Acts 1:1-8 1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but WAIT for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with[a] water, but in a few days you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit.” 6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
When you look back over the pages of Scripture, you can see that often God gave a promise and then asked His people to wait to receive it. Let me remind you that Abraham had to wait 25 years for the fulfillment of the promise that he and Sarah would have their promised son, Isaac. Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac arrived. That’s quite a wait! Jacob had to wait fourteen years to marry Rachel, the woman of his dreams. Fourteen years to wait for a wedding is a long time! Joseph had to wait 20+ years for the fulfillment of the God-given dream that he had as a young man. In a dream, he saw his brothers bowing down before him, but he was despised by his brothers, was sold into slavery, was wrongfully accused of sexual misconduct, and was jailed before he saw even one step towards the unfolding of his dream. I’m sure he wondered if the wait would be worth it at all. The shepherd boy, David, who was anointed to be the next king in Israel, had to wait decades before he could ascend to the throne. Even Mary, Jesus’ mother, had to wait on the fulfillment of prophecy that was spoken over her. Graduates, there will be a lot of moments that feel like a “hurry up and wait” opportunity. I want to assure you that waiting on God and waiting for God are not wasted moments in your life. God is in the waiting.
Waiting was also part of the story of Pentecost. The disciples were told to wait in Jerusalem for a gift that the Father had promised to them. Why Jerusalem? I think we could lift up many reasons, but I’ll just remind us that Jesus’ crucifixion took place just outside of Jerusalem. That means that those who called for Jesus’ execution, those who flogged and beat Him, those who drove the nails into His feet and hands, they were those in and near Jerusalem. Jerusalem would have been a place where the apostles would be surrounded by Jesus’ enemies which would make them theirs. Jesus asked the disciples to wait in a place they would have viewed as dangerous and uncomfortable.
Sometimes He asks the same of us, doesn’t He? Sometimes we aren’t to retreat. Sometimes we aren’t to move on. Sometimes we aren’t to abandon ship. Sometimes we are to stay put in a hard or unwanted place because God has a plan to transform that place by transforming us first! Those living in Jerusalem and those who were traveling to Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost had no idea what was about to hit them when the Holy Spirit indwelled the believers who were obedient to wait for the promised gift.
This gift would come as the Holy Spirit would descend on them, and it would come with an enabling to be God’s witnesses everywhere they went. The Holy Spirit’s coming would be accompanied by miracles, signs, and wonders! Jesus called it another baptism. John had baptized them with water, symbolizing repentance for sins, but the Holy Spirit was going to baptize them with the power of God. It was going to be a whole new ballgame. There was another experience they were to have, and experiencing it required that they wait. Jesus wasn’t simply asking His followers to wait, but He was, in essence, asking them to trust Him. Our willingness to wait on God to move in some way is also an expression of our trust in Him.
We have seen the disastrous consequences in Scripture that occurred when people didn’t wait on God to fulfill His promise. Every time someone took matters into their own hands, every time they tried to “help God out,” to move things along, to manipulate the situation or some time element, things went south in a hurry. Until we know God has released us from a situation or called us to something new, we must wait, and our waiting becomes a testimony of our trust in God.
After Jesus spoke to His followers, He ascended into Heaven. It was a dramatic event. He was taken up in a cloud before their very eyes. None of them had witnessed the resurrection as it happened in real time. They had witnessed the Resurrected Jesus after the resurrection, but they didn’t get to see His dramatic exit from the tomb. They did, however, get to see Him ascend into Heaven. I am sure it was jaw-dropping. Two angels told them that Jesus would return just as He left, in a cloud of glory. We are all still waiting for the second coming when Christ returns to claim His bride which is us, the Church!
If you had been in that group of disciples who had been asked to remain in Jerusalem and to simply wait, what would you have done? You saw Jesus leave earth. You heard He was returning, but you had no clue when. You had left your job, your family, your everyday life to follow Him, but He ascended. How would you continue to follow Him when He wasn’t present? They were told to wait, but for what? Did they understand the magnitude of the promise? Did they think it would be worth the wait? Jesus didn’t tell them how long the wait would be. How do you wait for something when you don’t know how long the wait will be? Jesus said in verse 5 that the promised gift would come in a few days, but a few is two or three. Am I right? It turned out to be a ten-day wait, but they didn’t know it was going to be ten days. Ten days seems a lot longer than a few to me, and by day four, I would be questioning what was up!
I struggle if I know I have an appointment somewhere at 10 am and when 10 am comes and goes and 10:15 comes and goes and 10:30 comes and goes, I get antsy. They weren’t given a specific time frame regarding how long they would have to wait. Jesus had said a few days. After a day or two or maybe a week, you would think that Scripture would record that some people got tired of waiting, grew impatient and just went on back home to resume their pre-Jesus life. That’s not what we read, however. The disciples, along with several women, and Jesus’ mother and brothers, and evidently lots of others because the number totaled 120, they cloistered together to wait, not knowing when the gift Jesus spoke of would arrive.
I suppose if you knew up front that something epic was going to happen for you in ten days, you would be content and happy to wait. In fact, each passing day would probably just increase your anticipation and excitement. You would probably create a countdown video or set a timer on your watch or phone somehow so that you could check on the progress of the passing of time. You’d be looking to see how many minutes you had left to wait. You would excitedly play the guessing game with those in your party to try to guess just what this special gift might entail. The buzz of the conversation would help you pass the time. But what if you didn’t know when the epic gift would be delivered? Would you just be willing to wait?
How well do you wait on God? How well do you wait for answers to prayer? How patient are you when God is working something out that you may not see or fully understand? When there is a struggle at work, and you start praying about it on a Friday and nothing seems different on a Monday do you assume there is no point in praying or that God isn’t interested in your trouble? What if the point of waiting is to teach us things we can’t learn if the fulfillment of a promise is immediate? This I do know-God has a good reason for asking us to wait for anything He desires to give to us.
God was using that ten-day period to unify His followers. He was bringing them together to prepare them for a new purpose. Sometimes God asks you to wait because He needs to get you ready for a new thing that He wants to do in you and through you.
Listen, when God called me to preach, even though it hadn’t ever been a thought in my mind or a desire of my heart, when He called me, it was like waving a red flag in front of a bull. I was ready and raring to go. But guess what? It was rejection letter after rejection letter after rejection letter for three years until God opened this door. Rah, rah, sis, boom, bah, way to build me up, Lord! Way to hype me up, Jesus!
As I was processing the whole thing in real time, my mind was saying, “We are wasting time, here, God. Let’s get this show on the road. Why am I spinning my wheels looking for the open door when the call has been clear?” The reason was that God was doing some prep work in me to ready me for this assignment. He was also doing some prep work in this church to be able to receive the likes of me! He also wanted me to fully understand that wherever He was sending me, HE WAS SENDING ME, and it wouldn’t be the result of an impressive resume or polished interview skills. It would be the door of His choosing in His time. He wanted me to fully rely on Him, to fully trust Him.
If I hadn’t started in that place of fully relying on God when I took this position, it would have ended long before now and would have been a total disaster. I truly believe that. I was able to “hit the ground running” when I got here because during those three years, God prepared me for the scope of leading a ministry as a senior pastor. I took those three years of prep to learn more fully what I could anticipate when I got here and started practicing some of those necessary skills while I was still an associate. As I waited, I grew. I think the same was true for those gathered in that Upper Room.
To unite the disciples in preparation of a new purpose, God called them to prayer. Verse 14 of chapter one says that they joined together constantly in prayer. That was a ten-day prayer meeting, y’all. We’re having a prayer meeting this Saturday night at 7 pm in what I’m calling an “Upper Room” experience. It might go an hour or and hour and a half. I would love for us to be packed to the gills upstairs in our youth room. I’m anxious to see what happens next Sunday, which is actually Pentecost Sunday, after we have spent time in prayer together. I’ll say this, Prayer is preparation for any move of the Holy Spirit.
So, God brought them together in prayer to prepare them for a new purpose. Second, God had to bring those people together because they needed healing. They had been through some stuff. For part of the previous time-period, between the crucifixion and the waiting time in Jerusalem, they had witnessed very traumatic events, events that led many of them to scatter and isolate themselves from each other. They were going to need to go into this new Pentecost season as a united front.
There was also an “elephant in the room.” One of the twelve was missing. Judas had betrayed Jesus, was then seized with remorse, and subsequently took his own life. That’s not something you gloss over. That isn’t something you just move on from without conversation, without grief, without experiencing God’s healing. Sometimes, it is easier to minimize someone’s absence or compartmentalize that they are no longer on a team UNTIL you all get together. When you gather and someone is missing, that is when their absence is the most glaring. They couldn’t pretend that what happened to Judas hadn’t happened. They needed a minute to process that, to deal with that, and to be healed. I think it is very significant that Peter took it upon himself to bring it up.
This is what he said beginning in verse 16: “Brothers and sisters,[d] 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.”
I respect and appreciate that he didn’t just gloss over Judas’s passing, but he took time to say, “Judas was one of us. He shared in the ministry with us.” He acknowledged that Judas had been part of the group. He acknowledged they had lost one of their own. He also didn’t try to downplay the tragic way Judas died. He went on in very graphic detail to describe the aftermath of the suicide. (Just as an aside, in case there is any confusion, both Matthew and Luke share what happened to Judas. While they may seem to contradict one another, they don’t. What Matthew described in chapter 27 was the cause of death, and what Luke described was what happened to Judas’s body after he died.)
The community of believers needed to deal with all of that. Before they could move on to do a new thing together, they needed to take a minute to grieve a former thing together. They couldn’t just roll into the whole Pentecost experience without processing their loss and talking about who might replace Judas as an apostle. Peter knew the Scriptures and what had been prophesied about Judas. Look at Acts 1:20ff: 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,’[e] and, “‘May another take his place of leadership.’[f]
Before the team could be anointed by the Holy Spirit, someone needed to be appointed to take Judas’s spot on the team. It was decided that someone named Matthias would join the team. Both, grieving Judas’s passing and discerning who should replace him were significant actions that needed to take place during this time of waiting.
I want to suggest one more thing that was strategic about the ten-day waiting period. I pull it from verses 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.”
As the apostles waited, they embraced what they knew. Jesus had told them they would be His witnesses. They had accepted that call. They had shifted their mindsets. They were making a shift from following Jesus to proclaiming Jesus. They were going to make Him known. That’s why they needed to be careful about who they selected to take Judas’s place. They needed it to be someone who had walked with Jesus, someone who had seen Him do miracles firsthand, someone who had been shaped by His teaching and example, someone that others would find credible because he had been with Jesus. They didn’t know just how they would go about this new role as proclaimers of Jesus and His resurrection, but they knew they needed to position and prepare themselves as much as possible to step into that space with credibility.
Sometimes, we want to know the details about how something will play out. We want to know five steps ahead, but the reality is, we can trust God in the waiting times to tell us what we need to know in order to be proactive and productive in the waiting time. Jesus had commissioned them as His witnesses in Matthew 28 and had reaffirmed their assignment in Acts 1. Their strategic choice of someone who had walked with them during Jesus’ ministry tells me they had adopted the mindset that propelled them into their new roles as fishers of men.
I suppose we aren’t so different from those early apostles because we too, find ourselves in a state of waiting. We are waiting for Christ to return. After Jesus told the disciples to wait, and He was taken up into Heaven, Acts 1:10 says 10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
We’re still waiting. What should we do while we wait? Perhaps we should anticipate the next new thing God wants to do in us. I guarantee He wants to do a new thing in your life. He’s all about making all things new. Perhaps there are some old hurts we need to allow Him to heal in order for us to be candidates for the new thing He wants to take us to. Maybe we need to address some “elephants in the room.” Maybe we need to respond to what He has already told us and be proactive to act on the information we already have. Maybe we just need to be more intentional about coming together for times of prayer and worship. Whatever you are waiting on, if you trust the Lord and seek to follow what He has already revealed, whatever you are waiting for will be worth the wait!