Today is Ascension Day, when we celebrate Our Lord’s bodily ascension into heaven. The Acts of the Apostles describe the “aftermath” on earth as follows:
While they were still gazing up into the heavens, as he went, suddenly two men, clothed in white, stood beside them, And said: “Men of Galilee, why are you standing here looking up into the heavens? This very Jesus, who has been taken from you into the heavens, will come in the very way in which you have seen him go into the heavens.” (Act 1:10-11 TCNT)
For some reason, this reminds me of an encounter I had with one of my students. This student was unique in many ways. I found out independently that he had a hard life: abandoned by parents, brother in jail, poverty, but that he had given it his best shot in life and was working on his civil engineering degree (which he completed.) Helping students like this makes teaching worthwhile.
One day he came to see me in my office. My office is away from most of the College of Engineering and Computer Science in a building with 24-hour card access. If you don’t have a card, during the day you can ring the doorbell and be admitted. He did that and got to my office, but then he asked me a serious question: “What would I do if I didn’t know to ring the doorbell to get in?”
“Well, you could just stand there and look stupid,” I replied.
He thought a second and sad, “I could just stand there and look stupid.” In spite of this inauspicious start, we had a good meeting.
Every time I read the passage in Acts I cited above, I always think to myself, “You know, those two men were certainly angels, otherwise they would have said, ‘Men of Galilee, why are you standing here looking stupid up into the heavens?'” Our Lord had just given them instructions as to what they were supposed to be doing:
So, when the Apostles had met together, they asked Jesus this question–“Master, is this the time when you intend to re-establish the Kingdom for Israel?” His answer was: “It is not for you to know times or hours, for the Father has reserved these for his own decision; But you shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit shall have descended upon you, and shall be witnesses for me not only in Jerusalem, but throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Act 1:6-8 TCNT)
But they just stood there looking upward until the angel gave them the reality check they needed.
Two thousand years have passed, and many Christians, mesmerized by whatever “spiritual happening” is going on around them, or what’s trendy in the church. But Our Lord not only gave us a mission; he sent the Holy Spirit to empower us to accomplish that mission.
Our Lord’s messengers were too polite to tell the disciples to quit looking stupid and get on with their task. But, polite or not, it’s the truth: the mission has not changed, and is still out there for Christians to accomplish it.