Acts

Devoted to prayer. 1:12-14

 
Introduction

Following Christ's ascension, the disciples return to Jerusalem and continue steadfastly in prayer. Luke uses the movement of the disciples back to Jerusalem to the set the scene for the events of Pentecost.

 
The passage

v12. The ascension has taken place at the mount of Olives and the disciples now return to Jerusalem to await the coming of the promised heavenly power. Luke tells us that the mount of Olives is a Sabbath day's journey from Jerusalem, cf. Exodus 16:29 and Numbers 35:5.

v13. The disciples gather together in an upper room. This may be the room used for the last supper, or the room where Jesus appeared to the disciples. It may even be the room owned by the mother of John Mark, cf. 12:12. All are possibilities. Luke goes on to list the apostles. The list is identical with his earlier list in Luke 6:14f. Luke's list is similar to the list in Matthew (Matt.10:2f) and Mark (Mk.3:16f). The main difference is that Luke has Judas the son of James, rather than Matthew and Mark's Thaddaeus. Luke also describes Simon as "the Zealot", where Matthew and Mark call him "the Cananaean". In Aramaic "Cananaean" is the same word as "Zealot". Zealots were Jewish nationalists who came to prominence during the first century in Jerusalem and who led the major revolt against Rome in 66AD. "Judas the son of James" is obviously the "Judas not Iscariot" of John 14:22.

v14. Luke tells us that the apostles applied themselves to prayer. In fact, they "joined constantly in prayer", "faithfully observing the appointed seasons of united prayer", F.F. Bruce. Lampe points out that Jesus was found in prayer before he received the Spirit and here Luke has the apostles doing the same thing. He suggests that for Luke the central business of prayer is the gift of the Holy Spirit. With the apostles, Luke records the presence of the women, most likely those who had gone up with the disciple from Galilee to Jerusalem. Mary the mother of Jesus is mentioned, as are Jesus' younger brothers. Although Jesus' brothers had initially rejected him, they became believers following his resurrection. The most prominent brother is James. We are told Jesus appeared to him after his resurrection, 1Cor.15:7. James later become a leader in the church, 12:17, 15:13, 21:18... Mark mentions three other brothers: Joses, Judas and Simon.

 
Constant in prayer

Luke makes the point that the disciples "joined together constantly in prayer." For Luke, consistent prayer is a worthy aim in the Christian life.

Yet, consistent prayer does not mean persistent prayer. The parable of the midnight guest, Luke 11:5-8, seems to teach persistence in prayer, but it really teaches us of the "how much more" God will give to those who ask of him. The friend got the good thing he was after, although with some difficulty. How much more will God give his good gifts to those who ask him? If a human father gives good gifts to a son in need, how much more will God give his good gifts to those who ask him? So, prayer should be consistent, without being persistent.

 

 

Luke also has something to say about the priority of prayer. Luke makes the point that Jesus was in prayer when the Holy Spirit descended upon him at the time of his baptism by John the Baptist. He makes a similar point of the apostles and those who had gathered with them in the upper room prior to the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost. The priority of prayer rests with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Unlike Matthew, who leaves us in the dark with "Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you", Luke tells us what is given to those who ask, seek and knock. It is a good gift from our Father in heaven, and that gift is the gift of the Holy Spirit, Lk.11:13.

Of course, the Father has other gifts to give. For example, He has promised to forgive us when we ask Him. So we don't need to limit God's good gifts to the gift of the Holy Spirit. Nor should we extend his good gifts beyond what He has promised. Believers are tempted to see God as a Santa Clause who will happily meet all their desires ("needs" for the more pious believer). Our faith can easily be undermined in the face of unanswered prayer, or more properly, prayer that is not "according to the will of God." A believer, no less than any other human, must face the rush of life's circumstance. The day of trouble does not display a God uninvolved in, or uncaring of our plight, but rather points us to a day when "every tear will be wiped away." The cry, "it shouldn't be like this", can either prompt within us bitter remorse, or buoyant faith. Anyway, for Luke, the Father's greatest gift to his children is the gift of the Holy Spirit. This then is the priority of prayer.

The gift of the Holy Spirit, in the sense of the reception of the indwelling presence of the Spirit of Christ, is a once only gift. All who believe in Christ receive the Spirit, are baptized, washed... with the Spirit. Yet, along with our need for the reception of the Spirit there is our need for the release of the Spirit. Luke will often use the word "filled" to describe the release of the Spirit's renewing power in the life of a believer. The indwelling presence of the Spirit of Christ enables us to live the Christ-like life. As a gift of grace appropriated through faith, Christ's love compels us to love as he loves.

The Spirit's strengthening for our Christian walk is the infilling that Luke is interested in and should be the priority of consistent prayer.

 
Discussion

1. Order a simple pattern for personal prayer from the following items: supplication, intercession, praise, thanksgiving, confession. Discuss.

2. When it comes to supplication, what should be our priorities?

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