The Ascension of Our Lord – Acts 1:1-11
Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?
That is the question of the angels to the apostles as they stare upward, straining their necks to get one last glimpse of Jesus as He ascends into heaven.
The implication in the question of the angels however is that the apostles need to stop staring into heaven and get about doing what Jesus commanded them to do; for in St. Matthew 28, Jesus final words are Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And in Acts 1:8, just before He ascends, Jesus says You will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and Samaria and to the end of the earth.
Why do you stand looking into heaven, when you have been given very clear instructions to spread the Word and call many to faith in anticipation of the return of Christ?
And while the apostles do spread the Word with passion to the ends of the earth, they never really stop looking into heaven; they never really leave Mount Olivet. The assumption of the apostles is always that Jesus is returning soon; and not just returning soon, but that He will return in their own life times; and that the wait for the consummation is not going to be very long.
After all, Jesus did say that He would be returning soon.
Some 2000 years later, we seemingly know better. The apostles were right about the need for passion and urgency in spreading the Word, but they were wrong about the timetable in when Jesus would return.
How much wiser are we? We know Jesus words that He would return at a time and hour that the world does not know; and that means we should build houses and live in them; plant vineyards and eat of their produce; marry and be given in marriage as well as raise up children, even in this late generation when the hour of the return of Christ is nearer to us now than when we first believed; and above all, we are to continue to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
And yet, how much wiser are we really than the apostles?
We confess with accuracy that Christ will return at an hour that we do not know and do not expect. And yet, we have turned this from an age of anticipation into an age of procrastination.
Everything in life is now delayed. Do not do anything until you decide what your career will be. Do not marry until you are out of college. Do not have children until every cent of your student debt is paid off. Do not give to the Church until all your bills are paid and you have put money into savings. Do not make any plans on your own until you know what everyone else is doing first.
And this procrastination even extends into the Church. Do not build or call or do anything until you have sufficient funding. Do not preach the Law until you know the full situation. Do not preach the Gospel until someone has truly repented. Do not baptize until the person is old enough to decide for themselves that they believe. Do not speak about the faith until you have gained the trust of the one that you desire to witness to.
Why can you spend so much time waiting, both in your personal life and in your spiritual life?
Because unlike the apostles, we are not looking up into heaven at all; instead we are staring at the ground; content to remain on earth for as long as we possibly can, no questions asked. Like many of the Jews today, we have given up on this idea of Christ returning to judge the living and the dead, and have gotten quite comfortable with life on earth. Oh yes, we confess eternal life in Paradise, but the idea of Christ rending the heavens and coming into our midst flanked by archangels?
Not in our lifetimes.
And so we can spend our days indulging in all the pleasures of life; putting off things for as long as need be; because it’s not like Christ is going to return any time soon.
And so the angels come to you and ask Believers of today; why do you stand here staring at the ground?
The implication is clear. Christ is returning soon; and there needs to be a passion and energy in spreading the Gospel to those who do not believe; as well as a recognition on our own part that the things of this world will take care of themselves. Delaying things as though there were an infinite number of tomorrows is negligent; for the number of tomorrows is very finite indeed.
The retort many will make is when exactly is Christ going to return then?
Much like the apostles on Mount Olivet, the day and the hour are hidden from us. Perhaps tonight; perhaps on the next random date selected by some random cult leader; or perhaps not for another 2000 years.
What we do know is that the return of Christ will be loud; it will be thunderous; it will be known by both believer and unbeliever alike.
But it will have one aspect in common with the first coming of Christ. Jesus was born in the Bethlehem manger, and made His way to Calvary’s cross at just the right time. He was not born or crucified at a time determined by man; rather He came into the world at a time that was determined to be good and right by God.
So to with His return. It may not come at a time that we desire; but it will come at a time and in a way that God Himself desires to be good and right.
And so we pray Come Lord Jesus, come quickly among us. And we do so not with our heads stretched upward, ignoring the world that is around us; nor do we do so with our heads slumped downward, ignoring the heavens which are above us.
We do so with our eyes focused on the cross which stands ever before us; a reminder of the great sacrifice that was offered upon it for all people; a comfort of the great promise that Christ spoke before He ascended that ‘Lo, I am with you always until the end of the age’; and an assurance that Christ will return and take us to be with Him for all time.
Focus on the cross; not on the heavens above or on the ground below.
Focus on the cross; not on the clouds or on the material things of this world.
Focus on the cross, for that is where forgiveness, life and salvation are found; that is where you will see Jesus, until the day you will see Him in glory; not with your necks strained upward, or your head sloped downward, but rather face to face in the splendors of His eternal kingdom.