This week I would like to look at some of the preparations that God was performing in His people in order to make them ready for Pentecost. Next week (Lord willing) I would like to look at these same verses, and examine the significance of Matthias (that he really was an apostle), of the twelve, of the 120 and how this chapter shows the Lord preparing the foundation for the church. Ephesians 2:20 says that at Pentecost a foundation was laid upon which the New Testament church would be built. Paul alone was a foundation stone born out of time. Ephesians 2 says,
Now therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord…
So Paul was saying that a revelational foundation (started with Christ and finished with the apostles and prophets) was already laid down in the first century. And the number of verses that Luke devotes to this figurative formation of that foundation in chapter 1, shows me that this was an important theological point. So we will deal with that next week.
But today I want to just look at the preparations that God was making for revival. And I have worded it that way – the preparations that God was making – to avoid the legalism that many, many people have fallen into. And some of you may have already been invited to fall into this legalism. And so, the introduction to this sermon is kind of a warning. Classical Pentecostal doctrine teaches that you can't be baptized by the Spirit until you have met certain conditions. These conditions can vary from church to church, but almost all of the books I have read by Pentecostals say that in addition to saving faith and repentance you need to stir up additional faith and have a total purity of heart. To assist you in this, they have what they call "Tarrying Meetings" where you wait for and pray for the Spirit. I've been to quite a few of these meetings, and they are quite something. They are super-charged with emotion and many are highly manipulative as the leader tries to get you through into the baptism and speaking with tongues. If you haven't arrived yet, they will encourage you to have more faith, pray more intently, agonize, empty yourself of sin more fully (because, after all, they say that the Holy Spirit would never come to indwell an impure, unholy vessel. (And I'm thinking to myself, "How could we have a pure, holy vessel apart from the Holy Spirit? Is this self-Reformation?") But anyway, those who come to these Tarrying Meetings strive for better obedience and holiness of heart. They strive in anguish to be more completely yielded in mind, will emotions and body to the Lord. After days of sleep loss, fasting, emotional anxiety, cries, an emotionally charged atmosphere, and prodding by the leader many people do (rather unsurprisingly) start babbling incoherently. And everyone rejoices that this individual has finally made it through. The poor blokes that haven't made it continue tarrying in the hope that they will finally be baptized. After all, it took ten days before these disciples in Acts 1 finally got baptized. One Pentecostal writer says of these slow pokes, "They have had wonderful experiences, and surrender after surrender has been made, but because they have not come all the way and made the yieldedness complete, they have not seen the fullness of the blessing." And so these people strive to be more holy and more yielded. They put pride on the altar and other sins. They weep. Some preachers have told me that in frustration at how slow some people are they have helped the Spirit a bit by getting these people to move their lips. It doesn't matter what they say. If by faith they move their lips, maybe something will happen. One pastor had his congregant start by saying, "ShouldaboughtaHyndai" several times fast, and again, not surprisingly, almost everyone he had doing this eventually was able to speak in his version of tongues. And doing all of these things these brothers in the Lord believe that they are obeying the mandate in verse 4 to wait for the Promise of the Spirit. But as Bruner said, "The possibility of living a yielded, pure, and holy life in close fellowship with God, even prior to the full coming of the Spirit, [is unexplained, yet it] is implicit in the Pentecostal conditions. How it is possible for the Christian to live this kind of a life before he enjoys the full gift of the Spirit awaits an entirely comprehensible answer." (p. 96). To those of you who have been tempted by this, I want you to know that it is legalism. And it is so contrary to the spirit of liberty that you see in these chapters. Galatians 3 makes clear that we received the Spirit by faith and not by the works of the flesh.
And so, in contrast, in this chapter, you don't find the kind of chaos and emotionally explosive atmosphere that is so characteristic of these Tarrying Meetings. Instead, in chapter 1 you find an orderly meeting with no emotion mentioned whatsoever. In fact, verses 15-26 seem like a ordinary business meeting. You don't find everyone talking at the same time. Instead you find Peter talking. You don't find works. Instead, you find faith. In fact, once Pentecost has come, Peter indicates that no one needs to wait again. Look at chapter 2:38-39. He is saying this to unbelievers who are wanting to be saved.
Then Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; [so he is talking about conversion here. And what is the result of conversion? He goes on to say,] and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.'
There have been many sermons preached on these first two chapters promoting revivalism, which is much different than revival. Revivalism is the fleshly attempts to get near to God through our strivings, agonizings and emotional maneuverings. In fact, emotionalism is an essential component of revivalism. Now here's something scary: Almost every religion in the world has some sects or branches who have developed almost identical techniques to achieve the emotional euphorias often found in revivalism. You can find it in Islam and many other religions. And there have been many Christian books which have been written to show how to rouse up people's emotions, manipulate them through music and word, how to create an atmosphere that will produce decisions, etc. I want nothing of revivalism and its manipulation of people.
Now don't get me wrong. I think I desire as much as anyone that God would pour out His Spirit upon us as He did upon His disciples in Acts 2, and upon the same people in Acts 4 and in other places in this book. Yet I recognize that I cannot predict let alone bring about true revival. Revivalism, yes; man can bring that about; but not true revival. Revivalism is something we can produce, but revival is a sovereign moving of God's Spirit upon a society in His own good timing. These disciples by praying could not speed up this outpouring by one day. He had to come on the 50th day as was prophecied. There was nothing to be anxious about. The timing is sovereign and God given. And I don't want more of what I can produce. I desire more of the Lord and less of me; more spiritual power and less fleshly striving; more that can be attributed to God's miraculous presence and less to our own ingenuity. Jesus said that the Spirit is like a wind which cannot be controlled or even predicted. It blows where it wills and all we can do is to see the effects of it.
So there is little that we can do to prepare for revival. I think it is a mockery to the Spirit for people to say that if we engage in the works listed in this chapter, God has to pour out His Spirit. Or even to say "We will have a revival next month," or "Come to our revival meeting" as if God can be scheduled. These disciples weren't told to do anything. They were just told to wait. And I think that is a good corrective for the modern church. God is not a commodity that can be hawked at religious meetings. He is the awesome creator of this universe. And He is sovereign in His revivals for which we long. And though revivals sometimes create incredible emotion, unexplainable phenonomena, amazing activity in His people, the reverse is not necessarily true. Our emotions do not produce revival. Our works do not produce revival. Even our waiting does not produce revival. The humbling thing is that God brings revival when and where he pleases.
But that does not mean that the issues in this chapter are irrelevant to us. I find this chapter very encouraging because it shows the kinds of things that God begins to raise up as revival begins and spreads. It would be very easy for us to read this chapter as if it was a formula – "when we confess our need, submit to Jesus, promote unity, pray and study the Bible revival will come." But the truth of the matter is that God stirs up the hearts of His people to see their need for Him, to pray, to desire a unity that they never desired before, to study as they have never studied the Scriptures before, to submit to leadership etc. So I have labeled the points of this sermon God's first, second, third, etc. preparation of His people. When you see these things persisting in a Christian's life, you know that God is beginning to revive him. When you see these things in a church's life and in many churches' lives, you can see the hand of God working the beginnings of revival. And I do see many signs of God's doing exactly these things in some parts of the world. These are signs of a sovereign move of God upon the world, which Lord willing, may catapult us into a time of unprecedented favor and blessing. May it be so Lord!
God's first preparation: recognizing our need (vv. 4-8)
God's first work of preparation is to make His people recognize their need for Him. And Jesus had been preparing His disciples during the last forty days. And He reminded them once again in verses 4-8 that without the Spirit of God they would not be able to accomplish their goal. They needed power from on high.
By going to this upper room and praying they admit their need. And I think their needs are the same as ours. They were so fearful after Christ's death that they had all the doors locked. Even while Christ was with them, they lacked His compassion for the multitudes. They lacked His love for enemies and were ready to call down fire from heaven to consume two cities. They lacked his humility as they argued who would get the first place. They needed Pentecost.
And I think the recognition of this need is a huge work of God's grace in our hearts. You can see that Spirit engendered recognition of need in Acts 2:37 when the crowd was cut to it's heart and recognized their need. You can see it in chapter after chapter in Acts. On the other hand, if there is one church in the book of Revelation that describes the average evangelical church in America, it is the Laodicean church which had money, programs, numbers and prestige, and Jesus says these haunting words to them. You… do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked… You do not know. Those are the scariest words that could describe you: "You do not know that you are needy." That's an amazing thing that we can be needy, and not recognize it. At the last Passover the disciples were utterly unrecognizing of their neediness. They were full of self-confidence. Even Peter insisted that he would not deny the Lord even if everyone else did. Little did he recognize how wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked he was apart from Christ's help. None of us truly recognize our need apart from the prior working of God's Spirit. And the Spirit had been working this recognition in Christ's disciples 40 days before when Jesus breathed on them and said, Receive the Holy Spirit. They got more of the Spirit at Pentecost, but we need to recognize that apart from the Spirit's prior working, they wouldn't have even recognized more need of dependence upon Him.
God's second preparation: submission to Jesus (v. 12)
The second preparation of God was producing submission to Jesus. In verse 4 Jesus had commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father. In verse 12 they submit, despite the fact that this is proably the most dangerous place that they can be. They go. Verse 12 says, "Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey." Jerusalem was a dangerous place to be, an uncomfortable place to be, and yet they were willing to submit to Jesus. In fact, next week we will be seeing that this upper room was an upper room in the temple. The last verse of Luke tells us that between Christ's Ascension and Pentecost, they were continually in the temple. Like Anna who never left the temple, these disciples were continually there.Their submission to Jesus caused them to be willing to congregate in a place where they could be seen by their enemies. There is an immediate rush of people around them when the noise of the Spirit is heard in the next chapter.
I don't know what uncomfortable thing you are struggling over when He calls you to submit, but I can guarantee that there will be such issues. There will be challenges that will make you choose between Jesus and self-respect; or between Jesus and persecution; or between Jesus and the love of praise. One of the most discouraging features of the American church that was so different from the Ethiopian church that I grew up in, in Africa, is that American Christians are consumers in their Christianity. They pick and choose what they like from the smorgasboard of Biblical issues, and whatever they don't want, they ignore. And if I pick an issue as an example you will be arguing with me rather than picking up on this point. I don't care what the issue is, but are you willing to submit to it no matter how trivial it may seem to you? When you see that attitude developing it is a sign that God's Spirit has begun to work revival in your heart. Why do I say this? Because just as our flesh does not sense the need for help, it does not sense the need to submit to anything except for what it wants to submit on, and of course that is not submission. The flesh is a proud monster which loves to have autonomy. It loves to call the shots. It loves to rebel. And when you see churches beginning to be grieved over even small departures from what they know of God's will, it is a sign that God must be producing this, because it doesn't come from the flesh. The flesh avoids danger, shame, humility, inconvenience and bother. Our flesh avoids anything that puts it to death and that exalts Christ. The emotionalism that many people call revival is anything but revival. It is fleshly. Revival starts with a recognition first of how bad we are and how much we need God. Second, it is characterized by submission to Christ's will, no matter how dangerous or inconvenient that submission might be.
God's third preparation: spiritual unity (vv. 13-14)
A third sign that God is doing a work of preparation for revival is an interest in spiritual unity beginning to awaken. Let's read verses 13-14.
And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Barthalomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.
The word "with one accord" is ὁμοθυμαδὸν which means to be of one heart or one soul. As you read through Acts you will find that word connected with prayer, doctrine, fellowship. God was knitting their hearts together in a profound way. They were no longer asking the quesiton, "Who is the greatest?" They were no longer seeking to sit on the right or left hand of Jesus. They lived together as brothers. In fact, the word for brothers appears about 60 times in the book of Acts.
And this unity is all the more remarkable when you understand the attitudes prior to the cross. There was rivalry. God's grace produced this unity. Despite the fact that John and James desired to be first, there is no contention here as Peter steps into the leadership.
Now I have heard people say that we must be organizationally unified if the Spirit is to come upon the church in revival. And so they go out and they try to have organizational unity. There is an element of truth to that. Psalm 133 speaks of the unity of brethren dwelling together in the church and says, "there the Lord commanded the blessing…" And so blessing does come in the context of a visible unity. But if you study the context, you will see that this unity is brought about by the Spirit who is pictured by the dew desending on the mountains and the oil being poured out on Aaron's head. It's a heart unity. It goes much deeper than just the organization. People's hearts are knit together by the Spirit. And so the Spirit prepares for revival by bringing people to repentance over their ungodly divisions; by bringing a longing for greater unity in the truth. Ultimately, God provides even the means required to prepare for revival. And so we have seen first that God stirs up a deep recognition of our need, second a willingness to submit to God's Word, third a knitting of hearts together in a spiritual cause.
God's fourth preparation: prayer (v. 14)
The fourth way God prepared these people for Pentecost was to stir up their prayer. Verse 14 again: "These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers." Jesus told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem and they spent their time waiting in prayer. You don't see that highlighted in the Gospels. You see Jesus praying but not much mention of the disciples other than their request, "Teach us to pray." But that changes after the Resurrection and before Pentecost. And prayer is always one of the essentials that God stirs up before revival. In fact, I don't know of any revival which didn't begin after God moved in people's hearts to pray. Sometimes he stirs up the heart of one or two people with a profound, unquenchable desire to pray and to cry out to His name. It is a Spirit of prayer and supplication. These people cannot help but pray, and as they pray, the fire spreads. And I am excited on this front as well. I have never seen such a movement of prayer in all my years as a pastor as I have seen growing in the last few years world wide. Increasingly God is burdening the hearts of people with deep groanings after Him. Even in the PCA God is stirring up a prayer movement. And you can see this pattern in the second, third, fourth centuries and on. You can see this pattern happening once again in Korea, China and other places.
In 1984 God led a man by the name of Ramon Carmona from Cartagena from the coast of Colombia up to Medellin. There were cultural (almost like racial barriers) between the two regions. So he had that prejudice to work against.
But he moved there to plant a church because he believed God had called him. He found a city of over 3 million people and only about 4500 baptized believers in about 90 churches. Most of them were less than 100 and didn't trust each other. There was still persecution from the Catholic Church. God gave Ramon a burden to bring these evangelical pastors together and he began to build relationships. Eventually God pulled 90% of the pastors together. They prayed from 1984-1987 - three years. In 1987 they had their first church wide prayer campaign mapping out the cities and they had an all night prayer time with members. That night things broke in the city, and God raised up continuing prayer around the clock. And that was preparatory for incredible revival and social transformation. Huge advances have been made in the area of crime. People have been getting saved left and right. In the first 10 months following that prayer vigil they saw 6000 saved in a city that had seen hardly in growth whatsoever in decades. In the next decade there was ten-fold growth with even more phenomenal growth since then. It wasn't that prayer meetings produced revival. Rather, it was a move of God that made people hunger for prayer. And it takes a move of God to get people to pray. Nothing but God's Spirit can give a hunger for prayer. And God generated that hunger because He was sovereignly preparing for revival.
That is the story of one city. In 1995 they organized 25 city wide rallies in the same weekend in Colombia. Twenty five cities. Cali was one of those cities. The mayor of that city who had just become a Christian prayed for 6-7 hours confessing the sins of the city and asking Jesus to be Lord of the city. Within 3 weeks of that prayer event 3 of the top Cali drug cartell leaders were arrested; one by a traffic cop. The drug cartells were feeling so threatened by the evangelicals that within a six month period, nineteen evangelical leaders had been assasinated. Yet the church moves on.
Now it might be thought that fleshly organizing of prayer times could manipulate the Spirit to bring revival. Wherever there is prayer like you see there, I think it is a prelude to revival. But the fact of the matter is that they had tried for years to get unity and bring prayer, to no effect. It's hard to even get pastors to pray. Up until ten years ago, the average number of minutes that pastors prayed was a couple minutes a day. Pathetic! But that has changed in America. And I'm somewhat encouraged.
If God is touching your heart with burdens to pray, it is a sign that he may be sending revival to your heart.
God's fifth preparation: Scripture study (v. 20)
A fifth area in which God prepares a people for Pentecost is Scripture study. Verse 16 has Peter's desire to see the Scripture followed. Verse 20 shows his study of Scripture coming out. Verse 22 shows Peter's insistence that the Scripture must be followed, and he teaches the Scripture. You see, after His resurrection, Christ spent much time with His disciples teaching them how to interpret the Scriptures Christocentrically. And verse 3 says that for 40 days they were immersed in the Scriptures. Before God sends revival, there is always a new hunger for the Word. I remember reading in Seminary the accounts of the first great awakening in America, and people were so desparate to hear God's Word that some described the scenes of what happened the moment people heard that an evangelist was coming to town. There was a mad dash on wagons, horses and by foot and a lingering as long as the evangelist was in town. God had created a desperate hunger for the Word. You can't stir up that hunger within yourself. God gives that hunger. So go to the Lord and ask Him to give you a craving for the sincere milk of the Word. Hunger is a sign of life. But it is also a sign that God plans to send even greater blessings upon His people. There has never been a time in history that I know of when God has sent ravenous appetite for Scripture when there have not been great blessings and revival that have followed.
God's sixth preparation: raising up leadership (vv. 15-26)
The sixth preparation that God brings for revival is to establish leadership who will be able to handle the new influx of people that a revival will bring. First, He had prepared the eleven of verse 13. Then he had prepared and called the seventy disciples of Luke 10 (who I believe were part of this core group of 120). Then God made further preparations by making every one of these 120 people into prophets in the next chapter. And those prophets would be needed. These were all leaders in some capacity or another. Then in verses 15-26 God moves Peter to provide a replacement for Judas. All of this was stirring up the needed leadership. Next week I will be giving you several reasons why I believe that Peter was not running ahead of the Spirit when he ordained Matthias, but was required to have a replacement for Judas. There had to be twelve. I believe that Matthias was one of the 70 apostles who were commissioned by Jesus and represented Jesus in Luke 10, but we will see why there had to be twelve "Big A" apostles. And by the way, just as a peek into next week, I believe that Paul replaces Matthias in the list of 70. And he explicitly says that He was made an apostle out of due time and was the last of the apostles. But we will get to that next week. The main point that I want to emphasize here is that God has always prepared leadership to be able to handle the influx of new believers. And that makes sense, doesn't it? God's a planner. He creates ends and means. And if He is going to produce great revival and Reformation, HE will stir up the leadership that will take care of that revival.
If we are hungering for revival to be poured out and a huge influx of people, we should be hungering to see leadership of various capacities rising to the surface in our congregation. We should be praying that God would make the elders and myself effective in training leaders in this country and in other countries. The work we do may not seem as thrilling right now as the huge work of ingathering, just as what was happening in chapter 1 does not seem as exciting as what happened in chapter 2. But the preparation in chapter 1 was critical. And I believe God has called me to be part of the process of preparing leaders. If HE also calls me to be part of a great ingathering, I will rejoice and praise Him. But I am content and very joyful to be part of the preparation for Pentecost. It is God's preparation. And we can look with anticipation to God's future work.
Let me end with six short questions that you can evaluate yourselves on.
Do you recognize your own need? If you do not see yourself as needy, you are in a scary place indeed. Every one of us is desperately needy of the Lord's grace, but if we do not recognize it, then we should cry out to God because we do not even have the pre-requisites to revival. John Piper loves to talk about delighting in God. But he points out that if we don't delight in God, there is still evidence of grace if we long to delight in God. That's recognizing our need. And if we don't even have that longing to delight in God, He points out there is still evidence of grace when we at least repent of our lack of such longing. Such repentance; such grieving shows a recognition of our need. So the first question is, "Do you recognize your own need?"
The second question is, "Are you submitting to what Jesus has called you to right now?" Many times it is only as we take the first baby steps of obedience that the Lord gives us more faith and more grace to travel further. But what frequently happens is that we become overwhelmed with seeing the huge forest that still needs to be cut down and we give up. I remember as a five or six year old being given a hoe by my father and being taken to the garden. I'm not sure how big our garden was, but it looked like acres. And he told me to hoe out the weeds. It seemed like a hopeless task and I started crying that I couldn't do it all. So my father asked me if I could hoe out one weed? I said "Yes." He told me not to worry about how big the garden was. Just obey one weed at a time. And that helped me not to be overwhelmed. And so the question is not, "Are you perfect, and can you do a whole lifetime of work in one day?" Obviously not. But the real question is, "Am I submitting to what Jesus has called me to do right now?" If not, repent and tell the Lord that you want to obey Him step at a time.
The third question is, "Do you long for true spiritual unity of the bride?" If not, ask God to give to you a love for the brethren. Ask Him to give you not only a love for the brethren in our church, but for those in other churches in Omaha, those in Asia and Africa. When God plans to send forth Reformation, He gives His heart of love for the brethren. He makes people long for Reformation.
The fourth question is, "Do you join in corporate prayer?" I won't even ask if you long for such prayer. But are you in the place where God can stir up such a longing.
"The fifth question is, "Do you hunger and thirst for the pure milk of the Word? 1 Peter 2:2 says that this is a sign of new birth in a young believer and it's a sign of health in an old believer.
And lastly, "Do you value the leadership of the church?" Independency may lead to revivalism, but it never leads to Reformation. May God bring Reformation to the leadership of the church in America.
And may God do His work of preparation in our lives and use us to His glory. Amen.