God Has Plans For Us, February 6th, 2022
Holy One, no wisdom or truth comes apart from you and so we seek your guidance as your Word is read and interpreted. Send your Holy Spirit to move in and among us so that we might better understand your word for us this day, and act upon it for the sake of Christ, your Living Word. Amen
New Testament Reading: Acts 1:8-14
Two weeks ago, our reading from the book of Acts ended with these words of Jesus spoken to his closest followers, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” What had taken place was that Jesus had been with his disciples for forty days after his resurrection, as Luke writes, “After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” Jesus was there to show his disciples how to teach in his ways to reach all the people of the world.
But now it was time for him to return to the Father and he so gave them his final instructions, as Luke says, “While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” So, the disciples were to remain in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit descended on them and after that they were to begin their worldwide mission. The Holy Spirit would empower the disciples to become God’s witnesses to the world.
It was this Holy Spirit which would enable the disciples to demonstrate God’s presence here on earth and to do the works of Jesus in the world now that he was no longer going to be with them. The Holy Spirit is one part of the Trinity of God, we have the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In the Spirit, we experience God’s presence and power.
Now when we come to faith, we do so in knowledge of God the Father, and his love, and in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and his grace in our lives. And then it is the Holy Spirit who teaches us and guides us as we work to fulfill God’s mission in the world. It is the Holy Spirit which makes us witnesses of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
And before the disciples could ever carry on the ministry and mission of Jesus, they had to wait to receive the Holy Spirit. Jesus told his disciples not to leave Jerusalem until they received the gift of the Spirit.
And while Luke didn’t mention it in the book of Acts, he did say in his earlier writings, the Gospel of Luke, that the disciples, “returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.” Their joy would have been the result of having been with Jesus for those forty days after his resurrection, having been promised by him that with the help of the Holy Spirit they would become his “witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
And although Jesus was no longer with them, after seeing him ascend into heaven two angels had appeared to the disciples and made them this promise, “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” So, they knew that one day he would return, and they would be together once again.
But for now, they were to remain in Jerusalem. Thus, as Luke writes, “Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying,” Something in those lines which I’ve never noticed before are the words, “a sabbath day’s journey away”. This was the distance between Mount Olivet and Jerusalem. The description a “sabbath’s journey” refers to the distance a Jewish person was permitted to travel on the Sabbath. They were not permitted to do any work on the Sabbath and walking was considered to be work. The religious authorities had determined from the laws of the Old Testament that the maximum distance someone was allowed to walk on the Sabbath was roughly a kilometre. So based on that, the distance between Mount Olivet and Jerusalem would have been a kilometre.
And when the disciples came into Jerusalem they went to an “upper room”. This was probably the same site as where the Last Supper was held. Quite likely it was that same room where the disciples went to hide after the crucifixion of Jesus. They locked themselves in that room in fear of the Jewish authorities who were searching for them. It was in this room that Jesus twice appeared to them and said, “My peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” It’s the room where Thomas, who we know as “Doubting Thomas”, came to believe in Jesus as the Messiah after having put his finger in his wounds.
Luke says that in that room there was, “Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James, son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas, son of James.” Also, he says there were some women, including Mary, the mother of Jesus and her sons. When Jesus was alive his brothers didn’t believe that he was the Messiah; the Gospel of John says, “For not even his brothers believed in him.” But after his resurrection Jesus had appeared to his brother, James, who came to believe. No doubt, after this appearance, that’s when the other brothers came to faith, as well.
So, there they were, altogether in Jerusalem, waiting for the promise of Jesus to be fulfilled, his promise that, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you”. And what did they do in the meantime? Luke says, “All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer” and in his Gospel he also adds these words, “they were continually in the temple blessing God.” So, the disciples of Jesus stayed in Jerusalem, as instructed, and they dedicated themselves to prayer, along with those who were closely associated with Jesus in his earthly ministry.
While waiting for the power of the Holy Spirit to descend upon them they devoted themselves to prayer. And they didn’t just pray, they had fellowship, and they talked. And they were also in the temple daily rejoicing during those days. There was joy. They were praising God. They were moving around the city of Jerusalem. Yet prayer was a vital part of their lives. They waited and prayed as Jesus had commanded.
Throughout the book of Acts we see the early church waiting on God in prayer and Luke makes it very clear that something happens when God's people pray. That’s why they were so successful. In just the first two chapters of Acts, the church went from 11 apostles to 120 believers, then to more than 3,000 people, all in a matter of weeks. All because they waited on God in prayer.
And this can happen to us, as well, when we pray to God for opportunities to share the Gospel with those we meet. We’re to carry on Jesus’ work in today’s world. And to support us in our mission we have the belief in his resurrection and the promise that one day he will return again. And we also have the power of the Holy Spirit to teach us, to guide us and support us. And we have the command of Jesus to “go and make disciples of all nations” to motivate us.
So why should we bother? Why should we go to all the trouble? Because Jesus is alive! Jesus has been raised from the dead. He has conquered sin and death. This is what motivated those first disciples who were waiting in Jerusalem after the ascension of Jesus to heaven and it’s what should motivate us today. Although the times and lifestyles are much different in 2022 than they were thousands of years ago, our mission is the same, to save God’s people so that they too can have everlasting life with him.
And Jesus will return again one day. The angels promised those disciples that, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Jesus is returning to this earth, and his return could be soon. We weren’t told the exact time, that is up to God, but he’ll come to set up his Kingdom on earth, and he will rule and reign forever! If that doesn’t motivate us to be his witnesses, then nothing else will.
Let’s always remember that God created us with a purpose. When I went to Sunday School, we had to memorize the Catechism. And the first question was, “What is the chief end of man?” And the answer was, “Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.” That’s God’s plan for our lives. God promised the prophet Jeremiah, “For I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you and plans to give you a hope and a future.” It doesn’t matter who you are or what you have done or how you have fallen short of God’s will for your life, God has a plan for you. God has great plans for your life and wants you to experience them all. God has a limitless supply of opportunity laid out before you. It’s up to us to put God’s plan into action.
Let us Pray:
Lord Jesus, after your death and resurrection you sent your followers into the world to proclaim your glory to all of mankind. We pray for the power of the Holy Spirit to move in us the same way as your disciples so that we can go back into the world to bear witness to all you have done in our lives. We live in challenging times but with your Spirit, we can continue to face them with your strength and love, helping others overcome their fear and helplessness. Be with us today and everyday as we continue your work in your world. Amen.