E100 – May 28, 2017

“Pray… Wait… Go!” – Acts 1

Easter 7 – May 28, 2017


  1. Ascension Day

Since Thursday was Ascension Day on the Church Year Calendar, and since we don’t normally worship on that day, and since we’re working through the 100 essential stories from the Bible, today we’re going to land on that account of Jesus’ ascension back into heaven.

Now sometimes, in our own minds and in movie depictions of the life of Jesus, Jesus’ Great Commission to the disciples in Matthew 28 – “Go and make disciples of all nations” – is set in the context of Jesus’ ascension. I vividly recall at least one movie showing the disciples gazing upward as Jesus said those memorable words, which concluded with Jesus’ promise, “I am with you always to the very end of the age.” It sounds like a great last thing for Jesus to say to His followers. However, Matthew’s account clearly sets those words of Jesus on a mountain in Galilee, while both Luke and Acts clearly place Jesus’ ascension just outside of Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives. Since Matthew’s Gospel doesn’t specifically say that those were Jesus’ last words before ascending, we’re going to take our ascension details from the last few words of Luke’s Gospel account and his first few words in the book of Acts.

The book of Acts is Luke’s sequel to his account of Jesus’ life and ministry, death and resurrection. We heard that the risen Jesus appeared to His disciples many times after His resurrection from the dead. (You can read through Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to catch some of those appearances, and you can supplement those with Paul’s list of resurrection appearances in 1 Corinthians 15.) In both Acts 1 and Luke 24 Jesus ordered His disciples to stay in Jerusalem until they had received / been baptized with the powerful Holy Spirit that God promised – that’s next Sunday, Pentecost.

Then they asked Him about restoring the Kingdom to Israel. They just didn’t get it. Even after Jesus’ resurrection, they still had the wrong idea about the Messiah. They figured He was about an earthly kingship, a military rule, and a fierce Jewish nationalism. Jesus had a negative and a positive response to their query. First, He said they didn’t need to know God’s timing of things. Maybe that was simply to get them to stop thinking man’s thoughts. Second, He gave them the Acts 1 version of that Great Commission: “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.” That’s pretty much the same as “make disciples of all nations.”

Then, in just one sentence in Acts 1, the ascension is described: “And when He had said these things, as they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him out of their sight.” Luke’s Gospel description is even more concise: “While He blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.” Now, some may ask what is the significance of Jesus’ ascension. After all, we don’t normally worship on Ascension Day like we do on Good Friday or at Christmas.

First, let’s affirm that heaven is Jesus’ rightful place, as God. In His ascension, Jesus is crowned as King – “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name,” as we heard from Ephesians 1. It continues, saying that God “seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places… and gave Him as head over all things to the church.” Jesus entered His own glory, seated at the right hand of the Father. Paul would later write to the Philippians that “God has highly exalted [Jesus] and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name.” We often celebrate homecomings – whether it’s our favourite sports team coming home after winning the championship, or a family member coming home after extended study time or visit away. So, Ascension Day is the celebration that Jesus, in His full divine glory and splendor, has gone to His rightful home, and a profound side-effect is that He is also preparing a place / a home for us, with Him! Woo-Hoo!!

Second, if Jesus had stayed on earth as a man, He would have continued to be limited by space and time. Like any public leader – political or religious – He could only have been in one place at one time, and while that may have been good for the few who actually got to see Him, shake His hand, listen to Him, and maybe experience some miracle, it would have been disappointing for the many who would never get that opportunity. Romans 8, Hebrews 7 and 1 John 2 all explain that the ascended Jesus is actually interceding for us, for ALL of us! So, if you’ve got an issue for God to deal with, you can go through Jesus… any time… at any place… for any concern.

Third, Jesus did promise to be with His people always – not in body but in spirit. And He also promised His own Holy Spirit – the Counselor, the Comforter, the Guide – to be with all of His people all of the time. If Jesus hadn’t left, the Holy Spirit wouldn’t have come. And one thing that the Holy Spirit did for the disciples, and continues to do for us, is to open their minds and hearts to understand Scripture, and to believe it. It’s when we understand Scripture that we fully appreciate the depth of God’s love and grace in Jesus for us sinners.

Fourth, the appearance of a couple of angels and their words about Jesus’ return, added to Jesus’ own words to this effect, remind us that Jesus is coming back one day to take all of us who put our trust in Him to spend eternity with Him in heaven. After Jesus’ ascension, and in response to the words of the Great Commission, one of those Jesus movies shows Peter turning to the rest of the disciples and saying, “My brothers, my sisters, we have work to do.” The imminent return of Jesus and the Great Commission implies that we should not spend our time gazing into heaven and waiting for Jesus’ return. Someone has written, “Don’t be so heavenly minded that you are no earthly good.” We, too, have God’s work to do… here… now.

So, Luke’s Gospel concludes with the disciples returning to Jerusalem with great joy, worshiping and blessing God. The account in Acts 1 also sees the disciples going back to Jerusalem, but then the story continues… because Luke’s Gospel was the story of Jesus – beginning to end – while the book of Acts picks up the story of the early Church where Luke’s Gospel ends, with the ascension of Jesus as the one overlapping event, connecting the two. So that’s where we’ll  go for the next few minutes… to those 15 verses and those ten days between the Acts 1 account of the ascension and the Acts 2 account of the sending of the Holy Spirit.


  1. Between Ascension and Pentecost


When the disciples returned to Jerusalem as Jesus had said, they went to and stayed in the upper room. The 11 remaining disciples are named again in Acts 1. Jesus’ mother, Mary, is also named, but some others are left unnamed – the women, and Jesus’ own brothers. The women were probably the ones who went to the empty tomb on Easter Sunday morning – Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna (whose husband was Herod’s household manager), Salome (the mother of John and James), Susanna (one of Jesus’ financial supporters), and maybe even some others. The brothers of Jesus are named in Mark 6 as James, Joses, Judas and Simon. Jesus’ sisters are also mentioned but not named in Mark 6, and they could very well have been included among those post-ascension believers in Acts 1. So, as a true historian, Luke pinpoints for us just who comprised the first gathering of believers.

They knew their mission. Whether it was “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed… to all nations,” or “make disciples of all nations” or “be my witnesses… to the end of the earth,” their mission was clear. But their power, their means of carrying it out, hadn’t been sent. So what did they do? Acts 1 records, “All these [the named and the unnamed] with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer.”

When you’ve got a challenging assignment like that – taking the name of Jesus to the whole world – you had better start with prayer. And that’s what they did. They didn’t know how they would start, so they prayed. They didn’t know who their first audience would be, so they prayed. They didn’t know what their power would be, so they prayed. They didn’t know the dangers they would face, so they prayed. Starting with prayer is always a good thing.

Martin Luther is quoted as saying, “I have so much to do [today] that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” What great preparation that was!

If you’ve asked the question (as we heard from Saul/Paul last week) “Lord, what do you want me to do?” then a good thing to do in the meantime – either before you find out what it is God wants you to do, or before you actually start doing it – is to pray. Like Luther, pray before you start your day. Pray to be equipped for the tasks of the day, and even for the interruptions. Pray for the wisdom to process and learn from your interactions with others. Pray that the words you say will be heard in the same way as they are intended and spoken.



The next thing we notice in these intervening verses is that they waited. Jesus had told them to stay in Jerusalem, to wait in Jerusalem, until that promised Holy Spirit would come. So they did. But while they waited patiently, Peter realized that they had something to attend to. He informed the other believers that Judas’ betrayal of Jesus had been spoken of in the Psalms. But he also pointed out that someone else needed to take his place so that the number of disciples would again be 12, to match the number of the tribes of Israel from the Old Testament. So he concluded that “one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us… one of these men must become with us a witness to His resurrection.”

So, as the early believers considered who would be 12 of 12, it was important that this man be a witness of and a witness to. He must be a witness of everything that Jesus did and said – from the beginning (His Baptism) to the end (His Ascension). He had to be able to speak with eye-witness credibility. But He also had to be a witness to the resurrection – not just that he had seen the risen Jesus personally, but that that would be the content of His message and His life. The resurrection of Jesus isn’t just a past event and reality, it is a future promise and certainty… for us.

As they considered who fit the criteria, two qualified men were proposed – Joseph and Matthias. Then they prayed again, asking God to show them which man He had chosen. They used the system of casting lots, which was used even in Old Testament times, and they trusted that God would indeed guide the choice, and they were willing to abide by the choice as being from God. The lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the apostles.

Sometimes waiting is just the patience to see where God is leading. He will reveal it in His time and in His way. Sometimes there are things to attend to during our time of waiting. Even in those times we want our waiting to be prayerful waiting. Whether it’s waiting for the right place to live, the right person to marry, the right career to choose, the right time to confront someone, the right agency to volunteer with, or the right treatment for whatever you’re suffering from, prayer is a wise thing to engage in, asking God to show YOU what is HIS course of action for your life. Otherwise, it is tempting to practice self-idolatry – trusting yourself above God, thinking that you provide everything in life by yourself, for yourself. Waiting is waiting on God, and waiting on God is waiting in prayer.



Praying and waiting were definitely aspects of the life and community of the early believers between Jesus’ ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Day. Our third word for consideration today is the word “Go.” If we think about Matthias, the new 12th apostle, his going, his actually being a witness of the risen Jesus, is implied in the words “he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” However, we don’t hear another word about him, we don’t hear his name again in the rest of the book of Acts nor in the entire New Testament. But if he was chosen to be a witness of Jesus’ resurrection, then we assume that is what he did. “Go!” and he went.

But “Go” is the theme of the rest of the book of Acts:

We will hear next Sunday that on the Day of Pentecost Peter interpreted the Spirit driven proclamation of the crucified and risen Jesus as being Lord and Christ to be the fulfillment of God’s promise through the prophet Joel. The disciples didn’t go anywhere geographically that day, but they did go somewhere figuratively… to the hearts and lives of 3,000 people who were from 15 different regions around the Mediterranean.

In the last three weeks, though, we have heard about the message of the risen Christ literally going places:

Philip took the good news of Jesus to the Ethiopian man on the Gaza road south of Jerusalem.

Peter surprisingly took the message of forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ name to the formerly unclean Gentile, Cornelius, in Caesarea.

Paul was set apart to carry the name of Jesus to the Gentile world of south eastern Europe.

Go, go, go – While He was on earth, the presence of Jesus was localized, but now that He had ascended into heaven, His name and His people were on the go!

They still are! The mission hasn’t changed in 2,000 years. Like Matthias, we are still called to be witnesses of the risen Jesus. We are still called to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth. We are still called to make disciples of all nations. Go into each day with your mission in mind.

You don’t have to go anywhere geographically… we can go figuratively. Just like on Pentecost Day there were people from many different countries in Jerusalem, so today there are people from many different cultures and countries that live beside us, work beside us, play beside us. It’s not a stretch to go into their lives with the good news that Jesus forgives, that Jesus saves.

Finally, we can go with confidence that God is leading. The disciples prayed for a 12th apostle, and then trusted God’s choice. No matter what decisions we are facing, no matter where we are going with the name of Jesus, we can put it into the hands of God and trust His leading. After all, we still do have the power of the Holy Spirit leading, sustaining and blessing all that we do and say. That story is… to be continued… next Sunday…

But in the meantime, at any time… Pray… wait… go! Amen.

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