Sermon delivered on Trinity Sunday C, June 12, 2022 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.
In the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Why did Jesus tell the apostles to wait until the Holy Spirit fell upon them before carrying out the Great Commission?
The last sixty days before Pentecost must have been incredibly strange to the 12 apostles.
In that period one of them Judas Iscariot was replaced by another apostle, Matthias. It all started on what we call Palm Sunday.
As Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey ahead of the most nationalistic feasts of Judaism, all eyes were on Him. They expected Jesus to rise up and throw the hated Romans out. But as he comes into Jerusalem, he turns towards the Temple rather than towards the Roman garrison in the town. And He then proceeds to cleanse the Temple (cf Mt 21 :12-17). And then we have the Last Supper and the Institution of the Holy Communion service on what we recall as Maundy Thursday.
And then the Disciples (and by Disciples I am including the women like Mary Magdalene and Mary the Mother of Jesus), had seen how suddenly public opinion had changed and Jesus had been crucified, as we recall on Good Friday each year.
And so far as the rulers in Jerusalem were concerned that SHOULD have been the end of this annoying little sect. But that wasn’t the end of the story. Jesus rose from the dead three days after his Crucifixion. And we celebrate this each year as Easter Day. And although we don’t know the exact year, most historians put it either as in 30 AD or in 33 AD. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the one event that the early Church gave for its phenomenal success. We don’t know exactly how many people saw the risen Christ. However we are told the resurrected Jesus was seen by many.
And then within 40 days from Jesus’ resurrection he bodily ascended into heaven an event we remember on each year as Ascension Day, traditionally on a Thursday – 10 days before Pentecost. Which we moved to last week Sunday, that Father Wylie preached.
Now in that 40 days from Jesus’ resurrection to his Ascension, Jesus gave his Church what is known as the “Great Commission” just before he left this earth. He told them “ Go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you till the end of the age” (Mt. 28:19 and 20).
However, it must have been bizarre to the disciples that Jesus gave them very clear instructions when they were to start fulfilling the Great Commission. In Acts 1, Jesus said “But you shall receive Power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1 v.8). So my first question is Why were they to WAIT rather than start evangelizing right away? One reason, I think was that the disciples’ minds were probably still scrambled by the events that had happened. It still would have been hard for them to think straight.
But the second more important reason was that they needed to wait for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to enable the disciples to fulfil the Great Commission. Bringing people to Christ is a spiritual battle. It is not simply an intellectual discussion – as you might have if you were discussing politics. The spiritual battle for people’s hearts can only be won on the spiritual battlefield – and we need the power of the Holy Spirit to succeed.
And note how much time, the disciples spent in prayer in Acts 1 and 2. The Acts 2 outpouring of the Holy Spirit occurred in a prayer meeting. It must have been very daunting for the disciples, when they first heard it. But what they also were learning was when Jesus asks us to do something – he provides us with the means to do it.
And so the second question I’d like to pose was WHY did God PICK Pentecost for the outpouring of His Spirit and the launch of the Christian mission to the world? Why did Jesus make such a fuss about the timing? There are a number of reasons but I believe the prime reason is that the actual meaning of the Feast explains to us much of what is going on.
Let me go a little into the background. The Jews had three major festivals in their calendar year, which all male Jews were expected to attend. Passover, Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles. Pentecost (or the Feast of Weeks) was the second major festival of the Jewish year – and always took place 50 days after Passover.
Pentecost is a harvest festival – at the beginning of the wheat harvest – when the first fruits of the wheat harvest were presented to God. When the Power of God came down on the disciples at Pentecost, I believe God was saying that this is the beginning of the spiritual harvest – a harvest which is still going on today almost 2000 years later. The spiritual harvest is the building of Christ’s church here on earth, of which we are all called to be a part regardless of where we live.
From our reading this morning from the Book of Acts, we can see three principles for success in this spiritual harvest.
1. The disciples consulted with and obeyed Jesus
2. The disciples couldn’t do it in their own strength. They needed the Power from on high
3. The disciple’s message was founded in God’s word
The first principle for success in the spiritual harvest is listening to and obeying Jesus
After giving his disciples the Great Commission, Jesus told them to wait. He didn’t explain to them why – though we can now see why with hindsight. They were only going to be successful when they received the anointing of the Holy Spirit. But there is a lesson for us too. The disciples had to learn simply to trust Jesus’ word. If we are going to be servants of Christ, we have to learn to trust in WHAT he tells us to do. Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until power from on high comes upon them.
So what did they do? Did they spend their time watching TV? No, they spent their time in prayer – in preparation. In Acts 1:14 we read: “They all joined together, constantly in prayer.” They got ready for action. Prayer is the power-house of the Christian life. If we are despondent with the lack of response in our villages to our churches, we must start with prayer. Prayer is the preparation for everything that we wish to do in Christ. It puts us in touch with HQ – with our Commander in Chief.
The second principle for success in this spiritual harvest is the realization that we can only do it in the Power of the Holy Spirit. God asks us to be willing – but we don’t have to preach the Gospel in our own strength. The Church isn’t our worry – it’s God’s worry. It has been said: “Why pray when you can worry!!” If we are going to do God’s work, we need to do it in HIS strength and not our own. I can do all things through him who gives me strength. The Acts 2 experience changed the disciples. It gave them power and boldness.
The third principle for success in the spiritual harvest is that the disciples founded their message in the Scriptures. The only Scriptures that St. Peter has was the Old Testament. The New Testament hadn’t been written. Yet Peter was well versed in his Scriptures. On the Day of Pentecost, he stands up to explain what is going on. Peter defended the event through Scripture – explaining that this event had been foretold 800 years earlier by one of the minor prophets – Joel. His quotation from the book of Joel shows that he knew his Bible well. He was able to find his experience and the experience of the other believers in Scripture, because he spent time with the Word of God.
Many of our modern day Sects get away with their false teaching because many don’t know the Word of God. God has revealed himself in the Scriptures and any genuine Christian experience will be biblically based. What is happening here Peter says conforms to Scripture. Joel prophesied it.
As I conclude, I find it of great comfort to know that growth in our church is not my worry. It’s God’s worry. However, we are called to work for and with God in the spiritual harvest and so we have responsibilities for the success of the operation.
Our first responsibility is that we need to hear what God is saying to us and obey him. The disciples were told to wait in Acts 1 – and that is what they did. This enabled God to release his power for them. And it is interesting to note that on the day of Pentecost, 3,000 people were converted. How did the disciples know the will of God – they spent a lot of time in prayer.
Our second responsibility is to ask for power to preach the Gospel. We need to ask for strength and boldness to proclaim Christ – at the right time.
Our third responsibility is to know our Scripture well. If we are going to preach the Gospel successfully, we need to be rooted or founded in Scripture.
May the Lord help us to be faithful followers of Christ
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen