A Reflection on Acts 1:6-14
When is life going to be normal again? God why don’t you just make this all go away? These are a couple of the questions that must swirl through our heads at a time like this. We don’t embrace terms like “new normal” and we are simply fatigued with our circumstance. However, God is not a static God, He is not like a bridge or a building, but rather God is active, God is moving, God is a dynamic force on the world, and the Church is called to be powerful, dynamic, and moving into the world.
Kingdoms of the world are generally static, and are defined by the buildings and structures that they have built. Egypt had it’s iconic pyramids, Rome had the Colosseum, China had its wall, throughout the world there are palaces and castles dedicated to the kingdoms throughout history. The followers of Christ sit in contrast to that, they focus upon a cross, an empty cross, a cross that reminds the church that God’s kingdom is on the move.
There is a temptation of the church to mimic the worldly kingdoms by building extravagant churches and edifices intended to honor Christ, as we can see throughout the world extraordinary cathedrals and churches. These churches and buildings, while dedicated to the service of God, are static, and only good if they promote the church to get up and go out and spread God’s message and kingdom.
The disciples of Christ still thought like much of the world that the kingdom was a static place, and that Israel would get its land back from Rome, and it prompted this interaction with Jesus just prior to His ascension, in Acts chapter 1.
6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
Jesus opens up correcting the assumptions of the disciples, for they were thinking about a transformation that looked like the conquering kingdoms of the past. They still hoped that Jesus was going to lead an army into Jerusalem and take over, and yet Jesus patiently reminds them that their thinking is incorrect, and that they needed to rely upon the Father as He is the ultimate authority and provider of all things. They wanted to know the ending, but Jesus reminds them that the next step is the most important step, and that God is calling them to yield their thoughts and vision away from the physical and political, and toward the Spirit.
When we focus on the Spirit, our understanding shifts away from the world as geography, to the Kingdom of God as a spiritual kingdom that extends beyond geographical boundaries. Jesus tells the disciples that their power, and our power comes not from government, or money, or property, but it comes directly from the Holy Spirit. God’s Kingdom is spread by witness, not by soldiers, through a gospel of peace, not a declaration of war, and by the work of the Spirit, not by force, political intrigue, or violence. At the same time, when we reject the politics of the kingdom, we must avoid super-spiritualizing it, because God’s rule operates on Earth and not only in heaven.
Just as Jesus told the disciples that the ministry did not have boundaries like the kingdoms of the Earth, so too we must appreciate that our ministry must be focused outside our church buildings and out into the communities that we are called to serve. This requires us to release our attachments to the Earth and allow God to take everything and use us to our full capacity.
In order to operate at this capacity, we must allow our vision to synchronize with God’s plan for the world. We must take time to be in awe of all the things that God has done for us, but there also comes a time when we must fulfill and act upon the commission God has given to us. While we come up with ideas, and plans, if they do not have an understanding of the fullness of God’s mission in the world they are lacking and without vision.
The disciples needed a reminder from the people dressed in white, that Jesus is coming back, don’t be fixated upon when and where, but trust God and carry out His plan, and that we only need to be better at carrying out what God has planned for us. The vision God has planned for us is unique, and we must be adaptable to the circumstances that we find ourselves.
Unique times put us in unique circumstances that require the church to adapt. This adaptation requires us to be flexible in our vision, and try new things. Most of us have had to learn how to attend church via YouTube, Facebook, or Zoom, something that most of us had not even thought about before it became a necessity. However, the successes in this new way of church have shown us the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome the negative, and continue to spread the message of hope, peace, and love in spite of physical distancing. This should encourage us to be able to move forward trusting that God’s vision for the church will succeed, no matter the circumstances.
To begin trusting this vision, we need to start in the same place as the disciples after Christ’s ascension, in prayer. Prayer is where we seek God’s vision, where we ask for the Holy Spirit to come and lead us, and we quiet our voice and vision and yield to what God desires for us. As we move forward may God’s blessings be upon us, His vision guide us, and the Holy Spirit power our mission in the world to spread God’s Kingdom beyond our walls, and all boundaries.