(Reading time: approximately 3-4 minutes)
After Jesus’s ascension, (Acts 1), the disciples “returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath’s day’s walk” – about 3/4 mile – “from the city” (Acts 1:12). How must they have felt as they walked back to the city? What did they talk about? There was something final about Jesus’s departure. They probably understood that they had entered a new phase of life, but how were they to live it? “Witnesses to the ends of the earth”—how were they to do that? What would it look like?
As they walked back to their accommodations in Jerusalem, they had no clue about how to answer those questions. The future was a blank. They didn’t know what their lives were going to look like. All they had was Jesus’ instruction.
They did not know what was next, or what to expect, so they did a wise thing. Jesus had told them to wait, and they did, but while they waited, they also prayed. Verse 14: “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.”
If we are looking through our wide-angle lens, we will see that the era into which they had transitioned – the witnesses-to-the-ends-of-the-earth era – has continued to this day. We, like them, do not see the Lord Jesus in the flesh. We, like them, carry on the commission to be witnesses, making disciples of every nation. We, like them, have the words of the Lord and the Spirit of the Lord to guide us.
Don’t forget that Jesus once said, “I tell you the truth: It is better for you that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). The coming of the Holy Spirit ushered in a new era, in keeping with God’s plan. With our wide-angle lens we can see it: God lived with Adam and Eve until the rebellion, when their relationship was broken, and man and God were estranged. The thousands of years that followed, the sacrifices, the building of the temple, the promise of a new covenant was all so that God could live with his people again.
He came to us in Jesus, who was Immanuel – God with us. But as a physical being Jesus could not be with a lonely old man in India, a young Christian mother in Ecuador and you in your town or city at the same time. The transition was necessary. It was better for the disciples; it is better for us, that he went away.
While we have our wide-angle lenses on, it is important to see that even after the ascension, Jesus continues to show up all over the place. Up, up, but not away: because of the coming of the Spirit, Jesus could be everywhere. In chapter 2, verse 47 we find him bringing people into his church: “The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” It wasn’t the apostles and teachers and programs that added people to the church; it was the Lord Jesus. In chapter 9, verse 34 we find him healing people: “‘Aeneas,’ Peter said to him, ‘Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and take care of your mat.’ Immediately Aeneas got up.” In chapter 14, verse 3, we find Jesus working miracles among the Gentiles: “Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders.” We see the same thing throughout the book.
And that theme continues. Jesus is here, living in his people, acting through them by his Spirit. His ministry on earth, his death, resurrection, and ascension were only the beginning of what he was doing and teaching. He is still at it, and we are invited to join him, to be a part of the kingdom he inaugurated.
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