Can anyone name the 12 Disciples? The list can be found in Matthew 10.
They are: Simon Peter, Andrew, James the son of Zebedee, John, Philip, Bartholemew, Thomas and Matthew the tax collector, James son of Alphaeus and Thaddeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot.
Luke opens the book of Acts addressing it to Theophilus which is Greek for lover of God. This may have been an actual person named Theophilus or could be addressed to anyone who loves God. Luke says that in his Gospel he wrote about all Jesus had taught and the miracles he performed until the day he was taken to Heaven. The Ascension, or Jesus’ being taken into Heaven, is the hinge for his two books. His Gospel ends with the end of Jesus teachings and his book of Acts begin with Jesus being taken to Heaven.
Luke says that Jesus had taught all the Disciples whom He had chosen. This rag tag group of guys who often didn’t understand what Jesus was talking about had been chosen. For some reason they more than others were teachable. So, Jesus had chosen these men to learn from Him. They spent 3 years witnessing His miracles and hearing His teachings. This day was the final moment, the culmination of their Discipleship. On this day, they would cease to be students.
Luke tells us that Jesus, after His resurrection, had appeared to the Disciples for a period of 40 days to prove to the Disciples that He was actually alive. The evidence of Christ’s resurrection is evidenced in His post-resurrection appearances. They knew the truth that He was alive because they had seen Him alive, not just once, but over a period of 40 days. He walked with them, talked with them, ate and drank with them. Over and over again, He showed them the nail marks in His hands. Jesus needed them to believe beyond a shadow of doubt that He had been resurrected in the flesh.
The Apostle Paul says that he preached Christ and Him crucified. Preaching about Christ’s crucifixion was the easy part. The burden of Apostolic preaching and teaching was Jesus’ resurrection. Anyone could believe that Jesus was crucified. The most difficult tenant of faith is His resurrection. But, after repeated, undeniable appearances of His resurrected body, the Disciples were able to preach what they had seen and witnessed having faith in His resurrection. This was not easy to believe. Humans are predisposed to not believing, as it is unbelievable. Yet, over 40 days, the Disciples came to believe the unbelievable because they witnessed it first-hand.
Over those 40 days, He spoke to them about the Kingdom of God. Much of His teaching during His ministry prior to the crucifixion had been about the Kingdom of God and life and salvation in the Kingdom. He had spoken to them about the Kingdom of God for 3 years, not about the Kingdom of Israel. As witnesses to the resurrection, they know that a decisive battle has been won, but not yet realized. They are still holding out hope for an end to the oppressive rule of the Romans and the restoration of the Davidic throne. Jesus must, over these 40 days, not only prove that He is alive; He must also shift their emphasis from the Kingdom of Israel to the transformation of lives.
Luke tells us that one time, when Jesus was eating with them, He gave them a command. He said wait in Jerusalem until God has sent the promised gift. The Holy Spirit is coming just as Jesus said. Jesus had been baptized by water, but they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit. Jesus had been baptized by John’s baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The Disciples had not been subject to the baptism of water like Jesus had. They had been waiting for the gift of the Holy Spirit. The day of their baptism would be soon.
Before going up, Jesus gave them a mission. When they received the Holy Spirit, they would be empowered to be witnesses to the ends of the earth. Jesus teaches them to embrace the Kingdom of God coming by transformation of lives, not the restoration of the Kingdom of Israel. They will know the Kingdom of God as they carrying on Christ’s ministry of teaching and healing. They must accept the reality that God’s redeeming work is in lives, not rulers.
This instruction was to assure them that God would remain with them even after Jesus had gone. The Holy Spirit would be the sign of God’s continued presence. Jesus was with them long enough to teach them that their learning had not been in vain. There learning was to prepare them for a mission. That mission would not be fulfilled with Christ by their side, but with the Holy Spirit in their heart. God will be with them in a new and different way, but God will still be with them.
After that final instruction, Jesus was taken up to Heaven to be seated at the right hand of God’s throne. And, the Disciples just stand there looking up to Heaven. Its as if they don’t want to believe what they’ve seen. They don’t want this Kingdom of God stuff. They don’t want a mission. They want Jesus back. They want a different end to the story. They saw His leaving as an end not a beginning.
It reminds me of a movie I watched awhile back called The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Sonny is in the process of restoring a hotel that his father left to him in his estate. He advertises the hotel as a restored resort perfect for retirement. Seven Brits decide to leave England behind and move to India for retirement. They want to leave behind their lives for a warmer climate. They plan on resort living for their later years. They arrive to find a hotel in the beginning stages of restoration. Sonny is trying desperately to manage the guests and the repairs. Throughout the movie, he tries to convince his guests and his family that everything is going to turn out fine. His life motto is “Everything will be all right in the end…if it’s not all right, then it’s not yet the end.”
I think the Disciples needed a little pep talk from Sonny. They needed to know that Jesus’ Ascension was not the end of the story, but they got stuck for a moment questioning, “What now? What next?” They must have been thinking “This can’t be the end…everything isn’t okay.”
Everything isn’t okay. That’s the dichotomy of faith. We live in a world of already, but not yet. God already defeated the power of death in the resurrection of Jesus. The battle has already been won that we may have life. We have seen God’s life-giving, life-transforming work in the miracles of Jesus. We have experienced it in our own lives. Truthfully, we’ve experienced that life transformation in some way or we wouldn’t be here this morning.
Everything is not okay. There is still pain and suffering in the world. We suffer the loss of loved ones. We endure sickness and death. We still battle the powers of evil for the cause of justice. We have experienced a good life thanks be to God yet it has not been perfect. That’s the already, but not yet of faith.
That’s what is difficult to share. Some people see Christians and think, “Well, isn’t everything supposed to be okay for them. Their God must not be real if they go through the same things I go through.” They don’t understand that we endure all things by Christ who gives us strength. We endure and enjoy this life until we receive the gift of abundant life in the Kingdom of God.
As long as everything is not okay, as long as its not the end, we have the same mission as Christ gave the Disciples. We are to be witnesses to the end of the earth. We have the awesome responsibility of sharing the story of how Christ has transformed our lives. That is the faith we have the share. It is the burden of sharing Christ resurrected. It would be easy to tell the story of Christ crucified and the woes of life; it is better to share the story of Christ resurrected and our lives transformed. As long as there are people who have no faith, we have work to do.
I feel a push and pull between evangelism and church attendance. I don’t know how to resolve it. Not all believers will come to church. There is a growing number of people who are spiritual but not religious. They are interested in watching series like The Bible or reading books on spirituality and prayer, but they don’t like the church. We have to accept that evangelism may not equal people in the pews. Though, we know that faith is best nurtured when in the fellowship of like believers and still hold out hope that the spiritual but not religious will find value in the communion of believers even if they don’t like the institution.
Thanks be to God for the church with all her blessings and dysfunction. Amen.