Theme: God might be planning something that turns our world upside-down. We prepare for God to work by praying, by inquiring and by being ready for change.
In the series, “God’s Mission; God’s Method,” we will be looking at the Book of Acts to see God at work in the early church. The series will help us start our life together by looking afresh at what it means to be God’s people, caught up in the world-changing action of the Holy Spirit. I don’t want to “play church,” just going through the motions. I want us to be the church, the church God calls us to be. ~Rev. John Schmidt
Today’s scripture comes from the Book of Acts. Acts, chapter 1, verses 1-11, but if you have your Bibles with you, you might want to keep them open because what I talk about is really going to cover some events in chapter 1 and chapter 2 of the Book of Acts. So, let’s hear from the Word of the Lord.
“In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 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. 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. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them: “It is not for you to know the time or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 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.”
They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee, they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
Let’s pray. Heavenly Father, we thank you for this word and we pray that in our time together you might open our eyes to whatever you want us to see, for we ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Well, I finally made it! We finally made it here. Yeah. It’s a good feeling. And we made it to Maryland in time for the Maryland State Fair! Now, we were too busy to go to it, but we did have to drive in front of it about 20 times that first week we were here. And it was kind of a good experience because Debbie and I could see from the road the Zipper, one of the rides there. And the Zipper is dear to our hearts because Debbie and I first dated, our very first date was to Louisiana State Fair, and at the Louisiana State Fair we rode the Zipper, the very same ride it looked to me. I mean it looked kind of old. You see, we went to the State Fair, but I only had enough money for one ride if we were going to eat dinner together. So we made a careful decision and decided that the Zipper was the most exciting thing that they had available there. I don’t know if you are familiar with the ride, but its got a seat somewhat like on a Ferris wheel, but its got a cage over it, at least it did in Louisiana, and then you ride on it. And it goes on a chain around like that, and then the whole assembly rotates, but it rotates fairly slowly. And so when I was standing in line with Debbie, you know I suggested to her that when we get in the car, let’s rock it to make it a little more exciting. And so, we got into the car and it closed up and we started going up and we start rocking and then about two seconds later we get to the top and we totally forgot about rocking the seat because we had an experience somewhat akin to going off a cliff in an automobile. I mean we were upside-down, my change was flying out of my pocket, Debbie’s purse went across the car, combs and wallets all over and we held on for dear life!
Well, I think the disciples might have had an experience a little bit like that in these opening years of the church. You know they heard from Jesus what it would be like. They made their plans, and they kind of maybe even thought about how they could rock the car a little bit to make it exciting. And then one day Jesus turned their world upside-down. The next few weeks we are going to be looking into the Book of Acts to get a sense of what it means to be involved with God’s mission, in God’s method, by God’s method. Because God is doing something in the world and he is doing it his way. And so we are going to be looking in the Book of Acts to get a feel for what that experience was like for the early disciples and what it might be like for us as well. And it begins in this first chapter of Acts. The first chapter of Acts is sort of like being on the ride going up that first side.
The disciples had gathered together. These are people that have been with Jesus for three years. They watched him. They watched him heal people. They have heard him preach. They have learned from him. They have actually proclaimed a message about Jesus themselves and had some hands on experience in ministry. They have seen him die. And then they had this incredible experience of being with the resurrected Jesus Christ for 40 days. These are as prepared a group as you can imagine,well trained, well motivated and Jesus tells them to wait. And so, since they are an obedient group, they do wait. And so in Chapter 1 when you get to around verse 14, you find out that they all joined together constantly in prayer. And so the way they waited for Jesus, for God to do whatever Jesus had promised, the way they waited was to pray. And so, while they are praying across these days, they are also studying the scriptures and thinking and taking a look at their situation. In verses 15 to 26, they also try to deal with the fact that there are only 11 disciples now, and they feel like it should be 12. So they figure out a way of choosing a 12th disciple to fit the slot vacated when Judas betrayed Jesus. And so eventually they come up with the disciple Mathias, and he joins the 12. So they are doing what they can and they are going up the side.
Well, just for a moment, when you are looking at a passage like this, it is probably good to think a little bit about what they might be thinking at this point. If you were there and you are waiting, what’s going through your mind? Well, if they are anything like me, at least one of them is thinking how long do we have to wait? You know God ,if you want to change the world, the sooner the better to get started. You know, why are we waiting? They don’t know how many days. Somebody else might be thinking, well, what are we waiting for? We have seen the Holy Spirit at work in the life of Jesus. We watched him heal. We know what it meant in the Old Testament in the life of the prophets, but they had a burden from the Lord and a word to proclaim to the people. Is it going to be like that? What are we going to experience that we don’t have already by having been with Jesus for three years? And then some are probably thinking about the future in terms of what role will I play. Now, it is hard for any of us who are serious about the church to think about the future without thinking about our own role. What role will we play?
Now, for some of us there is something we really want to do. God, you know I really want to do this. I hope it works out. And we are praying that way. For some of us though, we are trying to figure out a way that God can do it without using us that much. Whatever it is, we have this vision and we are trying to figure out how do I fit in it. And so, they are having thoughts like this when Chapter 2 begins to happen.
Chapter 2 comes, the car comes to the top and the world turns upside-down. Think about all the things that happen in chapter 2, just the first part of chapter 2 of the Book of Acts. The Holy Spirit comes like a violent wind. So, first of all, some loud noise hits their prayer meeting. They didn’t know it was going to happen that day. They just woke up and came to prayer meeting and all of a sudden there is a sound like a violent wind. And more than that, there is something that looks like tons of flame over the head of each of them, they begin to speak in languages they don’t know and the people outside begin to hear the great exploits of God in languages they understand, but they don’t know, the disciples don’t know. All of this is happening and by 9:00 o’clock they are accused of being drunk. Another unexpected thing, and by the end of the day they had 3,000 new believers that they have to cope with.
Do you think any of them in chapter 1 were envisioning this sort of event? I don’t think so. I don’t think they had a clue what God was actually going to do. But it didn’t end. The surprises don’t end with chapter 2, the Book of Acts. The Book of Acts covers a period of time of about 27 years. In that period of time, according to the word of Jesus following his prophetic word, it begins in Jerusalem and goes just about to the ends of the earth. It ends up with the church being in Rome, which is about 1,300 miles away, and its just one step from what they could have considered the very ends of the earth, Spain. All of this happens and in this period of time, they are constantly met with surprises. Let’s think about some of the surprises in the Book of Acts. Perhaps one of the biggest surprises is a surprise character that comes on the scene. Think about the people who are there in chapter 1. Think about all the trouble of picking out Mathias and yet the people in chapter 1 only are major players in the Book of Acts through about this 12th chapter and its primarily Peter. For the rest of the Book of Acts, there is a surprise character there, the Apostle Paul. Now, Paul’s only claim to fame in the first eight chapters is that he is willing to kill Christians. Now, do you think any of the people who were there with Jesus have any idea that the plan of God is going to ultimately embrace somebody who is killing Christians right now and will be a major apostle in planting the church to the Gentiles? Again, I don’t think so.
Another surprise is that the Gentiles receive the Holy Spirit, just like the Jews and the Apostles did. This also turns their world view upside-down, because they didn’t think that God worked that way. There was something special about being a Jew There are other surprises. There are miraculous deliverances from prison and from persecution. But, perhaps maybe even more mysterious, there are times that God doesn’t deliver, and so by the end of chapter 12, the Apostle James is dead. And yet his brother John by church tradition lives to be just about the oldest of the apostles. There are surprises, surprises all along the way. Things that remind them again and again that it’s not their plan, it’s not their mission, it’s not their method, it’s God. God is the only one in control.
Well, what do we learn from our brothers and sisters back there? As we look at their experience and kind of take this overview, what are some of the things that we can learn? The first thing is, is that we need to expect big things from God. The apostles were waiting, but they were waiting with some sense of expectancy. Jesus said something big was going to happen and so they believed that it would. They knew that God was powerful, and that same God is at work now. God still cares about the ends of the earth and God still has the power to do something about it that’s bigger than us. And so, we need to join in the experience of our brothers and sisters in the early church by expecting God to be God-sized and not to fit into our plans. So, the first thing is, we need to expect big things from God.
The second thing is, we need to pray. You know this sort of expectation is not a casual thing where you wake up in the morning and say, “Oh, God exists so something big could happen” and then you go on your day. Expectation like this gives birth to prayer. The Book of Acts is loaded with prayer meetings, and so our expectation, our desires and our hopes we bring to God in prayer, and then we wait and we listen and we look for God to show us what’s on his heart and we wait to see, to see what God is doing around us. We need to pray. We need to hold these things before God.
The next thing is that we need to inquire. We need to ask God, we need to inquire about what is going on. We do this by looking in the scriptures and we do this by paying attention to our situation around us. We see the disciples here looking to the scriptures. They have got a situation and they want to fill a 12th slot, and so they are dealing with scripture, what does that mean? In Chapter 2 when the Holy Spirit comes, Peter is thinking in terms of scripture as he interprets what’s happening to the people around him. So, we also need to be studying the scriptures, and then we need to be interpreting what’s happening around us by the scripture. So, since we are just covering high points in this series, you might want to study the scriptures on your own in the Book of Acts, or maybe in a small group.
And so, there is this book, “Acts, Seeing God’s Power in Action,” by Phyllis Lapoe, you might want to take a book, this book or something like it and study the Book of Acts, in detail, because we need to have a fresh sense of what God is doing. But we don’t just study. We don’t just do “A” up on the screen there. We do “B” as well, we pay attention to what’s happening around us. You know, when I first got here to Baltimore a few weeks ago somebody loaned me a book on walking tours around Baltimore. Now, if I took that book and went into my living room and opened it up and started reading it and say, “Ah-ha, on that trail if you go 600 yards in, you will see some nice flowers to the right, there are railroad tracks ahead of you, and maple trees.” And if that’s all I did was read it and try to memorize it, it would be kind of a poor use of that book. Instead, I take the book and actually go to the place and look around and I use it as a guidebook and as a map to help me through this experience and that’s what scripture has been given to us for. To be our guidebook, to be our map, to be our marching orders, so we pay attention to scripture, and we inquire of that. And at the same time we pay attention to what’s happening around us. So, what does it mean to be a Christian in your particular family? What does it mean to be a Christian in school? What does it mean to be a witness on your college campus? And what does it mean to serve God in your business or work place, beyond just making a good product and earning a living for your family?
These are the answers that we get as we inquire from God. And that’s what the apostles were doing. They were actively looking, one of the images that is given in the scriptures for someone who is waiting is a watchman. Someone who is awake at night looking for what is going to happen.
The fourth thing is, we need to be ready for change. If the Book of Acts tells us nothing else, it’s that very little happened according to the plan of the apostles. Chapter is totally scripted by God, and they were practically left in the dust. We have to be ready for change. We can learn that from the very history of this church. Let’s think about it for a moment. Central Presbyterian Church was planted in one place. Faithful people sacrificed to build a building there and God let it burn down. Unexpected. Not the way they would have chosen for it. And so, eventually they are at another location and at that location, the congregation just about dies. This would have never been what the original people or any of the generations that follow would want for the experience of this church, and yet it happened. And then at this point, 50 years ago, God decides to rebirth this church in a new location, but who does he use? Murray Smoot, who was firmly together with his wife Dottie, planning to be missionaries to China, but the door slammed shut on those plans. And they began planning this church by unpacking the barrels that they had already packed to prepare to go to China. Plans changed, hopes change. We can hold onto some things tightly, Jesus and the truth,everything else, we have got to be willing to let God change. And so, God might have something coming that turns our world upside-down. That scares me, but that’s okay. We can deal with that. But, we have got to be ready for change because you know, we are in for an adventure, and the way we get ready for it is by expecting God to work by praying, by inquiring and by being ready for change. Okay, you got those four words? EPIC. Okay? An epic adventure? So, at least you all should be able to remember these four points, okay? It’s just for you.
There is an adventure coming, but it’s not a new adventure. This is just the next chapter in the adventure of what God is doing in this church. Now, some of us might actually believe that a walk with God is sort of, you know, the slow sort of thing that you have got to do, something to jazz it up a little bit. I think that is only true when we are not really willing to face what He is really asking us to do. Do we have to jazz it up? I don’t think so. Not if we are obedient.
Let’s pray. Heavenly Father, we thank you. We thank you for your truth, we thank you for the incredible adventure you call us to individually and together as a church. Honor the name of Jesus Christ in our midst. We commit ourselves to you in Jesus’ name. Amen.