Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Sermon: Acts 1:12-26 Waiting For God

What are you like when you have to wait? It could be for a bus; it might be in the doctor’s surgery; it may be that your call is important to us, you are number 15 in the queue, please hold the line while we try to connect you...

In our New Testament reading, the disciples are waiting, not for a bus, but for what has been promised to them. They find themselves in this in between time, between the Lord Jesus being ascended, and the promised Holy Spirit coming upon them at Pentecost. We know that it was a period of ten days, from Thursday until the Sunday week, but they’re living in these days, not knowing when the Holy Spirit will come.

As we watch the disciples, we’ll see that they don’t just sit back passively, lying around until something happens. Their waiting is active, they are busy. So what is it they are doing in these days?

In verses 12-14, we see them obeying what Jesus has said in verse 4. They return to the city, they go back to the upper room, and they pray. The eleven disciples are named, and they are united, along with the women, and Mary and Jesus’ brothers. It’s a church prayer meeting. They were ‘devoting themselves to prayer.’ God has promised them the Spirit, so they are praying to God for what he has promised.

Secondly, in verses 15-20, we see that Peter engages in Bible study. You see, even though there were 120 in the room, there was an empty place - the chair where Judas Iscariot sat. Do you see what Peter says of him? It isn’t, poor, misguided Judas, but rather ‘the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas.’ The Psalms speak directly of Judas, and because they are God’s word, they could not be broken.

That’s why there’s the empty place at the table - Peter makes sense of what has happened by reading his Bible, and seeing how their circumstances have been described and prescribed centuries beforehand. Peter knows his Bible, and relates it to what they’re going through.

Thirdly, we see that as Peter continues speaking, they’re going to fill Judas’ space, and have a new twelfth apostle. Do you see the criteria? ‘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.’ The work of an apostle is to witness to Jesus’ resurrection, to tell what they have seen, to spread the word that Jesus is alive.

So this guy Joseph with three names and Matthias are proposed, and one name Matthias is chosen and appointed as an apostle. Now why is it significant that they bother doing this? Why appoint Matthias, given that we’ll not see his name again in the rest of the Bible? It’s because the church believes what Jesus has said - they have mission in mind. Look back to verse 8: ‘But 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.’ Matthias is the twelfth of the twelve witnesses - even as they wait for the Spirit, the twelve (and the hundred and twenty) have mission on their minds.

Now, as we’ve said, our reading describes a unique period in the life of the people of God - between the ascension and the coming of the Spirit to all believers. Yet if these Christians are praying, reading their Bibles and focusing on mission even before the Spirit comes, then how much more should we, who have received the promised Spirit, as we wait for the return of the Lord Jesus?

Are we as a church family together ‘with one accord’ devoting ourselves to prayer? The Spirit helps us in our weakness to pray, interceding on our behalf.

Are we understanding and applying and living out the Scriptures? The Spirit who wrote the Scriptures is the one who helps us to understand them.

Are we committed to mission, both going and sending? The Spirit helps us and gives us boldness to speak out, even as he prepares the hearts of people to hear and receive the message.

This sermon was preached at the Midweek Holy Communion in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Wednesday 8th June 2011.

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