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 themselves also to prayer, together 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.”
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:  “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.  Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  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.
1 (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 !