Joy, unity, and prayer should characterize our lives as followers of Jesus Christ. We rejoice with uncontainable joy because Amazing Grace has reached down and saved a wretch like you and me. We dwell in unity and welcome the stranger, because Jesus Christ laid down his life for us and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. Unity results when mature believers are willing to place the needs of others above their own. We pray with confidence because we know that Jesus Christ intercedes on our behalf even now!
The disciples have been told to wait for the Promise of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:1-5). Christ’s Commission and Ascension (Acts 1:6-11). Replacing Judas (Acts 1:12-26). This passage (vv.12-26) apparently lasted ten days. Pentecost occurs during the Feast of Weeks which is fifty days after Passover. We know that Jesus spent forty days making various appearances to his disciples and teaching them about the Kingdom of God. So 50 days from Passover (when the crucifixion occurred) until the Feast of Weeks (when Pentecost occurs) minus 40 days between the Resurrection and Ascension equals 10 days the disciples spent waiting for the Holy Spirit.
He’s gone! What now?
Before we read this passage let us look to the Lord in prayer for his help in understanding it.
This is the Word of the LORD.
I originally had intentions of getting to the end of the first chapter this morning, but I found that I had too much I wanted to say in these three verses. It is a subject that is easy to be filled with guilt and despair whenever the subject arises. As the Scottish preacher Alexander Whyte once said, “If you want to humble a man, ask him about his prayer life.”
Most of you are probably aware that revivals begin with a commitment to prayer. Prayer is the first step in evangelism and missions. It is more important than workers and money. It would be easy to simply talk about what prayer is and how it might look in the life of the church and home. But as we consider how this relates to the verses we just read and the context in which we find them, I think it will be helpful to focus on a few—often neglected—components of prayer.
Thomas Brooks addresses us all when he warned,
“Believer, closet prayer will be found to be but a lifeless, comfortless thing, if you do not enjoy communion with God in it. That should be the very soul of all your closet duties, therefore press after it, as for life; when you go into your closet banish every thing that can hinder your enjoyment of Christ.”
This morning we will be focusing in on this group of apostles and disciples, and their immediate response after the ascension of Christ. This section begins what will be a recognized pattern in Luke’s narrative. The disciples spend time with an inward focus, but it is followed by an outward focus. They come together for prayer and preparation. Then at Pentecost they turn outward.
First, we will see how Return With Joy (12). Second, we’ll see how Wait With Unity (13). And third, we will note how Prayer With Confidence (14).
Return With Joy (12)
Traveling back to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet was “a Sabbath day’s journey”. Now that might sound a bit confusing, if you know anything about the region you know the Mount of Olives is less than a mile away from Jerusalem. And that is Luke’s point. “‘A Sabbath day’s journey’ was the distance that Jews were legally permitted to travel without violating contemporary understandings of the fourth commandment.”1 This does not mean that the ascension occurred on the Sabbath, but that the phrase “a Sabbath day’s journey” was in common use by Luke’s sources and audience for calculating distances.
What is on their minds as they left this familiar place? Certainly, the final commission of Jesus Christ is still ringing in their ears, “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” (Acts 1:8). No doubt, the picture of Jesus ascending into heaven, taken up in a cloud, would have been stuck in their minds for the rest of their lives. These were ordinary men who had received an extraordinary privilege, and the weight of the responsibility that rested upon them hasn’t even had time to settle. These men were previously unknown, now they had become the foundation of the New Testament Church.
As they walked to Jerusalem, surely their thoughts raced from one thing to the next. Did scenes pass through their minds of Jesus’ last week of earthly ministry there in that very location (Luke 21:37)? Did they recall the teaching Jesus gave, known as the Olivet discourse (Matt. 24:3), in which he explained the signs of the close the age and the events surrounding His return? They probably understood from Zechariah 14:4 that this would be the same place of Christ’s return. It doesn’t seem like they are scared or confused any more, but surely this was a slow, pensive walk. All of them were probably lost in their own thoughts.
Maybe they paused as they passed through Gethsemane and noted the spot where Jesus cried out in agony to God asking if there was any other way for redemption to be accomplished. Maybe, for the first time, they really understood the depths of Christ’s agony and the words he prayed that night of His betrayal.
You can imagine all of these things passing through their minds as they are soberly and quietly returning to the place they are staying. On the one hand they were reserved, but on the other hand I also think they were eager to get to a place where they might “wait” just as Jesus had told them to do (Acts 1:4). In fact, Luke has already told us in his Gospel that they were filled with joyful worship. Listen to Luke 24:50-53, “Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.”
The apostles were eager to obey. And this is actually contrary to some of their initial reactions after the crucifixion and even after the resurrection. We see disciples scattering after Jesus’ arrest. Then several of them leave Jerusalem. Some even go back to their old job of fishing in Galilee.
Now, they might be sober and quiet, but they are confident in what they must do. They return to Jerusalem to wait just as the Lord had instructed them to do (v.4).
When was the last time you reflected upon your walk with Christ? We can imagine the apostles doing this quite easily, but what about us? Is it easy to recall the ways in which the Lord has worked in and through your life since your conversion? Maybe you can’t recall a specific date in your conversion. That’s perfectly okay, but the question is still relevant. How are you growing in grace? The vision and mission of our church is ultimately about finding our greatest fulfillment and satisfaction in Christ, such that we are willing to make whatever sacrifices are needed for the furtherance of that mission. The first commitment needed is to devote ourselves to joyful prayer.
There is great value in reflecting upon the mercy and grace God has shown to us in our salvation. This strengthens our prayer life and creates a joyful anticipation for extended times of prayer. One of the means of calling us to proper reflection this morning has been the covenant baptisms we witnessed. As a reformed church in Clovis we recognize the value of learning the confession and catechisms of our fathers in the faith. One of the things the Westminster Larger Catechism Question 167 encourages us to do is to “improve our baptism”.
“The needful but much neglected duty of improving our Baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long, especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it to others; by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein; by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism, and our engagements; by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament; by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace; and by endeavoring to live by faith, to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, as those that have therein given up their names to Christ; and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body.”
Maybe you’ve already done that this morning, but if not, take some time today—even now—to recount the ways in which God has mercifully brought you to himself. Reflect upon the this catechism answer, making it personal. If you have been justified by faith tell someone this morning how that happened. How has the Lord been bringing you or your family to maturity? There are many ways we can do this, but don’t neglect to reflect upon and exult in the joy of your salvation!
So the apostles returned with joy and then…
Wait With Unity (13)
Some think this “upper room” was the same place where they shared their last meal with Jesus, but the phrase only indicates they were staying on the second floor somewhere. Luke certainly could have made it more apparent that this was the same place, had that been an important detail. Also, as we learn from verse fifteen, there were approximately 120 people within the company. Of course, the whole number was not “staying” there overnight, but they were in the habit of gathering there.
Since the city was destroyed in A.D. 70 it is difficult to know where this home might have been located. Very few homes in Jerusalem would have been capable of accommodating such a large number, even homes in the “Upper City.” But it is not unrealistic considering this full number might not have been present at each gathering. At the same time, it is possible to cram many more bodies than we might expect into a room if everyone is seated on the floor or standing. If you have ever been on a mission trip to the poor in the Majority World you are likely aware that this is not uncommon.
We could say much about these eleven apostles. These are the same men who accompanied Jesus during his earthly ministry. They witnessed his resurrection. They were just commissioned by Him and they will all be present on the day of Pentecost. But I just want you to notice who heads the list. It’s Peter. His position in the list indicates his position of among the apostles. He was a part of Jesus’ inner circle (with James and John), he often spoke for the whole group of disciples, and he was recognized as the leader. Despite the fact that he denied Jesus three times on the night of his arrest, Peter is the one chosen to have the primary preaching role throughout the first twelve chapters of Acts. And finally, the reader would notice the figure who is lacking from the list. Judas was not with them. This sets up the explanation that follows in verses 15-26.
Get a picture of what these men and women had been through together the past three years. They stayed together because they were strengthened by one another. It testifies to the importance of regular fellowship with likeminded believers.
Boice, “People need people. This need is part of what it means to be a human being. One of the worst things that can happen to a person is to be utterly isolated from other people, and the converse of this is that if we are to grow intellectually, socially, and spiritually, we need others.”2
The community that develops in secular fraternities often puts the church to shame. We can’t compete if we aren’t willing to have our own commitments and routines interrupted from time to time.
The church has always been a place for the stranger who is yearning for fellowship to come and find a warm welcome in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. I pray that we will see many visitors enter through the doors of this church, but I pray even more that no one leaves as a stranger.
After returning with joy and waiting with unity…
Prayer With Confidence (14)
What we see in this section between the ascension and Pentecost is that their waiting was not passive and inactive. Here we see that they sought the Lord in prayer for a single purpose. In Luke 24:53 we see that they are “continually in the temple praising God.” This is not a contradiction. As I’ve already mentioned, the phrase does not mean they never left the temple or the upper room, but that they were habitually gathering there. They devoted themselves to continual praise and continual prayer.
The combination of “devoted” and “prayer” occurs 3x in Acts (1:14; 2:42; 6:4). The phrase “with one purpose” occurs 10x in Acts and only one other time in the rest of the New Testament. So the disciples were characterized by their devotion to prayer for a particular request. They probably spent time praising God. They probably spent time in confession. But, they almost certainly spent time petitioning the Lord to send the Holy Spirit.
Calvin comments regarding this passage we have “two essentials for true prayer, namely that they persevered, and were of one mind.” Another author notes that “praying together often builds or maintains unity.” We’ve already noted the importance of unity, but now we see the specific need to be unified in our prayers.
The unity these disciples experienced went beyond fellowship to praying with a single purpose in mind. John Stott writes, “The ‘togetherness’ implied seems to go beyond mere assembly and activity to agreement about what they were praying for.”
And we know the apostles were not alone. First we see they were with “the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” None of these additional disciples are surprising except the addition of “his brothers”. John specifically points out that they did not believe during Jesus’ ministry (John 7:1-9). So, at some point during his resurrection appearances, at least some of his brothers had become convinced (1 Cor. 15:7). This is only a partial list as, the next verse indicates there were about 120 believing men and women in the room praying together. That’s enough to spark a revival!
If you know anything about the history of revivals, you know that they began in prayer. It might have started small, but its impact was great. Much like Jesus’ parables regarding the Kingdom of God, it begins small, but grows to encompass the world.
Last week we emphasized how the ascension of Jesus Christ placed him in a position of authority. His present reign is redemptive, but it is also intercessory. As the apostles continually devoted themselves to prayer, their Savior was continually interceding on their behalf.
Do you realize that even when we are the only one in a room, we are never praying alone? The privilege of prayer is that we get to pray with our Lord! He is always ready to pray with and for us.
Look on the back of your bulletin at the first line of our closing hymn “Before the Throne of God Above.”
Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea
A great high Priest whose Name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me
My name is graven on His hands
My name is written on His heart
I know that while in Heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart
Because we have such “a great high Priest” we bring our burdens and requests to the throne of God with perseverance and confidence knowing that He hears us and is ready and able to answer us.
Joy, unity, and prayer should characterize our lives as followers of Jesus Christ.
We rejoice with uncontainable joy because Amazing Grace has reached down and saved a wretch like you and me.
We dwell in unity and welcome the stranger, because Jesus Christ laid down his life for us and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. Unity results when mature believers are willing to place the needs of others above their own.
We pray with confidence because we know that God himself will sanctify us completely. “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thes. 5:23-24). And it is He who intercedes on your behalf even now!
1 Waters, Acts, 53.
2 Boice, Acts, 33.