This is the seventh week after Passover. It’s the fiftieth day after Easter. Today is Pentecost, which just means fiftieth day.
“Be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere,” Jesus instructed his followers during these 50 days. “Go and make disciples of all the nations.”
This is the pivotal commission from Jesus, recorded in Matthew 28 and Acts 1.
These are the very last words that Jesus spoke face to face with his disciples. After delivering this message, Jesus ascended into heaven. The mission that Jesus gave to his followers was to take the Good News to the very ends of the earth. That was his final instruction. We claim it as our mission still today.
An interesting point about this mission is the contrast with Jesus’ own earthly ministry. Jesus hardly travelled anywhere. A clever person has calculated that during his lifetime Jesus took the Good News to a mere 0.03 percent of the inhabited earth. Jesus confined his ministry to a very tiny region of a very large world. His most trusted disciples, a misfit band of tax collectors and fishermen, ran away as soon as things got hard and scary. These outcasts never seemed to understand the most basic aspects of the Good News, yet Jesus asked them to evangelize the other 99.97 percent of the world. On the face of it, that seems like a risky strategy.
After giving them this mission, Jesus returned to heaven and left his rag-tag band of disciples alone to accomplish something impossible.
Except, there is more to the story than this. There was another instruction that Jesus gave to his disciples at the same time. Jesus told them that before preaching “in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” they had to wait.
“Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before,” Jesus instructed his disciples. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” (Acts 1:4, 8)
Before there could be any doing, there had to be empowering.
Before there could be any empowering, there had to be waiting.
The disciples needed to “be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Jesus appears to be saying they all needed to be baptized with the Holy Spirit. Each and every disciple needed this baptism before they could start the work of spreading the Good News to the rest of the world.
It had never happened before. They probably didn’t know for what they waited.
Up to that time, the Holy Spirit had always come upon individuals. They had not experienced the Holy Spirit themselves. The New Testament gives us stories of how the Holy Spirit came upon specific individuals for specific purposes.
Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit. Mary became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit was upon Simeon and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.
Some of the disciples may have seen the heavens splitting apart and the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus like a dove.
Jesus told them in Luke 24:49 – “And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven.”
For 40 days Jesus had rallied his followers, and they were ready when he left. They were ready to wait for what had been promised. They did not know how long they would have to wait. If they were given instructions on what to do while they waited, we are not told of them.
What do you do when you are waiting? How do you wait? Are you skilled at waiting or are you impatient? After his resurrection, Jesus had to go out and round up his disciples. They had not waited. They had dashed off and gone straight back to their old ways of life.
I sometimes imagine them as being like children going on a long car journey. You are hardly out of the town and there are hours of travel ahead. Already the children have started to ask, ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ We ask them to sit still and do nothing for a few hours, but they can’t. How many people start to fidget if they think a worship service will go on longer than three hours? Two hours? One hour?
How did those first disciples wait to be filled with power from heaven? We can learn from them how we should wait when that is what God asks of us.
The first point is obvious. We wait for God’s promise instead of going your own way. Scripture offers plenty of examples of saints who got weary of waiting for God and chose to do things their own way. I’ve given way to that temptation as well. God’s goodness is promised for those who wait patiently for him! No matter how long. Regardless of how hopeless things appear to us. Even when it seems to cost us everything. God is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think (Ephesians 3:20). When we wait for him, we will never be disappointed.
That’s to say we wait with hope and anticipation.
It is really tempting when God does not seem to be answering our prayers to stop praying, and stop expecting him to act. We can give way to a spirit of cynicism, rather than thanking God for who he is and all he has done for us.
While God may not answer in our timing or in the way we expect, he will accomplish his good purposes in our lives when we wait for him and persevere in prayer. As it is written in Colossians 4:2 – “Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.”
Acts 1:14 says, “They all met together and were constantly united in prayer, along with Mary the mother of Jesus, several other women, and the brothers of Jesus.”
As the disciples waited, they gathered together. They were constantly united in prayer. Not the core 11 disciples only, but everyone who was a follower of Jesus.
At one time there were 120 together in one place. That was when they chose a replacement for Judas the betrayer from among those disciples who Peter said had been with them “the entire time we were traveling with the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 1:21)
Luke tells us in Acts 2:1 that on the day of Pentecost, all the believers were meeting together.
Christian waiting is not doing nothing. There is a time to relax and read a book, watch a film, listen to music, eat dinner with friends, or play sports. When God tells you to wait, it is a time to gather with other believers and pray and sing.
For 10 days, they faithfully met together in prayer. It is thought that only near the temple was it possible to find a room large enough for 120 people. And only near the temple was it likely that devout Jews from all around the world would be able to hear them praying.
For 10 days, they prayed and worshipped. They went to the temple, and ate together. And then during their meeting on the 10th day, the day of Pentecost, “Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them.”
At that moment the church was born. At that moment the glory of the Lord came down and filled his temple. Each and every person was filled. Flames burned and they began speaking.
This is the moment everything changed. As the flames settled on them, this group of women and men began to fulfil the mission of Jesus. These men and women began to preach the Good News in all the languages of the world to people from all the nations of the world.
How many of us, if God told us to take the Good News to another country would first try to learn the language. How many of us try to do things in our own power. Instead we first need to be baptised, filled with the power of heaven. We need to filled with the glory of God, and then we need to take that container of glory out into the world so that it can shine.
And as the temple radiates the glory of God, as the spirit engulfs us in tongues of flame, the people in darkness will see a great light.
Peter described this as God at work and quoted Joel 2:28–32.
“I will pour out my Spirit even on my servants—men and women alike—and they will prophesy.”
The first believers had to wait for 10 days to receive this gift from Jesus. You don’t have to wait, because the gift has now been given.
Luke gives us the promise of Jesus, who said: “your heavenly Father [will] give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”
God has called us to a noble work, going to all nations and discipling others as Jesus modelled for us. Though Jesus returned to heaven to sit at the Father’s side, he did not leave his disciples as orphans to accomplish this work on their own, nor has he left us.
The Holy Spirit fills us with power and glory. The Holy Spirit, Jesus promised, “will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.” We need the Holy Spirit in order to understand. Receive the Holy Spirit. Here and now, receive the Holy Spirit.