One of the common threads running through the Bible is the consistent habit we humans have of assuming we have God figured out…only to be surprised that we don’t.
This happened a lot…
But of course, now we really know God, don’t we?
I mean most Christians will enthusiastically say, “no, of course not. ”His ways are higher than our ways” but then go on to wax lyrical on heaven, hell, the “end times”, salvation, redemption, and the nature of God with the certainty of a first grade teacher explaining sums to a six year old.
This is perhaps no more evident than in Acts 1.
Let me set the scene…
The disciples are thrilled because not only has Jesus come back from the dead, he’s hanging with them and answering questions. Finally they are “getting” God! They are finally understanding what the big plan is!
Then they walk out outside for a moment and after a couple more questions he suddenly, and with no warning whatsoever, disappears off into the clouds.
I’m sure as they stared up at the sky someone muttered the 1st century equivalent of “WTF?”
They had NO IDEA that was what was going to happen. They really thought they had things figured out.
But they didn’t…
In fact a couple angels had to appear just to bring them out of shell shock:
Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 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.”
After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “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.” Acts 1: 6-11
The last question the disciples ask Jesus just before he leaves, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” so demonstrates their ignorance that Jesus doesn’t even address it, but rather he redirects them back to what God’s plan is.
In that question though, there are some things we can learn for our own understanding.
What the disciples got right
The disciples knew that restoration was what Jesus was about. There was a tear in the fabric of reality that separated heaven and earth. This tear was causing death, disease, strife, war, and every other horrible things wrecking humanity and creation. The disciples knew Jesus was ultimately here to fix that. To bring healing and restoration.
Restoration and healing of the world unfortunately has taken a back seat priority in most churches. Once an intricate part of the Good News Christians shared it has now largely been regulated to simply being a tool for creating the opportunity for people to “accept Jesus.” If such an “opportunity” is not possible, interest in restoration drops off precipitously.
What the disciples got wrong
Jesus preached the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven but the disciples were hearing “God is going to restore the Kingdom of Israel”.
Now understand, Israel was already a Kingdom with a king. That’s not what they were really wanting. No…
They wanted to see Israel not only out from under the colonial thumb of Rome, but on top.
They wanted God to validate and affirm before all the earth
Israel is right!
Israel is special!
Israel has a destiny different from other nations!
But God, by raising Christ from the dead was instead affirming Jesus, his Way, and his Kingdom which proclaimed to everyone on the earth
You are all loved!
You are all special!
You all are invited to be citizens in a new Way , a Kingdom of Heaven!
I understand the difficulty the disciples faced. Nationalism and tribalism held a powerful sway over society then as it does so today. Though they probably won’t admit it, most Christians struggle to see the Kingdom of Heaven beyond the passport they carry. Americans so intertwine the two you will have some churches that will recite the Pledge of Allegiance during a church service.
Try to figure that one out…
Hey, if it makes you feel any better, the Apostle Peter, who had the “Keys of the Kingdom” given to him by Jesus still struggled with nationalism and xenophobia in his later years. He had to be given a vision by God three times before he would even bother to enter the house of a non-Jew (Acts 10) and Paul had to rebuke him for acting like a non-Jew in front of the Gentiles but then acting Jewish in front of the Jews (Galatians 2)
See, there is hope for us!
Even the disciples, who hung out with Jesus both before and after his resurrection, they often failed to connect the dots on what God was actually doing. That should make us pause, and proceed cautiously and humbly, as we interact with the world and each other.
Jesus told us what to do though…when in doubt:
* Love God
* Love People
Then you can be certain you are part of the Big Plan!