So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away. And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.
(Acts 1:6-14 ESV)
After all they had been through with Jesus, the statement of the disciples in Acts 1:6 always strikes me as the ultimate in “I don’t get it” thinking. It is as if Jesus had enlisted Gomer Pyle, Gilligan, and Barney Fife as his inner circle instead of John, James and Peter.
Jesus’ answer is both a reproof and an encouragement. First he says, “Oh come on! Are we going back to that?” I can almost hear Jesus inhale and sigh a deep, tired sigh. “It is clear that you don’t have power to understand all this yet. But you will receive power.”
The passage makes a really solid distinction for us between where you do and don’t receive power from God. First, you don’t receive power from God through political effort. An entire generation of the church was weaned on the idea that we could bring about the Kingdom by bringing kingdoms to Christ. But if you understand the prophecy of Psalm 2, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed,” and then listen carefully to Jesus’ own words throughout his ministry, there is no hint that he believed that political involvement would ever bring about the Kingdom of God.
You also don’t receive power from God by figuring out what he’s up to. Neither academic ability nor theological training will do it. The most recent foray into End Times calculation (May 21) proved again sadly that it is not for us to know the times or seasons. You can’t and won’t figure God out.
You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. But as Mr. Beaver reminded Lucy in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, “"One day you'll see him and another you won't. He doesn't like being tied down and of course he has other countries to attend to. It's quite all right. He'll often drop in. Only you mustn't press him. He's wild, you know. Not like a tame lion." (C.S. Lewis) It isn’t right to press the Holy Spirit. As if we could somehow master the art of controlling God!
You also will receive power as you witness to Jesus. But be careful here. The power to witness is not yours either. That’s the work, and the evidence of the Holy Spirit. So in some way witness is a by-product of having the Holy Spirit come upon you.
You won’t receive power from God by focusing on Heaven. As much as it may sound like that is setting your eyes on the prize, as they say, it isn’t. The more “holy” we try to seem by thinking and talking of Heaven, the less we’ll actually have our eyes focused on Jesus. He, himself, is the real prize. As Hebrews says, “Fix your eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith.” Paul says, “I want to know him and the power of his resurrection, and share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Knowing Jesus doesn’t so much mean wanting to be with him in Heaven. It means wanting to be wherever he is now. And where he is now is working through his Body in a world of suffering.
You will receive power in deep fellowship with other believers. Community. We only get a hint of it here in this passage, but Acts 2:42 and the tales of the early church that follow it flesh it out for us. That first Ascension Day the eleven surviving Apostles, the women who were part of the band of the disciples, and Jesus’ own family members all returned to the same second floor rental hall in downtown Jerusalem where they had celebrated Passover with Jesus just 43 days earlier. There they received power as they entered into deep fellowship with one another and with God.
Finally, you will receive power in prayer. I don’t mean the power to change circumstances. Way too much prayer time is spent asking God to change such minor things! Worse, too much prayer is spent in Thanksgiving because we don’t believe God can or will change the minor things, because we don’t believe he can or will be interested in the major things. The first business of prayer must be adoration. The more deeply we adore God for the simple fact of his being and how glorious it is that we know him, the more power we will derive from being united with his Spirit.