In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. 14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.
15 In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, 16 “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17 For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 18 (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19 And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 “For it is written in the Book of Psalms,
“‘May his camp become desolate,
and let there be no one to dwell in it’;
“‘Let another take his office.’
21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” 23 And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. 24 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
Have you ever wondered why we have twelve members in most juries in our legal system? It is a very old tradition, far older than the United States themselves. In fact, its roots go back, through British common law into the Roman world in which Jesus lived so long ago. In the ancient world, if 12 witnesses stepped forward to attest to an event, it was deemed true. There was no need for a trial at this point, one could proceed immediately to sentencing if there was a crime involved. If 12 people could say that they saw this man steal the money, the trial was over. Today the prosecutor in a jury trial must convince a dozen people that it happened. They have to say “Yes, it did.” Oregon recently had its peculiar system challenged and rejected. All jury trials need all the jurors to agree. Even one holdout can hang a jury.
Peter sees the need for a 12th witness. Judas has killed himself and now the number stands at 11. They look for any others who have been witness to the ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ and, amazingly, they come up with two, men who have never been mentioned in any of the Gospels to this point, Matthias and Joseph. It is the last we ever hear of this Matthias and Joseph, but we do not hear much of the other disciples either from this point forward except for Peter and John.
I have long taken considerable comfort from this account. My own efforts at evangelism often seem to fall on deaf ears. I get discouraged. I want to see success because I love the people to whom I bear this witness. But Peter suggests today that the 12th witness is important. I think of it this way: I might only be witness number 5 or somewhere else in that list. I always imagine that I am James the Younger or another of the otherwise anonymous disciples among Jesus’ followers. It is the twelfth witness who will get to see the person come to faith, but he or she needs to hear the other eleven. They are all just as important. If I, as witness number 5, am silent, then the big day might have to wait for yet another to come along and round out that number.
I know the Holy Spirit does not work so mechanically. He can work his miracle regardless of human effort or the number of witnesses; nevertheless, He has promised to work through my witnessing. I love this story because it tells me that I am part of a team of witnesses in the life of every other human being. I do not bear the whole burden, only the burden of a witness. I must tell what I have seen and heard. Christ has risen from the dead and I have known his presence in some way. I just need to speak about that. Bear witness to the resurrected Christ today. Praise God publicly, in the hearing of another, that God has been active in your life. Bear that witness.