The Number Needs to Be 12
Rev. Kurt Lantz Easter 7 C Acts 1:12-26
May 29, 2022 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
Dear brothers and sisters,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
So there had to be an election. Right now I’m not concerned about the need for a provincial election here in Ontario, but about the need for the election of an apostle to replace Judas Iscariot. In our reading from the Book of Acts this morning, which takes place right after our Lord’s ascension, which we celebrated on Thursday evening, we are given a roll call of the apostles. “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” (Acts 1:13). There is one missing, made obvious by putting Judas the son of the James last on the list.
There was another Judas who is usually listed last in the lists of the apostles that are in the
Gospels. Judas Iscariot is obviously missing and we are told the gory details of his demise, and that it was foretold in the Psalms (Psalm 69:25). Peter noted: “he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry” (Acts 1:17). The number and allotment are significant. It reminds us of the allotment of the promised land to the twelve tribes of Israel. They each received their share. It was also prophesied in the Psalms (Psalm 109:8) that another should take his office, Judas’ office left vacant by his suicide.
The number needs to be twelve: twelve apostles allotted a share in the ministry of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; twelve tribes of Israel allotted a share in the promised land; and, as we heard in last Sunday’s reading from the Book of Revelation, “the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God... It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed... And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:10-14); more than that, the city’s length and width and height are all the same, measured by the angel to be 12,000 stadia (v. 16); and its wall, “144 cubits” (v. 17), that is, 12 X 12; furthermore, in today’s reading from the Book of Revelation we note “the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit” (Revelation 22:2).
The number needs to be twelve. “Why,” you ask? So do I. Clearly there is a connection with this number twelve to the number of God’s people, the tribes of Israel and the apostles of Jesus. The twelve tribes received the promise from God of a land that would be their own. The twelve apostles were to testify to the promise from Jesus of a resurrection to new life. The twelve gates and foundations and measurements of the heavenly city lead us to understand that this is the fulfillment of God’s promises to us.
I have heard it said that the number twelve, signifies God at work on earth in this way: If the number three represents the Triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit); and the number four represents the four directions by which we describe the earth (North, South, East, and West), then 3 times four might represent God at work on the earth. It makes sense. For God’s promises to the twelve tribes was of land upon the earth; and God’s promises given to us by the apostles are based on Jesus’ incarnation and coming to earth; and the holy city Jerusalem is stated to be God’s dwelling with His people coming down out of heaven to the new earth for our everlasting life. It makes sense, but the Bible doesn’t exactly spell it out that clearly.
What the Bible does spell out clearly is that God does work on the earth. There is no denying that and no magic math formula needed to figure that out. From the detailed description of His creative work in the very first chapter of the Bible to the depiction of our promised everlasting life in the new creation described in the last chapter of the Bible, God is at work on the earth, and at work for us.
It all culminated in God Himself coming to earth in order to save us from a dying world. The mystery of the holy incarnation of the eternal Son of God is His most intimate work. The Creator entered into His creation. He walked on this earth. He breathed this air. He bathed in its waters. He ate and drank and felt the sun on His skin and the wind in His hair.
He also felt the heat of the desert and hunger pains. He slept exhausted in a boat on a storm tossed sea. His feet got dirty and the road was long for Him as it is for us. His sweat was like great drops of blood falling to the ground. He received a kiss on the cheek, and the pain of the pulling out of His beard. He felt the prick of thorns on His brow and the weight of wood on His back. He had iron nails go through His skin and His blood ran down the cross onto the earth. There can be no doubt that God works on the earth. And it is a good thing because our work on the earth comes up more than a little short.
This Spring I built a garden box and I know what happens when your work comes up short. One summer I worked for a company framing houses. Sometimes they would call down the length of board they needed and I would cut it and take up to the them on the roof. One day they had me looking for the board-lengthener in the back of the truck because the board I cut came up short. There is no such thing as a board-lengthener. Once it is too short, you cannot make it longer again. That is the kind of thing that happens with our work in this world. It often comes up short because of our sins or our frailties or our inabilities and there is nothing that we can do about that. It is life in this fallen world in our fallen sinful flesh.
Praise the Lord that we are not the only ones at work in this world. God is at work in this world and His work does not come up short. The work that Jesus Christ did in this world for our salvation did not come up short. His suffering, death, and resurrection got the job finished. He declared so from the cross itself. All of our sins are forgiven in Him. All of our weaknesses are healed in Him. All of our inabilities become of no consequence because He has secured eternal life for us all.
And what a life it is. There is a city with twelve gates of pearl that are wide open to us, with twelve foundations that will never give way under any stress or pain or attack, with a tree that has twelve kinds of fruit to feed us every month of the year. It is eternal life with a God who loves us so much that He sent His Son to get the job done on this earth so that we will live forever with Him in a world without end.
And to secure it for us, or rather, to secure us for it, God is still at work in the world. That is why there had to be twelve apostles. That tells us that even now after Jesus has ascended into heaven, God is still at work in the world. In our Gospel reading we heard Jesus’ prayer to the heavenly Father about His continuing work in the world through the apostolic ministry: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word” (John 17:20). That is Jesus praying for us, that His work continues through the word of the apostles that we hear read, preached, and proclaimed. And it is all so that we will be with Him and the Father for eternity. “that they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent Me” (John 17:21).
The number needs to be twelve so that we know that God is still at work in the world for us. We don’t need to have twelve pastors or a church with walls twelve feet high or a baptismal font with twelve sides or praying the Our Father twelve times or anything like that. The Jews knew that they were God’s people long after the twelve tribes disbanded. The twelve apostles have all passed on to the church triumphant, even the apostle John who lived so long to share his Book of Revelation with the Church. But we are still founded upon the teaching of those twelve apostles. The Church is founded on them with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone. As long as we cling to the apostolic witness of the suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, we can confidently await His coming for the final judgment.
For we know that God is still at work in the world for us. He is still forgiving our sins. He is still healing our diseases. He is still strengthening us for service to the Church and the world. We are a part of His ongoing work in this world. And although our work comes up short, everything is completed for our everlasting life in the new heavens and the new earth, our eternal home of righteousness. He is at work and He is coming soon.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.