In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; 5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
6So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
The New Normal is Different from the Old Normal
It is often the case that God is simultaneously less than we expected and more than we had hoped for. Perhaps more accurately, God often does not live up to our expectations of what God should be. And that is just one of the dangers of daring to pray, “Your will be done” in the presence of a living God.
The first chapter of Acts begins as a continuation of Luke’s Gospel, and at this point Jesus has been raised from the dead, he has spent the past forty days presenting himself alive to his disciples and teaching about the Kingdom of God. And perhaps, it is not surprising that amidst all this talk of the Kingdom, the disciples ask, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Jesus’ teaching of the Kingdom of God evokes a memory and dream that had remained intact, even after centuries of struggle and disappointment for the people of God. What had distinguished Israel as God’s people even more than the Promised Land and the Law was that God was visibly present in their midst, whether it was in the form of a pillar of cloud by day, or a pillar of fire by night, or the Ark of the Covenant, the Tabernacle or the Temple – these were all visible signs of God’s presence among them. The question about the restoration of the Kingdom may embody a political hope or aspiration. However, it is also something far more than that; it is a hope and expectation of Israel once again knowing the intimacy of God present among them.
Jesus responds, as he often does, by saying “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.”
Then Jesus commissions and calls these disciples: “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And in this one verse we have an outline of the entire Book of Acts. The disciples will be empowered by the Holy Spirit, and then sent out to be Christ’s witnesses to Jerusalem, all Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. In the chapters that follow, we will see the Holy Spirit descend with power, and the disciples will indeed begin their mission in Jerusalem, and it will spread outward from there. By the end of Acts, the Gospel will be spreading outward to all people.
The most common title of this book as the Acts of the Apostles is something of a misnomer. The Acts of the Holy Spirit might be more accurate. The story begins with the Twelve, but none of them is present at the end of the book. We also see that different aspects of this mission will be carried by different people. The one constant throughout the Book of Acts is that the Holy Spirit is present, active and at work through those whom God has chosen. Indeed, the movement of Acts may well be described as Jesus ascending into heaven, the Spirit descending to dwell among us, and the church being sent out as witnesses to the mighty acts of God.
Back to where we began: God is often simultaneously less than we expected and more than we hoped for. . . The disciples asked about the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel, but in fact, God was doing something greater than they had imagined. God would now be visibly present not just among one nation, but among all nations. The presence and power of the Holy Spirit was indeed the dawn of a new age, one in which we continue to live today.
God does not work according to our plan, nor does God even reveal God’s timetable to us. However, God does call us to be faithful in this present moment. What we shall become is not yet fully known, and there are aspects of our life and ministry which are still hidden in God. Even now, we are promised that the Holy Spirit is still in our midst. The same Spirit who empowered the first disciples will also empower us to live into God’s future, and to fulfill our purpose as God’s witnesses in this season.
Gracious Holy Spirit, breathe new life into our hearts and our lives, and into your church. Empower us and send us your will, that we may be your servants and your witnesses in this time and place, and always. Amen.
Spiritual Practice Invitation: Breath Prayer
In these 11 verses of Acts, we learn so much about the gift of the Holy Spirit. The presence of God right here and right now is made possible through the ascension of Jesus and our receiving the Holy Spirit. We are called to a spirit-filled life. No longer having to worry about being out of place with God, Christ’s presence with us is simply a matter of noticing.
As a practice to notice God, breath prayer is an ancient Christian prayer form which dates to at least the sixth century. Intended to be short prayer petitions (generally around six to eight syllables), our inhalations and exhalations become opportunities for noticing God.
In simplest form, you are invited to slowly breathe in (inhale) a phrase or word signifying God (Holy Spirit, God, Creator, Jesus, Sustainer, etc.) and breathe out (exhale) a centering phrase or word. The exhalation prayer might be something along the lines of, “Here I am,” offering the prayer of presence and availability from the prophet Isaiah (6:8). Or, “Not my will, but yours,” echoing Jesus’ heart in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:42).
To free yourself from watching the clock, consider setting a timer for five minutes. Simply repeat the prayer while maintaining your attention on the breath. When your mind wanders, gently return your attention to the prayer. Gradually increase the prayer time to 15 or 20 minutes as you become more comfortable and peaceful with the silence. After the breath prayer is complete, some find it helpful to write in a journal.
Breath prayer acknowledges the Spirit’s presence within us and enables our hearts and minds to grow in stillness as we lean into God’s presence. You may find it helpful to incorporate breath prayer when you are anxious or impatient. Or, you may find it helpful to incorporate breath prayer before getting out of bed and tuning into digital devices. Breath prayer is your spiritual practice to explore.
Can’t wait to read Acts 1:1-11.
Keep sending please
Helpful and insightful post- thank you and God bless