On Thursday we celebrated Ascension Day when Jesus returned to heaven and next Sunday, we will celebrate Pentecost when Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit on the Church.
I have been reading about the events surrounding the Ascension and Pentecost and a thought struck me that I hadn’t really considered before. Were the first disciples confused by Jesus?
You see Matthew tells us that just before the Ascension
Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ Matt 28:18-20
But Luke adds in this information in the book of Acts,
‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’ 6 Then they gathered round him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ 7 He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority
I have this vision of these disciples going to the upper room after Jesus ascension and Peter getting up and saying, OK what do we do now?
Andrew gets up says GO, Jesus said we are to go and make disciples of the nations, so lets GO.
John gets up and says, no Jesus said “WAIT” He told us to wait in Jerusalem, so we better stay put.
So what was it GO or WAIT?
I’ve been trying to think about why Jesus gave the disciples this apparently confusing advice of both GOING and WAITING?
In the UK for your driving test you have to learn the sequence of traffic lights
RED, RED & AMBER, GREEN
It seems like Jesus has added another sequence here for His Church, RED & GREEN,
WAIT & GO.
What if he wasn’t trying to confuse them?
What if Jesus was trying to teach them an indispensable lesson and that is a lesson that as the church today we still need to learn?
What if it’s a principle from the Kingdom of God for every generation of disciples not just the first generation?
Looking back over church history, my experience of the church as a leader and my own Christian life I can see two opposite dangers.
INACTIVITY AND APATHY …. All too often the Church has been introspective and inactive. It has wanted to concentrate its focus and resources inwardly on itself. To be self serving rather than obediently serving its Lord. To be more focused on keeping its members comfortable and happy than obeying Jesus and reaching the lost. The mission of making disciples is seen as an optional extra programme of the church rather than the indispensable mission of the church. The Church when it gives into this danger becomes the personification of the wicked servant of Jesus’ parable and doesn’t use what its Lord has entrusted to it for the purpose He has entrusted it to them.
When the Church acts like this it needs to hear again the clear and urgent command of Jesus, GO. GO and make disciples of the nations. Go with all the sacrifice, hard work and faith that going will require. GO is the nonnegotiable command of Christ to the inwardly focused indolent Church. To the Church that Jesus says GO; activity must replace apathy, the church that is stuck in a comfortable rut needs to get on the road.
OVERCONFIDENCE AND PRIDE …. There is an opposite danger for the Church. That it becomes overconfident and full of pride. I remember in the 1990s there was the Church Growth Movement and there were lots of conferences about strategies and plans. About how the right kind of worship would attract the target group. We were told everything rose and fell on leadership not the Holy Spirit. This may be a caricature and slightly unfair but looking back there seemed to be a lot about planning and precious little about prayer. Church leaders were told the greatest Churches had yet to be planted and the implication was they could build them. There was lots of activity, but it all seemed so human driven. The subliminal message was effectiveness came from human plans, human charisma, and human hard work. Looking back as a young pastor I wanted the church I led to be busy, busy, busy but much of that activity was carried out in my own strength.
I wonder if what Jesus was teaching His Church was that effective ministry and mission in the Kingdom of God requires a rhythm of waiting and going, in that order? Jesus is telling us that only those who wait can really go, because we wait on the power of the Spirit so we can go in the power of the Spirit
I think this is what Jesus meant his first disciples to understand when he told them
“he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. …. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ Acts 1:4 & 8
I’ve been pondering this all week.
Today I was reading a book I recently got by Timothy Tennent who is the president of Asbury Seminary where I did my doctoral studies. As I read these words from Tennent I heard the Spirit’s voice
“I think that God has given us both the wait and go commands because both are important.
The “go” command keeps us from being too passive, which can be a problem; but the “wait” command keeps us from thinking that we can serve him through our own strength and resources. We need to wait on God and become empowered for service, but often we haven’t been taught to do this. Sometimes, it is harder to wait for the disruptive empowerment of the Spirit in the unknown tomorrow than to work in the flesh that we know today. Sometimes it is easier for us to work with the strength from below than to wait for the power from on high. This is why Jesus says, “Wait for the gift my Father promised.”
I’ve given into to both dangers.
There have been times when as a church leader the upheaval, potential conflict, disruption, and cost involved in leading the church in GOING has seemed too much. I gave into the passivity of keeping the status quo of familiar traditions that keep apathetic church goers comfortable.
There have been other times when I have gone ahead when I should have waited. Armed with the latest ideas from the hippest conferences and most up to date leadership books I have launched initiatives before waiting on God for the green light. Tennent nailed me, or was it the Spirit? with these words . “Sometimes it is easier for us to work with the strength from below than to wait for the power from on high”
I am trying to learn the lesson Jesus is teaching between Ascension and Pentecost, wait and go, you need to wait for the power of the Spirit so you can go in the power of the Spirit.
It’s a tough lesson.