This past Thursday marked the day of the Ascension—the day our resurrected Jesus rose up before his disciples, into the air, and ascended to the Father. Some observe and celebrate the Ascension on Thursday, some on the following Sunday. On Thursday we considered the words of Jesus declaring that he was going to prepare a place for us. Today we see the recorded event of the Ascension.
So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 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.” After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “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.” Acts 1:6-11
It seems the disciples—even before Jesus left—were as anxious as we are for Jesus to return and restore all things. He hasn’t even left yet and they are already asking him if now if the time for him to restore the kingdom. Sometimes Jesus must look on us like little kids persistently asking, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?”
I try to imagine what it would have been like to be there on that day. It must have been awesome to witness this, it must have been inspiring. It must also have been a little confusing. Here is Jesus declaring that significant things are about to happen. He is telling the disciples that they are going to play a critical role in sharing about him with others. And he’s talking about power—they will receive power. And then he is taken up. He starts to levitate, and then to rise, and rise and rise…and then he is gone, hidden behind the clouds. It’s hard to fathom the awe and terror they must have been feeling.
And then two angels appear and speak with them. Well I assume they were angels—it just says two men in white, but I feel pretty safe with that assumption! These angels appear and ask a question. A very important question.
Why are you standing here staring into the sky?
The implications are simple—and convicting. The disciples have seen great and amazing things in this resurrected Savior. Now he has given them great and awesome hope. A promise of power. And a directive to be witnesses.
And yet they stand…staring.
How often, I wonder, does the Spirit of God whisper to us, “Why are you standing there? Why are you just staring into your Bible instead of living it out? Why are you just watching those in need? Why do you just sit by while people struggle? Why do you just wait for Jesus to return and do nothing in the mean time?”
This interaction of the angels to the disciples is kind of a wake up call. A reminder. What are you looking at, you have work to do!
For the disciples the “work” was pretty simple. Go to Jerusalem and wait for the power; wait for the Spirit. But they were distracted by the what they had seen and they weren’t moving. I think sometimes our inaction is the same. True, at times we don’t act out of laziness or ignorance or a lack of compassion. But some times we are just distracted or overwhelmed. And we need these reminders.
The angels also add a reminder that this same Jesus who left will return, and in the same way he left. It’s kind of a reassurance. They won’t miss him if they stop looking and get to doing. They don’t need to try to cling to the last moment, they have new moments that wait. And they can’t bring him back sooner by just waiting.
May the remembrance of the Ascension remind us that yes, Jesus will return. But also that in the mean time we have things to do. We have been called to be his ambassadors, his hands and feet to the world. Let us not just stand here staring, whether we are staring into the sky, into the Word, or into the world. Let us be about witnessing, receiving power, and serving until he returns!