit, the key is to bounce back. On the way home, Justus hugs kids and wife, Matthias was selected, I do not know why, but this is not going to influence our Christian life. We're going to keep going, we still have faith, Jesus Christ is Lord, we are going to be as enthusiastic as before. We are going to support Matthias and the other apostles. We are going to support the church and its work. This is when you really find out about a man, about a family, about a Christian. Can we serve following rejection, failure. Do you think Justus went over to Matthias, hugged him, and said, "I will support you in every way I can"? Did he mean it? I think he may have been the main supporter of Matthias in his work. I will serve with you, pray for you. I am thrilled. You are God's choice.

IV. I might think winners and losers. Thinking winners and losers at the church house is destined to fail. Justus might have been perceived as the loser. Did you ever find out why God rejected you? Only one can be the winner, and the loser comes in second. Such is not necessarily true in Christianity, for all can run and receive the prize. Sooner or later, all must take second place, even as Andrew did. Someday we will not be where we are now. Someday something will change, and we will be surpassed. We will age, we will fade. We do not think as God thinks. Justus was still better than most of us. He was one of only two men on earth to be put up for the apostleship, yet some think of him as a loser. To be second is not to fail. Be who you are, where you are, as you are, and let God grow you.

Our pride quotient determined how we face rejection. The prouder we are, the less we can stand it. Some even are so proud, I will not try, I might fail. I might be criticized. Some will not let their names be suggested for leadership. Some ministry students never try to preach because problems may come. Some never teach, some never serve, some never become involved in ministries. I may get criticized, I may get shot at. I will not risk it. Some won't serve because they fear the vulnerability. We are too proud. What if Justus had simply refused to be considered?

V. Finally, I might start tearing everything up at church. I can undermine, and wreck every effort of the church from now on. This too is a matter of pride.

I would like to think that Justus went home a spiritual, seasoned Christian, that he thanked God that he was even considered. That he thanked God that God could use Matthias. Church work is done by the Justuses of the church, the "just us" people, just us. Church work depends upon those in second place, who may at times be criticized, rejected, discouraged. The most effective leaders are those who serve all.

Can you identify with Justus? Church work is strange from the world's point of view. You can lead not when you get to the top but when you get to the bottom. You serve best when you serve all. Greatness is no humility. Pride falls. Human ability matters less than heart. Whatever happened to Justus? What do you think? Your answer is essential, for you answer tells what would happen to you in the same circumstance. Who do we think we are? Who do I think I am? Who do you think you are?

The real question is, "What will happen to you?" Where are you and God? Where are you and the people of God? Where are you in your spiritual development? In the mind of Christ? In the obedience of Christ? Answer, and be his, whether in the initial obedience of baptism, the renewed obedience of submission through repentance, or the continued obedience of Christian living, and express any needs you wish to express publicly by responding as we stand and sing.


*Suggested and developed in part from notes from Charles Hodge.

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Last updated February 26, 2001.