Monday, May 21, 2012

What to do between Ascension and Pentecost?

TEXT :  Acts  1:12-2:1
TITLE:   What to do between Ascension and Pentecost?
Date :  20/05/2012
Chronologically,  we are  now between  the Ascension of  the Lord Jesus Christ  and Pentecost (the coming of the Holy Spirit – the promise of the Father -  Acts 1:4). This ‘in between period‘ corresponds  to  Acts  1:12-26. This is the text we shall  consider today.
Next week D.V. on Pentecost Sunday I would like to consider with you  the message and meaning of Pentecost (Acts  2). We  would like  to follow   this up  by  spending  3 days in  prayer (Monday 28th May- Wednesday 30th May), seeking  the LORD  for   personal and national  revival  and  renewal.  By then we  will also be  half way through the year. We shall  need   God’s  help  to be all that He wants us to be in these challenging  days. God has called  us to be  primarily His holy worshipping  people,  His body on earth  and  His  witnesses to the ends of the earth. We need His help  to be that and to do that  by prayer. Prayer is the language of dependence upon God. Prayer give us perspective for life. Being too busy to pray robs us of such  perspective.   Therefore prepare your hearts now  for  focused prayer.

Acts  1:12-26  : Survey
What  was  the most important activity  of the disciples   between   the Ascension of Christ and Pentecost as they were told to wait for the promise of the Father? According to Luke, ( author  of the Gospel and of Acts) they  were continually in the temple  blessing God  (Lk 24:53) and  here in the book of Acts  they  were devoting[1] themselves also to prayertogether with  the women and Mary , the mother of Jesus, and His brothers (v.14), while they were waiting for the promise of the Father.  They worshipped  God in the temple and they  had prayer meetings in their home. John Stott says: “It was  a healthy combination: continuous praise in the temple, and continuous  prayer in the home.”[2] 
One of the things they  dealt with was  the matter of  Judas’ desertion and tragic death  and  destiny. The apostle Peter  speaking  from v. 15 onwards, giving perspective to all this,  also sees  from  the Scripture   in Psalm  109:8  that another one must take the place of Judas. “Let another take his office (ESV)  / his place of leadership (NIV)“. This is important  since the testimony  of the resurrection of Jesus  Christ (v.22)  must be  authenticated in the face of many skeptics and challenges. The  criteria set for the election  of a new apostle are  simple. He must have  accompanied the disciples during all the time that the Lord Jesus  went in  and out among them-  and specifically,   from the days of the baptism of John until the day when He was taken up from us  - one of these men must become with us a witness to His resurrection”. Two men were selected Joseph (Barsabbas i.e. Son of Sabbas) also known as Justus  and Matthias.  After   committing this matter  to prayer,  lots were  cast and the lot fell to Matthias, and so he became the 12th member on the apostolic team.  This then was one of the important things they prayed  for in their  prayer meetings. They prayed for a completion  of their leadership team.  I will come back to this  in conclusion  because our church has presently great need in this  very same area.
Worship, prayer, witness! These things  are  the   key activities  of the church , and whatever we fail  to do, we must not  fail in  these  areas. In the context of our text  in Acts , I want to zoom in on one of these core  activities – prayer. Verse 14 says that, with one  accord, they were devoting  themselves  to prayer

Verse 14  :  Notes on Prayer  
1.  They were  there with one accord . They were of one mind. There was unity.  They had a common  goal and purpose. Nothing was dividing them now. We were created for unity . It is sin that separates us . It is our desires that drive us apart. A united, praying  church is a powerful church. She has the ear of God. She portrays  heaven on earth. Psalm 133 testifies to this. No wonder that Satan  continuously works to divide us. He fears  the united, praying church more than anything else upon the face of  the earth. 
2.   They were  continually  devoted to the work of prayer.  Prayer was a major  work in this congregation.  In one sense we can say that the Holy Spirit was sent at Pentecost as the sovereign  promise   of God and on the other hand  we can say that the Holy Spirit came  because   He was  prayed for. When God intends to do a work in our midst, He first  gets His people praying. We see this here. A season of devoted  prayer precedes the coming of the Holy Spirit. Never underestimate  the importance of  the prayer meeting in the life of the church, and be very concerned when the prayer meeting of the church is  attended by the minority  and not the majority!  If  a large percentage of the body is absent  from public prayer, this generally points to divided priorities,  divided hearts  and therefore a lack of  spiritual  unity  and purpose. You are probably asking : do  these people in the Bible  never work? Answer : They do , but they are not firstly known by what they do. They are firstly known as worshippers of the living God!  Unfortunately our Protestant work ethic  so easily substitutes  work for worship , when in reality our work should be driven by our worship. Let me therefore encourage you to consider the prayer meetings of your church in that light.
Now, it is not that we have to ask for a new Pentecost. It is not  that  the  Holy Spirit  needs to come again  from heaven. Pentecost is  a unique, unrepeatable   historic  occasion. He has come, and He has not been withdrawn. Jesus has promised that He would continue  to  be with us   as our Comforter, Counselor  and Convicter of sin.  However, consider this, that in the New Testament  period God  wants us  to seek the help of the outpoured Holy Spirit by asking !

         a.God commands His people  to  pray  without ceasing
    In the OT corporate  temple prayer  was  a daily  occurrence (see Acts  2:42; Acts  3:1). The early church  was  continuously devoted to prayer, and although the church at this time had not yet received the Holy Spirit, they were  waiting, until He had been given. We  today  have the Holy Spirit, but  we need to continually  ask  Him to be involved in all that we do, remembering  that without God’s help we really can do nothing  of everlasting value (see Jn 15). So, the life of  the Christian and of the Christian church should be driven by continual prayer. 

          b. God commands  the church  to  ask for  the Holy Spirit
    He promises to give Him in response to  our asking: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.” The gift  of the Holy Spirit is always associated with conversion  (Jn 3:1-8 ; 1 Pet 1:12) and empowerment for effective ministry  (Lk 4:1; 1 Cor 12 ; Hebr 2:4)   and joy (Lk 10:21 ; 1Thess 1:6).  And so, although the Spirit has been given ,  every new NT generation needs to continually   seek God  in prayer and ask  for  the help and power of the Holy Spirit   in terms  of everything that we do.  James points out   that  a worldly church  “does not have , because it does not ask, and  when it does ask,it does not receive because it asks wrongly to spend it on  its passions.” (James 4:2,3). There can be no doubt that we must ask . It is an exercise of our faith! It is a logical extension  of our faith!  In this  act of faith  we must believe and not doubt  (James 1:5-8). God is  for us when we pray in the Holy Spirit.  John  14:12-14,  Jesus tells  His disciples: [12] “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. [13] Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. [14] If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.( see also 15:16 ; 16:23-24). 

       c.God commands the church to pray in the Spirit in all occasion (Eph 6:18; Jude v.20). This does not mean  ‘speaking in  tongues’   so much as  praying in and by and under  the power of the Holy Spirit  i.e. effectively  and with confidence  (1 Jn 5:14,15).

       d.We are  warned not to grieve the Holy Spirit (Lk 12:10; Eph 4:30), for if we do so, He may be withdrawn, and  our prayers  rendered ineffective. It is ultimately the Holy Spirit that intercedes for us  and makes our prayers intelligible before the throne of God (Rom 8:26,27). If  we are not helped by Him in prayer,  God will be silent, something which the Psalmist dreaded (Psalm  28:1; 35:22; 83:1)

So , with all  this in mind , what  was this church praying for  between the Ascension and Pentecost ?
We cannot say  with  certainty, but  the following three aspects   for which they prayed  may be deduced from   Acts 1 and 2
(i)      They were  praying for the promise of the Father: the descension of the Holy Spirit  in accordance with the promise of Jesus in John 14 :15-31  and  16: 4-15. This would soon happen in Acts  2.   For us this would mean that  we should pray  that the  promised Holy  Spirit  would  be pleased  visit our city and country . Although the Spirit  of   God has always been at work in the world and in Namibia ( Missionary biography proves this) , we are currently   in a precarious  moment in our history :  the church at large is backslidden, and  it shows in our national morality and the lukewarmness of the  Christian church. Worship is often  man-made, prayer meetings are empty and  our witness  is feeble. The fear of God  is  absent. Thoughtlessness rules  as man made philosophies  and ways of thinking about politics, education, gender, sexuality  etc.  prevail. We need   a new reformation in our society  in regard to these things.
     (ii)  They  were praying for power  to be  effective witnesses  to the whole world  (Acts 1:8). This would have included  prayers for personal courage  in the face  of fearful challenges. The   commitment of the Namibian  Church   to   the  great commission  of Christ (Matt 28 :18-20), when  compared, for instance  with the South Korean Church)  is by and large  non existent. We lack power and conviction to this end.  We have been  receiving help  for far too long. We  need to pray that the Holy Spirit would stir many into   mission and evangelistic labour.

    (iii) They were praying  for  leadership. The  church  throughout the ages  has  always  depended on godly and God-given leadership. It is God ‘s means of  leading His church on earth. Where shall  we  get  the pastoral leadership,  the evangelists and the missionary force  from?  Jesus  said: “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. Therefore pray earnestly  to the  Lord of the harvest   to send out labourers into His harvest.” (Luke  10:2). The disciples in the upper room were therefore acting in accordance with this instruction from the Lord, and  He was not slow in providing them with a replacement called Matthias.  We too are calling you  to pray  for leadership  on various fronts in our church –  for elder’s  and  deacons ,  and labourers  in the harvest field. But you must help us in this regard , brothers and sisters ( 2 Cor 1:10,11).
What to do between Ascension and Pentecost?  The early church was  praying  for God’s kingdom to come; for God’s glory to advance; for His Name to be known  in all the earth; the church was praying for leadership. Let’s join them in this.  Amen !

[1]  The present participle denotes an ongoing action. The NIV therefore translates “ They all joined together constantly in prayer
[2] John Stott : Acts , p 52

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