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Unity in Prayer

Date: Sep. 15, 2013

Author: Bob Henkins

Acts 1:12-26

Key Verse: Acts 1:14

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

Take a moment and imagine yourselves in the place of the disciples. During approximately the past two months of their lives, Jesus’ disciples had experienced so much. Their lives were forever changed. Remember as they approached Jerusalem so many people gathered shouting, “Hosanna” as they laid palm branches in front of Jesus as he made his triumphal entry into the city. Then about a week later during a midnight raid of their prayer meeting Judas, one of their closest friends, betrayed them by leading a band of 600 soldiers along with the Jewish priests and arrested Jesus. Then to their bewilderment, in an illegal overnight trial the religious leaders condemned Jesus and had him brutally put to death by the Romans right before Passover. But three days later, Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to his followers over a period of 40 days eating with them and talking about the kingdom of God. Then to their amazement, Jesus was taken up to heaven right before their very eyes. It was truly an amazing two months filled with so many emotional highs and devastating lows. And even though he would return one day, but for the time being, Jesus was gone for good. What are they going to do now? This is where our passage starts today. It’s not the end, even though it feels like it. It’s more of a beginning as the disciples start to mature and become apostles. And we see how God uses them to start the early Christian church that would eventually change the world.

Our passage starts today at verses 12-13. “Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, 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.” The Mt of Olives was a place of mixed emotions for them because it was the place where Jesus was arrested but it was also the place where Jesus ascended into heaven. It was there that Jesus gave them the monumental task of proclaiming the good news of his resurrection to the whole world. We call this the great commission or the world mission command. But before they could begin they had to wait for the gift Jesus promised to send, the Holy Spirit. They didn’t know how long they were going to have to wait, so what were they going to do while they waited? Take a 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.” From this verse we learn many things.

The first thing we notice is that the disciples actually start to pray. It was until after seeing Jesus rise from the dead that the disciples began to pray. Before this, the only person that was recorded praying was Jesus. In wasn’t that long ago, on the night of his arrest Jesus implored his disciples three times to pray, they tried but they kept falling asleep. (Lk 22:46) But now they prayed. In fact, prayer begins to a trademark of the early church. When they were fearful, they prayed. When they were confused, they prayed. When they were waiting for God to fulfill his promise to them, they prayed. When they needed an answer to a question (such as who was to be the twelfth apostle), they prayed. Prayer is the expression of our faith. It’s how we communicate with our heavenly Father. If you don’t pray, can you honestly say that you have a relationship with God? Even if you’re in the same room with someone but if you don’t talk to them can you say that you have a relationship? Not a good one that’s for sure. The disciples thought that prayer was so important that verse 14 says they prayed constantly. The word “constantly” shows us just how devoted they were to prayer. They gave their whole heart to prayer. It wasn’t ONE of their activities, but their MAIN activity. And in this case it lasted for ten days. Constant prayer like this takes commitment. This kind of devotion requires real sacrifice.

My initial reaction to this is, “Constantly? Really? Is that even possible?” However Paul maintained this concept many years later, when he said, “Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thes 5:16-18) Still some people are skeptical, but think back to a time when you either; began a new relationship, or got a new computer game, or started a new job or hobby, has there been anything in your life that you loved that you just loved doing it? I have heard stories that show that we are capable of this constant devotion. For example like newly weds that love each other so much that they have to be together all the time, and if they are not, they are on the phone with each other. Sometimes one of them couldn’t even sleep, unless they were with their honey. I have heard stories of people being constantly devoted to their game, so much so that they forget to eat or go to the bathroom. I have heard stories of people being so devoted to their jobs that they even sleep at the office. So I know that constant is possible. These examples are not healthy, nor maintainable, but possible. What does constantly look like? Is it really 24/7? As we learned in our study of Nehemiah, we can have short prayers and long prayers, we can say a short prayer in our head right before we go into a meeting or take an exam. Or we can sit down with friends, hold hands and pray together. Constantly means when our whole life becomes a prayer, when we involve God in our everyday life. That’s what constantly looks like, when you have such a desire to talk with God.

Another thing we notice is that they JOINED TOGETHER in prayer. To join together is to become one. These eleven men, who had distinct personalities, often struggled with one another. In the past, James and John sneakily asked Jesus if they could be his right hand men. This aggravated the other disciples. And Simon the patriot probably couldn’t stand being around Levi the tax collector seeing him as a traitor to his people. All the other disciples were probably jealous of Peter, James and John because Jesus always took them on special trips. And think about the friction between Mary and Martha when Martha felt as if she did all the work and Mary received all the blessing from Jesus. But now all of them joined together in prayer. Somehow each of them was changed when they experienced Jesus’ resurrection. All those things that irritated them before, (I’m making this up) like how John couldn’t stand when Peter made funny sounds when he ate, or how Bartholomew thought John was so self absorbed because he thought Jesus loves him the most. You know what I’m talking about, those little things that other people do that drive you crazy. Somehow all of those things didn’t matter anymore. Now they were one. They became like brothers and sisters, sure they still squabbled over issues from time to time but through prayer they had a bond that was stronger than fear or death. They had unity in prayer. Because of their relationship with Jesus, they could appreciate each other and be one in spirit with each other even though they had their differences. Not only that, now they had a common cause. Jesus gave them the great commission, and to proclaim the gospel to the whole world would be something that they had to accomplish together because they couldn’t do it alone. It would require the wholehearted devotion of all of them. When they saw each other in light of Jesus’ command they realized they weren’t competitors, they were on the same team.

Not only were the disciples joined together in prayer, but they also joined together with Jesus’ family. Luke made a special note of the fact that the disciples were joined by Mary the mother of Jesus but also present were the brothers of Jesus. I find it interesting that during Jesus’ lifetime, his brothers (Mary and Joseph’s other sons) didn’t believe that he was the Messiah. (Jn 7:5) Quite the opposite, they actually thought he was out of his mind. (Mk 3:21-35) But things changed after Jesus’ resurrection. Mary stood before Jesus and wept as he died on the cross. She knew he died, she saw it with her eyes and experienced the loss in her heart. However when she saw Jesus alive three days later she was convinced that Jesus is God. Maybe she remembered that night, which happened so long ago, when the angel visited her and told her that even though she was a virgin, she was pregnant and was going to give birth to a son and she would call him Jesus and that his kingdom would never end. (Lk 1:30-31) And Jesus’ special appearance to his brother James must have had a huge impact in James’s life (1 Cor 15:7) because he goes from being a non-believer to becoming the leader of the early Christian church. James and Jude, become influential leaders in the early church both writing a book in the Bible. [Joseph, James Judas (or Jude) and Simon (Mt 13:55; Mk 6:3)]

As the early church joined together in prayer, it became clear that something was hindering them. It was the 800 lb gorilla in the room that no one wanted to talk about. The natural question was what happened to Judas? It was an issue that no one wanted to touch but they had to deal with it. Judas was one of the 12 disciples, chosen by Jesus himself. Not only that he may have been the most trusted one because he was their treasurer. He took care of all the money that came into to their ministry. They were together, night and day, for three and a half years so they got pretty close. Imagine if you were in college and sometime during your freshman year, you got together with eleven other friends and started a club. And it was a great club, you guys did everything together and you got the best professor on campus to lead the club. And then at the end of your senior year, you find out that your club treasurer has been stealing money from the club and has betrayed your professor. He thought the administration was only going to fire him, but instead they brutally kill the professor on campus in front of everyone, and the treasurer so guilt stricken goes off and commits suicide. And now you are afraid that the administration is going to come after the rest of the club members. How would you feel if you were in that situation? What would you do? It was an uncomfortable problem but it had to be dealt with.

I believe that as they gathered together in prayer, God inspired Peter with wisdom, courage in how to deal with this problem. Take a look at verses 15-17. “In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. 17 He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.” If we think about it, who was Peter that he should stand up and take a position of leadership? After all he betrayed Jesus just as Judas did. He denied even knowing Jesus. So what was different about Peter and Judas? Judas regretted his sin but Peter repented of his sin. Peter brought his sin to Jesus but Judas brought his sin to the grave. It is interesting that Satan attacked the very leadership of their group during their last supper together. Jesus showed them the full extent of his love as washed their feet. He prayed for specifically two people Judas and Peter. Jesus said that Satan was going to sift Peter as wheat (Lk 22) and it concludes that Satan had entered into Judas. (Jn 13) Peter loved Jesus, but Judas loved money. When Peter met Jesus after his resurrection, he confessed his sin and his love to Jesus and Jesus forgave him. Thus Peter was restored and became the leader of the church.

Still they had to deal with the problem of Judas. Maybe they had doubt. Since Jesus had chosen Judas, how could he become a betrayer? Did Jesus make a mistake? If so, maybe they could doubt their own calling? How could they trust each other? Moreover, Judas’ suicide had become a scandal known all over Jerusalem. It became fodder for the devil’s work. If they were to be truly one in spirit and purpose, they had to resolve this problem. They weren’t a powerful group but their prayer inspired Peter and he had God’s leading to find the answer in scripture. He had to be lead by the Holy Spirit because he pulls what seems like two completely random verses from Psalms and he connects them to Judas. And what we find here is Peter, inspired by God, through the Bible finds the reason and the solution to their problem. The reason is that scripture had to be fulfilled. Judas’ act wasn’t a random act but was actually for told by God before it happened. This added stability to the group. They also had the solution, another had to be raised to take Judas’ position. Maybe Peter remembered when “Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Mt 19:28) God’s will – will be done, Jesus chose twelve disciples and God fulfilled his will through their prayer. Sure Judas was gone, but God always raises up a remnant of people called for his purpose.

I really like how they handled this problem. They could of not brought up the subject of Judas and swept it under the rug. They could have re-wrote history and said, “Well Judas really wasn’t one of us. I never really trusted him anyway. Did you see his shifty eyes and pointy nose. Matthias, now there’s a trustworthy man, he was with us from the beginning.” But he doesn’t he deals with the problem openly, honestly saying that he was one of them that shared in their ministry. In doing this, it gives authenticity to the gospel message and shows the truth and how God works in all situations. Take a look at verses 21-22. “Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” And so according to God’s will “they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen 25 to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” 26 Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.” (v23-26) Did they really just pick the new disciple by essentially flipping a coin? They chose two qualified men – who were witnesses of Jesus’ death and resurrection and left the final decision up to God by casting lots. Proverbs 16:33 says, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.”

It was through prayer they could have unity and now it was through prayer that their group could be restored and united. We may not like prayer, we may not even like one another, but the fact is, Jesus called us and put us together, we are brothers and sisters united by Christ called to carry out his great commission – therefore we need to pray, we need Jesus, we need each other to complete that task God gave us to do.

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Key Verse: 6:8b

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