Acts 1:6-14 Common English Bible (CEB)
6 As a result, those who had gathered together asked Jesus, “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?”
7 Jesus replied, “It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 Rather, 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 end of the earth.”
9 After Jesus said these things, as they were watching, he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going away and as they were staring toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood next to them. 11 They said, “Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you saw him go into heaven.”
12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, which is near Jerusalem—a sabbath day’s journey away. 13 When they entered the city, they went to the upstairs room where they were staying. Peter, John, James, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James, Alphaeus’ son; Simon the zealot; and Judas, James’ son— 14 all were united in their devotion to prayer, along with some women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.
As we come to this Memorial Day Weekend there are many memories that come to the surface. For those who have served in the military, there may be images of training and combat. There may be present both memories of triumphs and losses.
If you want to best picture of particular soldier – the best understanding of who that soldier was – you will want to ask their comrades in arms. They will have stories and anecdotes that truly reveal the character of that soldier. Likewise, if you want to truly know the character of a husband or wife, you will want to ask their spouse. For the best picture of a parent, ask a child – adult or otherwise. In all these cases, you would not go to someone who doesn’t know the person in order to get an accurate picture of who that person was.
In a court of law both sides call the “expert witnesses”. An expert witness is someone who knows firsthand about the dynamics of a case. For the best referral for an auto mechanic you wouldn’t go to someone who has never owned a car or even driven one.
In our passage from Acts this morning I am aware that verse 8 is so packed with meaning. “Rather, 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 end of the earth.” [Acts 1:8]
You WILL receive power … Holy Spirit
AND you WILL be my witnesses …
Jesus is giving us a job to do and the power to do it.
It was the disciples that Jesus was talking to at that point. So the question came up in my mind, “who are the disciples that Jesus is talking to?” We know that it included the 11 remaining disciples who had been called to follow Jesus. But we also know that they were men and women who had walked with Jesus during his ministry. They had talked with Jesus, heard his teaching, seen the miracles, experienced the amazing presence of God in their midst. In a bit of down-to-earth practical business, Peter leads the followers of Jesus in selecting a person to replace Judas Iscariot as an apostle. [Acts 1:15-26] Of interest to me was the criteria for this person. “Therefore, we must select one of those who have accompanied us during the whole time the Lord Jesus lived among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when Jesus was taken from us. This person must become along with us a witness to his resurrection.” You can see that they wanted the person to be one who truly was with them and knew Jesus well. This group would be the ‘first church Elders’ so to speak. But where do they look for this disciple? They had a rather good pool to choose from. They put forth two names and eventually chose Matthias. Ponder this for a moment.
Now, let’s look at someone who just might have been a disciple of Jesus. The story in in Mark’s Gospel, chapter one. Jesus is in Galilee, in Capernaum (where Peter lived, and where Peter’s mother-in-law lived). There comes a story about a man with a skin disease (leprosy) who approached Jesus and asked, if Jesus was able, for healing. Filled with compassion, Jesus did indeed heal the man. Then in 1:43-45 Jesus makes a “stern” request “Don’t say anything to anyone. Instead, go and show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifice for your cleansing that Moses commanded.” Jesus was not looking for notoriety or publicity. Indeed, he wanted people to come to know him first-hand. But what did the healed leper do? He immediately began witnessing about what had happened and who caused it to happen! His experience with Jesus compelled him to tell others about it.
J.D. Walt, in his devotional on the Gospel of Luke (the road to Jerusalem section) draws a distinction between marketing and witnessing. He reminds us that anyone can market the faith, market the church. Marketing is giving information about the church and about faith. There are many who can be trained to do that. AND it has its place in the spread of the Gospel. What is far more rare is truly witnessing. A witness is one who actually saw or experienced something happening.
The leper witnessed his own cleansing. He immediately began telling others what had happened.
The disciples have just witnessed what Jesus did, yet again. Imagine, standing there watching someone float up into the sky and disappear! WOW! Words like awe, wonder come to mind. AS I think about it I also can imagine questions coming to their minds: how? why? what’s next? We have this story in the gospel because the disciples wanted to tell others what they had seen and experienced.
So, while they are experiencing Jesus’ ascension, two men in white appear. They break the reverie of the moment by asking a simple question. “Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven?” It is almost as if they are pointing them again to what Jesus said in verse 8 – you’ve got a job to do, and soon you will have all the power you need to do it. Get going!
Verses 12-14 show us that the disciples go back to everyday life, but now with a purpose. Hear this story again. They gather together, and in verse 14 “…all were united in their devotion to prayer, …” Prayer. They had a promise in hand – that the Holy Spirit would come upon them. Their job now, wait and watch. Their gathering together and their prayer became the opening for the Holy Spirit to enter.
In the Interpretation Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, written by William Willimon, he says, “[In today’s church] Our waiting and praying also indicate that the gift of the Spirit is never an assured possession of the church. It is a gift, a gift which must be constantly sought anew in prayer. Even to know all about Jesus, even to have received instruction from Jesus himself for forty days is not enough to accomplish the church’s mission. The challenge is not the intellectual one of knowing enough to tell about Jesus but rather the challenge is to have the authorization and empowerment which enable succeeding witnesses to be doing the work of Jesus. Until those who know the facts also experience the power, they do well to first wait in Jerusalem and to pray.” We need to be in prayer that our witness will have God’s power in it.
You might say: “I don’t have anything like the ascension in my life.” “I’ve not been cured of leprosy.” Our need is not necessarily for a great big experience that we can tell about. Maybe ours is a need to remember all of the amazing little ways that God has blessed us and led us. Maybe it is a preponderance of simple events that point to an amazing God. I believe the greatest challenge to us doing the work of Jesus is a poor memory. The Israelites in the wilderness seemed to have that problem. The parting of the Red Sea was an amazing miracle. Yet, later, as they faced the trials of the journey they forgot that amazing miracle, and grumbled about God not providing enough for their needs. Our collection of memories that point to our amazing God can all too easily be covered over in life’s challenges. We can lose sight of the stories of love and grace and provision and guidance.
What is last time you remember God doing something in your life? A great exercise would be to start a list, a journal, a chronicle of the things you have seen God do in your life. Go back as far as you can. Include the things that happened just yesterday as well.
Pray for the Holy Spirit to help you remember. Be in prayer also for the Holy Spirit to help you see God’s hand in your life TODAY. Sometimes it isn’t just a bad memory that weakens our witness, it is unconscious living – living where we don’t notice the hand of God moving is big and small ways. Be in prayer for a constant awareness of what God is doing in and around you. Seek to truly be a witness for life. “For life” is both a time reference and content reference. We are always to be a witness for Jesus Christ, our Rock and Redeemer – for life. And, it is attention to God’s provisions that make us a witness to life as it should be and as it was promised by Jesus in John 10:10. “I came that you might have life, and have it in all its fullness.” – FOR TRUE LIFE.
Are you excited to tell about how you’ve experienced God?! Pray for the Holy Spirit to inhabit your perceptions and your memory, giving you the sensitivity to tell your story with all the power of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Pastor Paul Grossman