Why are you standing here

May 28, 2017

Summary

“While he was going away and as they were staring toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood next to them.  They said, ‘Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven?’”

I just quoted verses 10 and 11 again.  What an interesting question it is that the two men in white, presumably angels ask of the disciples.

The disciples are in the midst of watching their Rabbi, their Lord and Savior miraculously disappear from their sight into the clouds, it is a sight they have never seen before and will never see again.  Jesus speeding heavenward is not a sight they had expected to see, they did not know he was leaving right then and there, and so, there they stand, staring into the cloud into which he disappeared, they stand, staring into the heavens.

A person might imagine what they are thinking.  “Why did he go?  Where did he go?  Is he coming back?  Can I go with him into heaven?”

At this moment the disciples’ focus is upon Jesus ascension into heaven, rightly so, correct?  I mean they are in the midst of experiencing a miracle, they should be staring toward heaven, right?

Well, it seems God doesn’t want them to get stuck focusing too long upon what has been or what might be, but rather wants them to move immediately to what should be and so he sends the angels.  We have to remember what the disciples are like.  Jesus had to constantly help the disciples to focus upon what was truly important during their years of ministry together.  So the two angels are sent to ask this important question, at this critical moment in the lives and careers of the disciples.

When Jesus taught, or was trying to make a point, too often the disciples were not understanding what it was that Jesus was teaching them, or saying to them.  When he was modeling for them love for all people, they grumpily muttered that he shouldn’t be speaking to a Samaritan woman.  When Jesus was teaching about how the last shall be first, the disciples were instead arguing over which of them was the greatest.  The disciples often missed the main point of Jesus’ teaching, at least right away, and he had to share it again more bluntly.

Even here, in this text, the last conversation that the disciples have with Jesus in Acts, they reveal that they have not understood what Jesus was truly all about.  At this last moment they are still questioning the restoration of the kingdom to Israel, meaning that they have not understood that Jesus, the Messiah in his death and resurrection restored God’s Kingdom, not to Israel, but in himself to the whole world.  This is a fact that they will not truly understand until the Holy Spirit comes upon them at Pentecost revealing the reality and truth of this restoration within them.

In fact the last time Jesus speaks to his disciples in Acts he re-focuses them.  They want to understand God’s plan for Israel, while Jesus wants them to understand God’s plan for the world.

So, Jesus gives them their mission.  It is a mission that starts at home,  Jesus says, “…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea. ”  Isn’t this a little bit like what they were asking about the kingdom being restored to Israel?  Yet, very quickly Jesus sends them where they may not want to go by continuing with the words, “and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

It is like he is saying to his followers, “By the way, you don’t get to just tell what you’ve seen and heard to those whom you are comfortable with, like your fellow Jews in Jerusalem and Judea, but you’ve also got to go beyond, and witness to your hated enemies, the Samaritans as well.  And then, you’ve got to put on your walking shoes and go witness out beyond even the known world, to everyone, for the whole world needs to hear and experience my love.”

Jesus always calls us to more than we think we can do, or want to do, or are comfortable doing.

And so, at this moment of Christ’s ascension, the disciples are not allowed to focus even for a moment in the wrong place.  The two men in white robes immediately ask the question that forces the disciples to re-focus upon the mission that Jesus has just given them, “Why are you standing here, looking toward heaven?”

Jesus has just commissioned them to their life’s work, he has just told them what will happen next, and he can’t have them getting lost in what they would like or desire, but instead God needs them to focus upon the work at hand.

In fact he has just told them that they will not have to accomplish their mission under their own power even, for he has promised them the Holy Spirit, the presence and power of God. They will not go alone, the Holy Spirit will go with them.

And this is the important point for you and me. The Apostles were not allowed to sit around and lose their focus. Jesus had given them a mission, and promised that God would go with them in their mission.

We are given the same mission today. We need to hear Jesus’ words with our own ears, we need to ponder them in our own hearts, and we need to re-focus upon them today.

We too are being called to be witnesses of Jesus Christ, to tell of what we know and what we have experienced in our faith lives. We are being called to share with our neighbors in the world what it means for us to know that we are forgiven of our sins. The world needs to hear from our mouths how Jesus’ forgiveness given because of his love, changes our realities. We do not live life bound by our mistakes and wrong-doings, but rather Jesus calls us to learn from them, grow from them, and then move forward in our lives. We can only share Jesus’ love, when we know it intimately and when we believe that it is given for us, and lives in our hearts.

How can I preach to you about forgiveness, if I do not believe that Jesus forgives me and leads me forward in his love? I can’t!

But, when I have experienced Jesus’ gracious love in my salvation from the effects of sin, well then, then I can truly and genuinely share it in and through my life. I can tell others what it feels like to be forgiven, and to know that when I sin again, which I will, I can go before the Lord and with a contrite heart confess my sins, and receive forgiveness again.

You see, we can only share what we truly know.

The disciples whom Jesus called to go and witness, knew of what they were speaking. They had followed Jesus, listened to him teach and preach, watched him cure the sick, raise the dead, and argue with the religious leaders, and they knew his forgiveness, because they knew his love.

We too know his love, or if you don’t, you can! For Jesus loves you, Jesus loves us, and so he forgives us of our sin, and calls us to live out our new life, by sharing our joy in him, with the world.

No, it’s not always going to be easy, for just like Jesus called the disciples to witness to those who lived beyond their comfort zones, so too, he calls us.

I cannot name those places of un-comfortability, or even fear for each of you, for you know them better than me. But do know, that witnessing to Jesus’ power in your life will not always be easy or comfortable, and yet, and yet we still need to open our mouths, extend our hands of help, and move our feet to go to those whom we are called. But, we can do it in the knowledge and faith that God, the Holy Spirit goes with us, and will fill us with the power, the words, and the deeds we need in order to share, in order to love the world.

So, this morning open your ears and hear Jesus say, “…and you will be my witnesses in Oslo, in all Norway and Europe, and to the ends of the earth.”

Go, and tell of your faith in Jesus and his love in the world.

Amen.

Bible References

  • Acts 1:6 - 14
  • John 17:1 - 11

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