Sermon for Sunday, May 24th, 2020, the Sunday after Ascension Day
The Lessons: Ps. 68:1-10, 32-35; Acts 1:6-14; 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11
The Text: Acts 1:6-14
The Topic: Persevere in prayer.
A young pastor was sitting in a restaurant eating lunch. He opened a letter he’d just received that morning from his mother. As he opened it, a twenty-dollar bill fell out. He thought to himself, Thanks, Mom, I sure needed that right now. As he finished his meal he noticed a beggar outside on the sidewalk leaning against the light post. Thinking that the poor man could probably use the twenty dollars more than he, he crossed out the names on the envelope and wrote across the top in large letters, PERSEVERE! So as not to make a scene, he put the envelope under his arm and dropped it as he walked past the man. The man picked it up, read the message and smiled.
The next day, as the pastor was enjoying his meal, the same man tapped him on the shoulder and handed him a big wad of bills. Surprised, the young pastor asked him what that was for. The man replied, “This is your half of the winnings. Persevere came in first in the fourth race at the track yesterday and paid thirty to one.”
– p.19, The Big Book of Church Jokes, published by Barbour Publishing, Inc. Used by permission.
What does this story have to do with my text for today’s sermon, Acts 1:6-14? Well, at the end of the passage, we find the words, “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication” (Acts 1:14a, KJV), and in the Latin version, “continued” is rendered by the Latin word from which we derive our English word “persevere”. Today’s message is that we should persevere in prayer.
THE LORD’S LAST WORDS TO HIS DISCIPLES BEFORE HIS ASCENSION INTO HEAVEN
Not having seen Israel’s sovereignty and independence from foreign domination restored during Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, nor at any time before his crucifixion, it was easy for his disciples to conclude that after his resurrection, or maybe even after his ascension, the Lord would re-establish Israel’s kingdom. For the disciples, this was a question of national importance, and an event associated in their minds with the beginning of the Messiah’s rule and the new age.
The Lord gives them no answer to their question except the rebuke that it is not for them to know times or seasons that the Father has set in his own authority (Acts 1:6). Immediately after this part of his answer, the Lord directs their attention to the fact that they will receive power when the Holy Ghost comes upon them and will be witnesses to Him in Jerusalem, Judaea, Samaria and in all the world. It might appear from our Lord’s answer that he wasn’t particularly concerned about the restoration of Israel’s kingdom, but what the Lord really wanted his disciples to realize was that they must not be concerned with events that God the Father has set by his own authority, but they must rather have in mind all that God has revealed, and the mission God has called them to accomplish. Instead of our minds being taken up with the hidden will of God, we must think of the revealed will of God and the mission he has given each of us. This is a very significant message for us today as well! It is easy for us, like those Apostles, to be concerned about earthly things, and to inquire when God will dispose things to our approval in society or nation. Instead, we must aim to fulfill our spiritual mission in the power of the Holy Spirit, whom God has given us.
THE ANGELS’ REMINDER
A second time the disciples are distracted when they stand gazing up into heaven as Jesus ascends, and a cloud takes him from their sight. This time it is the departure of the physical presence of Jesus that distracts them, and not a question about Israel’s kingdom. This time, not Jesus, but two men in white apparel, direct them to their proper focus – instead of gazing into heaven, they must realize the Lord Jesus will come again in the same way that they have seen him go into heaven (Acts 6:11). The effect of this realization is that they return to the upper room in Jerusalem, where they had been staying, and there they persevere together in prayer, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers (Acts 6:14). This was to be their task until the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon them, as Jesus had foretold.
PRAYER AS PREPARATION FOR MISSION
The effect of the Ascension of our Lord on the disciples and the words of the angels to them as Jesus was ascending into heaven, was to bring the disciples back to prayer and supplication that would prepare them for the coming of the Holy Spirit and for mission. To this the whole Church as it then was submitted itself willingly, continuing together in prayer.
It is wonderful, really, that this period of fervent prayer served to prepare the disciples for the coming of the Holy Spirit upon them and for the effective mission that they were soon to begin in Jerusalem and extend to all the world through the preaching of the Gospel.
Human beings have so many concerns about their own lives and about their life in society and in different nations on earth, and we so much want the Lord to change things in the world, but in prayer we cast our cares on the Lord (1 Peter 5:7), and submit to his will and to the power of his transforming love. In describing the disciples’ ten days of waiting, Andrew Murray wrote:
The principal thing is to set ourselves in close and abiding contact with God. The blessing must come from God. God himself must give it to us, and we are to receive the gift directly from him….We learn from the disciples what is really necessary. Attachment to Jesus, the abandonment of everything in the world for Him, despair of self and of all help from man, holding on to the word of promise, and then waiting on God, “the living God” – this is the sure way of living in the joy and the power of the Holy Spirit.
– pp. 302.303, Tracy M. Sumner: The Essential Works of Andrew Murray, published by Barbour Publishing, Inc. Used by permission.
Will you persevere in prayer, keeping in close communion with God? He is the One who steers you away from distractions, as well as matters that should not concern you, and directs you to accomplish the mission He has given you on earth.