Coming in Second Place

The Biblical book of Acts has a six-verse story about a man named Joseph who was also called Barsabbas (meaning son of Sabbas), and some referred to him as Justus (Acts 1:20-26). This three-named man is mentioned in only one verse of the account, and so we know very little about him. Apparently, he had followed Jesus since the beginning of his ministry. He witnessed the work of John the Baptizer and followed Jesus for three years. He was sent out by Jesus as one of his seventy followers to proclaim the kingdom of God. This man was present at the cross and the resurrection, and now he stands with a handful of believers awaiting the next step in faith.

At this point, Peter stands up and quotes some Old Testament scripture from the Psalms. The Church needed someone to replace Judas after his betrayal and suicide. Two names are put forth. One is Matthias, and the other is Joseph. They cast lots and Matthias is chosen to be one of the twelve apostles.

I always wondered what happened to this lone figure of faithfulness to Jesus and failure in a big selection. There was no sin in his life that we are told existed in him. His only shortcoming was that God had not allowed his name to appear on the lot that was cast. Did he go home that night and cry? Did he live with a sense of failure?

The best research I could find tells me some of the rest of the story. According to tradition, this Joseph went on to become the Bishop of Eleutheropolis. This is a village located about 13 miles northwest of the city of Hebron. It was relatively small and surrounded by farmland, but during the days of Jewish king Herod the town became a thriving Roman colony and was known as the administrative center for the district of Idumea.

The town was renamed over the centuries. Its original Aramaic name Beth Gabra translates as the “house of the mighty one.” The Romans gave it the Greek name, Eleutheropolis, meaning “City of the Free,” because the Roman Emperor exempted its citizens from taxes. The city flourished under the Romans, who built public buildings, military installations, aqueducts, and an amphitheater. Seven routes met at Eleutheropolis indicating the town as a central point from which the distance from other cities was measured.

Joseph Barsabbas Justus went on to become a Church leader in the city of the free. This story of his non-selection to be one of the twelve Apostles was not the end of his story. He did not hang his head in defeat but instead used this incident to propel his life another direction. Some have suggested that he was not chosen by God so that his life would be free to serve him in another location. Because of the importance of Eleutheropolis and its strategic location, Joseph served God in a powerful way that may have never happened if his name had been called that day.

Joseph serves as an example of faithfulness despite setbacks. He may not have been chosen to a position that he was more than qualified to fill, but that was not the end of his story. He made an impact in a different way for the kingdom of God. I don’t know what has happened in your life, but maybe today, Joseph can inspire you to stand faithful to God after coming in second.

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