the angel asked. It was as if he was mocking their astonishment at their Teacher’s ascension. Didn’t you know this was going to happen? his merry eyes seemed to say. He’s going to come again, too. Will you still be standing here staring?
“We’ve never seen anything like this before!” they could have exclaimed. But they had. They’d been with him for three years, watching him heal the sick, turn water into wine, make the blind to see and the lame to walk. Peter, James, and John had been with him at the Transfiguration. They’d seen far more dramatic things than a simple disappearance. In fact, you’d think they’d be used to it by now! Jesus had been coming and going like a wizard with a hole in his Floo-powder pouch for several weeks, appearing and disappearing from the Upper Room and on the road to Emmaus. So why did this event leave the disciples staring?
Maybe it was his words before he left. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses.” What was this Holy Spirit? Maybe they were waiting around for it to descend right there–not that the disciples had a great track record for taking Jesus at his word.
To be fair, who could blame them? He had an awkward tendency to say the craziest things. “If anyone comes to me and does not despise his mother and father…yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.” “If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.” “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again.” Whaaat?
The disciples sometimes take a lot of flack from the modern-day church for this. He’s talking about himself, you idiots! But seriously, what would it look like if we started taking Jesus at his word? “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” “If anyone slaps you on one cheek, turn to him the other also.” “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” “Seek, and you will find; knock, and I will answer.” “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Think our lives might look a little different?
Before Jesus left, the disciples had asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom of Israel?” His answer? Not yet. Wait and see. And in the meantime, he had a job for them.
“Why do you stand here?”
Maybe it was because they didn’t know what else to do. Maybe because the weight of Jesus’ last charge hadn’t fully sunk in yet. “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
“Men of Galilee, why do you stand here? This same Jesus, who you have seen go up into heaven, will come back in the very same way.” The angel spoke with urgency, galvanizing them into action. These were the words that lit a fire in the early church! The disciples had to prepare for their Lord’s return!
But he didn’t come. Not yet.
I think the two thousand years since then have made us complacent. We metaphorically stand and stare into heaven every day, blinking into the sunlight and wondering what to do.
“Why do you stand here?”
If Jesus came back today, would he ask you the same question? Don’t just stand here; move! In your current vocation and location, what is he calling you to do?
Maybe you don’t know. Overwhelm is an understandable feeling. Maybe you should start by taking Jesus at his word: “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.”
“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”
Ours is the same charge as that of John and Peter–of Paul and Joshua and Timothy and Moses. Maybe we should spend less time squinting into the sky and waiting for answers to come to us, and a little more soaking in his word and letting him teach us how to love. Maybe that’s where the answers really come from. Maybe sometimes, when we think we’re waiting on God, God is really waiting on us.
So why do you stand here?