Watch and Pray.


12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 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. 14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. Acts 1:12-14 ESV

Just before His ascension, Jesus had instructed the disciples to return to Jerusalem and to wait the arrival of the Holy Spirit.

And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” – Luke 24:49 ESV

And that is exactly what Luke says they did. They traveled back from Olivet, located just outside the eastern city walls of Jerusalem, passing through the Kidron Valley and returning to the upper room where they had been staying. In the listing provided by Luke, we are given the names of the 11 remaining disciples. Missing is Judas, the one who had betrayed Jesus and who had taken his own life as a result. Matthew records in his gospel the final hours of Judas’ life.

When Judas, who had betrayed him, realized that Jesus had been condemned to die, he was filled with remorse. So he took the thirty pieces of silver back to the leading priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he declared, “for I have betrayed an innocent man.”

“What do we care?” they retorted. “That’s your problem.”

Then Judas threw the silver coins down in the Temple and went out and hanged himself.

The leading priests picked up the coins. “It wouldn’t be right to put this money in the Temple treasury,” they said, “since it was payment for murder.” After some discussion they finally decided to buy the potter’s field, and they made it into a cemetery for foreigners. That is why the field is still called the Field of Blood. This fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah that says,

“They took the thirty pieces of silver—
    the price at which he was valued by the people of Israel,
10 and purchased the potter’s field,
    as the Lord directed.” – Matthew 27:3-10 NLT

It seems that Judas had second thoughts about his betrayal of Jesus and had attempted to absolve himself of any guilt by returning the silver paid to him by the Jewish religious leadership. He had not anticipated the intense ramifications of his decision. He never intended for Jesus to be killed. Perhaps he had simply been trying to force Jesus’ hand and get him to inaugurate His kingdom. But it was too late. The deed was done. The die had been cast and Jesus had been crucified. So, in a state of despair, Judas had killed himself.

But his betrayal had not derailed the ministry of Jesus. Had he waited, he would have learned that Jesus was far from dead. The kiss he had delivered to the cheek of Jesus that fateful night in the garden had been a death sentence, but it had not put an end to the plan of God for the redemption of mankind. Jesus rose again, and He appeared to the 11 remaining disciples. He had given them instructions and now there gathered in that upper room waiting for the arrival of the Holy Spirit.

And Luke tells us they were not alone. There in the room with them were others who had followed Jesus and supported His ministry, including the four half-brothers of Jesus: James, Joses, Judas and Simon (Mark 6:3). Mary, the mother of Jesus, was also there, along with other women who had been His faithful followers. And Peter tells us that “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14 ESV). They were waiting, but they were busy. In spite of Jesus’ assurance that the Comforter would come, they had no idea what to expect. This was all unexplored territory for them. Jesus was gone and they were on their own, facing the continuing hostility of the Jewish religious authorities. They knew something was going to happen, but they had no concept of what it would entail. So, they prayed and they waited. No doubt, they talked and reminisced about the days when Jesus walked and ministered among them. They probably took turns telling stories that recalled the three years they had spent with Him. They most likely discussed His resurrection and the unexpected joy of finding Him alive. These must have been confusing and exciting days, as this small remnant of faithful followers huddled together in the close confines of that upper room. There must have been an eager air of anticipation mixed with a healthy dose of fear and anxiety.

They must have recalled and discussed the words of Jesus, spoken just before His death.

18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” – John 15:18-20 ESV

Were they going to suffer the same fate as He did? Would their waiting end up in persecution or possible execution? They had no way of knowing. They had seen how Jesus’ life had ended. Would theirs end the same way? They had plenty of reasons to think this way, because Jesus had inferred it.

1 “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you. – John 16:1-4 ESV

Was this the hour to which Jesus had been referring? Were they going to face death? Would the coming of the Holy Spirit be accompanied by their own martyrdoms? They had not way of knowing. All they could do is wait and pray. But what were they praying for? Luke doesn’t tell us. But we can assume that they prayed for God’s comfort, strength, mercy, protection and peace. And that last thing would have been significant because it is exactly what Jesus desired for them to have.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33 ESV

The days ahead were filled with the unknown. They were about to receive the promised gift of the Holy Spirit, but had no idea what that would entail. Jesus had told them the world would hate them. He warned them that the world would persecute them. But He had also promised to send the Holy Spirit to comfort, guide, assist and empower them.

13 “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” – John 16:13-14 ESV

As I think about the disciples sitting in that upper room waiting and praying, I can’t help but recall that night in the garden when Jesus had asked the disciples to watch and pray as He went alone to talk with the Father.

36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” 37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” – Matthew 26:36-38 NLT

But when Jesus returned, he found them Peter, James and John all asleep, and He said to them, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:40-41 NLT). Two additional times, Jesus returned to find the three disciples sound asleep. The final time, He said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand” (Matthew 26:45-46 NLT).

But as the disciples sat in the upper room, they were wide awake and alert. They had learned to expect the unexpected. They had discovered the secret that following Christ was never quite what you thought it would be. They had no idea what was coming, but they were far from sleepy. Their minds were on high alert, eagerly anticipating the next phase of this incredible journey of faith as followers of Jesus. And isn’t that exactly how it should be? Outside the doors of that upper room there was a world who hated them. There were Jewish religious leaders who had it out for them. Death was a distinct possibility for them. But Jesus had told the, “take heart; I have overcome the world.”

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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