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Acts

Waiting

Acts  1:1-7

The Acts of the Apostles is frequently quoted, but infrequently studied - perhaps on the ground that history is boring. It need not be so.

Preliminaries

The author of the book is undisputed: it is Luke, the physician, who wrote the Gospel which also bears his name. He is a historian, but one who acknowledges (clearly, here in verse 2) the power of the Holy Spirit in his writing. In this there is wisdom, for Luke clearly is not an eyewitness of the Resurrection. We know little enough about him, but it is most likely that he is a convert to Christianity taught by Paul. His method in both books is plain: he is a researcher. He gathers the words and evidence of others to produce his book.

In one sense this is a terrible blow to the fundamentalist school of "automatic writing." This school holds that all the books of the Bible were written by the Holy Spirit - the nominal authors just held the pen while the Spirit moved their hands. If so, why the careful research? But in another sense Acts can be called the "history of the Holy Spirit." For as the Gospels were the biography of Christ, in a sense, Acts records what the Spirit did through the church. No book of the Bible expounds more clearly the work of the Holy Spirit.

Doctrine

There are three principles of doctrine - what we might call analytic principles - which are shown in Acts:

·         Doctrine is best revealed in action. Many writers have taken bits and pieces of the Bible and constructed strange doctrines from them, assuring their hearers that this is the word of God. But in Acts, we see how the Apostles themselves "did it." We can be sure, therefore, that this is what they saw as the result of sound doctrine. Therefore, we can reason backwards from their actions to the doctrine behind it, carefully checking it with other Scriptures as we go.

·         Doctrine occurs in time and space. Doctrine is not abstract; it is specific in application. Peter, for example, was shown that the Gospel was to be preached to the Gentiles - a point revealed in the Old Testament, by the way - and from that we can conclude that it should be preached to any and all who will hear it. So the principle remains the same; the application in our time may be quite different.

·         Doctrine must result in action. If ever there is a lesson in Acts, this is it. Doctrine is not the idle speculation of Bible teachers and preachers; it is the word in action. I give you Thomas à Kempis' rule: for any doctrinal question, suppose you absolutely knew the answer. Would it make any difference in your conduct? If not, you don't have a doctrinal question.

Let us therefore begin - by waiting.

Waiting for God

(Acts 1:1-8 NIV) In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach {2} until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. {3} After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. {4} On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. {5} For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." {6} So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" {7} He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. {8} But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

 

St. John Chrysostom put it this way: "It cannot be that a man should enjoy the benefit of grace except he watch." Somehow, intrinsically bound in the lives of the great saints, is the idea that waiting for the Lord is a requirement of the Christian life. It is so here.

Wait for "the promise."

The word used here is unique in the New Testament: perimeno. It comes from the Greek words "peri" (from which we get our word "perimeter") and meno, which means "a place." In other words, the word "wait" used here means "stay in place." Other words used frequently mean things like "to expect fully" or "to stand still." In all these senses there is the idea of being in one spot, waiting calmly. For this, we have no patience at all. Neither did the disciples.

The impatience of the disciples

The question they ask displays their impatience: is now the time when you will restore the kingdom? We may see in the question some of the aspects of waiting:

·         Note that the disciples ask this question together. They already know the answer; Christ has told them that even he does not know. But now, by force of numbers perhaps, they hope to pressure out of the teacher the answer they long for.

·         He tells them it is not for them to know. That carries with it two implications:

·         There are certain things which are beyond us in this mortal life. We are not capable to know some things. - nor are we allowed![1].

·         There are also certain things which it is not good for us to know. If we all knew what suffering was coming, how many of us could face it? The human mind sometimes goes through ordeals which are best faced one day at a time.

·         Note too the substitution Christ makes: instead of the answer they desire, he tells them they will receive power. It is the teacher's duty to determine the curriculum; he must teach what is needful for his students, not just what they want to tickle their ears and soothe their curiosity.

The Disciples Wait

There is a curious example here: Christ tells the men to return to Jerusalem from Galilee - and wait. This brings us some questions:

Why the wait - at all?

Why not just send the Holy Spirit immediately? After all, there was the Ascension right in front of their eyes?

·         First, that they might build an expectation. They needed time to focus their minds on the gift the Father was about to give them. We even tell our children that Christmas is coming; what effect does this have on them?

·         Next, by his absence Christ would increase the welcome they would give to the next person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. This is not just an emotional thing; rather, it rightly emphasizes the equality the Spirit has with the Father and the Son.

·         Such an expectation in common builds a bond of unity - and they would have great need of that unity.

Why in Jerusalem?

Why were they commanded to stay in one place - and in particular that one most dangerous of places?

·         So that they might learn the reason for courage. God would care for them even in that most hostile environment.

·         By keeping together, they would strengthen each other in the faith.

·         Christianity is not a solo flight. By doing this together, they started giving us an example as well.

Why "in a few days?"

Why wasn't Jesus specific about it? Why didn't he say, "at Pentecost?"

·         So that they might learn to watch and pray. By not knowing the time, they needed to be ready at any time - just as we must be ready for our Lord's return.

·         So that they might learn to trust God - again. Because their satisfaction was not immediate, there was a time when they had to go on trust. The choice was simply: disbelieve and abandon all - or trust God and wait.

·         So that God's timing might be fulfilled. Pentecost was the harvest feast; this was to be the start of God's harvest. Pentecost is 50 days from the Passover Sabbath - which puts it on a Sunday, which is now the Lord's day.

Why do we "wait upon the Lord?"

I said that we learn by example from the Apostles. So then, what shall we learn from their example here? Why are we required to "wait upon the Lord?"

So that God might prepare us

Sometimes God is using the time of waiting to prepare us for other things. We don't know what those things might be, so it would be impertinent for us to claim that we are already prepared. So how is he preparing us?

·         By prayer. Waiting, with "nothing to do," gives us the time for a season of prayer with the Lord. Prayer changes us, and makes us ready for his purposes.

·         By study. In the time we wait, we should be diligently seeking his will in our reading of the Bible. How often have you come over a passage that you're read many times before, only to have some new and deep insight? It is God speaking to you in the times of waiting.

·         By self-examination. When we are working busily, we often fail to take the time for self-examination. Results become so important that we forget that God does not need us for his results. Rather, he wants us to grow like him - and that growth often begins by realizing how much we fall short.

·         By trust. It is exactly in those times when we cannot see the power of God at work, wondering when He will act, that we learn to trust him as we should.

So that God may develop his providence

We are not the only ones that God is working with! Perhaps you are already suited to the purpose at hand - though not perfect, of course - but God is still working on someone else! We need to wait patiently:

·         So that his "seasons" can arrive. Sometimes he arranges things so that a furious outpouring of his Holy Spirit comes. All things must be in readiness when the Spirit moves; God works this in seasons. His time; his timing!

·         So that the wicked may be readied for God. Remember Philemon? When Onesimus left he was a wicked man; he returned a brother. Philemon in the meanwhile could do nothing but wait. But what a result!

·         So that out of our waiting others may see the Lord. John, the Apostle, was banished to the salt mines on Patmos. By the world's test, he could now do nothing - except receive the vision we call Revelation. Sometimes our waiting is not for us, but for others.

·         So that God may redirect his servants from the good to the best. Paul and his companions wanted to return to Asia Minor; the Spirit led them into Greece to spread the Gospel even further. In this they had to wait where they were - so they wouldn't have to backtrack.

So that we may know that He is God.

Often our impatience is the result of our knowing that "we can do it." Why is God holding us back?

·         That we may see that it is his power, not our own ability, through which his purposes will be accomplished. Moses told the nation of Israel to "stand still and see the salvation of God."

·         That we might see evil defeated - by itself. How often do we moan about the evils of our time, and forget to look back at prior evils? Communism was the wave of the future, taking over the world, completely irresistible. Where is it now? Why is it dying?

·         That we should learn both hope and patience. These are virtues! How can we practice hope or patience if we are not called upon to wait upon the Lord?

·         Further, that we should trust in no one else. If we will not wait, we will (like Saul who would not wait for Samuel) trust in someone or something other than God - usually our own righteousness.

·         Finally, so that we may learn to bear the greatest waiting of all - the wait for his return. We need to learn to be vigilant and patient in the "small waitings" so that we can master the great one.

[1] See II Corinthians 12:4

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