So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But 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 earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 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.” 12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. 13 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. 14 All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
These apostles have given up a lot to follow Jesus around for these last three or so years. They left their livelihoods, their families, their security, and their whole way of life in order to live and learn from Jesus. Where he went, they wanted to go. What he did, they tried to do. What he taught, they attempted to learn.
They were shocked when he was arrested, and devastated when he was killed. But they were then filled with new hope when he was raised from death 40 days ago. So when he gathered them on a mountain outside Jerusalem, they eagerly went. After all they’d been through with him, surely now he must be getting ready to close this deal, to make all things right. If persecution, trial, and even death can’t stop Jesus, nothing could stand in his way now. So this must be God’s time: To end their poverty and their oppression. To put Rome back in its place. To reward the righteous and condemn the wicked. Yes, surely now would be that time.
And when they were gathered on the mountain with Jesus, they pose their big question to him one more time. “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” Is this when we are vindicated, when you will show the world that we are God’s people, with all the rights and privileges that accompany it? We’ve followed you all this time, we’re ready to follow you across the finish line. Whatever it takes, Jesus, we’re with you.
Jesus’ answer has to be disappointing to say the least. “None of your business,” he tells them. God takes care of all that end-of-time justice. No, your job is going to be quite different. Ultimately, your job is to share what I’ve been teaching you in your neighborhoods, across your country, and throughout the world. The Holy Spirit will show you.
This isn’t really what they were expecting, and way different than they were hoping for. They are still thinking Jesus to bring power and strength and overthrowing those who stand in our way. But his very last words to them, ever, are to share his message of peace, of love, forgiveness, and compassion to everyone.
Then, before they could ask for more clarification, Jesus is gone in a cloud. Just gone. They stand there staring with their mouths hanging open, confused and unsure what to do.
So they return to Jerusalem, back to their room—and do nothing.
That’s where I have a problem.
All twelve of them, plus all the faithful women, just sat down and did nothing. The last thing Jesus said was to be witnesses, to share his message. He said it will start here in Jerusalem, then spread. It seems pretty clear that since Jerusalem is where they are to start, someone can come up with a plan of some sort. Someone. Something. After following Jesus around, listening to his teaching, watching how he did everything, surely someone would have picked up some idea of how to begin. At least begin doing something along the lines of what this man who has been raised from the dead told you to do. His last words to you.
Ideas? Anyone? Hello? Peter, you’re never at a loss for words. Anything? John, you were his favorite. Nothing? Mary, his own mother? No? No one?
And they sat. And waited. Like lazy, helpless people. Do something! What are you waiting for?!
Sometimes, when the disciples are most incompetent, that’s when God speaks the loudest. Go back and take another look at what Jesus actually did tell them. After he told them to mind their own business about the end of time, Luke records Jesus as saying, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” Then he describes what that looks like, sharing his teaching of peace with the world. Not yet empowered by the Holy Spirit, they weren’t equipped to do what Jesus had told them.
There’s a huge difference between doing something and doing something empowered by God’s Spirit. One is just flapping your arms, the other is actually flying.
I’ve been trained by our surrounding culture to get busy, to accomplish stuff, get moving. The early bird gets the worm, and all that. That’s good, actually. But apparently, there’s more to it than that. There’s the reason for working hard, the motivation for being busy, the purpose for trying to accomplish something. It’s not just our effort, but it’s our effort in keeping with God’s agenda. And waiting for God’s agenda isn’t what our culture supports us doing. Yet that’s what these clumsy, ignorant apostles did. And it was one time they got it right. Not just doing, but doing with God.
For example, I’m coming to believe that there’s a reason why Sunday Schools all over the country are transforming. Not because the agenda isn’t good, but because the Holy Spirit isn’t behind the agendas. We teach morals and good stories, and there’s nothing wrong with that; but we neglect what God’s purpose in all of it is. We memorize Bible verses, which is fine; but fail to teach how kids can recognize when the Spirit is empowering them to act.
And we don’t teach our kids because I don’t think we adults know it ourselves.
In his last words to his apostles, Jesus paints a great image of the change they will make in the world. And, yes, they will be required to sacrifice greatly in order to move toward it. It will take everything they’ve got—all their ambition, all their effort, and all their lives to make any of it happen. Once they are empowered by the Spirit. These apostles who never did anything right finally got it. It’s never about our agenda or our effort. It’s about having our agenda, our effort lined up with what God is doing. That’s discipleship. That’s the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. That’s following Jesus. And that’s what we’re all about.