Waiting for Blessing
by Jack Wald | May 24th, 2020

Acts 1:12-26

We left off last week with Jesus ascending into heaven and two angels telling the disciples to stop looking up in the sky and begin to do what Jesus told them to do. As we read through the events of the week and a half after the ascension of Jesus, it is important to remember the roller coaster of emotions the disciples had experienced in the last couple months.

The larger group of seventy-two disciples had been sent by Jesus to the towns and villages of Palestine. Jesus instructed them to preach the kingdom of God and gave them power to heal the sick and deliver people from demons. They returned with joy. They had been able to do what they had seen Jesus do. Full of excitement they told Jesus, (Luke 10:17)
“Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”

When Jesus entered into Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna!” and “Blessed be the Lord!”, they were excited because it seemed Jesus was finally going to throw the Romans out of Palestine and establish his kingdom.

Then, in a whirlwind of activity with events happening too quickly to keep up with them, Jesus was arrested, put on trial, crucified, and buried in a tomb. In an instant their mood shifted from gleeful anticipation to grief and depression. Their world turned black. Friday and Saturday seemed to last forever. But then on the third day Jesus rose from the dead and they could not believe their eyes. They were bursting anew with joy and hope. The emotional swings they experienced took them from the heights to the lowest of depths and then up to the highest of heights.

His resurrection was followed by forty days of instruction as Jesus taught them about the kingdom of God. And then, after he told them to go back to Jerusalem and wait for the baptism of the Holy Spirit, he ascended into heaven.

With all their excitement and enthusiasm, Jesus told them to wait. Wait. Not what they expected. Not what they wanted. If it had been up to them, they would have organized mission trips like the ones Jesus sent them out on.

But Jesus told them to wait and by now they knew it was best to obey whatever Jesus told them to do. Jesus ascended from the Mount of Olives, about one kilometer from Jerusalem. Luke writes that this was a Sabbath’s day walk so Jesus ascended on the Sabbath. Over and over again in the gospel record of the ministry of Jesus, Jesus healed on the Sabbath, infuriating the Pharisees for doing work on the Sabbath. (It crossed my mind that this was Jesus’ parting message to the Pharisees, ascending, working, on the Sabbath.)

The disciples went back to the room where they were staying and waited. The room could have been the upper room where they shared the Passover meal together. It could have been the home of Mark where the disciples met when they were praying for the release of Peter from prison. Wherever they were staying, it was a place big enough for a lot of people.

In verse 15 Luke writes that Peter spoke to a group of disciples numbering about a hundred and twenty. One commentator says that in Jewish law a minimum of 120 men was required to establish a community with its own council. The number 120 indicates that they were a legitimate community.

Who was there? verse 13
Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

There were eleven disciples (Judas had killed himself). The women who traveled with Jesus were there. Luke mentions in Luke 8:2-3 that there were women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases who traveled with Jesus and the disciples, helping to support them “out of their own means.” He mentions three specifically: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna. Luke says there were many others who traveled with them. At least some of these women were present.

And then there were members of the family of Jesus. Mary, his mother, and his brothers: James who wrote the book of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon.

All of these men and women gathered in obedience to what Jesus had asked them to do. They waited. They waited and prepared for what Jesus promised was coming.

What did they do while they waited? verse 14
They all joined together constantly in prayer

There are two aspects of their prayer. First, they were united. The word translated “together” is a word Luke uses ten times in Luke and Acts and is only used one time in the rest of the New Testament. They prayed together, they made decisions in agreement, they acted together. In the description of the community in the early church in Jerusalem, Luke writes in Acts 4:32 that, “All the believers were one in heart and mind.”

This unity was not a foregone conclusion. There was undoubtedly healing that took place in the forty days Jesus had with the disciples. Jesus forgave them for abandoning him and denying him. They had to forgive each other for failing Jesus and each other.

Most of those gathered had traveled with Jesus and knew each other well. They knew each other but now they needed to renew their commitment to the community of followers of Jesus.

And then, added to their mix, was the mother and brothers of Jesus who had tried to pull Jesus away from his public ministry back to Nazareth, who accused him of being out of his mind. In John’s gospel, the brothers of Jesus mocked Jesus for not going to the Passover festival in Jerusalem. There must have been hard feelings between the disciples and Jesus’ mother and brothers. There needed to be reconciliation.

Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians that the resurrected Jesus appeared to James. Did he also appear to his mother and his other siblings? Or did James convince them? In the discussions in the place where they stayed in Jerusalem, there must have been stories shared that brought the family of Jesus into the fellowship of the followers of Jesus.

They prayed with one heart and mind, united by their experience of the resurrected Jesus. The power of the resurrected Jesus overcame the differences, the hurts, the rivalries that could have separated them from each other.

Unity is not easy for followers of Jesus. Even in the book of Acts as the church emerges, the unity of the disciples in Jerusalem gives way to disagreements in the church with Jewish followers of Jesus who spoke mostly Aramaic at odds with the Greek-speaking Jews who had returned from the Gentile world to live in Israel. Paul and Barnabas had a huge argument that caused them to separate. The Jewish followers of Jesus had a difficult time accepting the Gentile followers of Jesus who did not obey all the Jewish laws. The church in Corinth was divided into factions, each one claiming a different leader.

It is a mark of a genuine revival when followers of Jesus from diverse backgrounds come together to pray, praise, and worship in unity. The prayers of the disciples gathered in Jerusalem, waiting for the baptism of the Holy Spirit, were unified prayers.

Their prayers were also characterized by perseverance. They were “constantly in prayer.” This was not a fifteen minute prayer time. On the other hand, it was not that they only prayed, not taking time to eat, walk around, and sleep. But throughout the day, they gathered to pray. They undoubtedly shared with each other stories of Jesus. I would imagine they shared their hopes and dreams. I am sure they must have talked about what the baptism of the Holy Spirit would be like. But for ten days, their focus was on praying, preparing themselves for what was to come.

In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus had asked Peter, James, and John to pray with him. He told them (Mark 14:32–42)
“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch.”

He went a little farther to pray and when he came back he found them sleeping.
“Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? 38 Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Three times he went to pray and came back to find them sleeping. They failed Jesus in his hour of need and this time they were not going to disappoint him. I would guess they encouraged the others to pray, sharing in humility their own failure to pray constantly in the Garden of Gethsemane.

As they waited in obedience to what Jesus had told them to do, they prayed together, constantly.

As they waited they also prepared for what was to come.

There were now only eleven disciples and they were concerned about this. There is a lot of speculation about Judas. I have a more sympathetic view of him than many others. Judas betrayed Jesus and Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. Both of them, the Bible tells us, deeply regretted what they had done. Judas was “seized with remorse” and Peter “wept bitterly.”

Both Judas and Peter felt great shame. The difference between them is that Peter held on to Jesus, took his shame with him to Jesus, and was restored to leadership. For Judas the shame was too much to bear and he killed himself.

We play the Fernando Ortega song, “Sing to Jesus,” for our communion sometimes and there is a striking phrase in the lyrics.
Sing to Jesus, Lord of our shame
Lord of our sinful hearts, He is our great redeemer

Jesus bore the weight of our shame for all the things we have done when he died on the cross. I wish Judas had brought his shame to Jesus and been restored.

Saul who stood witness as Stephen was stoned to death and persecuted the followers of Jesus, was forgiven by Jesus and given the charge of taking the gospel to the Gentiles. What Judas did was not worse than what Saul did. Judas could have had a brilliant story to tell. I hope, somehow, he is in heaven and I will be able to talk with him.

In the days that they waited in Jerusalem, Peter and the other disciples must have talked about Judas. They knew him well. Judas had seen and experienced all they had experienced with Jesus. They tried to understand why Judas had betrayed Jesus. How could Judas betray Jesus after all he had seen and heard?

But now he was dead and there were only eleven disciples. Jesus had chosen twelve from among all the disciples who were following him, should they now choose someone to replace Judas?

When Luke wrote his history of the church he took time to tell the story of choosing a replacement for Judas. It is obviously an important story for Luke to take the time to tell it.

There are some who have argued that the way in which the disciples went about this revealed that they did not yet have the Holy Spirit at work in their lives. So let’s take a look at the process.
In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. 17 He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.”

20 “For,” said Peter, “it is written in the Book of Psalms: 
“ ‘May his place be deserted; 
let there be no one to dwell in it,’ 
and, 
“ ‘May another take his place of leadership.’ 
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.

First there was a problem. There had been twelve disciples and now only eleven. Why did the death of Judas create a problem? What was so special about having twelve disciples? Why not make do with eleven?

At the Passover meal Jesus shared with his disciples the night he was arrested, the disciples had argued about who would be the greatest when Jesus came into his kingdom. In the course of his response to this, Jesus mentioned (Luke 22:29)
And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

What did the disciples hear when Jesus said that? The disciples were still thinking of Jesus instituting an earthly kingdom that would bring Israel back to its glory and drive out the Romans. As such a kingdom, there would be a need for one more disciple to rule, one disciple for each of the twelve tribes of Israel.

It is likely that they were still a bit confused about what would be happening. But as they prepared for what Jesus had promised would happen in just a few days, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, they made preparations to complete the number of disciples to the twelve Jesus had chosen.

Peter faced the problem just as Jesus had taught them. He began with searching the Scriptures. Jesus had taught the disciples over the forty day period before he ascended to heaven and as Luke summarized this teaching in the end of his first book, (Luke 24:44-45)
He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

Peter had been a good student so he went to the Psalms and drew from them verses that indicated that Judas needed to be replaced.

Psalm 69 and 109, which Peter quotes, are psalms of David that express his anger at being attacked by his enemies. The early church took Psalm 69 to be a psalm that talked about the attacks on Jesus that resulted in his crucifixion and Psalm 109 to be a psalm that talked about the betrayal of Judas.

It may even have been Jesus who introduced them to these psalms when he taught them in the forty days between his resurrection and ascension. Peter took verses from these psalms and applied these verses to their current situation.

Judas had left and someone needed to take his place.

Peter started with Scripture and his understanding of what Jesus had instructed them to do. Having used Scripture to decide what to do, now they had to determine the criteria for the candidates to replace Judas.

This was fairly obvious. When Jesus had chosen the twelve, he had chosen those who had been with him from the beginning, so they decided that the replacement should come from that same list of people.

They made a list of those who had been with Jesus from the beginning, when John was baptizing in the Jordan. From this list they choose two men who were well qualified. Eusebius in the third century wrote that these two were among the seventy-two Jesus sent out, and that is likely to be true. The two seemed equally qualified so they decided to allow God to choose between them by casting lots and Matthias was chosen.

Casting lots was simply a matter of putting two stones, a white and a black, for instance, or two pieces of bone and then shaking them up in a container and the first one to come out was the indication of God’s choice.

Some have been critical of this method of choosing, but in casting lots, the disciples relied on a common means of determining God’s will that God himself instituted. The law given by God to Moses instructed Aaron to cast lots to determine which of the two goats would be sent out into the wilderness. David cast lots to determine military strategy. There are multiple references to God’s chosen people casting lots.

It is true that after Pentecost, there was no longer a reliance on this method of determining God’s will. With the coming of the Holy Spirit there was a better way of determining God’s will. But with the Holy Spirit not present, the disciples did not do wrong in casting lots to determine the replacement for Judas.

The process the disciples followed was a Biblical process. They started with Scripture, they reasoned and then they prayed allowing God to make the final choice.

There are some who say that the disciples made a mistake when they choose Matthias and later Jesus choose Paul to be the twelfth disciple.

But Luke in no way indicates that Paul was the replacement for Judas. Although Paul was clearly a hero to Luke, Luke in no way infers that the disciples made a mistake in choosing Matthias.

Paul himself clearly understood that he was not among those who had been with Jesus. He understood his uniqueness. In his 1 Corinthians letter when he recounts the resurrection appearances of Jesus, he refers to himself as “one abnormally born.”

If Matthias was God’s choice, why do we not hear about him again in the New Testament? The fact that we read nothing more about Matthias is not significant. We also read nothing more about any of the disciples after Acts 1 except Peter, James and John. Luke has a very focused view of the growth of the early church. He begins with the leadership of Peter and then moves to the call of Paul to bring the good news of Jesus to the Gentiles. The other disciples had their own ministries but did not have a Luke to document what they did and said.

The disciples saw the need to fill the place of Judas and according to the ways they understood to do that biblically, they filled his place with Matthias. It is interesting that a few years later when James was martyred, the disciples did not feel the need to replace him with someone else. The disciples may have been mistaken in their need to fill the vacancy left by Judas, but that does not negate the process they used to do so.

This tells me that we will not always do the right thing; we will make mistakes. But it is better to act, to prepare, and make mistakes than not to act or prepare at all.

As they waited for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit, they prayed and they prepared for the future so they would be ready when the gift came to them.

We too are waiting for a movement of the Holy Spirit in our world. It is not that good things are not happening. The Holy Spirit is at work in us and each of us can tell about how the Holy Spirit made us aware of the need to come to Jesus, surrender to the love Jesus has for us. But we are dismayed by the chaos that surrounds us. We long for a powerful move of the Holy Spirit in us and in our world.

At the end of this sermon, let me make a comment.

We wait for revival. We don’t make revival happen; we wait for it. The disciples walked back from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem and waited.

Iain Murray wrote a book, Revival and Revivalism, that contrasts the First Great Awakening of 1730-1760 and the Second Great Awakening of 1790-1840. Jonathan Edwards, the theologian of the First Great Awakening believed that God acts in his sovereignty when and how it pleases him. Our heightened passion for prayer and devotion to purity are responses to his initial work in us. Renewal and cultural revival spring out of his work in us.

Charles Finney was the leader of the Second Great Awakening and he taught that our prayers and passion will cause God to act. He taught that we can bring revival with our prayers and passion. Finney taught that God can be influenced by our actions to act in history. If we gather to pray for revival, God will bring revival.

So in the Second Great Awakening, the door was opened up for human manipulation and revivalists arose who developed methods and techniques that they guaranteed would bring revival. Techniques were developed to put maximum psychological pressure on people to make decisions to follow Jesus. One of the techniques used was to pull out a watch and tell the listeners they had fifteen minutes to convert or they would be lost in hell forever. The revivalist counted down the minutes. Ten minutes left. Five minutes left. Three minutes left. The pressure mounted and people came forward to escape the terrors of hell.

Some of the aftereffects of the Second Great Awakening remain as part of our church culture. Churches post signs advertising that revival is coming this Friday. These signs indicate that we are in control and can make God do what we want him to do. Altar calls are a common part of our church services, but they were developed by revivalists as a way of manipulating people, putting maximum psychological pressure on people to make a conversion. The question is: What is happening when someone responds to an altar call? Is this a genuine repentance and a turning to Jesus, or just the pressure of the moment causing people to make a decision that is not truly from the heart and therefore not spiritually significant.

These techniques were developed and are still used because we want so desperately to see our communities revived. We want to be part of a revival and see our communities transformed. We use these techniques because we want to make revival happen. We don’t like waiting.

Why does God bring revival to one generation and not the next? Why does God bring revival to one part of the world and not another? Church historians talk about the years 1960s-1970s as the Fourth Great Awakening. Both Annie and I became followers of Jesus in 1971. It is estimated that 14,000,000 Americans became followers of Jesus in the late 60s and early 70s. I am grateful for the work of God in that generation but my questions about “why then and not now”, “why there but not here”, are questions I cannot answer. I do not know God’s mind and I do not know God’s plan.

Charles Spurgeon, the great British preacher of the last half of the nineteenth century spoke out against revivalists and revivalism.
If you want to get up a revival, as the term is, you can do it, just as you can grow tasteless strawberries in winter, by artificial heat. There are ways and means of doing that kind of thing, but the genuine work of God needs no such planning and scheming.

The disciples waited for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. We wait for the next powerful movement of the Holy Spirit in our world.

What do we do as we wait? We pray. We seek the unity of the church. We persevere in our prayer together.

We pray and we prepare. We teach and encourage people to share their faith with others, to explain what it is they believe. We help people understand what we believe and why we believe it.

When the next move of the Holy Spirit in our world comes, we want to be ready. We want to be ready to embrace the new generation God brings into the church. We want to be ready to teach the new followers of Jesus, help them grow in their new faith.

In the 1960s and 70s, many churches resisted the long-haired hippies who came to their churches. They did not think they dressed appropriately. They did not think it was good to bring the instruments of Rock & Roll, guitars and drums, into churches where the people were used to hearing hymns played by an organ. They resisted the music these new followers of Jesus brought with them.

We need to be ready to accept and embrace the next generation of people the Holy Spirit brings into our churches.

We pray, we prepare, and we wait. An artificial, man-made revival will not satisfy us. We want the real thing.

So we wait.

Psalm 27:14
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.

Job, in the midst of his suffering declared, (Job14:14)
All the days of my hard service
I will wait for my renewal to come.

Paul wrote, (Romans 8:22–25)
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

And in 1 Corinthians 1:7 Paul wrote:
Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.

We wait with hope. We wait in the midst of suffering. We rejoice in God as we wait. We wait for what God has promised to us. We wait patiently. We wait eagerly. We wait.