A Study in Acts: In the Waiting
Luke opens his second book in a very formal way, fitting I guess for a doctor. He addresses the original recipient, Theophilus, reminding him of the intent and contents of his first letter known to us as the Gospel of Luke. He doesn’t waste time doing a lot of in depth recapping, but does still recount the very end of his first letter in a bit more detail.
Luke’s focus at the opening here in, is in expounding on the interaction and instructions of Jesus with and to His Disciples from the time He visits them in the Upper Room to His ascension. Luke tells us that this time frame lasted for 40 days; Jesus was not in a big hurry to leave His friends! But when it was time, Jesus took a moment to stress to the Disciples His instructions and the importance of them. Check out what He instructs them in Acts 1:4-5.
And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me;for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”– Acts 1:4-5
I love this whole idea of waiting that Jesus stresses to them. The Greek word here περιμένω (pĕrimĕnō) is only found in the Bible right here in verse 4. It is in part derived from another Greek word, μένω (mĕnō), which is a primary verb (think active) meaning to continually dwell, remain, endure, be present. Jesus was not simply telling them to hang out for a little bit in Jerusalem. He was instructing them to intentionally and continually wait with a sense of anticipation until what He promised them arrived.
After Jesus gives this instruction, the Disciples in their classic fashion, ask Him about the restoration of Israel in verse 6. If you haven’t noticed throughout Scripture, Jesus often had a pointed way of answering a question while guiding the person’s attention back to the more important issue. Jesus didn’t want His Disciples focused on the timing of the coming Kingdom; He wanted them focused on fulfilling their mission. Look at what He says.
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.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 1:6-8
Jesus knew that something amazing was coming for them. In fact, this gift of power, the Holy Spirit would equip them to fulfill the mission Jesus was giving them. It’s the same power that we as followers of Christ have in us today! The Greek used here for “power” is δύναμις (dunamis) meaning specifically a miraculous power. It denotes strength and mighty work, both a very fitting description for what the Holy Spirit gives and does!
But this isn’t the only word of significance here. Jesus not only tells them to wait for the Holy Spirit to come, but He gives them purpose as well. They are called to be witnesses once they have received the Holy Spirit. Now, it’s really easy to look at the english translation here and get the impression we are supposed to just talk about Jesus. But the Greek tells us something very different. The word used here is μάρτυς (martus), and it has a much deeper meaning. The transliteration might even give it away to you. While witness is not a bad translation, the underlying idea here is to be a martyr. In two other locations (Acts 22:20 and Revelations 2:13) this is the very sense of the word being used. It’s the idea of giving a testimony of one’s faith before a tribunal and suffering the penalty. In their time, this was reality.
After this jam-packed interaction with Jesus, He is quickly taken up to Heaven right before their eyes in verse 9. Staring up in what must have been a mixture of amazement and shock, two angels tell them something profound.
“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.”– Acts 1:11
Once again, the Disciples are reminded of hope. Even though Jesus didn’t restore Israel the way they thought He would or in the time they thought He would, He would one day return (check out Revelation for that!). There was no need to be stuck. It’s like the angels are telling them to keep moving! Just because Jesus has ascended doesn’t mean hope is lost and we don’t have a mission as His followers to accomplish.
So heeding the words of the angels, they returned to Jerusalem and after closing themselves in the upper room began to spend their time praying. Waiting as instructed for the coming promise of the Holy Spirit. Luke gives us a whole run down of who was present, and notes that their action of prayer was one-minded, or of the same purpose. The total number of people present was 120; could you imagine being in intense and specific prayer as a group that big? It was during this time that Peter stood up among them, and giving testimony of what had transpired concerning Judas Iscariot and how this fulfilled the Scriptures, he called for a replacement to be made.
Two men present since the baptism by John the Baptist and witnesses of the resurrection were brought forth as candidates. This distinction of being present, being a witness from beginning to end, was of great importance. Think about it, who would you believe more? Someone who witnessed an event firsthand, or someone who heard it down the line and was just passing it on? This specific requirement helps solidify the authenticity of the accounts of Jesus we have contained in Scripture! What we read in our Bible today about Jesus are the real life accounts from those who were there, physically present with Jesus from the beginning to the end of His earthly ministry.
With the selection of two before them, they took the matter up in prayer and cast lots. This idea can be foreign and confusing, but was a rather common practice throughout Ancient history and can be found in the Old Testament. This situation however was the last time it is recorded occurring in Scripture. The Greek word κλῆρος (klērŏs) presents the idea of doing something for a purpose. Notice that it was not used to conclude a moral decision, as the two men presented as options were fully qualified for the position as a Disciple. To cast a lot was a way of determining God’s divine will in a specific matter; in this case which of the two qualified men should take the twelfth position of the Disciples. It was after this occurrence that the Holy Spirit came, affirming the selection of Matthias, and provided divine guidance rendering the use of casting lots unnecessary.
Chapter 1 of Acts packs a lot. There is no doubt that you can easily read over it and move right along, but you miss so much! There are three specific lessons I glean from this chapter that I want to share, and I think they follow a pretty logical order aside form how they are outlined in Scripture.
I mentioned it earlier, how pointed Jesus was about waiting. For the Disciples He was telling them specifically to wait for the coming promise, the Holy Spirit. I think this is a lesson we can learn from though as well. There is something about waiting, the discipline of being patient. We can get so caught up in the things going on around us, the busyness of life, that we neglect the practice of patience. I remember living in downtown Chicago for a year when I attended Moody Bible Institute. When I would come home to visit, people would comment to me that I had changed. When we would be walking somewhere, I was 10 steps ahead of everyone else. I didn’t hesitate to plow through a crowd to get where I wanted to go. I had allowed my new environment to influence me in such a way that I had abandoned my more patient approach. I had become accustomed to the mentality of the city, thinking my time and needs were of greatest importance. I was reminded in those moments (and yes, there were many before this trend changed) of my need to be patient, to take control of my emotions and thinking and rightly align them with God’s. It’s been over 10 years, and our world has not changed much with respect to the importance and practice of waiting. Did you notice that everything after Jesus ascended took place while the Disciples waited? It makes me question, what could God accomplish in my heart if I would slow down more often. What is He wanting to teach me, if I would just be a little more patient. Stop pushing my agenda, and instead wait and seek Him. He might give me new insight, more clearly define what He has specifically called me to do.
I know that I am not the only one with a mission. God has called each of us to something. Specifically, God has called me to pastor. Figuring out what that is for you will require you to spend time with Him. But there is a common mission He has given each of us. It wasn’t just for the Disciples and followers during the period of the Early Church. The mission Jesus gives the Disciples to be witnesses applies to you and I as well! Sure, we might not have the firsthand experience they did, but we have our own testimony. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, He has changed you. There is evidence of new life and transformation! This is your firsthand account. This is your witness. You and I have been commanded to share this with others, just as the Disciples were commanded to share their witness of Jesus Christ throughout the land in their day. Are we living up to our mission? Have we even acknowledged our mission? Most Christians are content sitting in the chair, listening to the message, and then going home. But we are not called to spectate; we are called to engage our culture and community.
I think a lot of Christians are honestly afraid to engage. I think if we were honest with ourselves, most of us who claim to be a follower of Jesus fail to engage with our culture and community to share Jesus, simply because we’re afraid of rejection. We (myself included) forget that our mission is not meant to be done alone. There is a key element we must implement, and that’s prayer. See, when we pray we engage God and open the door for His intervention. Look at the Disciples in chapter 1. Their act of casting lots was more about trust and faith than anything else. They removed themselves from the equation and left it in God’s hand. But they prayed about it first. They took the issue to God, and then trusted Him with the outcome. And the really cool think is, God honored them by confirming the selection of Matthias when he was filled with the Holy Spirit along with them! Selecting the next Disciple was not a small deal, and they didn’t hesitate to take it to God. Are we taking our questions, the things that concern us big and small before God? Are we trusting Him enough to provide the right answer, at the right time? For the Disciples, it was about trust. They knew God was faithful. Do we believe that?
If you are journeying along this study with me, I hope you are as overwhelmed by it as I am. What I wanted to be a post a day I’m realizing isn’t practical for me to construct. Blame it on theological and word-study rabbit holes I go down, but I am finding there is too much here to not give it time. I am challenged even in this to wait, be patient; don’t rush the study of His word. I hope that if you are joining me, you come to the same conclusion about that. Let’s slow down, seek Him in the waiting and have some patience. Seek Him and engage your community and culture. Invest in your prayer life with God, grow in your trust of Him. It’s what He longs for from you, and I promise He will not disappoint you.