by Rev. Jonathan Gale
1st June, 2014
Acts 1: 6 – 14
The Ascension of Jesus
6 So 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 towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards 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.’
Matthias Chosen to Replace Judas
12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. 13When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
John 17: 1 – 11
Jesus Prays for His Disciples
17After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
6 ‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
If your billionaire uncle, who loved you very much, was about to jump on a plane, and you knew you’d not see him again, what would you ask him for? I’m willing to bet it would probably be the thing uppermost in your mind that would pop out.
On resurrection day, as Jesus listens to the two disciples (who as you recall didn’t recognise him on the road to Emmaus), they express their biggest disappointment to him. “ … but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” they say (Luke 24: 21)
In our reading from Acts 1 Jesus is about to ascend to heaven, (I mean he’s literally about to take off), and the apostles get in a last request, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’
It’s certainly clear what they want, isn’t it? It’s presented in the form of a question but we know it’s a request really!
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.’
Jesus distracts the disciples. He changes the subject, and he tells them to expect the Holy Spirit and then get on with the real task – witnessing to him to the ends of the earth.
Being given a job to carry out to the ends of the earth quickly changes things. In essence they are given an answer that represents something other than the thing they long for, something God wants and which he knows is a far better thing; better for them and better for humankind. He will empower them for service in the Kingdom of God.
Beverly and I have been asked to share with you an example of a prayer request being answered by God and what I share illustrates that God answers prayer but, just as for our nationalistic disciples, it’s not necessarily what we expect: it’s normally better for us and for humankind.
The story begins with someone I know very well indeed. Henry is Faith’s Zimbabwean cousin and a remarkable man of God. Through sheer hard work Henry had saved up and bought a small farm that he believed God would use as a base to do great things for God.
All was going well until a group of politically and criminally motivated thugs arrived and informed him that they were taking his farm. He had two hours to get off. It was illegal but that’s what happens in Zimbabwe and the courts are so corrupt, fighting these land invasions is a waste of time.
Henry addressed the man they identified as the new owner and said, Philemon, as much as I have nowhere to go, and you have taken my life-long dream away from me in one day, I am not going to be bitter or angry with you. I want to bless you as you come onto this farm. I will assist you wherever I can. I want you to enjoy this farm as I have enjoyed it.
As a result he was given three months to vacate the land.
At the time Henry wrote, So to those who have heard about our farm grab. Please don’t on my account fan the flames of racial hatred and bitterness. Rather put your own trust completely in our dear Heavenly Father, and wait to see how wonderfully He is going to turn this situation for His glory!!
It was at this stage as I recall that Brecon’s Home Group began to pray for Henry and his wife Mandy.
Henry then heard that Philemon was ill. He offered to pray for him and he was healed! He then began to back off the farm grab. It looked as though Henry might be able to keep his farm.
However, the evil that is afoot in Zimbabwe was not about to abate. Others in the group brought what amounted to trumped up charges against Henry and a draining legal battle began. It became clear that Henry was facing a seven year jail term. Mandy suffered a breakdown and the couple fled the country with only the clothes on their backs and their suitcases.
To their credit, Brecon’s Home Group were praying regularly for Henry during the long court case and I was able to give them the occasional snippets of feedback, but the picture grew murky around the time of their escape from Zimbabwe for obvious reasons.
But the prayers continued and the Afrikaans press in South Africa publicised Henry’s story widely.
A group of people in Bloemfontein took Henry and Mandy under their wing, and provided them with a fully furnished home and a vehicle. Henry grew to be in great demand, especially in rural areas, as a preacher. Literally thousands of farmers in South Africa have been murdered since the ANC came into power and people wanted to hear from Henry. His loving response to aggressive hatred drew people to hear him minister. Henry’s ministry mushroomed and the demand has not abated after many months.
Initially Henry longed to keep his farm. But as things seemed to go from bad to worse, as prayers went up for him and Mandy from various corners of the world, God answered his prayer by giving them something far better; better for them and better for the many people who are being reached by his ministry.
About a month ago Henry was preaching in Auckland and popped along to Holy Trinity just in time for a cup of tea outside the hall. He wanted to thank the people who had prayed for him. I arrived back from Helensville and joined Faith, Henry and Mandy at the Navy Museum for lunch. I couldn’t help but be impressed by the love of Christ he exudes.
The ministry of prayer which we offer at Holy Trinity had much to do with enabling Henry and Mandy to experience God’s goodness in a remarkable way. Our prayers are still blessing hundreds of people in the ministry Henry now exercises in South Africa and beyond.
God answers prayer.