The Ascension of Jesus
The Book of Acts 1:1-14 (The Bible verses are in bold, my comments in italics)
Dear Theophilus [this may be the name of a particular person, or it might be a general address to believers, since it means ‘Lover of God’], in the first volume of this book [the Gospel according to Luke] I wrote on everything that Jesus began to do and teach until the day he said good-bye to the apostles, the ones he had chosen through the Holy Spirit, and was taken up to heaven. After his death, he presented himself alive to them in many different settings over a period of forty days [plenty of appearances to validate the truth of his resurrection]. In face-to-face meetings, he talked to them about things concerning the kingdom of God. As they met and ate meals together [eating was important to note – it shows that the resurrected Jesus was not a ‘ghost’ but had a real body], he told them that they were on no account to leave Jerusalem but “must wait for what the Father promised: the promise you heard from me. John baptized in water; you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit. And soon.” [baptism = immersion; having the Holy Spirit envelop them as the water in the Jordan River does. The Holy Spirit fills them, transforms them, gives them a new heart.]
When they were together for the last time they asked, “Master, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now? Is this the time?” [the disciples were still waiting for Jesus to save them from Roman occupation. They are still asking the wrong questions, same as we are tempted to today. They still did not understand fully that his mission was on a global and eternal scale.]
He told them, “You don’t get to know the time. Timing is the Father’s business. What you’ll get is the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world.” [this is a huge promise to simple, uneducated Galilean fishermen! It also suggests that we shouldn’t waste time speculating on when Jesus will come again, but rather, to get going and witness. Witnesses witness to the truth of the gospel: the truth of justice for the whole world, the love of enemies, and the care for the marginalized and outcast.]
These were his last words. As they watched, he was taken up and disappeared in a cloud. They stood there, staring into the empty sky. Suddenly two men appeared—in white robes! They said, “You Galileans!—why do you just stand here looking up at an empty sky? [as in: don’t just stand there, there is work to be done!] This very Jesus who was taken up from among you to heaven will come as certainly—and mysteriously—as he left.” [and we are still waiting, thanks to the grace of God, so that Christian witness may indeed reach the ends of the earth and all people will understand that Jesus has overturned the old ways, that ultimately, God’s ways are the answer to our troubled world and lives. We live in the in-between-time, between the end of the age held by the powers of death and evil – because Jesus had overcome those – and the new age where there will be no more tears and suffering, which is not yet fully realized. We know, because of our messy world, that the old order has no yet fully passed away. At the same time, we know, that Jesus has taught us a new way of being. It is the poor and the marginalized who will be first in the Kingdom of Heaven.]
So they left the mountain called Olives and returned to Jerusalem. It was a little over half a mile. They went to the upper room they had been using as a meeting place: Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James, son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, Judas, son of James. They agreed they were in this for good, completely together in prayer, the women included. Also Jesus’ mother, Mary, and his brothers. [the men in white suggested they do something – and the thing they do first is wait and pray together. These are the two primary activities of faithful followers. Our waiting implies that the things that need doing are beyond our ability to do by our own effort. Some other empowerment is needed. The gift of the Holy Spirit, for which the disciples are waiting, is also our gift, and it empowers us to live as faithful followers of Jesus, waiting and praying and doing kingdom work.]
Jesus has taught the disciples the basics over the three years of his ministry. They have watched him heal people, love people, berate the hypocritical ‘holier than thou’ religious leaders of his time. Jesus has shown them what it is like to live as if in heaven. Now it was time for the disciples to do the same. In the Gospel of John, John records Jesus saying, “So let me say it again, this truth: It’s better for you that I leave. If I don’t leave, the Friend (Holy Spirit) won’t come. But if I go, I’ll send him to you.” (John 16:7)
We also know that living with Jesus, even for three years like his disciples did, doesn’t mean they know everything there is to know about the Kingdom of Heaven. To prove the point, even in today’s passage from Acts, after the resurrection, they still ask questions about Jesus restoring Israel from Roman rule. Just before Jesus died on the cross, he told his disciples, “I still have many things to tell you, but you can’t handle them now. But when the Friend comes, the Spirit of the Truth, he will take you by the hand and guide you into all the truth there is.” (John 16:12)
The disciples respond by waiting and praying. They do not know the time. They trust God’s timing. In the meantime, they wait and pray. Wait and pray. When we don’t know the next step, it is good to wait and pray, and trust in God’s timing.
It is when we accept the Holy Spirit from God that we also will be guided into all truth. This is a journey. Our hearts are changed for sure, but our eyes only gradually learn the truth of God. We learn to see the world in a new way – through the eyes of faith. And we learn to share this Good News with those who don’t yet believe.
We accept the Holy Spirit in baptism. Jesus baptises people with the Holy Spirit to empower them to live according to his example. We will see, at the next Cornerstone meeting, the changes which the Holy Spirit caused in the disciples. Water baptism in the church is an outward indication of the changes that take place within us when we accept Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life in our own lives.
John 14:12 “The person who trusts me will not only do what I’m doing but even greater things, because I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that I’ve been doing.”