Pentecost – Ask the Right Questions

Pentecost – Ask the Right Questions

Since my extended family is spread throughout the southern part of the United States, seeing grandma required a prolonged journey for my young children. Each trip, though exciting, was also torturous. How it happened is still a mystery to me, but somehow, my children learned the annoying, frustrating question: “Are we there yet?” No one taught it to them; the instinctual drive to irritate parents is the only possible explanation for their inquiry.

In the days before inexpensive portable DVD players, tablets, WIFI, and cell phones, my wife and I had limited options for occupying the children’s attention. We debated the wisdom of coaxing them to take a long nap. Though doing so would have shortened the trip from their perspective (and given us some peace), getting them to sleep that night would have been problematic. Instead, we taught them the same games previous generations used to fill boring travel time. We worked on switching their focus from when to while – not “when will we get there?” but what can we do “while we’re traveling?” 

Though we adults don’t often ask the question—certainly not in rapid succession—it still occupies our thoughts. Are we there yet? The push to arrive at the destination is not a trait reserved only for children or road-trips, nor is it true solely of our time. 

Two millennia ago, Jesus and His eleven remaining disciples stood on the Mount of Olives. They had endured a tumultuous time. First, Jesus’ followers lost Him in the crucifixion, and then, they got Him back through His resurrection. For the subsequent 40 days (the period of testing), Jesus appeared to groups of various sizes in multiple venues and encouraged the witnesses to evaluate the evidence and validate that He stood before them (1 Cor. 15:5-6). He also used that time to give the Eleven some final instructions.

One member of the group—we are not told who—asked a question. “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) The name of the inquirer doesn’t matter; the subject was on each of their minds.

Are we there yet?

It echoed a question posed earlier (Matthew 24:3). They, like us, merely wanted the trip to be over. Jesus did not indicate that He was annoyed with their question. The only twinge Jesus might have had was that they spoke of the kingdom of Israel (Acts 1:6) though He had spoken of the Kingdom of God (Acts 1:3).

The interest they showed in the kingdom was a positive thing. Over the previous weeks, Jesus had focused His conversation on the Kingdom (Acts 1:3). It was natural for this thought to be on their minds. Also, early in His ministry, Jesus taught them the priority of seeking His Kingdom (Matt. 6:33). Their question was not irrelevant or ill-conceived; it’s just that Jesus had something more pressing for them to consider.

Jesus’ responded to their question the same way that my wife and I did when it came from our children. He diverted their attention from when to while. He said, “Don’t concern yourself with something over which you have no control. The when is up to the Father. But while you’re here, I have a gift for you to receive and a mission for you to accomplish.” With that, Jesus gave His disciples some final directives.

Wait

He ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait” (Acts 1:4)

The disciples were excited! Jesus, their leader, had defeated the worst His enemies could hurl at Him. The number of people who openly declared their allegiance to Jesus was growing. There were 120 now, and that number included Jesus’ family members (Acts 1:14) who once thought Jesus’ claims were evidence of insanity (Matt. 12:46).

No longer did Jesus’ followers congregate in small groups and hide in the shadows. Over a hundred of them stood publicly with Jesus on the Mount of Olives. This may have appeared to be the opportune moment for Jesus to initiate His disciples into their post-resurrection ministry. Jesus did not agree. He told His followers to wait before they went.

Timing was vital to Jesus. He knew the danger of rushing into action before everything was ready (John 2:4; 7:30; Gal. 4:4), and Jesus’ followers were not yet equipped. They needed the indwelling of the Spirit. Jesus promised the Spirit, but it was necessary for them to wait at Jerusalem for that pledge to be fulfilled.

John the Baptist was the first modern-day prophet to speak of the Spirit. In his message of the Messiah’s impending unveiling, John unabashedly announced the limitations of his baptismal ministry. Doing so allowed him to magnify what Jesus would soon do. “The best I can do is to get you wet,” John said, “but He will set you on fire.” (Matthew 3:11)

John understood the significance of what Jesus promised. The Spirit had inflamed John since his birth (Luke 1:15). Talk about your ADHD! Oh, what a toddler John must have been!

Zechariah and Elizabeth, John’s parents, knew the struggle of postponement. They had to wait decades for the birth of the first permanently Spirit-indwelled human (Luke 1:7). He was long overdue, but John was worth the delay.

Jesus’ disciples would wait only a little over a week after His departure for their filling. Waiting, however, was still necessary. It was the longest nine days of their lives! The disciples were without Jesus or the Spirit. No wonder they confined themselves to the upper room. To attempt anything of a spiritual nature in their current condition would likely have resulted in abject failure.

The disciples wanted to know when. Jesus told them to wait. He did not give them access to what they desired, but He granted them precisely what they needed and what they should have been asking for all along (Luke 11:13).

Operate

“you will receive power…you will be My witnesses” (Acts 1:8)

Jesus’ followers needed the Spirit, but they also needed convincing of their deficit. They initially thought they could accomplish their mission on their own. The time they spent away from Jesus doing miracles and casting out demons was meant to embolden them and give them a taste of what lay in store (Luke 10:17-19), but it probably served as well to heighten their already present sense of self-dependence (Luke 9:54).

Jesus’ disciples shared a tendency with us modern Christians—the inclination to attempt what Jesus requires using only carnal strength (Rom. 8:8-9). That is the primary reason they kept stumbling through Jesus’ earthly ministry. If they were to succeed in Jesus’ mission, it was crucial for them to recognize their dependence. Therefore, rather than providing the Spirit at the beginning, Jesus waited.

The disciples were weak. They now knew it. Their actions on the night of Jesus’ arrest verified it. The disciples’ failings humbled them and persuaded them of their desperate need for something – or Someone – greater than themselves. When Jesus spoke of them being His witnesses, they had to be thinking, “Who would be justified in listening to us?”

The disciples were correct. They had no right to authority or power to accomplish change. Jesus, however, gave them His.

In Matthew 28:18, Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.” Here in Acts 1:8, He says, “But you will receive power.” So the transaction Jesus offered went something like this: “I have it. You need it. I give it.”

The first type of authority Jesus gave His disciples, including you and me, was the right to be called children of God (John 1:12). Being is always a prerequisite to doing. Authority, however, is not primarily about the chair you sit in but the changes you make. God meant for energy and authority to be used, not permanently stored. They had the authority to do something.

Physical science teachers speak of the difference between potential energy and kinetic energy. Kinetic energy is the force an already moving object can exert on its environment. For example, a car traveling at 70mph can inflict a great deal of damage.

Potential energy is the term used to describe when an object is on the verge of impacting its environment but has not yet. All it needs is a little push.

Jesus knew His disciples had something to offer (potential energy), but He wanted to get them moving (kinetic energy). So He gave them the two components they needed: extraordinary enablement and a powerful purpose. He provided the Spirit, and He made them His witnesses.

The Spirit, who would soon invade their lives, radically altered them and the productivity of the movement Jesus initiated. As individuals and as a group, the disciples began to operate at the level Jesus had always intended. An extended time of prayer (and probable fasting) preceded the Spirit’s arrival (Acts 1:14). No one fell asleep this time (Luke 22:45-46). And finally, the disciples, instead of jockeying for position (Luke 22:24; Matthew 20:20-24), expressed the unity that Jesus so fervently sought in His prayer to the Father (John 17:11; Acts 1:14)  

Imagine the reaction of that group had they known how God was going to use them that first day! Three thousand revelers moved from rejoicing over the harvest to being the harvest because of Peter’s Spirit-empowered words (Acts 2:41). The 120 likely would have doubted Jesus if He had told them this outcome. It was just too impressive.

Greater still, that group of strangers, from various parts of the world, formed a fellowship unlike any that had ever existed! They daily met together, ate together, prayed together, sacrificed together, and rejoiced together over each person that came to faith (Acts 2:42-47). They experienced community.

A stronghold for the church now existed in Jerusalem. However, the effort to reach the world for Jesus Christ had just begun, and attacks from the Enemy’s forces would soon multiply and intensify. These Jesus followers quickly learned to heavily rely on their community and the Spirit who empowered and connected it.

Jesus first commanded His disciples to wait. Then, He told them to operate (Luke 19:13). There was one more component to the instructions Jesus’ disciples received.

Anticipate

“This Jesus…will come in the same way” (Acts 1:11)

After giving instructions to His disciples, Jesus left earth on His journey back to the Father. The record of the event is not as specific as we might like. Did Jesus, as He was talking, begin to levitate and then rise into the clouds? Did a cloud descend and obscure Jesus from their sight as had happened at the Transfiguration (Matt. 17:5) and then carry Jesus into the sky? The disciples watched something ascend; otherwise, they wouldn’t have been looking up.

The details of how Jesus’ ascension happened is not important. What matters is that, in reverse order, it will happen again! God’s white-robed messengers announced what Jesus had already promised (John 14:1-3). He is coming back!

As a result of the day’s events, the disciples anticipated the Spirit’s coming and Jesus’ return. One would be soon; the other would be a long time in coming. The preparation for the first was to wait. Their conditioning for the second was to work. Jesus didn’t want them permanently sequestered in the upper room or lounging on top of a mountain in booths while they awaited Him (Matt. 17:4; 1 Thess. 3:6, 10-11). They had a mission to accomplish.

That’s what the circumstances of Jesus’ ascension meant for Jesus’ disciples. What does it mean for us?

First, waiting is just as much a part of ministry as working. Don’t despise the discipline of delay. Delay is not denial. It is preparation. Pray, gather your team (Acts 1:21-22), and listen for the sound of God’s empowerment to come in His timing (Acts 2:2).

Second, whether or not you believe it, you have God-sized potential. If Christ has rescued you, then you already have the Spirit and the mission. Therefore, you are in the same place Jesus’ disciples were—just needing a little push. You are like a sippy cup on the edge of the table, a roller coaster at the top of the hill, the child who receives a super soaker on the hottest day of the year, a dragster waiting for the green light, or the hound dog that just spotted a rabbit. Go for it!

Finally, watch for Jesus’ return. Two millennia have passed since Jesus left. We are still waiting, but fewer and fewer prophecies have yet to be fulfilled.

God has given us, through the remainder of the New Testament, so much more revelation concerning Jesus’ return than His original disciples had when they stood searching the sky. Jesus’ admonition to them to put the timing of the Kingdom’s arrival to the side may or may not apply to us. However, Jesus’ command for His followers to be His Spirit-empowered, world-reaching witnesses is more fitting now than ever.

It is a struggle to live for Jesus in a society that is increasingly hostile to Christ and His teachings. You are tired. You want to go home. You are tempted to turn your eyes heavenward, searching the skies and hoping for Jesus’ soon return. That is appropriate. Do it.

However, with just as much intensity as you examine the signs and perhaps with greater frequency, you need to lower the angle of your vision and see what Jesus saw—people and their needs. When you see people, it promotes the compassion that leads to action. Jesus, like you, got weary. He never allowed His human weakness, though, to prevent Him from doing ministry (John 4:6-7; Mark 6:30-36).

Jesus’ disciples established the pattern. As instructed, they stopped gazing and got to work. Their activity was not in place of their anticipation; it was because of their anticipation.

So as a Watchman, what do we do? Do we watch, or do we warn? YES!

Instead of focusing all of our attention on the question, “Lord, when will you return?” ask, “Lord, what do you want me to do while You’re gone?” Ask the right question, or better yet, listen to the answer He has already given. “You will be My witnesses.”

We know two facts for certain: Jesus is coming, and people who don’t know Him are dying. If you genuinely desire the establishment of Jesus’ kingdom on earth (Matt. 6:10), then demonstrate His rule over your life. Obey His final command.

 

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