Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Apostles See Jesus Ascend - 1:9-11

The Apostles See Jesus Ascend - 1:9-11

9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Let's start this section with two questions: (1) Did the ascension of Jesus literally happen? (2) If so, what is its permanent significance?

1) Did the ascension of Jesus literally happen? Short Answer, YES! But let's give some reasons as to why we can believe that: (1) We are not claiming that people frequently or even occasionally rise from the dead or ascend into heaven, but rather that both events have happened one time in the person of Jesus. (2) The ascension is assumed throughout the rest of the New Testament (3) Luke plays by the KISS rule, Keep it Simple, Stupid. There is no long drawn out exaggeration, mysticism, symbolism, or even poetry like we find in normal fictions of legends. Luke tells it like simple history. (4) Luke emphasizes the presence of eyewitnesses, and repeatedly refers to what they saw with their own eyes - he was taken up before their eyes; a cloud hid him from their sight; they were looking intently; the two angels said to them, 'why do you stand here looking'; this same Jesus will come back in the same way you have seen him go - Why is this significant? Because what we have is five short accounts that stressed that the ascension was visible (5) We are not given another explanation as to why the post-resurrection appearances ceased, nor are we told of an alternative place that Jesus disappeared to. (6) The visible, historical ascension had a very intelligible purpose. Jesus was not trying to beat NASA to become the first astronaut. Though heaven is probably dimensional rather than 'out there in space' which would require the 'beam me up Scotty mode' or an actual upward ascension, I think the reason for a public and visible ascension is because he wanted them to know that he had gone for good. During the forty days he had kept appearing, disappearing and reappearing, but now this interim period was over, and they needed a physical representation for that.

2) What is the permanent value of the ascension story? Okay, so great, this is a wonderful historical reality, but what does it mean for us today? In order to understand Luke's focus as he tells the ascension story, we need to pay attention to those
two men who stood by them in white robes, and spoke to them. These two angels asked the apostles a question we should ask ourselves, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?" Why did they ask them this question? First, we know they weren't really looking for an answer, as they quickly answered their own question, but rather they were 'correcting' them. So the reason that they gave to wasting their time looking into the heavens was, "Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven" in other words, He's gonna come back, don't waist your time looking up; you're not going to bring him back by gazing up into the sky. Jesus was gone, and they needed to let him go! Secondly, the implication of the Angels was that until Christ comes again, the apostles must get on with their calling (being a witness). There was something fundamentally contradictory about their gazing up into the 'heavens' when they had been commissioned to go to the ends of the earth. The mission they were to be on was not upwards in sentimentality, or simply remembering or hoping for the return for the 'good-ole' days through looking up into the 'heavens' were Jesus went. Rather the vision was to be outwards in compassion to a lost world which needed him.

So here's the deal: This is the same command to us, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?" Let's drop that question in the time travel machine and bounce up hre to the 21st centruy and re-ask the question, "Men and Women of Austin; Men and Women of Texas; Men and Women of the United States; Men and Women of the church, why do we waste our time looking into the sky, why do we waste our time on very secondary issues like who's listening to what music, how to 'be blessed;' who said what cuss word; who's better the calvinist or the arminians; am I being moral enough for God to love me more; is Obama the anti-Christ, etc, fill in the blank, you know better than anyone the minor issues that you major on..." Here is the point, obsession with the 'times and seasons or any issue for that matter that takes our eyes off of the mission of God' are 'carrots' which distract us from our God-given mission. Christ will come personally, visibly, gloriously, Christ will answer all of our questions one day, or will show us that they were so silly that they vanish the light of his glory, either way, "what is distracting you from being mission-sighted". Why is that important for us to know? So we don't waste our time 'looking into the heavens' rather to be about our mandate, the missio dei!

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