The Most Difficult Assignment of All: “WAIT!!!”

April 18, 2021

         ”  Lk.24:36-49 and Acts1:1-8, (later: I Cor.1:6-10)

The gloom of Jesus’ crucifixion –which must have been a terrifying thing to the frightened disciples – had, on the third day, been gloriously shattered by news of his resurrection.  First dismissed as the overactive imagination of a few of the women, it was finally confirmed by the appearance of the risen Lord to various groups of the grieving disciples,  who had so recently been immobilized by mourning the loss of their beloved leader.  John gives the impression that these apparently random appearances continued for a period of several weeks.  Luke reports Jesus’ appearances to the entire group in a bit more detail than the other writers.  His account in Acts 1 speaks of 40 days during which Jesus provided them with a “graduate course” – which their question about the restoration of Israel makes it clear that they still needed! And many of us – probably MOST, or maybe ALL of us – still do need such a course of study!
“He said to them, “It is not yours to know times and seasons, which the Father has placed in his own authority.  But you will receive power, when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses, both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and Samaria, and until the end of the earth!”
Why do so many of his people focus so much more on what he plainly said is NOT ours to know, — how and when everything will end —  than on our real mandate, to serve as witnesses that Jesus is presently alive and well?  But that assignment is a topic for another study, as is also an understanding of what a “witness” is and does.

Meanwhile, his instructions were simple and clear:   They were not to leave Jerusalem, but to WAIT for the Father’s promise.  No specific directions are included, no timetable.  Just “WAIT!”

What DO you do while you are waiting?  Jesus didn’t say.
This encounter was 40 days after the Resurrection, and 10 days before Pentecost, (but Jesus had not specified that date either), which event Jesus had just described as their being granted the power to be his “witnesses”  — his representatives or ambassadors –all over the world.
But what DO you do while you are waiting?  Jesus didn’t say. HE JUST SAID TO WAIT!
He did NOT say that Peter had better get things organized!  HE JUST SAID TO WAIT!!!
Luke isn’t much help either. First, he lists the group as “the women, Mary, the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” Then, in verses 14 and 15, he notes that there were about 120 people, not just the remaining 11 who had been the inner circle of the disciple group.    That’s a lot of folks, most of whom are away from home, to feed and shelter for an uncertain amount of time!  But the only instruction was simply “WAIT!”

All Luke tells us is that they were “like-mindedly paying constant attention to prayer” – a good idea, to be sure — and
clearly, they were sleeping and eating somewhere – but then what?

It is no surprise that Peter – the fellow who jumped out of the boat trying to walk to Jesus on the sea,
who had actually seemed to be beginning to understand, on the mount of Transfiguration, but
whose bravado turned to cowardice in the courtyard during Jesus’ trial —
couldn’t manage to WAIT, but felt a strong need to “get things organized”.  He was an action-oriented sort of guy.
Luke doesn’t say this was wrong – or even just “out-of-order” — Peter’s speech (vv.15-26 ) is simply recorded: not critiqued; but not complimented, either.  He repeated the apparently common report of Judas’ treachery and death, and urged the group to replace him with a substitute – even quoting Old Testament scripture to justify his point!  (How often have you heard – or done — that?)

But notice a few things that are usually overlooked:
— “Casting lots” was Peter’s own idea: in neither the choice of a substitute disciple nor the method of that choosing does he claim to have been instructed by the Lord.
–Peter makes no reference to Jesus’ prior instructions to “Wait” for the Father’s promise of the Spirit.  Did he forget that?
–As far as we know, his idea of organizing is neither commended nor criticized.
— This is the only NT reference to Matthias.  We never hear of him again.
Due to the similarity of the Greek version of the names translated into English as “Matthew” and “Matthias”, which only differ in the placement of an iota, the smallest of Greek letters, some have guessed that they were accidentally different spellings of the same name, but v.13 had already listed Matthew as one of the original 12, so it is unlikely that “Matthias” is a misspelling of the name of the writer of the first gospel.  However, there is no subsequent mention of either name in the rest of the New Testament.
–As far as we know, neither the choice to replace Judas nor the procedure of a lot was either challenged or confirmed, but we do know that the whole affair took place BEFORE Pentecost, when Jesus’ promise of power and authority was fulfilled.

At any rate, the “divine” reaction to the addition of a less-than-active “replacement” to the disciple group was certainly more benign than an earlier record of God’s people “jumping the gun” on instructions to “wait”.
Do you remember what happened when Moses, under God’s direction, left the leadership of his people to his brother when he went up Mt. Sinai to receive “the Law”? 
The waiting crowd grew restless, and complained: (Ex.32:1)
“When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they came to Aaron and said “Come, make us gods to go before us.  As for this Moses who brought us up from Egypt, we do not know what has become of him!”   They were JUST PLAIN TIRED OF WAITING!!!
The result was that the people turned to idolatry, creating and then worshipping a golden calf; they incurred the displeasure of the true God, and subsequently saw the destruction of both the idol and its worshippers!
By the mercy of God, at least the folks who couldn’t wait, in the Acts account, were only ignored, not destroyed.  One of many ways that “things are different now!” Jesus corrected many Old Testament regulations and practices

In the New Testament, the concept of “waiting” is represented by no less than 8 different Greek words, and they are not easily sorted out.  The one used in Ac.1:4 appears only once in the whole New Testament.  “Perimeno” could literally be translated “just hang around”!  Elsewhere, for example, Paul “waiting” for the arrival of his co-workers, a farmer “waiting” for his harvest, and simple politeness in “waiting” for one another at a church dinner, are all described by the same word as Jesus “waiting” for the final destruction of his opponents, and God delaying the execution of his judgment!  These have nothing in common but a reasonable expectation of their eventual fulfillment.
But a completely different word is used regarding our “waiting” for the consummation of the Kingdom, while yet a third – a group of similar words – just refers to any mundane sort of expectation.

So where does this leave us?  On this side of Pentecost, maybe our focus needs to be less on the idea of “waiting”, and more on what we should be doing while we are waiting!  Especially in view of the fact that well more than half of the New Testament uses of the term refer to Jesus’ final, complete triumph, for which even the most faithful and obedient of his followers are still waiting!

On a more mundane level, when the Lord gives one or more of his people a particular assignment, it frequently involves waiting!
Perhaps specific preparation is required.
Perhaps a group of the Lord’s choosing needs to be assembled and/or motivated.
Perhaps the time is not yet ripe.
It could even be that a person or group is simply not listening!
I have experienced all of these, and I expect some of you have, too.  It might be helpful if we shared such occasions.  When have you had to “wait”, and how did you manage it?  When were you unwilling to “wait”, and what happened then?

The waiting group in Acts 1 with whom we began, spent some of their time “organizing” – which was NOT part of their instructions, as well as “paying constant attention to prayer”, which WAS.
The idea of “waiting” comes up repeatedly in the rest of the New Testament, in both narrative accounts and epistles.
For example, look at Paul’s instructions in I Cor.1:6-9 (read).

“The testimony of Christ has been established among you, so that you all are not lacking in any spiritual provision AS YOU ARE WAITING for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He will also establish you all until the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.   GOD IS FAITHFUL!  It’s through HIM that you all were CALLED INTO THE COMMUNITY OF HIS SON, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

 It is while “waiting” for the revelation of Christ that his people are (present tense) being “enriched with understanding” and that the testimony of Christ is being “established” among them, so that they “lack no spiritual provision.”  That is also when (and why) we/they are “called into the community of the Son of God,” to be “prepared for his coming.”
Please notice:
–Every one of the appearances of the word “you” in this passage is PLURAL!!!  Paul is not writing to individuals but to the GROUP!       AS A GROUP!!
–It is WHILE they are WAITING, together, that Jesus’ testimony is established among his people
–It is the GROUP that “lacks no spiritual provision”!  We as lonely individuals often lack such provisions!
–we are ALL CALLED into the community of the Son of God, to be prepared for his coming!
Jesus’ Kingdom does not consist of “Lone Rangers”!
The Lord’s faithful people desperately NEED that community in order to wait – or act – faithfully!

Many years later, Peter – remember the guy who earlier could not wait to get organized – wrote to a group that was under severe persecution, reassuring them that their longed-for deliverance WILL come, and urging them to live together faithfully in the peace and justice for which they are still WAITING. His two letters are filled with admonitions to WAIT FAITHFULLY TOGETHER for the Lord’s coming.
(Please notice that Peter was not operating under the modern delusion that one needs government legislation or permission to live faithfully!  Neither does he advocate demanding faithful behavior of the uncommitted.)
 Followers of Jesus are subject to DIFFERENT standards, because we are citizens of a DIFFERENT kingdom.  Although we are instructed to teach one another of our Lord’s ways, we are NOT called to impose those standards upon the uncommitted.

We are no longer “waiting” for the original coming of the Holy Spirit, our teacher and guide. He is presently active among his people!
But is it not possible that the record of our earliest brethren learning to wait is intended as a “practice session” in which we, too, are expected to learn faithfully, TOGETHER, to “WAIT” for our Lord’s instructions, as well as for the final consummation of his Kingdom?

As we learn to WAIT together, following the example of those earliest brethren, in prayer, in becoming a community, learning to cultivate the Spirit’s fruit, and FOLLOWING INSTRUCTIONS, may we help each other to wait faithfully!