… wait for what the Father promised…..”  Acts 1:4 (MSG)

Waiting has never been one of my strong suits. My prayer is “God, give me patience, but hurry up!” Maybe you can relate. After seeing the risen Christ and being with Him for 40 days, it must have been difficult for the disciples to do what He told them just before they saw Him ascend into the heavens. He told them that they were on no account to leave Jerusalem but must wait for what the Father promised: the promise you heard from Me. John baptized in water; you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit. And soon.” Acts 1:4-5 (MSG)

It’s doubtful that they understood what it meant to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. Everything that was happening to them in real time must have been difficult to process.  So Jesus added,

“you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be My witnesses, telling people about Me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8 (NLT)

The Greek word for witnesses in this passage is “martyr.” Literally, Jesus was saying that, when indwelled with the Holy Spirit, these men would be empowered to be witnesses for Jesus even unto death! They would experience a transformation of character and life that would embolden them with courage they did not have before! It would not depend on their willpower to achieve it. When the Holy Spirit would come upon them, they would experience God’s power, a power that would have no other explanation but Christ living in them and through them to make Himself known! Apart from the indwelling Spirit, they were powerless. That’s why Jesus said they must not leave Jerusalem but wait – wait for what the Father promised, the promise you heard from Me. (Vs. 4b MSG) In verse 5 Jesus told them,

John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

In just a few days. That began for the disciples what became a ten-day waiting period in an upper room where Luke says,

“They all met together and were constantly united in prayer…”  

Here’s the secret to waiting — PRAYER. They didn’t wait alone, isolated from one another, anxious about when this promise of the Spirit would come and what it would mean. They were united in prayer. Do you have a community of faith that you pray with?  People of like mind and heart who will share your burden and wait with you in prayer?  “When you face a difficult task, an important decision, or a baffling dilemma, don’t rush into the work and just hope it comes out the way it should. Instead, make your first step prayer for the Holy Spirit’s power and guidance.” (Life Application Bible Notes) This waiting period led them to prayer and prepared their hearts for what God was about to do that would change their lives and our world forever! Does God have you in a waiting room? If so, use the time wisely. Look for fellow Christ followers who will pray with you and encourage you as you wait together.   

 

“Once when He was eating with them, He commanded them, ‘Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift He promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking Him, ‘Lord, has the time come for You to free Israel and restore our kingdom?’ He replied, ‘The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be My witnesses, telling people about Me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ After saying this, He was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see Him.” Acts 1:4-9 (NLT)

The disciples must have lived between wonder and awe over those forty days after Jesus rose from the dead! Each one of the eleven post-resurrection appearances of Jesus solidified their faith and excitement over the anticipation of the coming Kingdom that Jesus promised. When would it happen? When would Israel reclaim their glory days and no longer live under the siege of Roman rule in their own land? When would Jesus reveal Himself to the world as the Messiah they knew Him to be? They thought that, surely, it would be soon. But, they also thought that even before His death and resurrection. Their timetable and God’s were never the same. Jesus told them,

“The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know.” 

Not knowing God’s timetable enables us to live in expectation that He could return at any time! It could even be while you are reading this blog! If we knew exactly when Jesus would return, we wouldn’t walk by faith. We would be tempted to wait until the last minute to repent and miss the sheer adventure of sharing that life with Him here on earth that we will share with Him forever in Heaven! How often our timetable and God’s are different! We get in such a hurry while God is patient. Just like the disciples, we want it now!

Why does God wait? Years later, one of those disciples, gathered there among the others at the ascension of Christ, would reveal the answer. Peter wrote,

“The Lord isn’t really being slow about His promise, as some people think. No, He is being patient for your sake.  He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” (2 Peter 3:9 NLT)

Aren’t you glad that Jesus didn’t establish His kingdom on earth back then? Aren’t you glad that Jesus is patient and waited, giving you time to repent and turn to Him? God always has a purpose in His timing. God’s timing is perfect! He is never late and never early! He is always right on time! The Bible tells us “In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son….” And, in the fullness of time, He will return as the angel said, just as you have seen Him go! 

Rather than waiting around aimlessly for His return, He told His disciples not to leave Jerusalem until the Father sent them the gift He promised, the coming gift of the Holy Spirit who would empower them to be His witnesses! Then, as if His bodily resurrection wasn’t enough, Jesus was taken up into a cloud of glory while they were standing there watching until they could no longer see Him! Wow! Talk about wonder and awe! Just as they were straining to see Him ascend higher into the clouds, Luke tells us that two men in white robes suddenly appeared and said,

“Men of Galilee, why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday He will return from heaven in the same way you saw Him go!” (Acts 1:11 NLT)

I can’t imagine what these guys must have been thinking as they walked back to Jerusalem after that. What an encounter with Christ! What would they do now? Exactly what Jesus told them to do! Stay in Jerusalem and wait for the promise of the Holy Spirit. At the time, they had no idea how long they were to wait. We know, now, that the promise would be fulfilled ten days later on the day of Pentecost. Until then, they were to wait and pray. We don’t know God’s timetable for us. But, just like these disciples, we’ve been given a commission to fulfill and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are His witnesses today!

“Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” John 13:1 (NKJV)

“He loved them to the end.” That’s boundless love! It was a love that lasts! A love that perseveres! A love that never quits! Unlike human love that often drifts with mood and circumstance, God’s love is constant.  One of the great preachers of old, Charles Spurgeon, described the love of Jesus like this:

“He will love His people to the utmost end of their unloveliness. Their sinfulness cannot travel so far but what His love will travel beyond it; their unbelief even shall not be extended to so great a length but what His faithfulness shall still be wider and broader than their unfaithfulness… He will love His own to the end, that is, to the end of all their needs.”

Our hearts long for such a love. We try to find it from others, like the woman at the well tried to, only to return as thirsty as we were before. Spurgeon goes on to say, “He will love them to the end of their lives; so long as they live here His love shall be with them; and as there shall be no end of their existence hereafter, He will continue still the same fondness to them.”

The word translated end in the Greek frequently signifies to perfection – He loved them to perfection. Think of the perfectness of the love of Jesus Christ. All that His love can do He will do for His people. There is no good thing that you or I could do to make Jesus love us more and no bad thing we could do that would make Him love us less! No greater love is there than the love of Jesus! He loved them to the cross and back! Risen from the dead, He returned to His own to assure them of His love! The love of God for you and me is boundless! Receive His love! Experience His love for you today! Then, share it with those you love!

One of my favorite songs when I think of Jesus’ love for me is Boundless Love by Farrell & Farrell. Take a moment to reflect on His boundless love for you as you listen along here!

Boundless love
Unending joy
This is my life
It’s what I know
I can’t believe that He selected me
Jesus, my lord
It’s you I owe

He keeps me when I’m weary
He can hear me when I pray
He’s even there beside me when I fall
His love surrounds me even when I go astray
I guess I’d have to say that He’s my all

When my world falls all around me
I call upon His name
And just in time He takes me by the hand
His ways are perfect
Just like His son who bore my shame
I don’t even have to understand

Boundless love
Unending joy
This is my life
It’s what I know
I can’t believe that He selected me
Jesus, my lord
It’s you I owe
Jesus, my Lord
It’s you I know

“… you belong in God’s household with every other Christian.” Ephesians 2:19d (LB) 

Restoration is the goal of redemption. The Psalmist says,

“He (God) restores my soul!” Psalm 23:3

What sin has broken, grace restores. The process begins when we humbly admit our need for God and others. While we may be apt to admit our need for God, sometimes we are reluctant to admit our need for others in the process. Fear of embarrassment or shame often create barriers to finding the help and support we need. Help is available. That’s why God created us to live in a community of faith called the church, the family of God. Jesus sent out His disciples in groups of two. And, He promised to be in our midst when two or three are gathered in His name. In Ephesians, the Bible spells out the significance of doing life in community with other Christ followers and the value of the local church when it says, 

Now you are no longer strangers to God and foreigners to heaven, but you are members of God’s very own family, citizens of God’s country, and you belong in God’s household with every other Christian.  What a foundation you stand on now: the apostles and the prophets; and the cornerstone of the building is Jesus Christ Himself! We who believe are carefully joined together with Christ as parts of a beautiful, constantly growing temple for God.  And you also are joined with Him and with each other by the Spirit and are part of this dwelling place of God.” Eph. 2:19-22 LB

The church was designed to be a community of faith. When we connect with one another in a local church, we find encouragement, strength, hope and recovery. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, it was to those standing beside him that Jesus said,

“Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” John 11:44c

When Lazarus came back from the dead, he was bound in the grave clothes of a dead man. He couldn’t take them off without some help. Imagine being alive but still bound by old grave clothes! Imagine how thankful he must have been to be free of them!

When we come alive in Christ from being spiritually dead, there are grave clothes that need to be removed. Those grave clothes may be old hurts, habits and hang-ups, and God uses those around us in our community of faith to help. Then, we can help others in the same way. It’s why I love the local church! It’s where you belong. If you are not part of a local church, I encourage you to check out our next Membership Class on Sunday, April 30th! You can register now to join us for lunch at any campus this day!

“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in Your bottle. You have recorded each one in Your book.” Psalm 56:8 (NLT)

The psalmist reveals the tenderness of God’s compassion for us in Psalm 56:8.  Consider His love for you in this verse.

“You (God) keep track of all my sorrows. You (God) have collected all my tears in Your bottle. You have recorded each one in Your book.” 

There is never a sorrow wasted, never a tear discarded. God records them all! What profound love! What a comfort to know we have a God who cares so much! Peter must have experienced that same kind of response in his failure when he denied knowing Christ three times. Luke records what happened when Peter denied knowing Christ for the third time.

“At that moment the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Suddenly, the Lord’s words flashed through Peter’s mind: ‘Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know Me.’ And Peter left the courtyard, weeping bitterly.” Luke 22:61-62 (NLT)  

I can only imagine what must have gone through Peter’s mind when Jesus looked at him from a distance. He had done what he said he would never do! With bitter tears, he wept in defeat. Yet, his failure wasn’t final! His sorrow wasn’t wasted, and his tears were not forgotten. When Jesus rose from the dead, He personally met with Peter to restore him!

Our failure is never final when we take it to Christ. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is available for you and me to resurrect His purpose in us and enable us to do what we could not do in our own strength. Whether your sorrow is a result of personal failure or loss or circumstances beyond your control, you have a Heavenly Father who collects all your tears in His bottle. Don’t waste your sorrows. God promises to turn them into joy.

Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Psalm 30:5 (NLT)

“… when He (Jesus) was alone with His disciples, He explained everything to them.”  Mark 4:34b (NLT)                                      

If your Christian experience is anything like mine, you find yourself walking in a fog at times. You need clarity for decisions and direction. Even the great Apostle Paul who wrote so much of the New Testament said,

Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.”  1 Cor. 13:12 (NLT)

While heaven will offer perfect clarity, how do we find it until then? The Gospel of Mark records how Jesus used many stories and illustrations to teach people as much as they could understand. Still, even His disciples often walked away wondering what He meant by the things He said.

“In fact, in His public ministry He never taught without using parables; but afterward, when He was alone with His disciples, He explained everything to them.” Mark 4:34 (NLT)

Here’s the insight we need. Time alone with Jesus brings clarity. When you find yourself in a fog about what to do, get alone with Jesus in His Word. Do what Jesus so often did.

  • “Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray.” (Mark 1:35 NLT)

  • “But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.” (Luke 5:16 NLT)
  • “Jesus went up on a mountain to pray, and He prayed to God all night. At daybreak He called together all of His disciples and chose twelve of them to be apostles.”  (Luke 6:12-13 NLT) 

Whether it was the need for daily communion or with regard to major decisions, Jesus routinely spent time alone with the Father in prayer. Find an isolated place to be alone with Jesus. As you do, you’ll find strength for the day, wisdom for decisions and peace to calm your heart. God’s Word, as revealed in Scripture, will become a light for your path.

A time to tear down and a time to build up.” Ecclesiastes 3:3b (NLT)

Amos is one of my favorite characters in the Old Testament. He wasn’t a prophet or the son of a prophet. He wasn’t a priest. Without any special preparation, education or upbringing, Amos was a simple shepherd and fig picker. Yet, God called Amos to deliver a powerful message to His people. Why Amos? He lived in a time when the religious and political leaders had departed from God and were no longer communicating His Word or representing His character. They were corrupt. As go the leaders, so go the people. Both were drifting farther away from God. They had a religious system that continued to operate but only with ritual, tradition and formality. They were going through the motions of worship, but it had long since lost its meaning. They used their veneer of worship to cover a life of sin and immorality in order to make themselves look good. But, God saw what was happening and sent Amos with a message to call His people back and to warn them of imminent danger if they continued in a charade of faith. Failing to heed his warning, Amos delivered one final message of painful, yet redemptive, consequences. He said God would destroy their Temple and judge their nation. No one could hide. But, with that severe judgment, God promised restoration. One day, He would restore all that was destroyed.  In Amos 9:11b God assured them,

“From the ruins I will rebuild it and restore its former glory.”

I couldn’t read this story without thinking of what a previous King of Israel wrote. In Ecclesiastes 3, King Solomon observed,

“There is a time to tear down and a time to build up.” 

Sometimes, God must tear down before He can build up. In Amos’ day, God would tear down their religious system and nation to awaken their hearts in order to build a relationship. Sin had separated them from God. If they would not tear down that which was separating them, He would. But, this wasn’t because He hated them. He loved them, but He hated what created the separation. When we experience pain and loss, sometimes the purpose in that pain is God’s divine design to rebuild a relationship with Him that somehow was lost or derailed by sin. God destroyed Israel’s base of security, their Temple and their nation to bring them back to Himself. Then, in grace, He promised to restore His renewed people and their broken world. When you attend church this weekend, be careful not to substitute a “religious system” for a heart of worship. Focus on building up your relationship with God, and enjoy the blessing of His presence.

 

“He said to me, Son of man, all My words that I shall speak to you, receive in your heart and hear with your ears.” Ezekiel 3:10 (Ampl)

Nothing will ignite your faith like a fresh encounter with God! Hearing God’s voice is essential to vital faith. God speaks today and longs for us to hear His voice.  The clearest way I hear God’s voice is to engage Scripture on a daily basis. Jesus told us that God’s Word is truth! When He prayed in the garden before the crucifixion, He said,

“Make them holy by Your truth; teach them Your word, which is truth.” John 17:17 (NLT)

I’m often asked, “How do you hear God’s voice? How do you know when He is speaking to you? How do you know if it’s not just your own thoughts or, worse, the voice of the devil?” Consider a new approach to your daily Bible reading. Learn to engage the Scripture. Engaging the Bible on a daily basis involves three simple exercises:

First, read it systematically. You can begin in the Old Testament or the New Testament. It could be a reading of one of the 66 books that make up the Bible, like the Gospel of John. Wherever you choose to begin, read a chapter or two each day.

Second, reflect on what you are reading. The biblical word for reflecting on Scripture is “meditation.” Let the words marinate in your mind and heart as you read them. Let them sink into your soul and consider their application to your life as well as their historical context.

Third, respond to what you read. Act on the truth that you understand. It could be a sin to confess and forsake, a command to obey, a promise to claim, or a call to pray. God may even prompt your heart to share what you’ve read in His Word with someone to encourage their faith.

Be intentional. Determine to meet with God each day and engage Him in His Word. Consider it your Divine Appointment. Soon, what began as a daily discipline will become an absolute delight! You will look forward to hearing God’s voice as He speaks to you in the pages of His Word. Read it daily. Reflect on what you’re reading and respond with faith and action! I challenge you to try engaging the Bible over the next 30 days and begin to journal what you hear God saying to you!

“He is not here; He has risen, just as He said. Come and see the place where He lay.” (Matthew 28:6, NIV)

Easter is the encore of heaven!  It’s the triumph over evil, death and hell itself! No event in history can compare with the victory of the empty tomb! Because He lives, we too may live! Our sins can be forgiven! Our lives can be filled with hope and a power beyond ourselves to live victoriously! The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead presents a whole new challenge. How would we live our lives if we knew death was not the end? It’s not the final act. It’s really when the curtain opens and we get to see behind the veil. We get to live eternally! How awesome is that? The resurrection removes the fear of death.  Hebrews 2:14-15 says,

“… by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil– and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”  

That must have been how Lazarus felt when he came out of the tomb after being dead four days! How afraid do you think he was of the threats of those who wanted to kill him after that? John tells us that large crowds were coming to Jesus because of the miracle of Lazarus being raised from the dead and the chief priests weren’t happy about it.

So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in Him.” (John 12:9-11, NIV)  

I can almost hear Lazarus say with a grin on his face, “Go ahead and kill me.  Been there – done that!” When you know that your life is not over at death, you live for eternity, not just the here and now.  Jesus said,

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20, NIV)

How much of our lives is spent investing in things that won’t last? We get stressed and depressed over stuff that can’t satisfy. But, if we lived with eternity in our hearts, we would look beyond the trinkets and see the real treasure – treasure that we can store up in heaven. The fact is that we can’t take anything with us when we die; but, Jesus said we can send something ahead of us, treasures that cannot be destroyed or stolen! Now, there’s an investment that never depreciates! The resurrection changes our whole perspective, the way we view ourselves, others and our world. It gives us confidence that, in the end, we win because we are on the winning side! If death couldn’t conquer Christ, we no longer must cower to it. Jesus put it like this at a funeral one day,

I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26, NIV)

How would you live life if you knew you would never die, that death was simply the transition of your true self from a physical shell into the very presence of God who would give you a resurrected body like Christ?  1 John 3:2 says,

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”

So, if you want to have some fun, look up the passages of Scripture at the end of the Gospels and the first chapter of Acts and see what Jesus was able to do in His glorified body. Then, determine to live the rest of your days here in light of the hereafter with eternity in your heart. Realize that you are only a stranger here, that your real citizenship is in heaven.

Personal Easter Challenge:

  1. How would you live your life differently if you knew you would never die?

  2. What treasures are you sending on ahead?

 

Spend some time in prayer asking God to teach you how to apply the risen power of Christ in every area of your life.

“It is finished!” John 19:30 (NIV)                                                              

Have you ever considered how you want to finish your life? Will you finish well? Will you have accomplished the purpose for which you were created? Will those closest to you know you loved them? From the cross, Jesus taught us how to finish well. His declaration would become a crowning word of triumph! Three words in English, one word in the Greek, Jesus would cry, “Tetelesthai” – It is finished!  No single word ever uttered has so changed the history and destiny of mankind as this! Notice that Jesus didn’t say, “I am finished!” It wasn’t the whimper of a defeated man offered in resignation. That’s why He cleared His throat just moments before, so that His voice could be clearly heard by all.  It was the shout of a mighty victor! “It is finished!” Redemption was paid in full! The word tetelestai was often used in Jesus day on business documents or receipts to show that a bill had been paid in full. No further debt remained! It is finished! There was no further work to do!

We learn another lesson of grace in this single word from Calvary. Grace means there is a purpose and an end to our pain. One pastor put it like this, “When you’re living through a bad day, don’t expect to be able to ‘read’ the full dimensions of God’s redemptive plan in the middle of your struggle, but never doubt the certainty that it is in process. His call ‘It is finished!’ is our call to hold firm in this assurance: His sovereign power will ultimately win the day.” I love that! What a reminder that, despite the pain and hardship we may experience, God has a purpose and a plan. Every problem has a purpose. No sorrow is wasted. The Psalmist declared,

“Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5 (NKJV)

We often live in the night where darkness clouds our vision. We walk by faith and not by sight. But, one day, we shall see as clearly as we are seen, for we shall see our Savior face to face! No matter what you may be enduring always remember that joy comes in the morning! There is a purpose and an end!

Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” Luke 23:46 (NIV) 

Each saying of Jesus from the cross has taught us deeper dimensions of grace! His final statement came on the heels of the one before. While the previous word, “It is finished!” was one of triumph and victory, Jesus final statement was one of trust.

Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.’ When He had said this, He breathed His last.” Luke 23:46 (NIV)

Grace means that we can surrender our problem to God and let it go. Sometimes, it seems that what you’re going through will never end. Everything was normal and then, one day, the worst happened. You feel like you’re living in the twilight zone. Nothing is normal. You wonder, Will this ever end? Will I ever feel the same again? How can I move forward? In moments like these, we need the grace of God to surrender the control of our lives in the Father’s hands and let it go. Because we trust our Father’s love and His strong hands to keep us, we can release our hold on life and place it completely and finally in His hands and leave it there. That’s what Jesus did from the cross. Have you ever said, “Father, into Your hands, I commit my life, my marriage, my career, my children, my future?” Whatever you are still holding on to or trying to control that is beyond your ability to change, commit it to God. Rest in His almighty power and experience the freeing grace of letting it go. None of us can really control our lives, but we can all get our lives under His control. Grace means surrendering all my problems to God and letting them go.