Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1397
May 12, 2019 Acts 1.1-14
Dr. Ed Pettus
(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)
“A Time to Wait – A Time to Pray”
Acts 1.1-3 Presented Alive!
We finished last Sunday with the conclusion of Luke’s gospel in chapter 24. Luke ends that narrative with the ascension of Jesus. He does not include much of what occurred between the road to Emmaus story and the single appearance story, that is, the day of resurrection and the ascension scene. But in Acts, Luke continues the story and fills in some gaps for us. It is quite fascinating how Luke opens the book of Acts…
1.1In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. (1.1-2).
Luke’s gospel is presented here in Acts as a beginning, a new beginning for certain, beginning to reveal the Good News of the Messiah. Luke shared the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the gospel. He opened the gospel message and the wonder of what God has done in and through Jesus. That gospel he concludes is now carried over into this first verse of Acts. That which Jesus began to do and teach implies there is more to come, much more! What Jesus began will now continue in and through the church He will establish with the promised coming of the Holy Spirit.
In verse three, Luke repeats the narrative of Jesus’ appearances but adds that Jesus appeared during a forty day period. There was a period between Easter and Ascension that we don’t get a feel for in the gospel, but we do get here in Acts. Jesus presented Himself alive! Certainly that was an exciting time on Easter Sunday, but that was not all the proofs of His resurrection. He would appear for those forty days to many more people. One record we have of this is in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians,
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me (1 Cor 15.3-8).
It is highly likely that Jesus appeared to many more people during the forty day period. It was not just a one day sighting, but a significant time to a significant number of people who would begin to witness to what they had seen and heard about Jesus.
1.4-5 The Promise of the Holy Spirit
Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would come upon them.
4And 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; 5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
The literal meaning of the word “baptism” is to be immersed. The apostles would soon be immersed in the Holy Spirit. We know that day as Pentecost Sunday as found in Acts 2. The Holy Spirit came upon them in such a powerful way that all who were gathered around the house were amazed at the sound and the results of that “baptism”. The apostles began to speak in other languages, Peter began to preach with authority like never before, and Acts records the growth of the church from that day on.
Stay in Jerusalem and wait. The promise of the Spirit is there, but the command is to stay and wait. That’s hard to do when the momentum is so strong. That’s hard to do when Jesus has appeared to so many people and they are fired up to get started in the ministry that Jesus began to do and teach.
1.6-8 The Coming Kingdom
The apostles show their impatience when they ask Jesus about the time for the restoration of Israel.
6So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8But 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.”
Two responses Jesus gives to the disciples, You are not to know the times or seasons for God’s purposes, but you will receive power...to be Jesus’ witnesses. Power to witness is greater than knowing when the kingdom will be restored. Something new is about to happen, a new reality is soon revealed.
This period between resurrection and Pentecost is about waiting and praying.
Prayer comes before action. Jesus does not require them to get busy but to wait for the power to come. Wait for the empowerment of God’s Spirit. Why? Because we cannot do what God requires without His Spirit. Why? Because we must first receive the gift God gives in the Spirit and by His grace. This may be a great way to look at any task God gives the church or a believer. Start with prayer until the Lord gives the gift of the Spirit. Wait for the Lord, but do not wait by just sitting around with nothing to do. Pray and pray and pray.
We also see in the rest of this first chapter that the disciples were studying the Scripture. We might wonder what they prayed. From what occurs throughout the book of Acts, the Church may have been praying for boldness to preach the gospel (witnessing) and courage to stand before governments and wisdom to make decisions and power to heal, among many other things.
We might imagine that while Jesus dismisses the time of the restoration of the kingdom, perhaps what we see is that the time is now, at the coming of the Holy Spirit. It is not a question of when but of how, and that how is answered on the day of Pentecost. Their question is already answered in Christ’s death and resurrection and the spiritual power which will soon be received. The question of when was always a lingering inquiry of the disciples and many others. Israel wanted to be restored and out from under the rule of Rome. But the “how” was also deeply misunderstood. The expectation was often through force, through overthrow, through rebellion of zealots. When and how became distorted by fanatical expectations. What Jesus brings to the table is the “when and how” of “now and through Jesus and the Spirit”. The disciples will come to know the answer to both when and how on the day of Pentecost.
The mission of the church is to bear witness to the gospel. This is how it all began and how it has endured from generation to generation. It is no different for us today. We are given the power from on high, given the time to wait and pray, given the Scriptures, all to embolden that witness. The book of Acts reveals the beginning of the church’s role in continuing all that Jesus started and completed on the earth.
1.9-11 The Ascension
What we saw in Luke’s gospel as an end to the narrative of what Jesus began, that left out lots of details between resurrection and ascension, we now see as a more complete story to begin a new narrative of God’s mission for the church.
9And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11and 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.”
Another promise is also revealed here...Christ will come again. In the meantime, there is the promised Holy Spirit. But there is no reason to stand around looking to the sky, for Christ will come again. We look forward to that day. We anticipate that day. Yet the context of this ascension story is enveloped by the call to remain in Jerusalem and wait. The larger message, the more immediate concern, is to wait for the power of God.
1.12-14 What To Do While Waiting – Pray
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.
Wednesday, in our Bible Study class, we were speculating about the length of a Sabbath day’s journey. Turns out, because it was the Sabbath, Jews were not allowed to travel very far. Sabbath travel was limited to 2,000 cubits which is estimated between a half mile to a mile. So they did not have too far to get back to Jerusalem and begin this time of waiting.
That must have been a difficult time, the waiting. There is all the excitement of resurrection, all the excitement of appearances of Jesus, all the excitement of the ascension, the anticipation of promised Spirit, and yet, they are told to wait. Waiting is hard when the adrenaline is flowing. Waiting is hard when you are hyped up over the news of the risen Lord. Waiting is hard in these times of hurried frenzy. Verse fourteen is the answer to times of waiting. Waiting need not be thought of as wasted time. Waiting might be thought of as just the right time to pray. Waiting in line at the bank. Waiting for the car in front of you to realize the light turned green ten seconds ago. Waiting in the waiting room at the doctors office. We have lots of waiting time. Therefore we have lots of prayer time. We are also waiting for Christ to return and we fill that time with the same activity of prayer!
There was also a common mind among the apostles, for they are with one accord. Each disciple convinced fully that the empty tomb was nothing short of evidence that Jesus was indeed risen from the tomb. Each disciple convinced that the promise Jesus gave to send the Holy Spirit would come. Each disciple assured that Jesus was alive again and now taken to His heavenly throne. Today the church is unified in some ways but divided in many others. The only place where churches can really show a common mind is on the local level. One thing I tell people about our congregation is that we are much more unified, all on the same page when it comes to issues like authority of Scripture and the social issues that plague our society and some parts of the larger church. Unity enables the body to come together in prayer and to wait on the Lord and His timing.
God’s definition of waiting is not without action of some kind, prayer, worship, evangelism, study, praise...it is not without activity. Yet, there are also times when the Bible calls on us to be still and know that God is God (Ps 46.10). We are not unlike these apostles in Acts who listened and obeying and waiting with one mind and one hope. We also must consider that we are no longer waiting for this particular promise of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is within and among us today, empowering us with the same task to be Jesus’ witnesses. As we heard last week, a witness for Jesus is one who lives like Christ in telling other about Him and living the life of faithful obedience to Jesus Christ and His word. We are called to live as a people immersed in the Holy Spirit, immersed in the Holy Word, and immersed in the joy of resurrection, repentance, forgiveness, love, hope, and faith. Jesus has given to each of us the same Holy Spirit that empowered the apostles and all those who followed Jesus then. We are a part of that same movement even 2000 plus years later! And this is as exciting a time to be involved in the life of Christ’s church in our nation and throughout the world.
As I was reflecting on this passage of Scripture, I thought about the Christians being persecuted and killed around the world. I thought about our lesser struggles with cultural and political issues. And I thought about the great need today, as it was at the very beginning of this mission to witness, the great need for our world to heard and know the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us take that message to heart even more as we go from this sanctuary to proclaim through word and deed the good news that Jesus lives and forgives all who come to Him in repentance and faith. And as we go, let us remember to pray, waiting patiently for Christ to come again. Amen.