Acts 1:12-26 Prayer and Preparation (Rev. Erik Veerman)
In the spring of my senior year of college… a campus wide revival broke out.
It began at a Sunday evening worship service… which normally lasted an hour. However, this particular worship service went on for over 5 hours. Student after student testified to the Lord’s work in each of their lives. The word got out, and students poured into the chapel.
For the next several evenings, the revival continued. In fact, they ran out of space in the chapel and moved to a church across the street… which had over 1300 seats. On one of the nights, I was late… and the only seat I could find was way up in the last row of the balcony.
For hours students poured out their hearts… repentance of sins, professions of faith in Christ, re-commitments to the Gospel, dedications to serving the Lord in missions. The tears were many, the joys were wonderful, the worship in song was exuberant, Scripture was shared often, prayer exalted the savior.
On one of the nights, the line to the microphone wrapping around the entire sanctuary. That night, the testimonies went on until 2:30 am. This renewal continued the next night. Not a seat was available… it was packed out with 1500 people. Interspersed with the student testimonies… a couple pastors gave Biblical instruction on repentance and temptation and faithful Gospel renewal… The final night included a dedication service for student committing themselves to bringing the Gospel to the world. The last testimony that night was given at 6:00 am.
Needless to say… I’ve never experienced anything so powerful since. Praise the Lord for his work.
But what led to that revival? Well, certainly God’s Spirit was powerfully moving throughout campus. But what I didn’t know at the time… this Gospel renewal was proceeded by weeks of prayer by a campus ministry, faithfully pleading to the Lord. Prayers to revive his people, and to bring about true Gospel conversions. And the Lord answered.
Well, that’s exactly what’s happening in the second half of Acts 1. Jesus’ apostles and faithful followers are praying and preparing together for an amazing outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They didn’t know what was coming, but they were obedient to Jesus. Back in verse 4, he ordered them to wait in Jerusalem. Because he was going to give them the promised Holy Spirit. And in this short period of waiting… they fervently prayed and prepared for what God would do. And in this time, God blessed them with a spirit of unity. That theme runs throughout these verses.
4 points this morning. By the way, I really do hope to get back to including the outline in the bulletin. We’ve been tight on space with these longer passages:
Unified in faithful obedience
Together in fervent prayer
Committed to the fulfilled Scriptures
Aligned in final preparations
Unified, together, committed, and aligned… all with one another… as God prepared them for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
1. Unified in faithful obedience
So first, unified in faithful obedience.
Right before verse 12, they had just witnessed this amazing thing. Jesus ascending to the heavens. Out of their sight. Their minds and hearts full of Jesus promises and his resurrection and the ascension. Everything we talked about last week. They must have been bursting with joy and anticipation. I imagine it feeling like going to Disney World or Universal Studio for the first time. You can’t sleep the night before. You’re overwhelmed with excitement. You can’t wait. What will it be like? Can’t we go now?
I don’t know about you, but when I get excited about something, I’m ready to go. Let’s do this. Let’s roll. Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and then ends of the earth. I mean, why wait… when can we start?
But God had other plans for them. He wanted them to wait.
These verses amazingly testify to unity and obedience. Look at this list. All these personalities. Peter and John. Thomas. Besides Jesus mother, Mary, it’s likely the other Mary and her sister Martha were there. And Jesus’ brothers. All of them passionate about what they believed.
Now, passion is not bad, of course. I mean think of all the passion that these men and women had in proclaiming the truth. But passion can easily turn into disunity. And I think especially in the church… when we’re passionate about things… disagreements can turn into heated arguments. These men and women here, they had their share of disagreements! The disciples had even argued over who was the greatest.
Many times we take less important things and we put them in our more important list. Instead of being gracious and loving and listening well, we push our agenda. I’m not saying there aren’t important matters. We see that here right in these verses. A commitment to the Scriptures and seeking to be faithful to what God has ordained. We’ll come back to those in a bit. But when little differences turn into big differences, we quickly devolve into conflict and division.
But we don’t see any of that here. They are faithful together as they obeyed Jesus command. Wait in Jerusalem.
That’s the first thing they do. Verse 12 and 13. They returned to Jerusalem together. It was only about 1000 yards. That was a sabbath day journey. And they all gathered in the upper room. In the Greek, the definitive article is used. The upper room. This was likely the same room where Jesus celebrated the last supper with them.
In verse 15, the group includes about 120 of Jesus disciples, family, and followers. All together, all waiting in obedience.
Verse 14 uses the phrase “With one accord” It’s speaking about their prayer together, but it captures the overall unity they had in these few days. Another translation says “with one mind” …Isn’t that little phrase so often hard to come by? Unity of mind, all striving for the same purpose. All dedicated to Jesus and his mission. All being obedient to wait and prepare.
This bond of faithful unity and obedience, it overflowed in 3 ways. The 3 ways are the next 3 points,
2. Together in fervent prayer
3. Committed to the fulfilled Scriptures
4. Aligned in final preparations
Together in fervent prayer
So now, let’s talk about prayer. Point 2, Together in fervent prayer. In verse 14, it says “they were devoting themselves to prayer.” They committed themselves to going before the Lord, seeking him, falling on their knees before him, praising him.
That word devoted is used multiple times in Acts and it means a persistent adherence. To be intently engaged. Constantly attending to. And not just the word, but the verb tense indicates an ongoing dedication to prayer.
We get this picture of Jesus disciples and followers spending hours in prayer. And not just one time, but over and over as they gathered. And when they prayed, it overflowed with a fervent, heart-felt yearning for the Lord.
We’re not told the content of their prayer… but if the other examples of prayer in Acts give us a clue. Then their prayers would have focused on their mission… and their prayers would have been full of Scripture. For example, in acts chapter 4, after praying Psalm 2 they prayed “Lord, …grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness.”
In fact, Acts refers to prayer 31 times. Yet another theme all throughout the book.
They would have certainly been praying for the outpouring of the Spirit that was to come. What Jesus just promised. They would have recalled the prayer Jesus taught his disciples – The Lord’s Prayer. Exalting the father, confessing their sin of unbelief in the days before the resurrection. Prayer for God’s kingdom. I mean… Jesus had just expanded his teaching about the kingdom. And Jesus’ last word… that they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. That’s both exciting and daunting. Yet God promised it all!
And so, all these things would have been present in their minds and hearts. And they would pour out to God in prayer… their burdens, and excitement, asking for protection, praying for the tremendous ministry of the Holy Spirit who was about to be given, for boldness, for preparation, for their witness, For the cross, the resurrection and the ascension to be proclaimed… and for the people in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and Tucker, and everywhere.
They devoted everything to prayer. If you look down at verse 24. The came to the Lord in prayer. They asked God to reveal his will to fill the vacancy among the original disciples. We’ll come back to that in a few minutes.
And beloved, I am convicted. I think you know me by now. In my impatience, I want to do do do, go go go. My default is to act and then pray later. But that’s not the way. As I look back on these last 2 years, I’m so thankful for two things.
First, as many of you know who journeyed with us before launch… planting a church takes time and prayer. And those times of sweet prayer with many of you, multiple times a week… were such a blessing and encouragement.
And second, as much as it shook me to the core, I’m thankful for covid happening right before our planned launch. I don’t think I’ve prayed more than this last spring.
But I need to confess my failure and ask for your forgiveness. Since we launched, my mind has been full of all the things to do. Getting things ready for Sunday, and emails, and getting together with people, and bulletins and sermon prep, and the list goes on and on. I’m so thankful for our weekly prayer meeting, and the monthly time of prayer I have with our elders, and the time that Amy and I spend praying through our church prayer needs… but in-between, I’ve struggled, I’ve distracted myself away from fervent prayer.
I think if I were there with the 120, I’d be like “let’s go… we have a world to get to.” But that’s not God’s will.
Prayer and preparation are essential to the mission of the Kingdom. They’re not an add on. Not something to do if time permits. No, prayer is crucial. And it’s both a display of unity and a mean to unity. You’ve probably heard the phrase “A family who prays together, stays together.” Well, let me tweak that a little bit, “A church who prays together, stays together.”
There’s so much today that distracts us. We have to fight against it. I have to fight against it. Amy shared a John Piper quote the other day. Piper said, “One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.” Let that sink in. The funny thing is he posted that on Twitter.
When we go to the Lord in fervent devoted prayer, we are submitting ourselves to the savior, we are dedicating our lives to His mission, we’re recognizing his sovereignty, our full dependence on him… and God promises he will hear and respond to our prayers according to his good will. Together in fervent prayer
Committed to the fulfilled Scriptures
The next area of unity…. This is point number 3. A commitment to the fulfilled Scriptures
That’s right there in verse 16. Peter’s speaking to all 120 of them. He says “brothers” and that could be translated brothers and sisters. Or believers. “the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus”
You see, in this time of waiting and prayer, they united themselves in the Word. They pored over the Scriptures. They sought to know how all the promises and prophecies were fulfilled in the last 1-2 weeks. They wanted to know, not just the amazing redemption that happened through Christ’s death and resurrection, but why things happened as they did.
And Judas’ actions weighed heavy on their hearts. Just to clarify, there were 2 disciples named Judas. One of them is listed in verse 13 – the son of James. But the other Judas, Judas Iscariot. He’s the one who betrayed Jesus. Who led the solders to the garden where Jesus was arrested.
Judas had been one of them. Travelled all over Judea with them, studied under Jesus with them. Fellowshipped and ate with them. And it grieved them when Judas turned. He didn’t just betray Jesus, He betrayed them.
It would have been easy for them to go to their bad place. You know, anger in their heart. Maybe you’ve been betrayed before. That feeling of abandonment by someone you trusted. Your insides twist. Your heart pained. And when you’re betrayed, it’s hard not to dwell on it. You make assumptions, you impugn motives on people. Your sin wants to take you a place of anger or a desire for revenge. Where should you turn?
Well, that same temptation fell on the disciples… And Peter, he turns to the Word. “The Scriptures had to be fulfilled” he says. We should turn to the Word, as well.
Now, just to be sure, they’re involved in very specific fulfillments of Scripture. They’ve been part of the center of all of history. God becoming man, Jesus. His ministry on earth… the prophesies of his suffering and death.
When I say we should turn to the Word… I’m not saying that we should look in the Bible for specific events in our lives. Let me share this funny story. Many many years ago I was having dinner with this couple I had just met. His nickname was actually Frog. They had just come back from a trip to the middle east. Well, on that trip, they were hiking and got lost. And they accidentally wandered into a very closed country.
And through a crazy set of events, they actually wound up in the king’s chambers. He welcomed them, invited them to a private dinner. And then helped them return to the neighboring country where they were staying.
Well, a day or so later, they read this in Psalm 105:30 “Their land swarmed with frogs, even in the chambers of their kings” And they were like, “that’s us! The Bible mentions us!”
That is a true story. They were serious.
That is called eisegesis. Reading into the Scripture what was not meant to be. No, for me… and for you, you should be seeing the fulfillment of Scripture in Christ, you should be seeking to understand your sin, be pursuing faith and repentance, and looking at the eternal promises of God in Christ. You should be going to the Scriptures when you’re sinned against. And considering the grace of God through Christ in your life.
But for Peter and the disciples, specific Old Testament prophecies had been fulfilled. And that included Judas’s betrayal. Now, we’re even given some very graphic details of what happened to Judas in verses 18. You see, the word had spread throughout Jerusalem. That’s in verse 19. The people had even given a name to the field where Judas died - the Field of Blood. So, in those 2 verses, Luke was likely sharing the origin of the situation… given it’s fame.
Back in verse 16, Peter is clear that the Holy Spirit worked through King David to give them prophecies. Peter quotes two Psalms in verse 20. He was encouraging them to understand what happened. God used Judas, just like he did Pilate, and the Roman soldiers and religious leaders… all to accomplish the greatest gift ever given. Redemption in Christ. “The Scriptures had to be fulfilled”
As Peter looked to the Word and spoke of its fulfillment, we have no sense of any disagreement. No, rather they were all united around the Scriptures. They received the Word and sought to be faithful to it. We see that worked out in these last few verses.
Aligned in final preparations
That brings us to the last point. Aligned in final preparations
We get to these last few verses… and part of the prophecy is that someone should take Judas’s place. The second half of verse 20 is a quote from Psalm 109. “Let another take his office”
And they begin the process to replace Judas’s position as one of the original 12. Why?
I mean, couldn’t they just stick with the 11? There’s already the 120. And so what difference would it make whether this empty seat was filled?
This is where it’s helpful to step back and see the broader narrative of Scripture. You see, this point in history is the hinge between the Old Testament and the New … where the promises of old, have turned to the fulfillment in the new.
God’s people in the Old Testament were represented by the 12 tribes. The 12 sons of Jacob. Which, as some of you know, were fractured into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern Kingdom of Judah. And things were messy. But 12, as a number… it represented the completeness of God’s people.
So it’s no accident that there were 12 disciples. The book of Revelation wasn’t written at this point, but later in life, John would write about the new heavens and new earth. The number 12 is all over the description of the people and city of God in eternity
You see, part of God’s redemptive plan in Christ is restoration. It’s redeeming a people back unto the creator. And so, the Scriptures called for the office of the 12 disciples to be complete again. In doing so, it would restore the representative 12 for the people of God in the New Testament.
This is important… because the Kingdom of God which Jesus is now establishing, it will include people from every tribe and tongue and nation to the ends of the earth. And in that way, in the fulfilled covenant promise… it will be a completion of God’s people. A redeemed people in Christ.
And the prophecy to fill the vacancy… it’s part of the hinge… to set in motion the fullness of the Kingdom of God in Christ. This Kingdom is the new Covenant community, which is the church.
Really, this is the final preparation before the Holy Spirit is poured out at Pentecost. They select 2 men, who had the same qualifications of the disciples. Both of them had been there with Jesus from his baptism forward. And they select the 12th disciple through an Old Testament practice… casting lots.
They would take two small pieces of wood, or some other material, write the two names on them, put them in a bag and then shake the bag. Whichever name came out first, he would be the one! That sounds strange to us, but God’s people used that practice to seek His leading. God is sovereign over that!
It’s interesting…. this is the last time casting of lots was used in the Bible. Many surmise that with the giving of the Holy Spirit and the establishment of the church, God now guides his people through the Word and Spirit and the church.
So the disciples prayed together, they cast the lot and Mathias chosen… and it says, “they numbered him with the 11.” No questions asked, no disagreements. A final picture for us of unity together. Aligned in final preparations
Unified in faithful obedience, Together in fervent prayer, Committed to the fulfilled Scriptures, and Aligned in final preparations.
And in each of those ways, they focused on their coming mission. To be sent to the ends of the earth. That’s what would happened… their obedience, and prayer, and commitment and preparation… led to the most amazing display of God’s moving in History. A revival like no other. Because it was the very first revival in the history of the church – We call it Pentecost - the gift of the Spirit and the conversion of thousands. Next week, we’ll study and rejoice in God’s gift and what it means to us.
Now, we’re not praying and preparing for another Pentecost. No, that event was a special event in the history of the church. I’ll explain that next week.
But what we can pray for and prepare for is a revival – a spiritual awakening to Christ through God’s Spirit. We can do what these faithful disciples and other men and women did. Striving for unity, seeking obedience… praying, praying, praying for the work that God has called us to. praying for a revival in Tucker. For God’s Spirit to do an amazing transformative work in our city. A true revival with repentance of sins, testimonies of Gods faithful work. A true renewal with His Word lifted up and declared, hearts and minds transformed, worship in song, prayer celebrating God’s grace, seeing people professing faith in Christ or recommitting their live to the Gospel.
That’s what we need to be praying and preparing for… because through it, God will bless and respond and stir up his Spirit to accomplish His will.
So may we together strive for obedience to the Lord and the Scriptures, unified in fervent pray like we have never done before, and faithfully seeking to prepare for what God will do for His Kingdom – His church.