Handling Disappointment

21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 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.” 23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen 25 to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” 26 Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.  (Acts 1:21-26)
4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.  (Romans 12:4-8)
1 Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed … 4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. 7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. 12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptised by one Spirit so as to form one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 And so the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 Now if the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.  (1 Corinthians 12:1-20)
You’ve got to feel sorry for Joseph Barsabbas. He was a follower of Jesus from the beginning, eager to play his role in Jesus’ mission. When Jesus healed the crowds in Galilee, he was there. When Jesus clashed with the Pharisees, he was there too. He was there to take notes on the Sermon on the Mount, there to see Jesus drive out a demon in the synagogue at Capernaum, and there when Jesus went up on a mountainside to pray over which twelve followers he was to choose as his disciples.

When Jesus came down from the mountain, Joseph Barsabbas was in for a nasty surprise. He was part of the shortlist, but he hadn’t made it into the Twelve. His friends Peter, John and Matthew had. So had Andrew, James and Simon. Even Judas Iscariot was chosen. I mean, Judas?! What was Jesus thinking?! After months of following Jesus round and hanging on his every word, Barsabbas was put on the bench and told he hadn’t made the first team. It must have been a bitter disappointment.

But he kept going. For two more years he followed Jesus, not as one of the Twelve but as a close follower nonetheless. He was there when Jesus fed the crowds with loaves and fishes, there when he sent out the Seventy-Two on their Gospel mission, and there when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey. He was there when the crowds turned against Jesus, there when he was crucified, and there when he appeared alive again after his resurrection. He was a witness to Jesus’ life, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension. Jesus had chosen twelve disciples, one for every tribe of ancient Israel. There couldn’t be thirteen, so the only way to join the group was by filling ‘dead men’s shoes’. Judas was dead, which meant a vacancy had opened. Barsabbas’ time had finally come.

Once again he made the shortlist. Only he or Matthias could possibly be the right man for the job, so the Eleven would cast lots between them like the priests of ancient Israel. It was a tried and tested way of letting God reveal his sovereign choice – and this time the lot fell to Matthias. Matthias?! Why him?! This was a man so unimpressive that Scripture tells us nothing about him, either before or after he was chosen! Joseph Barsabbas had once again been poised to go down in history as one of the Twelve, and once again God had passed him by. He had not just been sidelined by the Eleven, but by God himself. Of course I’m speculating about how Barsabbas must have felt in Acts chapter one, but I’m pretty sure it hurt him.

So here’s the reason why Joseph Barsabbas is one of my favourite Bible characters: he didn’t let it spoil him. He stared God’s sovereign choosing in the face and made a courageous choice of his own. He would let God be God and accept that the Church was Jesus’ Body, not his. It was a difficult choice, a mature choice, but it’s a choice we all have to make if we want the extraordinary God to work through our ordinary lives. If we manipulate our way to leadership outside of God’s choosing, then we must lead out of our ordinary strength, but if we submit to God’s choice of role, he empowers us to serve him with his own extraordinary strength. Joseph Barsabbas was determined to play the specific role that the Lord had apportioned to him within the church Body.

There’s an epilogue to this story in Acts 15:22, when the apostles choose a man called Barsabbas to deliver a letter to the churches of Antioch, Syria and Cilicia. He is called Judas Barsabbas rather than Joseph, so it may have been a brother, but since Joseph was nicknamed Justus because he was Just, it is not unreasonable to assume that he was also nicknamed Judas because he was a man of Praise, since that’s what the name means in Hebrew. Luke tells us that Barsabbas was chosen alongside Silas, another Jewish follower of Jesus who had not quite made it into the original Top Twelve, and that together these “leaders among the brothers” prophesied, encouraged and strengthened the churches at a time of vital need. Barsabbas had refused to give in to bitterness and disappointment, and continued to serve God faithfully in whatever role he was given.
  1. Have you ever experienced being overlooked for leadership within the church?
  2. Did you respond to that well or badly? How does that experience affect you today?
  3. As we regather back together after the coronavirus lockdown, could this be your Acts 15:22 moment? What is the Lord calling you to lead as we regather?
Father God, I thank you that you choose who you choose to choose to lead. It is only proper that you should have this freedom and I surrender myself completely to your divine right to choose. Lord, as we regather back together as a church, I re-present myself to you as a potential leader. Please open doors for me to lead in fresh ways in this season. Here I am, Lord, and I say to you today: Please use me in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Today’s Everyday Devotions were brought to you by Phil Moore, who leads our team of whole-church elders.
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