THEY ALL JOINED TOGETHER CONSTANTLY IN PRAYER

 

Acts 1:12-26

Key Verse: 1:14

 

“They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.”

 

Last week we studied Jesus’ world mission command, “You will be my witnesses” and his promise of the Holy Spirit. There is an interval of ten days between Jesus’ ascension to heaven and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in chapter 2. What did the apostles do to receive the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in this passage? They joined together constantly in prayer. They studied the Scripture and mended the broken vessel by adding Matthias to the eleven. Then the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost. Though we are not waiting for the Holy Spirit because we live in the age of the Holy Spirit, we can apply the same principle in order to be filled with the Holy Spirit when we serve the ministry of world campus mission. I pray that God may bless your mission life filled with the power of the Holy Spirit through this passage.

PART I THEY WERE UNITED PRAYER (12-14).

Look at verses 12. “Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city.” At the rebuke of the angels the disciples withdrew their gaze from the cloud and they returned to Jerusalem. According to Luke 24:52, they returned to Jerusalem “with great joy” because their sorrow at parting from the risen Christ was turned into joy at the thought of meeting him again. Of course, they had a lingering fear of the Jews who killed Jesus on the cross. But that did not deter their obedience to Jesus’ command, “Do not leave Jerusalem.” The power of the risen Jesus overwhelmed their hearts. They could obey his direction to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit. They were beginning to change from fearful men into obedient men of God with world mission vision.

When the apostles arrived in Jerusalem they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James (13). These are the Eleven, Jesus’ chosen disciples, spoken of in the gospels. Now they were thinking about how to start the task of witnessing in Jerusalem. In spite of the assurances of Jesus, the disciples must have been aware of the formidable nature of their task. How did they carry out Jesus’ world mission command? All the disciples were present. This shows that all of those to whom the world mission commission was given were at their post, ready to begin their appointed work, and waiting only for the promised power from on high. So on arriving at the upper room which was at present serving as their world mission headquarters, they were in complete agreement about the best way of spending time. In the past, it was difficult for them to agree on anything. They argued a lot debating who was the greatest among them. They had a hard time living together. Partially, it was because they were different. Also they were young spiritually. Their selfish human ambition prevented them from working together as one team. But this time they were in complete agreement. They agreed to wait on the Holy Spirit for an interval of ten days. It was hard for Simon Peter to wait for ten days without any major activity because he was a man of bold action. But he also agreed with the others that Jesus’ command to wait must be obeyed.

What did the apostles do while waiting for the Holy Spirit? Did they sit around an do nothing? No. Look at verse 14. “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” Finally, they recognized the importance of prayer. The best way to wait for the Holy Spirit was to pray together. They would devote themselves to prayer. This was to prepare their minds for the Spirit’s coming. They had to depend on God to receive the promised gift. Before this, only Jesus had prayed. When the disciples should have been praying, they slept instead (Lk 22:46). But now, they began to pray in order to obey Jesus’ world mission command. Wow, finally they became men of prayer. After meeting the Risen Christ, the apostles overcame their desires for more sleep and were united in prayer.

Let’s pay attention to the fact that they joined together in prayer. To join together is to become one. These eleven men---who had distinct personalities, and who had struggled with one another for more power ---joined together in prayer. This was possible when they met the risen Christ and received the same direction to obey the world mission command. When they saw each other in light of the world mission command they realized they were members of the same team, not rivals. They could be one in spirit with a common prayer topic. In order to actualize their common goal they needed to pray together. We need to have an individual prayer before God like Jesus who prayed in the solitary place alone in the early morning. But at the same time we need united prayer to obey Jesus’ world mission command. Jesus promised that he would be among us when we pray together. What a privilege we have in Jesus! Individually we are weak. But when we join together in prayer with a common goal, nothing is impossible. M. Elijah is precise and punctual and focused and M. Luke is knowledgeable and analytical while M. Moses is slow and meek and gentle. I am diligent and faithful. Each of us has own egos and strong opinions. If we become individualistic and divided with our egos, nothing had been achieved among us. But we overcame our differences in order to obey Jesus’ world mission command and were joined together in prayer. Prayer enabled us to overcome our human differences and to be united as one team. When we pray, God empties our hearts and opens our spiritual eyes to listen to his word. When we submitted ourselves to the will of God overcoming our own ideas, God blessed us to become a power station for 206 East Coast campuses and world mission. When I told Chinese missionaries that our senior women missionaries are working together as one team for 28 years, they were amazed at the unity among them. How did they work together for so long? They were able to work together because they put Jesus’ world mission command above their own ideas. Our world mission center was the product of united prayer. There were many obstacles to build this center. But when we were united in prayer, God enabled us to have this world mission center. Now God is using it preciously to train young Bible teachers and missionaries. Unity is a key to have a successful ministry. The United States of America became a super power nation because all the states are united. If they were divided without the Civil War, we may not see today’s America as a lone super power nation. In the same way the unity was the key for the apostles to receive the Holy Spirit.

When ordinary men and women are united in prayer, God hears their prayer and fulfills his world mission plan. As you know, YDJ members are young, powerful, and energetic and at the same time they can be restless. God raised four strong teams among them. When YDJ leaders are united in prayer overcoming their differences, the season of Christ will come upon the College Park and God will raise up many powerful witnesses of Jesus like Hudson Taylor. When S. Bruce Hollinger and M. David Chung and S. Alex are united in prayer, there will be mighty work of God in GMU. When Baltimore shepherds and missionaries are united in prayer, they will conquer all Baltimore campuses. 

During my China visit I met three missionary families from the same chapter. Though they came from the same chapter and needed to work together to encourage each other, they mostly concerned about the position of leadership. Therefore, I gave them Mark 10:45 so that they could learn Jesus who came to serve all kinds of people. Then they made a vessel of prayer and began to work together as one man with a clear goal to raise up 12 disciples by the year 2008. Throughout history, when men joined together in prayer to obey Jesus’ command, there was a great work of God. The Eleven looked small compared to the establishment power of the Jewish nation, not to mention to the Roman Empire. But when they joined together constantly in prayer, a vessel was formed among them that God could use mightily. When we gather together in his name and pray to obey the world mission command, nothing is impossible for us. Jesus’ deepest prayer is for the unity of his people. Jesus prayed in John 17:20,21, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” When we are busy, it is easy to do own thing. You do your own thing and I will do mine. Who cares? When we are divided like this, we cannot work as the same unit. We have to regard other members very precious and work together. When we are united in prayer, God fills us with the Holy Spirit and we become a powerful Bible teachers and shepherds and shepherdesses.

Who else joined to their united prayer meeting? Luke mentions that there were about 120 in all, but he only singles out Mary the mother of Jesus to refer to by name. He does not miss the fact that the women and his brothers were there, praying together, in the upper room.  Throughout his gospel, Luke mentioned the important role that women had played in Jesus’ ministry. Here again, Luke mentions the importance of godly women uniting in prayer with the apostles. In Washington UBF there are a number of powerful mothers of prayer. Who won the Bible teacher of the year award each year? They were mostly women missionaries. Who prepares our lunch every Sunday? They are our precious women coworkers. Women’s role is important to be united in prayer. Only when these godly women join together in prayer can the vessel of the Holy Spirit really be formed among us. Perhaps the most significant inclusion in Luke’s note is his mention of the brothers of Jesus. These had been hostile to Jesus until now. But the resurrection of Jesus changed them completely. They were now identifying themselves with the disciples. They too were waiting for the Holy Spirit so as to become witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. In this way all different groups of people were united in prayer with a great anticipation of the coming of the Holy Spirit. How often did they pray? They prayed constantly. Whenever they met together, they prayed. After prayer, they had eating fellowship and sang hymns and played volleyballs and they prayed again. One man said after he attended one UBF conference, “I prayed this weekend more than I prayed in my entire life.” When we pray, God comes to us and prepares our hearts to accept his will for us. Let’s pray constantly so that each of us may obey Jesus’ world mission command and become disciple-makers.  

PART II. THEY MENDED THE VESSEL (15-26).

While the early believers were praying together, Peter stood up among them to mend the broken vessel among them. The apostles were close-knit and intimate. Though Judas left them, his problem was in everyone’s mind. This painful problem was hindering their united prayer. Look at verses 16-17. “...and said, ‘Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus---he was one of our number and shared in this ministry.’”

Here we learn that they were still suffering from the tragedy of Judas Iscariot’s betrayal. They had experienced a number of painful events: Jesus’ suffering and death, as well as their own personal failures to follow Jesus to the cross. Through Christ’s resurrection they found God’s victory over the power of sin and death. Through the Risen Christ’s appearances to them they each received his healing power and restored their love relationship. But one thing remained unsolved. It was the problem of Judas’ betrayal. This was difficult for them to digest for several reasons. For one thing, they had a strong human attachment to Judas. He had been with them for more than three years. They had trusted him and shared sufferings together with him. Then, without warning, he not only left their fellowship, but also became a betrayer and died tragically.  They had to overcome their deep wounds inflicted by Judas’ betrayal. Sympathy for Judas would ruin the purity and harmony of their vessel. So Peter brought this painful problem to the apostles.

Peter said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus---he was one of our number and shared in this ministry.” Peter found the solution to Judas’ problem: it fulfilled the Scriptures. It is amazing that Peter uses the words, “the Scriptures had to be fulfilled....” These were the same words that Jesus spoke over and over again in explaining his suffering, death and resurrection (Lk 18:31; 22:37; 24:44). Peter learned from Jesus how to see and understand everything that was happening through the word of God. When he brought the painful problem of Judas before the word of God, God gave him a solution from heaven. Look at verse 20. “‘For,’ said Peter, ‘it is written in the book of Psalms, “May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,” and, “May another take his place of leadership.”’” How did Peter find this solution? I think he studied the Bible during 10-day waiting time. Through the Bible study Peter corroborated what Jesus had said---that Judas’ betrayal was according to the Scriptures (Lk 22:22). Though it was a difficult pill to swallow, Judas’ betrayal was to fulfill the will of God. Judas had failed. But God had not failed. In fact, Jesus had warned them several times that Judas would betray him, especially in John’s gospel. They did not need to understand why, but only to accept God’s sovereign rule in the matter and renew their trust and faith in God. On this basis they could trust one another and commit their lives to the Christian fellowship. Their fellowship was not a human fellowship. Their fellowship was governed by the word of God and existed for the glory of God. Even such a painful event as Judas’ betrayal was for the glory of God. Several years of ago several growing shepherd families left us and we were deeply hurt in our hearts because they were very close with us. We struggled to overcome our sense of failure. We suffered due to nagging feelings of doubt. When we feed sheep, we thought that they might leave us also. But when we studied the word of God, we accepted their leaving as the sovereign will of God and were able to mend the vessel of God. God blessed us to form the YDJ fellowship and many second generations participated in CBF meeting as teachers.

Why is a vessel making important? God pours out his blessings when we have a vessel to hold them. We cannot hold water in a broken cup. The Holy Spirit cannot dwell us when we have a broken vessel. It is important to recognize the problem of the broken vessel through prayer and Bible study and find solutions based on the Scripture. Sometimes our individualistic and selfish behaviors hurt the vessel. The vessel of the Holy Spirit is very important in God’s redemptive history. The betrayal of this vessel is the most serious sin and it deserves just punishment. We must know that praying together for the work of God is not just another meeting, like a business appointment. It is forming the vessel of the Holy Spirit for the salvation work of God. These days God is filling up the vessel of men’s prayer meeting. Sixteen men joined our prayer meeting this morning including Lawson Glenn. To press forward with world mission, the apostles had to fill the place of leadership left by Judas. Jesus had chosen twelve apostles.  They had to maintain this number as the foundation of the new salvation work of God (Eph 2:20-21). They had to choose someone who had been with them the whole time Jesus was among them, from his baptism by John to his ascension, to be a resurrection witness with them (21-22).  They found two candidates, Joseph and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and Matthias was chosen. There was no hint of humanism in their fellowship. There was no discord. They were one in spirit, focused on God’s world mission purpose.

Today we learned that the early Christians began to obey the world mission command with prayer. They also asked for the Holy Spirit in prayer. Like them, we must join together constantly in prayer. We must listen carefully to God’s word. We must honor the vessel of the Holy Spirit. When we do so, may God make North America a kingdom of priests and a holy nation and to spread the gospel of Jesus to Muslim nations and North Korea and to the ends of the earth. Let’s read the key verse 14.