Over the next several weeks, we’ll read through the first 3 chapters of the book of Acts. These first few chapters are the story of the first moments of the early church. Reading its story is an opportunity for us to understand how the church began, what the purpose of the church is, & who we as the church should be. During this time, it is my hope that our sense of mission is renewed and our commitment to being church is strengthened.
To begin the book of Acts, we must look to the end of the Gospel of Luke. Luke and Acts are written by the same author. Both are written to a person named Theophilus whose name means beloved of God. Theophilus is a new convert to the Christian faith and is undergoing instruction for living the Christian life. He is like someone going through Pastor’s class – he is learning what Christians believe and how to be a Christian. Therefore, Luke and Acts are books of instruction. The author is teaching the faith and daily practices – this purpose of these 2 books is unique from the other books of the Bible.
The last chapter of the Gospel of Luke and the first chapter of Acts focus on the Ascension of Christ to Heaven. The Ascension is a water shed event in the life of the Disciples. It is the bridge between the ministry of Jesus and the mission of the Church. Luke shifts his teaching from what Christ has done to what the church is doing.
Following the resurrection, Jesus appeared to his Disciples continuing his teaching ministry about the Kingdom of God. They were specifically instructed to stay in Jerusalem; and it is there, during those 40 days that they witnessed many appearances of Jesus. He continued to teach them about how the Kingdom of God would be brought about with healing and liberating acts, inclusive meal sharing, and the reconciliation of relationships which He lived out in His earthly ministry.
Throughout this time, the Disciples still don’t understand what Jesus’ Heavenly reign meant. They ask Him when He is going to restore the kingdom of Israel. This question was a common question of His early followers. As I’ve said before, they thought Jesus would restore the kingdom of Israel and liberate them from Roman rule during his earthly life. Then, trying to make sense of His death, they believed He would restore the kingdom during His resurrected ministry.
On the Mount of Olives, in a large gathering of the community, the Disciples were given the authority of Jesus Christ to witness to the ends of the earth what they had seen and heard. They were commissioned to continue His ministry of healing and teaching. They were to wait in Jerusalem for a little while longer when the Holy Spirit would come upon them. Jesus blessed them. Then, Jesus was lifted up and ascended to Heaven.
At this time, the Disciples are still confused. Jesus was supposed to usher in the Kingdom of Israel. He was supposed to do it while He was alive but He was crucified. He was supposed to do it while He was resurrected but now He’s gone. When is He going to restore the Kingdom?
The Disciples were having trouble understanding that Jesus’ kingdom is not Israel. It is not any nation. It is not earthly. It is not political. The Disciples’ desire for the restoration of the kingdom of Israel will eventually give over to their preaching about the coming Kingdom of God but not until after Jesus has gone up to Heaven.
So there they are standing looking up to Heaven waiting for something to happen. Are we not still standing around looking up to Heaven?
The world has been questioning the cause of random acts of nature, attempting to date the end of the Earth, and seeking salvation from damnation for thousands of years. Last year, we lived through the May 21st 2011 apocalyptic prediction by the 90 year-old radio personality Harold Camping. Now, we are waiting for December 21st, 2012 when various prophesies by numerologists, lay astronomers, pseudoscientists, and false Mayanists predict a whole host of bad things are going to happen. The eschaton or the end of the world as we know it has captured our media attention since movies like the 1968 Planet of the Apes. I recently watched a National Geographic special called “Training for the Apocalypse” – it is quite disturbing to see just how scared people are of the end.
In response to such prophesies, Christians recall that Jesus Christ told his Disciples, “it is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” What Christians can be sure of is that Jesus, who died on the cross, was raised from the grave, and ascended into Heaven, “will come back in the same way you have seen him go into Heaven,” just like the angels told the Disciples.
We are not called to stand idly looking up waiting for something cataclysmic like the rest of the world. Something significant has already happened. Christ has risen from the dead and ascended into Heaven to reign at the right hand of God. We are called to be witnesses of that apocalyptic event.
Rev. Chris Stark wrote: “we are called to examine our lives and our cultures so that we will not have to worry about some future apocalypse from nuclear proliferation, famine caused by unsustainable ecological lifestyles, the collapse of economies caused by greed, or any other of our worst fears. That is because the … message in scripture is focused on changing the world so that God and God’s kingdom is fully realized on this earth.”
So, how do we live as people in the already but not yet times?
Jesus has already defeated the power of death when God resurrected Him from the dead. Christ already reigns at the right hand of God. How do we live in this time between Jesus’ Ascension and His coming back? Theologian William Willimon asks it like this, how do “believers live as people between the end of an old age held by the powers of death and evil and a new age where the future is still to be fully realized, still open-ended to the movements of the Spirit?”
Until God’s Kingdom has come to earth, we need to be fulfilling Christ’s mission which He said in Luke 4 is: “to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom to those who are oppressed.” It is the same Spirit within Christ inspiring His ministry that is now within us inspiring our ministry.
We are half way through the 3-year ministry plan. The church has done many good things fulfilling the first year’s goals and is well on its way of meeting this year’s goals. Sometime in the near future, we will need to evaluate our progress and begin anew the process of discerning Christ’s vision for our congregation. We will again need to ask ourselves, what are we to do in this time and in this place with our gifts until Christ comes again?
 Interpretation, Acts, p. 20