[Following the Resurrection] “When the apostles met together with Jesus, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?” Jesus said to them, “The times and occasions are set by my Father’s own authority, and it is not for you to know when they will be. But when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will be filled with power, and you will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After saying this, he was taken up to heaven as they watched him, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They still had their eyes fixed on the sky as he went away, when two men dressed in white suddenly stood beside them and said, “Galileans,why are you standing there looking up at the sky? This Jesus, who was taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way that you saw him go to heaven.” Then the apostles went back to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, which is about half a mile away from the city” (Acts 1:6-12).
The cross and resurrection of Christ was the strange and paradoxical way God chose to begin restoring his broken world and advancing his Kingdom of peace, love and hope. In another startling move, God then chose a rag-tag group of nobodies to be the vehicle by which he would spread the message and mission of this Kingdom throughout the entire world. The book of Acts tells the story of the trials and triumphs of this small, persecuted, grassroots Jesus movement as it made its way across the expansive Roman Empire.
Sound exciting? Well it was. The life of the early church looked much different from many of our experiences of the church today. Yet, early on they were faced with three threats that still tend to plague the church today — and they can be identified in the one bold question this angelic man asked the disciples immediately following Jesus’ ascension:
Why are you STANDING there LOOKING up into the SKY?
As Christians today strive to faithfully advance God’s Kingdom on earth we must be vigilant to avoid being a church of STANDERS, LOOKERS, and SKY-GAZERS.
1. STOP STANDING. God has called us to “GO and make disciples of all nations.” In the passage above, they all stood paralyzed, amazed at the power of God as he took Jesus from their sight. They had just asked whether it was the time for God to restore His Kingdom, and Jesus’ indirect answer is often taken to be a “no.” However, I believe Jesus intentionally changed the subject from WHEN to exactly HOW this Kingdom was to come. The disciples all expected a military revolt and overthrow of the Roman imperial forces. Jesus however seems to hint that it will begin to come when God pours out his Spirit on the disciples at Pentecost and they begin spreading a taste of His Kingdom to the ends of the earth. The Book of Acts is not a book of beliefs, doctrines, laws or ethics. It is what it says — a book of “acts.” As we read we are swept up into the wild and adventurous MOVEMENT of the Spirit, and we travel along with Peter and Paul and the rest. The message of the Gospel MOVES thousands of miles from Jerusalem to Rome in only 28 chapters. The church today needs to become once again a people on the move, a forward-marching Kingdom-advancing church who take an active role in spreading God’s love, joy, peace, forgiveness, grace, healing and hope “to the ends of the earth.” There is too much standing around. “Go, therefore, and make disciples…”
2. STOP WATCHING. It is also easy to become a spectator in the church today. In fact, the way we have designed our “services” often encourages a multi-media presentation where the pastors and worship leaders DO everything and the rest of us sit rather passively in the audience observing the service, watching the pastors, receiving a message (i.e., “being fed”) and then leaving. Outside the Sunday service, we can also easily hide in the shadows watching others volunteer for service projects, go on missions trips, teach Sunday School classes, volunteer in the nursery, etc. Many of us generously give money toward the work of the Kingdom so that we can avoid actively getting involved in the nitty-gritty work of Kingdom-building. The mission of the church in and for the world is a truly hands-on project that involves real, messy involvement. We are called to be not only “hearers of the Word, but doers also.” Remember James’ rather pointed reminder: “My friends, what good is it for one of you to say that you have faith if your actions do not prove it? Can that faith save you” (Jam 2:14)? Let us stop watching, and start actively engaging in the work of advancing the Kingdom.
3. STOP SKY-GAZING. Finally, the disciples in this episode were fixated on the sky (“They still had their eyes fixed on the sky” v. 10), as if that was where all the action was to be. Granted, you don’t see a man ascend into the clouds everyday, so we should probably cut them some slack. But 2,000 years later there are entire strands of the church who are still staring into the clouds awaiting rescue. I speak of all escapist, dualistic versions of Christianity where the entire goal of the Gospel is to wait for Jesus to come back and take us up (“rapture”) into some heaven in the sky for all eternity. Many today are realizing the folly in this gnostic-like view, and are again placing their hope in the God of Creation whose desire it is to bring the New Jerusalem down to earth, to “make all things new,” dwell once again with his people (cf. Rev 21:22-25), and finally establish his righteous, restorative reign “on earth as it is in the heavens” (Matt 6:10). We are to partner with the God of Creation and to become wise stewards of his beautiful world that is “groaning for liberation” even now (Rom 8). God is coming — no doubt about that! Yet, as we await our savior from a high, we are to be focusing our eyes on those around us who are filthy with the dirt and grime of this world, and bring God’s love, hope and healing to them. We need to stop staring at the sky, and start bringing a little taste of heaven to those suffering here on earth.
So, as we move away from Resurrection Sunday to business as usual, let us make sure we are not still “standing there looking up at the sky.” Let’s get busy announcing and building the Kingdom!
1. Which of the 3 errors do you personally tend toward? Are you a STANDER, LOOKER, or SKY-GAZER?
2. Which of these 3 postures most accurately describes the American church today?
3. Do these 3 categories help classify the particular weaknesses of various denominations of the Church?
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