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This the Time?"
“Daddy, are we there yet? Are we there yet?”
“Daddy, how many more towns do we have to go through before we get there?”
“How much further is it?”
I was the oldest in a family of five children, and we did much traveling. Many trips from Kansas to the west coast and all points in between. So, although I have no children, I have heard these same questions asked many times. I probably asked them myself.
And I’m sure many of you have these same experiences. Experiences with impatient children.
But my parents developed coping strategies. And they were very ingenious and imaginative. They actually made our waiting exciting. For example, as we crossed western Kansas and eastern Colorado, there was a contest: Who would be first to see the mountains? My parents would often have us LOOKING for something. It occupied us during our waiting.
But there are times in our lives when we need to come to understand that what we are waiting for may never come. Or, if it does, it will be in a different form than we had originally hoped.
We may have dreams and visions, but circumstances can alter them, cause us to re-think them. Part of what constitutes mid-life crises in men is that one day, probably in his forties or fifties, a man thinks to himself, “This isn’t exactly what I had in mind. How did I GET here? And where am I going?”
But this is not a bad thing; in fact, I think it is quite a GOOD thing, because it is an indication that we are AWARE that changes have taken place in our lives, AWARE that maybe we need to adapt ourselves, make some course corrections.
Of course, this is all hindsight on my part, but I think that many of Jesus followers, during and after his time on earth, were re-thinking their messianic expectations. Many, but not all. Now you would think, that of all his followers, his disciples would most clearly understand that Jesus was NOT the Messiah that most of the Jews had in mind. So it should surprise us when we read, in the sixth verse of the opening chapter of Acts,
“So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Apparently, they still believe that Jesus, as Messiah, will be some kind of warlord who will overcome the Roman empire, and chase all those soldiers out of Israel.
Now, this can raise a whole bunch of questions for us. Did Jesus’ presence in their lives, his preaching, his teaching, his works, his death and resurrection, really make any difference?
Maybe Jesus was prepared for this sort of question. Maybe he anticipated this attitude. In any case, he does not respond to the “restore the kingdom” part of the question; but he does have an answer for “is this the time?”
“He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.”
You’ve probably heard me preach, on more than one occasion, that our time is not God’s time. Well, here it is for you in scripture.
But not only is God’s time not our time, but also God’s time is not even for us to know. And this should make us wonder about all the apocalypticists and eschatologists who are proclaiming that the end is near. How can they know? They can’t. Not if we believe these words of Jesus in scripture.
But beyond knowing--or not knowing--about the restoration of the kingdom, I think Jesus words are important for our daily lives. We want things to happen, and we want them to happen on our schedules.
We think that we deserve for things to happen for us, and we don’t understand why God does not positively, immediately respond to our prayers.
And why we continue with this impatience is rather strange, because there is such a huge record of successes, of miracles, taking a very long time to happen.
Although Jesus cannot give his disciples a timetable, he can tell them how God will be working through them:
“...you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the the earth.”
I’m reminded of what Jesus said to Nicodemus in the eighth verse of the third chapter of the gospel according to John:
“The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Now, all of this may not be much comfort to folks who want the times and places and procedures all neatly identified for their spiritual lives. But for those of us who do believe that God does have authority in these matters, and that God WILL act through the Holy Spirit when God sees fit, we should find assurance in Jesus words.
Jesus does say to his disciples, “You will be my witnesses.” And that is as far as he will go in responding to the question about the restoration of the kingdom.
“When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.”
Imagine that Jesus is personally appearing to you, and you have your want-list, like the disciples did. And you are impatient, as they were. And he tells you to get over your impatience. He doesn’t respond to your want-list. But he does tell you, “You will be my witness.” What do you make of that?
I think a couple of things are going on here. For one thing, he’s turned the tables on you. You’re all primed to tell him what YOU want, but he tells you what HE wants.
And for another, he does, in fact, grant you your want-list. It’s all tied up in “You will be my witness.”
You see, the only thing that Jesus is prepared to give us is himself; and the only way we can receive that is to be like him--to be his witness.
If we truly want God’s kingdom on earth, we need to be a witness for Jesus, to act like him, to behave as if the kingdom is already here, which, in our hearts, it already is.
So this is Luke’s account of Jesus final words before his ascension. Or one of his accounts. We think Luke wrote the book of the Acts, but he also had an ascension story in his gospel.
The ascension story that folks tend to be most familiar with is that of Matthew, and the form of Jesus’ last words is strikingly different. In Matthew, in what has come to be known as the great commission, Jesus gives his disciples things to do.
Almost as if they’re sitting there taking notes. “Go... make disciples... baptizing... teaching... remember.”
But Luke, at least in the Acts account, simply tells his disciples the role they will fill: “you will be my witnesses.”
“While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.”
And this is reminiscent of Luke’s telling of the visit of the women to the tomb on resurrection morning, as recorded in the twenty-fourth chapter of his gospel.
“They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them.”
So while the men were gazing up to heaven, and while the women were perplexed, suddenly these two men--likely angels--appear.
And I wonder to myself: how long did this gazing, this perplexity last? Why did God rush in to interrupt it? Most of our experiences of God in scripture are not of a God in a hurry. So why now?
Why couldn’t God just let these men and these women stand and stare and think about their experiences?
“They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Now, do these men in white robes think that they are answering some kind of question that the disciples have? They seem to be saying two things: first, he’ll be back; and second, he’ll return the same way he left.
But is that WHY the disciples are standing looking up toward heaven? I think there may be two levels of interpetation here. At one level, which is the level to which the two men in white robes are responding, the disciples are sad to see Jesus go. They will miss him.
But are they so crushed by the loss that they need these two angels to remind them that he will return?
I believe that there is another level of interpretation. I believe that the disciples are still considering his final words to them. They are pondering their meaning: you will be my witnesses.
And when we experience the loss of loved ones, we of course are saddened and miss their presence. But we also deeply consider the meanings of their lives.
“Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away.”
Again, I want to jump back to Luke’s gospel. I think I’m on safe grounds here, because most scholars do believe that Luke wrote the book of the Acts.
Anyway, in the forty-ninth verse, in the last message Jesus has for the disciples in that ascension story, he says to them,
“And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
THIS helps me make more sense of the twelfth through fourteenth verses of the opening chapter to Acts. This explains why the disciples headed back to Jerusalem. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus told them to.
But more importantly, they have a REASON for being there. They are awaiting to be clothed with power from on high.
But from another point of view, this can be scary. Jesus does not tell them how LONG they will need to wait. He simply says, “until.” Do they anticipate that this will be a number of days? A number of months? Maybe even years?
Well, fortunately for them, they do not need to wait long.
“When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.”
I suppose we usually think of the Upper Room as the place where Jesus and the disciples had their last supper. But how often do we think of it as the place where the disciples were staying as they awaited the power of the holy spirit?
Indeed our spiritual lives are frequently filled with long periods of waiting, and of not knowing what to expect from God, or when.
“All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.”
The disciples have come a long way in this passage of scripture. They started off with impatience and a wish-list: “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
But now, Jesus is gone, ascended. The angel messengers are gone. And the disciples are in seclusion in the room upstairs, praying.
They are trusting that they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them. They are focussed upon being witnesses for Jesus.
And that sounds like a good model for us. Can WE trust that we will receive--are receiving--power from God? And can WE be witnesses for Jesus?
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