"A People on the Move"

ACTS 1: 6-11

 

Jul 27, 2014

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            Our passage for this morning begins with a question and ends with a question.  Teachers often assure their students that there is no such thing as a stupid question.  Personally, I'm not so sure.  It seems to me that I have heard some pretty stupid questions over the years, like the person who called me on our landline at home, and I picked up and he asked me, "Are you at home?"  "Well, no, I have really strong coverage on our landline.  I'm at Loews."  Or the television reporter who sticks a mike in someone's face and asks after a tornado has wiped out their house, "How are you feeling?"  "Oh, I'm doing great.  I never liked that house anyway and we can always take more keepsake photos!"  Or take the question our son asked in an anthropology class at the University of Kansas.  It took place in one of those 250 seat lecture halls, and they were going over a study sheet for the upcoming final exam.  Our son, Josh, must have slept in the day they covered orangutans because in all seriousness he looked at one of the study questions and raised his hand and asked, "What is an orange-u-tang?"  For months after students would stop him on campus and ask, "Hey, aren't you the orange-u-tang guy?"

            In our passage for today, the disciples ask, if not a a stupid question at least they ask a revealing question.  They asked Jesus, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" 

            In order to understand their question, we need to understand what prompted their question.  Throughout his ministry Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God, or as the Gospel writer Matthew referred to it, the Kingdom of Heaven.  Of course, when he spoke of the Kingdom of God he meant one thing and his listeners thought quite another thing.  His listeners thought of the Kingdom of God in political terms.  Jesus saw it in spiritual terms ... "thy kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

            From the get-go the Jews saw themselves as God's chosen people.  They took that to mean they were destined for special honor and privilege and eventually world-wide rule.  The whole course of their history, however, seemed to work against that.  Oh sure, Israel had her days of independence, but more often than not it was subjected by other empires ranging from the Assyrians to the Babylonians, to the Persians, to the Greeks and finally to the Romans.  So the Jews began to look forward to a day when God would break directly into human history, and do what they could never do themselves ... put them in charge of the world.  Hence, the revealing question:  "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" 

            In other words, "We appreciate all you did in the cross and resurrection, and all you have taught us about loving God and others, and we are reluctant to press you on this, but when are we going to get around to world domination?  How soon are you going to establish fully the Kingdom of God?" 

            In just a moment we will look at Jesus' response to their question, but first I want to say a word or two about the ascension.  Luke is the only one to mention this event, and he does it twice, once at the very end of his gospel, and here at the very beginning of the Book of Acts.  We've already read the version in Acts, so turn with me to the last paragraph in Luke's Gospel.  Luke writes,

 

            Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

 

            Some have shared concerns about the time discrepancies.  In his Gospel the Ascension takes place on Easter evening and in Acts it takes place forty days later.  Many reasons have been offered to explain the discrepancies, from out and out carelessness on Luke's part to speculation that Luke wrote Acts so much later than his Gospel that he forgot when the Ascension occurred!

            Here's my take on the discrepancy.  It has to do with Luke's intentions as a writer.  In Luke 24 the Ascension is a conclusion, a dramatic finale to Jesus' earthly ministry.  In Acts 1 the ascension is a beginning, a dramatic introduction to the upcoming ministry of the disciples.  He compressed the timeline in the Gospel and in Acts he gives us the expanded version, sort of like in music where some songs have two versions, a normal version and an extended version.

            Of course, we may ask, "Why the Ascension was necessary in the first place.  Why the necessity of Jesus being taken up into heaven in such a dramatic way?"  Well, first, because some event needed to mark the end of his resurrection appearances.  That's lot better way to end Jesus' earthly ministry than to simply have his resurrection appearances peter out.  Second, the Ascension serves as a reminder of Jesus was returning to where he had originated, sitting at the right hand of God.  In those days every person thought of the earth as flat with a place called heaven beyond the sky.  It therefore follows that Jesus would ascend to heaven in a way the disciples would understand. 

            OK, enough about the ascension.  Let's return to Jesus' threefold answer to the disciples' question, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?"  First, he says mind your own business.  It's not for you to know.  That's not my call or your call.  That's our Heavenly Father's call."  I think of the time Trudy tried to intervene in a squabble between her sister and our niece.  Lauren, our niece, was about four years old at the time.  We got an idea of just how independent Lauren would become when Lauren interrupted her Aunt Trudy and said, "Aunt Trudy.  It's not your problem and it's not your business."  That's Jesus' first response to their question.  He says,  "It's not your problem and it's not your business."

            Second, he makes a them a promise.  He tells them, as he did in the Upper Room, that he will send them the Holy Spirit who will imbue them with power.  Of course, being somewhat of an impatient person, that's one of the fruit of the Spirit that has not grown well in my spiritual garden, this promise would have raised other questions in my mind, the most central would have been, "When?  If you can't tell us when the Kingdom of God will be fully established, could you tell us when we will receive this power?  How long are we going to have to wait?"

            Author and biblical scholar Lawrence O. Richards believes that the disciples must have chafed at Jesus' instructions to wait for the promised Spirit because they were men of action.  Especially Peter.  Why did they have to wait for God to give them the Holy Spirit?  Why couldn't they go out and start ministering right away?[1]

            It's tough to wait.  People wait in all sorts of ways.  I usually carry a book with me just in case I have to wait.  Some folk continually glance at their watch.  Some fuss and fume.  I like the story of a little boy who had been told that he must always wait patiently till he was served at meals, and not draw attention to himself.  One day he was eating at a friend's house with his mother, and somehow he was accidentally overlooked.  Nobody noticed, and for a time he was patient, but at last he could stand it no longer.  Leaning across to his mother, he said in an audible whisper:  "Mother, do little boys who starve to death go to heaven?" 

            That little fellow was more patient than most of us.  I read that only nine percent of adults are willing to wait more than five minutes for a server to ask for their beverage order; twenty percent of adults can bear only one minute.[2]

            Of course, in this case, waiting for the power of the Holy Spirit, would be worth the wait.  Dr. Norman Vincent Peale was one of the most popular preachers who ever lived.  Dr. Peale had an effective technique that he used when counseling someone in distress.  First, he let the troubled person tell their story.  Every little detail was hashed out.  But after the person had explained their problem, then Dr. Peale asked the person to sit in silence for a full three minutes and think of nothing else but Jesus.  Just Jesus.  This was the moment, Dr. Peale said, when most people switched their focus from the problem to the power.  He testified that usually, after these three minutes of thinking time, the person being counseled would have an answer to their problem.[3]

            That certainly happened when the Holy Spirit finally came to the disciples.  Within minutes of the Spirit coming upon them, they were equipped for the task for which God had called them.

            So, first Jesus tells them to mind their own business.  Second, he makes them a promise.  Third, in responding to the disciples' question he also gives them an assignment:  "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.

            These words from Jesus relate to the last section of our Vision Statement.  Take a look at that with me.  "We will encourage one another to see ourselves as 'God's hands and feet' serving those inside and outside our church walls with joy and compassion"  ... and ... "We will see ourselves, not only as a vibrant worshipping community, but also as a mission outpost, attending to the needs of the community in which we live, work and serve."

            Back when the West was being settled the major means of transportation was the stagecoach. We have seen persons riding in stagecoaches in western movies. What we might not know is that the stagecoach had three different kinds of tickets: first class, second class, and third class. If you had a first class ticket, that meant you could remain seated during the entire trip no matter what happened. If the stagecoach got stuck in the mud, or had trouble making it up a steep hill, or even if a wheel fell off, you could remain seated because you had a first class ticket.

            If you had a second class ticket you could remain seated until there was a problem. In case of a problem, second-class ticket holders would have to get off until the problem was resolved. You could stand off to the side and watch as other people worked. You didn't have to get your hands dirty. But second-class ticket holders were not allowed to stay on board. When the stagecoach was unstuck you would get back on and take your seat .

            If you had a third-class ticket, you would definitely have to get off if there was a problem Why?  Because it was your responsibility to help solve the problem.  You had to get out and push or help lift the coach to fix a broken wheel or whatever was needed because you only had a third class ticket.[4]

            Fortunately the stagecoach is no longer a major means of transportation.  Unfortunately, as followers of Christ we all have third class tickets.  Some of us may have thought we bought a first class or second class ticket when we signed up to follow Christ, but we don't.  We all have third class tickets.  We are all called to bring the witness of Christ to bear where we live, where we work, and where we travel, even to the ends of the earth.

            Let me close with a story of a woman who understood she had a third class ticket.  This  woman was asked if she would be interested in teaching a Sunday School class of youngsters.  Her response was honest.  She didn't feel she was capable of teaching Sunday School, but there was something else she could do.  She volunteered to recruit children.  Each Sunday morning she would fill up her car with children who had no other means of transportation and bring them to Sunday School.  Thanks to this woman's dedication, the number of children in Sunday School doubled.

            Then some of the children's parents began attending church.  And before long the parents began inviting their friends to church, and worship attendance increased.  God used this woman who felt she was incapable of teaching.  God could use her because the woman knew she had purchased a third-class ticket.[5]

            We all have third class tickets on this Christian journey.  Some of us act like we have first class tickets or second class tickets, but a person in Christ has only been given a third class ticket.  And our job, our assignment as we wait for Christ to return is to get the word out about him, wherever we find ourselves.  We are his hands and feet.  Amen.

       

           

        

           

           

           

 



[1] Lawrence O. Richards, The 365 Day Devotional Commentary (Colorado Springs, Colo.: ChariotVictor Publishing, 1990), p. 817.

[2] The 1998 Old Farmer's Almanac  (Dublin, NH: Yankee Publishing, Inc., 1997). 

[3] Norman Vincent Peale, How to Handle Difficulties (Pawling, N.Y.: Foundation for Christian Living, 1969), p. 11.

[4] James W. Moore Yes, Lord, I Have Sinned  (Nashville: Abingdon Press), 1991, pp. 45-46.

[5] From a sermon by King Duncan titled Get Your Third Class Ticket Here.  Stagecoach illustration drawn from same message.