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Apr 23, 2017

Post-Resurrection Faith

Post-Resurrection Faith

Passage: Acts 1:8-14

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Post-Resurrection Faith

Category: Prayer

Keywords: change, knowing god's will, love of christ, miracles, prayer, spiritual battles, temptation

Summary:

Prayer seems to have been the initial and most sustained step of faith the early church engaged in. This message looks at six reasons why prayer should be a cornerstone of the modern church's individual and shared experience.

Detail:

Post-Resurrection Faith

Acts 1:8-14

April 23, 2017

If I told you that I could give you something today that will…

  • Fill you up with the love of God
  • Empower you to overcome any temptation
  • Enable you to know exactly what God wants you to do
  • Make you a person through whom God will do miracles
  • Lead to victories in your spiritual battles
  • Produce spiritual awakening and revival in your life, marriage, family, church, city, nation
  • Fill you with the Holy Spirit
  • Set you free from the power and guilt of sin
  • Change the experience of men and angels in heaven itself

…would you be interested? 

            Do you think it is safe to say that the Early Church, the first Christians, actually experienced all those things?  Is there any of those experiences they didn’t have?  No, it is safe to say that they…(repeat the list). 

            Last Sunday was Resurrection Sunday…Easter.  Easter is arguably the one day on the Christian calendar where we remember THE most powerful event in human history—the power of God to transform a dead, mortal corpse into a living, eternal, immortal resurrection body…all while canceling the power of sin and satisfying God’s holy justice. 

            So if you had been one of the 500+ people alive at that resurrection event in human history who lived in Israel and saw, touched, talked with and shared meals with the resurrected Lord Jesus, what do you think Jesus would have wanted you to DO with that knowledge and experience? 

            Acts 1 actually tells us what Jesus asked His closest disciples to DO with those amazing post-resurrection experiences with Him.  Let’s read about it starting in Acts 1:3ff.

After his [Jesus’] suffering, he presented himself to them [the disciples] and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with 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. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 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.”

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

Now, if you had been one of those disciples standing there when Jesus, in his resurrected, immortal body, was taken up into heaven, what would you have done next?  (Follow His instructions?  Go back to Jerusalem and wait for the promised Holy Spirit to come on you? Hopefully.)

            I doubt any of us would have had any problem exercising FAITH in Jesus after those 40 resurrection days with Jesus.  But what would have been your next ACT of faith?  What action would you have taken to express your strong faith in Jesus at that point in the start of what would become the greatest spiritual movement in human history in the world? 

  • Started telling others about Jesus?
  • Started doing miracles in His name?
  • Started organizing a church in Jerusalem?

Well, thankfully, we know the answer.  Look at Acts 1:12ff.

12 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. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

            They are actually obeying Jesus’ last command to them.  They are waiting for the gift of the Holy Spirit.  And the 1 thing they do most while they are waiting (among other things like choosing a replacement for Judas Iscariot) was PRAY.  In fact, the process of choosing that replacement involved prayer too.  (Vs. 24—“Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart.  Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry….”

            Prayer was THE singular, most evident and most God-engaging work to which the earliest believers devoted themselves.  And it didn’t stop once the Holy Spirit was given at the day of Pentecost in Acts 2.  Prayer continued to be THE most common, most transformative, most God-engaging and people-changing experience the Early Church had. 

  • Acts 2:42—“They [the 3,000+ converted at Pentecost] devoted themselves to…prayer….”
  • Acts 3:1—Peter and John go to the Temple at the time of prayer.
  • Acts 4:23-31—prayers of the church after Peter and John were released.
  • Acts 6—The whole ministry of the Jerusalem church is restructured so the Apostles can keep giving themselves to prayer instead of spending time meeting the benevolent needs of the church. The resulting “deacons” (we think) were commissioned with prayer.
  • Acts 8—Peter & John go to Samaria and pray for the Samaritan believers to receive the Holy Spirit.
  • Acts 9—First Saul of Tarsus (Paul), having been struck blind on the way to Damascus to arrest and imprison Christians, waits 3 days in prayer for God to heal him. Another Christ-follower named Ananias who was living in Damascus and probably expecting to be arrested and persecuted by Saul is instead instructed by God in a vision while praying to God heal Saul. 
  • 10 of the remaining 18 chapters of Acts specifically record how the early church and its leaders PRAYED.

Which leads me to the conclusion that prayer was one of the foremost, most frequent experiences and expressions of the Early Church’s faith in Jesus Christ.  And we know how that one generation of believers turned the world upside down with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

So here is the puzzling questionWhy isn’t Mosaic like that today?  Why isn’t the church in Spokane…the majority of believers in Jesus in this city…known as a praying people?  If, as I said in the beginning of this message, God has promised to do all those amazing things I listed through prayer and praying people, WHY aren’t WE as a church, the overwhelming majority of us, marked and motivated by prayer to turn this city upside down for Christ?

Put another way, “What would it take for our prayer experience/life to change so much that it actually mirrored the early church?”

  • IF this week, our city, state and local governments outlawed prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, would our prayer life together change?
  • IF I, Jesse and Bob were arrested and thrown in prison because of our faith in Jesus, would that change your prayer life?
  • IF your children or loved ones were taken away from you because the state didn’t want you raising or influencing them to follow Jesus Christ, would your prayer life change?
  • IF you were fired from your job and black-listed from all jobs because you were known to be a Christian, how would your prayer life change?
  • IF your closest family member were diagnosed with a rapidly debilitating terminal disease, how would your prayer life change?

Why is it that it takes persecution, illness and tragedy to get most of us praying? 

            Let me give you half a dozen amazing, positive and motivating reasons why you shouldn’t wait to experience persecution, illness or tragedy to become a praying follower of Jesus.  Let me give you a handful of compelling reasons why prayer should be a compelling act of faith for all of us here, right now, in our daily experience as Christ-followers. 

#1.  Prayer will absolutely help you be consumed by the love of Jesus.  Ephesians 3:14-19 

In Paul’s astounding prayer for an entire city-church (in Ephesus), he shares his prayer to God for them and, in so doing, tells us what the secret was to the Ephesian church’s love for God.  We pick it up in vs. 17--“…that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

Know” in this passage is the same word used for the intimate closeness of a husband and wife in sexual embrace. “Whoa -too much information, John.” Well, the Bible doesn’t think so.

God isn’t saying our relationship with Christ is to be something sexual.  But He is saying it is to be THE most intimate, close, deep, binding and soul-uniting kind of experiential knowledge of God that there can possibly be.  And Paul knows it must come through prayer.  Just like a couple of lovers in springtime can’t find enough time each day to spend talking with each other, so talking with God in prayer is the means by which Paul says we’ll be overcome by the love of Christ. 

As C.S. Lewis put it, "God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other." [C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Macmillan, 1952), Book II, Chapter 3, "The Shocking Alternative."]

APP:  Having a passion-problem in your relationship with God?  PRAY…and pray this prayer of Paul.  Maybe you and I need to memorize this prayer.  Pray to be overwhelmed and “ravished” by the love of Jesus—the one love that is beyond human knowledge. 

#2.  Praying helps us overcome temptation:  Luke 22

Setting—Olive grove we know as “The Garden of Gethsemane.”  The eleven are troubled and confused about all they have seen and heard so far. Yet Jesus knows that the great temptations are soon to be before them & Him -His capture, His trials, His scourging, His mockery, the lure of their denial, His Crucifixion.

In verse 40, mindful of their need for fortitude, He addresses them: “He says, “Pray [in order] that you will not fall into temptation.” What did He mean? Simply that their antidote to yielding to the temptations that fear, discouragement, and horror would soon present them was fervent, heartfelt prayer. Then Jesus modeled it.

He, too, faced His own darkness. Looming in the next few hours was an eternity of death and hell for all the combined sins of humanity—every rapist, every murderer, every lie ever told, every betrayal, every abusive parent or spouse, every hatful word…EVERY SIN of the world! The terror of that pit must have clutched at this throat. Satan was surely there telling Him he didn’t have to suffer this.  He didn’t have to go to the cross.  Far greater than the disciples’ temptation was the temptation He faced and how infinitely more cosmic in its ramifications. One sees the shadowing figure of Lucifer himself hurling these twisted ideas at Christ

            So Jesus entered into prayer like never before.  His sweat was blood, so intense was his praying.  And he asked his disciples to pray with him…that first hour…and the second…and probably the third (see Mark 14:32-42).  He speaks Luke 22:46 to those disciples when sleep overcame their passion for prayer.  “Why are you sleeping?  Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”    

            If we are going to overcome our natural desires to avoid suffering for the sake of Christ, to avoid taking up our cross daily and following Jesus, we will have to learn to shorten our sleep so we can lengthen our prayer experience. 

[Intro The Washing starting next Sunday, April 30 and going 80 hours non-stop right here!]

#3.  Praying brings victory in the daily battles of life.

Ephesians 6:10-22 outlines some of the armaments in the arsenal of Christ-followers. We are reminded that ultimately our struggles are not against humans, but against powerful spiritual beings and forces in the “heavenly places” (the spiritual realm which directly influences the natural, material realm).

The picture here is that of a war. (Envision saving Private Ryan or Hacksaw Ridge.)  Life as a Christian is not a playground; it’s a battlefield. While there is much beauty and love in the world, it is often bent and twisted by our sin and Satan’s devastation.

We are instructed by Paul, an experienced soldier in this combat, to be appropriately armed for our struggle. Take a look at the battle gear our police officers wear next time you see one…or consider all the gear a U.S. soldier takes time to arm himself with next time you see a picture of them.  

In this passage, Paul uses some of the most vivid imagery in the New Testament. Modeling a Roman Legionnaire, Paul talks about the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth, the boots of the Gospel, the body armor of faith, sword/M-16 of the Word of God.  Seems like plenty of armor and weaponry to me. If I were writing this passage, I would probably have said, “Now, get out there and fight !”

But interestingly, Paul does not say that. In verse 18 he says one more thing is needed—the heavy artillery of God-persistent prayer. Notice what he says:

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 19 Pray also for me….” 

In 2 verses, we are commanded to pray 5 different times. (See also 2 Corinthians 10:3, 4—“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.”)

The weapon of prayer softens up Satan’s fortress. Hell’s gates cannot prevail. It is the cannon, reducing the wall to rubble so that the troops can go through. Too often, the gospel moves slowly because the softening-up process of prayer has been neglected. When practiced, however, prayer “puts the wind at the back” of Christ’s soldiers.

ILL:  A few years ago, at a prestigious American University, one powerful administrator was blocking the placement of additional full-time Christian workers on campus because of his own disbelief in the gospel. The Christian students on campus resorted first to prayer. Feeling that no one had the right to keep students from hearing about Christ, they prayed that God would either change this man’s heart or remove him from his position. For six months they prayed faithfully.

Suddenly, for no “apparent” reason, he was transferred to a powerless position and a replacement named. Among the first questions the replacement asked was this: “Why aren’t there more Christian workers?” The workers came, and the gospel flourished. Prayer is key to fighting this spiritual battle.

[Taken from https://www.cru.org/train-and-grow/spiritual-growth/prayer/seven-reasons-to-pray.html]

APP:  So let’s PRAY & SING…about

  • knowing the love of Jesus
  • overcoming temptation
  • gaining the victory in life’s battles.

Philip Yancey once said, “If prayer stands as the place where God and human beings meet, then I must learn about prayer. Most of my struggles in the Christian life circle around the same two themes: why God doesn’t act the way we want God to, and why I don’t act the way God wants me to. Prayer is the precise point where those themes converge.”

            This brings us to the 4th reason to pray:

#4.)  Prayer enables me to DISCERN & DO the will of God.

We already saw this at work in Jesus’ life himself.  His human nature and humanness hated the thought of not only the cross but the heart-rending reality of taking on himself, on his own sinless human soul, all the filth and horror of ALL the sins of ALL humanity that will ever life.  So more, I think, to make his human will submissive to His Father’s divine will, Jesus prayed.  He prayed for several hours.  He prayed more intensely than any other time in his life. 

            NOTE:  “Peace” is not always a sign that you are doing the will of God.  

ILL:  I’ve met plenty of people who tell me they’ve never “felt” better or more convinced or more “at peace” when they were having an affair or walking away from doing God’s will. 

ILL:  I’m more “at peace” not pushing the envelope with someone by sharing Christ with them than I ever am sharing Jesus.  But I know what is God’s will (to share) and what isn’t (to keep quiet).

James 1:5 calls us to pray and ask God for wisdom when we need it—for the wisdom to know WHAT to do and the wisdom to have the guts and perseverance to DO the God-directed thing. 

Luke 6:12-16—Jesus spent the entire night seeking God the Father’s wisdom in choosing 12 men into whose hearts he would commit the most important task in human history—taking the Gospel of Christ to lost people. He needed to know which of His several hundred followers were chosen by His Father to be Apostles.

How did prayer help? It helped in the way John Wesley described. “I find,” he said, “that the chief purpose of prayer in seeking God’s will is that prayer gets my will into an unbiased state. Once my will is unprejudiced about the matter, I find God suggests reasons to my mind why I should or should not pursue a course.”

That happened as Jesus prayed about…Peter…and Thomas…and, yes, Judas Iscariot. 

The chief purpose of prayer, then, is to get our wills unbiased! The purpose is not to give us a phony sense of comfort. 

And that kind of praying will probably require that you spend a part of your “prayer timeLISTENING.  (That’s a whole other sub-topic of prayer…but also a good motivation for praying—to hear God’s voice and know He is speaking.)  I’ll simply quote G. K. Chesterton who once said, “The difference between talking about prayer and praying is the same as the difference between blowing a kiss and kissing.”  (I like that!  And I think God does too!)

[Quoted at https://www.wycliffe.org/Resources/Prayer/why-prayer-doesnt-work_excerpt.pdf]

APP:  You needing guidance about something?  Will that need help you pray more, pray consistently, pray perseveringly until God answers?  And THEN, will you DO what God indicates, even if it is a hard thing to do? 

#5.)  Prayer enables us to DO God’s will on earth, to do the miraculous.  John 14:12-14

If you want 1 passage on prayer to memorize, this would be it. 

12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they [lit. “he/she”—3rd p. sing.] will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 

He’s speaking about YOU…and ME…and EVERY single follower of Jesus through the ages.  It’s not limited to the superstars we often see God using (Francis Chan?, Franklin Graham? Joel Ostein?) We may not do individually all those works Jesus did, but we will do some…and we will do some GREATER ones! 

What works did our Lord do on earth? Oh, just a few simple ones: cleansed the lepers, healed the sick, proclaimed release to the captives, taught tens of thousands, led thousands to salvation, raised the dead, healed those born blind

How do you think anyone in God’s family anywhere does those things?  Not by their power but by asking God in prayer.  That’s why Jesus went on to say in John 14,   13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

This is an amazing promise.  We can reach anywhere in the world with prayer.  We can impact any person or community or nation.  Today, if I will, I can spend 15 minutes behind the Kremlin walls influencing Vladimir Putin for God and for good. Talk about “influencing an election”!  Russian “hacking” doesn’t hold anything to saints praying!

Today, I can spend 20 minutes touching the entrenched Muslim minds of the Mullah’s of Saudi Arabia or the ascetic Buddhist Monks of Nepal. Today, I can stand against pornography and sex trafficking and child abuse in my city.  I can impact thousands of youth in schools and colleges just blocks from us here.

Because, when I talk to God in my living room, or office, or dorm room or church, He is the same God who reaches into families, into Nepal, into Saudi Arabia, into the Russia, into Lewis & Clark High School and Gonzaga Univ. I participate with Him, not only through my efforts and works in my geographic location, but also throughout the world in accomplishing His works through my prayers.

And it doesn’t matter what type of gifts, talent, or personality I have; it matters only that I take this TIME to cooperate with Him in my prayers. And that is all that matters for you, too. It’s time we “get it” before much more time passes.

Finally…

#6.)  Prayer changes what everyone experiences in heaven as well as on earth.

Isn’t this the point of Jesus teaching his disciples to pray in Matthew 6:11—“… your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Prayer IS that which brings God’s will to prevail in man’s experience. 

  • That’s why parents must pray for their children…every day.
  • Why church leaders must pray for the people under their care.
  • Why employees must pray for employers.
  • Citizens must pray for government officials over them.
  • We all must pray for neighbors…and lost people…and enemies…and the sick…lost peoples and nations.

CHALLENGE:  In less than a month, we’re going to be gathering to dedicate this building to God’s use downtown.  We’re going to be praying that God’s will will be done here in Spokane…in this neighborhood…as it is in heaven.  (We’ve got a long ways to go, no?)

But I want YOU to start praying that certain people will come to this dedication, encounter God, give their lives to Him because of what they see at that worship service and join us in this amazing journey and/or support what God is doing with their time, prayers and resources. 

STOP:  Start your list of invitees.  Start praying daily for them to come.  Get their mailing addresses.  Come ready the next two weeks to write them a short note on an invitation.  We’ll even mail it for you.  God will move.  He will answer.  Things will happen.  BUT I’m pretty sure you won’t see anything happen if you don’t start praying and start making YOUR list!

ILL:  Tuesday of this week, I saw God answer an ongoing prayer I have been making lately that He will bring us His children who are needed to change this community radically for Christ.  Result?

  • $500 check from a man I met for the first time in the YFC Tuesday prayer in our corner office.
  • Call from a total stranger who wants to donate 9 bikes to our bike shop and 400 soup packets (that each feed 6-12 people!). It’s all free from a Palouse farmer/ministry group that is looking for an ongoing relationship with some Spokane ministry.

But if changing the face of earth isn’t enough to motivate you to pray, I’ve got one last one that has to. 

Revelation 5

In Revelation 5, we are given a rare view of heaven’s throne room. While we don’t have many descriptions of heaven in the Scriptures, this one is vivid. In this scene, we see the 4 living creatures, the 24 elders, the Lamb (Christ), and God the Father.

The book of the Judgement of God is being given to the Lamb, and the verse reads: “And when he had taken it [the book], the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.”

In heaven, incense is prayer…our prayers. What is incense used for? It is used for fragrance, for the beauty of perfume. The thrust of this verse is, when God chooses the fragrance, the perfume, the perfect aroma for His heaven, he chooses the fragrance of prayer.

Consider that there were other choices He could have made. He could have used the perfume of service, or of Bible Study, or of witnessing, or of hard work, or of tithing, or any one of a number of wonderful Christian activities. Yet, in His perfect wisdom He chose prayer.

Perhaps He chose it because in virtually all of the other disciplines there are so many differences among humans in gifting, strengths, energy, etc. But in prayer, we all, regardless of our differences, have equal access to Him and equal love and grace and power from Him at our disposal.

In any case, when we enter heaven for the first time and (no doubt) fall on our faces before Him, the aroma we will notice will be that of intercession. All of which makes us ask: “Since God values prayer that much, what place should it have in my daily and weekly life?”

APP

  1. Do you have a daily time devoted exclusively to prayer? What could possibly be more important and strategic? How might God want us to expand that experience daily?

2.) Weekly prayer times at Mosaic.

3.) A special prayer experience we are hosting week after next:  The Washing80 hours of continuous prayer and Bible reading. Mosaic has 4 2-hour slots at every conceivable time of day and night.  Come learn to pray…and experience a stronger prayer life that…

  1. Helps you be consumed by the love of Jesus.
  2. Helps you overcome temptation.
  3. Equips you for the battles of life.
  4. Enables you to know and do God’s will.
  5. Puts you in touch with the miraculous power of God in this world.
  6. Changes heaven and earth.

Closing prayer

[I’m indebted to Dan Hayes, Executive Director of Atlanta Community Ministries, for the outline and some content of this message, found at https://www.cru.org/train-and-grow/spiritual-growth/prayer/seven-reasons-to-pray.html on 4.22.2017]

Questions for further reflection & study:

  1. Do a little further study on Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian church in Ephesians 3:14-19. How is Paul’s prayer Trinitarian in its makeup?  What roles and works does each member of the Godhead play?  Why?  How should that inform and shape our praying?  What specific prayer items does this prayer address?  How might we make them significant focuses in our prayers for others?  How could this prayer make our praying more meaningful and effective?
  2. When it comes to the temptations Jesus experienced, we know that prayer played a significant role in and around the temptations He experienced at the beginning and end of his ministry (see Matthew 4, Mark 1, Luke 4 and Matthew 24, Mark 14, Luke 22 and John 17). What does that have to teach us about overcoming temptation? About how we might pray during and before times of temptation or trial?  What has been your experience about prayer and temptation?  How would you counsel a younger believer regarding how to use prayer to overcome temptation? 
  3. What are the battles you are fighting to advance the Kingdom of God? What role does prayer play in those battles?  What other passages of Scripture encourage you to fight battles that take new ground for the Lord? 
  4. In what things are you seeking God’s wisdom and will right now? How has prayer helped you to discern God’s wisdom?  To have the strength to obey what he reveals.
  5. What miracles have you seen as a result of prayer? Is it possible to know what miracles we should be praying for? How?  If you could see God do something miraculous through your prayers, what would you want it to be?  How long are you willing to pray for that?  What might help you do that?
  6. What people fill your prayers? Why?  How will their lives change when God answers your prayers?  How might eternity change?  Why do you think God chose prayer as heaven’s incense? 
  7. How might your group grow in prayer over this next month? What changes, new experiences and shared experiences in prayer could help that?  What differences should there be (if any) between private prayer and group prayer?