Prepare our hearts, O God, to accept you Word. Silence in us any voices but your own, so that we may hear your Word and also do it; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Acts 1:1-11Common English Bible (CEB)
The risen Jesus with his disciples
1 Theophilus, the first scroll I wrote concerned everything Jesus did and taught from the beginning, 2 right up to the day when he was taken up into heaven. Before he was taken up, working in the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus instructed the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he showed them that he was alive with many convincing proofs. He appeared to them over a period of forty days, speaking to them about God’s kingdom. 4 While they were eating together, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for what the Father had promised. He said, “This is what you heard from me: 5 John baptized with water, but in only a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
6 As a result, those who had gathered together asked Jesus, “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?”
7 Jesus replied, “It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
9 After Jesus said these things, as they were watching, he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going away and as they were staring toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood next to them. 11 They said, “Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you saw him go into heaven.”
Luke 24:44-53Common English Bible (CEB)
44 Jesus said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the Law from Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures. 46 He said to them, “This is what is written: the Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and a change of heart and life for the forgiveness of sins must be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 Look, I’m sending to you what my Father promised, but you are to stay in the city until you have been furnished with heavenly power.”
Ascension of Jesus
50 He led them out as far as Bethany, where he lifted his hands and blessed them. 51 As he blessed them, he left them and was taken up to heaven. 52 They worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem overwhelmed with joy. 53 And they were continuously in the temple praising God.
The Waiting Game
What an amazing ride the disciples have been on. For about three years they have walked with Jesus as he ministered to people – he healed the sick, fed the hungry and cast out demons. He loved the unlovable and challenged the religious and political leaders of his day. And it lead to his death on a cross. All along, Jesus had been teaching his disciples and warning them that one day they would not have him. But the events of Jesus’s trial and torture and crucifixion was a shock to them. They saw it all – they were eyewitnesses to the brutality of his death, and it was horrible. And they must have wondered how this could have happened to their Lord! Jesus had come to save them – to save Israel – to free Israel from Roman rule and to restore the past glory of Jerusalem. And now this! Now he was dead.
But that was not the end of the story. Because on the third day, his grave was empty. Jesus was alive. And everything changed from that day forward. Jesus appeared to many people over the next forty days. There were many eye witnesses to these appearances of Jesus after his resurrection.
Jesus appeared to the women at the tomb. Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene. Jesus appeared to two men on the road to Emmaus. Jesus appeared to Peter in Jerusalem. Jesus even ate breakfast with seven disciples fishing in Galilee, five hundred others in Galilee and James his brother. There are ten different instances of Jesus appearing after his resurrection. And I’ll post those scripture references on our website so you can read those.
Jesus appeared to many. This journey from the day of Jesus’ crucifixion has lead us to this day – the day of Jesus’ ascension. And so, our scripture for today tells us that Jesus took his disciples to Bethany, he blessed them and he ascended into heaven. He went up into heaven to sit at God’s right hand. What an amazing thing to experience!
But then what a letdown.
Jesus had appeared to many, the disciples had the scripture opened to them, they had gotten their marching orders, and then Jesus was gone. The disciples must have been so fired up – to go out into the world telling everyone they knew about what they had just seen and what they had just experienced. Can you imagine the excitement and the energy that would be bubbling up inside you? To have witnessed the Son of God alive after they had seen his dead body. To have had the scripture opened to them, and to have experienced his presence. And then to watch him go up into heaven! That is just not something that would be easy to hold inside!
But in both the Luke and the Acts text, what does Jesus do? He doesn’t huddle his team up like a coach, get them fired up, say “break,” and then send them out onto the field to conquer the world. Instead, Jesus huddles them up, fires them up, and says, “wait.” He doesn’t say – now, go — get out there in the game, instead he says, now sit back down and wait. He tells them stay right in Jerusalem and wait! Jesus calls the disciples to their mission, and then he tells them to wait.
It seems like maybe Jesus is getting the plan wrong here.
But Jesus tells his disciples to wait because he knew that the disciples could not fulfill their mission alone. Jesus knew that the disciples needed to wait until they were filled with the power of God. There was no way that these ordinary and flawed humans could accomplish the huge task that Jesus had given them without the power of God. And today’s church is exactly the same. We are exactly the same because we as today’s church have the same call and the same need for God’s power. The author of the Acts study we just started in Sunday school pointed out that Jesus did not begin his ministry until after he had received the Holy Spirit at his baptism. And if Jesus needed the Holy Spirit, how much more do we need the Holy Spirit before we get out there into the game.
So today, I hope you will think about waiting for the power of God’s spirit, and I hope you will consider how God prepares us during times of waiting, and how God uses times of waiting in our lives.
In both Luke and Acts, we see the same pattern. Jesus gives the disciples their calling, and then Jesus says, “wait.” So we are going to look at three things this morning – the call, the command to wait, and how we can survive this waiting period.
The call, the wait, and what we can do in the meantime.
You may want to pull out a Bible so you can see how this works. We are going to look at Acts chapter 1 first. By the way, Bible trivia for the morning. Luke was a physician and a Gentile – a non-Jewish person. Luke wrote both our texts today – Luke and Acts. Luke is the story of Jesus, and Acts is the story of the early church and the way the disciples lived out their call after this waiting period was over. Acts is a fascinating book to read – especially if you want some examples of how the power of the Holy Spirit played out in the lives of these first disciples. We have just started that study of Acts in Sunday School, and we would love for you to join us at 9:30 next week or pick up one of the study books if you want to study on your own.
So, Acts chapter 1 is where we are. And in verse 3 we read that Jesus “showed them he was alive with many convincing proofs. He appeared to them over a period of forty days speaking to them about God’s kingdom.” In verse 8, Jesus gives them their call. He gives them their mission in the world when he says, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” So the call for the disciples 2000 years ago and for us today is the same. We are called to be witnesses for Jesus. A witness, of course is someone who has seen something who can testify to the facts of the case. And that was the case with these disciples, who had seen Jesus with their own eyes. They could testify to having seen Jesus both during his lifetime of ministry and also after his resurrection. And they could testify about seeing him ascend into heaven. One writer said that “they were to tell the story. To tell it not as hearsay, but as of their own knowledge. And to tell it at cost. There was no other plan.”
And there is still no other plan. We, too, receive this call. We too, are born to tell the story of Jesus. We may not have seen Christ with our own eyes, but we can experience him in our lives. And when we have experienced him in our lives, it is our call “to tell the story, not as hearsay, but as our own knowledge. Even if there is a cost.” There is no other plan. There is no other play that Jesus is going to call in the huddle.
The disciples were called to be witnesses to Jesus in Jerusalem first – Jerusalem was the center of Jewish religious life. They were to be witnesses to their own churches and families and friends first, in other words. And then they were to go on to Judea, the territory where Jerusalem is located. And then on to Samaria. Now Samaria was north of Judea. Samaritans were considered unholy and foreigners, so this would have been surprising to the disciples. And then Jesus even calls them to go to the ends of the earth. They were called to spread the gospel message to everyone – not just to Jewish people, but to everyone- even people they didn’t really like or approve of. The apostles will start where they are and will gradually spread the message to wider and wider circles until the whole world is encompassed. Not a bad method for us to use today. We start sharing God’s love to those around us and then widen our circles.
And then turn to Luke 24 with me, the very last verses of the book of Luke. In Luke 24:47, Jesus gives the disciples the same call as we read about in Acts. Jesus tells the disciples that they are to preach the news to all nations beginning in Jerusalem. Luke adds that the message to be preached should be “a change of heart and life for the forgiveness of sins.” The message to share is that we must change our hearts and lives, come to Jesus and be forgiven of our sins.
This is the play that Jesus was calling. That is the play Jesus is calling for us today. To be witnesses – by our words and our deeds – we are to tell the story starting in our own homes and circle of friends and family, and then work our way out – wider and wider to the ends of the earth.
But in both of the texts, Jesus says to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit. Luke 24:49 says “Look, I’m sending to you what my Father promised, but you are to stay in the city until you have been furnished with heavenly power.” Acts 24:4 says that Jesus ordered his disciples “not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for what the Father had promised.” Telling them in verse 5 that “in only a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
Wait? Seriously? Jesus wants them to wait — and might want us to wait? We are not a waiting people! How many times in our lives do we get tired of waiting? Probably every single day we face the annoyance of waiting.
We get tired of waiting for the power of God to move in our lives. How many times do we break out of that huddle on our own and do our own thing – refusing to wait – refusing to use the great power that was promised to us.
But, times of waiting can be times of learning and growing. Times of waiting can be when we experience God’s presence most clearly. I think times of waiting are part of the growing process – waiting helps us develop as disciples of Christ – waiting helps us to become true followers of Jesus. Times of waiting help us to prepare for the things that are to come.
There are many places of waiting scripture. Interestingly, a lot of times the number forty is involved with waiting periods – 40 days or 40 years. The number 40 can be symbolic for a long time. And some of us may feel like we have been waiting for a long time.
The great flood lasted forty days and forty nights. Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Moses remained on Mt. Sinai for forty days while receiving the Ten Commandments. Jesus was tested in the wilderness for forty days. One commentator said that “various Old Testament writings, which Luke knew, refer to forty days or forty years as a period of preparation during which God fully instructs people for their future work.” (Wall, Robert W., The New Interpreter’s Bible: Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians.)
I think it is in the waiting that we learn what we need to know to live out our call and to be the witnesses that God wants us to be. It is in the waiting that we get to know Jesus ourselves so that we can be eyewitnesses to the world of how he has changed our lives. Waiting is part of the preparation. And when we are ready, God’s spirit will be all over us giving us the very power of our mighty God to do his work in the world.
This Wednesday will be our last day for WOW with the kids, and I’ve been thinking about this amazing work of God a lot lately. I’m about to start my fifth year as your pastor. And five years ago there were five children in the program. This year, we will end the year with 40 kids on our roll. A couple of weekends ago, I worked the Walk to Emmaus and I was talking about the amazing ministries to children that you all are involved in, and the women on the walk were asking me how they could do something like this in their churches. And they were amazed that we had that many kids in the program when our church only had about as many people in church every Sunday. And I had to admit that there was a waiting period – a period of preparation is involved. It didn’t happen overnight.
You know, God didn’t send down the Holy Spirit to bring in 35 more children in a single day into this place. Now, I’m certain that the Holy Spirit has been the power drawing families to the church. But I think we had to get our house in order first, right? We didn’t know it, but we had some waiting and some preparing to do. We would not have been ready for 40 kids five years ago. We had a leaky roof and one van with questionable reliability and no budget for children’s ministry! Who remembers those days? A lot of you do. We couldn’t have even transported that many kids from school to church. And so during that waiting time, we prepared. God lead us to fix the roof and buy two vans. We learned. We prayed. We grew closer to God. And we got braver and bolder with each new child who walked through our doors.
And although a few hours every week with a few kids doesn’t sound like a huge calling – I think maybe it really is. These kids are amazing. I have witnessed the power of God working in their lives, and they have been witnesses to me — leading me to walk closer with Jesus.
God has given us a call to tell all the world about God’s love. Just like the disciples – we are called to go. But first we are told to wait for the power of God before we break out of the huddle. We do not wait idly, though. We wait with faith and with hope that God keeps his promises. We wait for the promised power of the Holy Spirit. And we certainly don’t waste the time of waiting. The waiting can be the best time.
In the last words of the book of Luke, verse 50 says: “He led them out as far as Bethany, where he lifted up his hands and blessed them. As he blessed them, he left them and was taken up to heaven. They worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem overwhelmed with joy. And they were continuously in the temple praising God.
During their time of waiting for the Holy Spirit, the disciples worshipped him and were overwhelmed with joy. They were continuously in the temple praising God.
If you are waiting – or I guess I should say – when you are waiting, don’t waste your time just sitting on the sidelines. Worship God! Sing praise to God! We are called to wait with faith and hope for God’s promises to be made real in our lives.
When we worship – when we praise God – when we are overwhelmed with the joy of God in our lives, the waiting for the next thing God has for us becomes a blessing rather than just the boredom of being on the sidelines.
We are all called to be witnesses in our world. But we have to wait for God’s power to come. So in the meantime, which can sometimes feel like a mean time, let us rejoice! And let us anticipate the mighty power of the Holy Spirit to move!
Let us pray.
Mighty and everlasting God, we praise your name and we rejoice in your presence. God we thank you for the children in this place and for their faithful leaders. God we thank you for the times of waiting, when we can prepare for the works you have for us and grow closer to you. Help us to be patient as we wait.
And God we thank you for the mighty works of your Spirit. We thank you for giving us the power to go out and do your work. Continue to pour out your spirit on us. Help us to wait and prepare for the next adventure you have for us! Amen.