Our passage for Sunday, June 2 was Acts 1:3-11.
3 After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 6 So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. 10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” NIV
This last Sunday was Ascension Sunday, set apart for remembering and celebrating Jesus’ dramatic return into heaven. It stands distinct from the resurrection in that in the resurrection Jesus was raised from the dead to life. Forty days later he was raised from any earthly physical presence, thereby called “the Ascension,” into heaven where our creeds state he now “sits at the right hand of God, the Father” until he returns to reign on earth.
The importance of the resurrection is to provide definitive proof of Jesus claim to be the Savior of humanity and rightful Lord of life. Luke describes this saying that by his resurrection Jesus gave many convincing proofs of his true identity. These appearances were made with individuals, small groups and to over 500 people gathered together in one place. There is no excusing away these appearances as hallucinations. Add this to the missing body, the willingness of followers to embrace martyrdom, and several other historical facts it is difficult to contest the claim of Jesus.
Yet, besides this we have the account of Jesus’ ascension to provide further evidence of Jesus’ claims on our devotion. Jesus’ resurrection gave the opportunity for Jesus to convince his disciples of who he was and also afforded him the opportunity to reinforce what he taught them which forms the core of our gospel accounts. He was also able to provide them a clear definition of their purpose and commission to service.
Sunday, my theme was “What are you waiting for?” I’d ask that question of you now: What are you waiting for from God? Some wait for healing – physical or emotional. Others wait for God to fix broken relationships or to provide for them the life they envision they deserve or desire. Some seek justice while others desire assurance of forgiveness, or of self-worth. Some wait for assurance of eternal life or reunion with loved ones who have passed in death. What are you waiting for?
The disciples were waiting to have the ancient promise of the prophets for the restoration of the nation to it former and even greater prominence. They asked if was now time that God would restore the kingdom to Israel? We all have our agendas but a disciple is called to embrace the agenda of God over our own.
Jesus replied that it was not for them to know when or how. Rather as they waited for God’s promises to be fulfilled they had work to do. They were to become witnesses to take the gospel throughout the world, starting small and local where they were. They were to wait once again for the most immediate promise to be fulfilled in them that of receiving the Holy Spirit which would endow them with power to accomplish what God wanted them to do.
It always seems like we are waiting for God’s timing. The disciples were left standing and looking up as Jesus was taken from them, baffled by what Jesus meant and what was now happening. God provided for them two angels to break their paralysis by reminding them that in our waiting for God to act there are matters entrusted to us to do. Waiting for God is not passive. Too many Christians are passive when they should be engaged in accomplishing the tasks God has assigned us in life.
We as the disciples who witnessed Jesus’ ascension are to through aside our personal agendas to embrace that of God’s. They were to be obedient and return to Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit to come upon them. They did not know when that might be though we know it took place some ten days later at what we call Pentecost. But what were they to do as they waited? I imagine they would discuss what they had experienced and heard Jesus teach them. They would pray and struggle within themselves to have faith. I believe the time would prepare them for when they were to act. God would show them when and how God would call them into service.
One thing is certain, waiting is uncomfortable and unsettling but a necessary time for preparation for what challenge awaits us. The question remains whether we are preparing ourselves through prayer, study and worship for when God calls us to act. Do not put the cart before the horse – prepare to be used, watch and listen and we shall know when to step out. Jesus will send the Holy Spirit and we shall know without a shadow of a doubt when it is time.