(watch here: https://youtu.be/m0WpzTgYGRI)
In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over the course of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This’, he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’
So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 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.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
Our reading for this morning reminds me of the one about a man named Mark. Well, Mark was out one day shopping for some supplies at his local pet shop. While he was shopping, one of the salespeople came running up to him. “Mark! Mark!” he cried. “I just saw someone driving off with your BMW!” “Dear God!” Mark exclaimed. “Did you at least try to stop him?!” “No, sorry,” responded the clerk, “but don’t worry…I got his license plate number!” Doh! Again, with an inappropriate witness. Or perhaps, in this instance, an inept witness! A few weeks ago we reflected on inappropriate witnessing. Recall the joke I told about the elderly lady who confessed to being aware of the terrible pasts of both the defence and prosecuting attorneys and possibly the presiding judge. In that trial, her confession or witness was certainly inappropriate. But the clerk at the pet store was more of an inept witness than an inappropriate witness. He clearly registered the wrong information at the scene of the crime!
Not unlike the disciples in today’s reading. What an interesting interaction between Jesus and his disciples and the two men in white robes nestled in the heart of the reading! We heard that Jesus appeared to his disciples several times in the forty days after his resurrection until finally Jesus “ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father.” They would soon be baptized by the Holy Spirit. Naturally, as was their habit, the disciples further questioned Jesus, seeking out details about when the baptism was to occur. And yet again, Jesus found himself reminding them to be patient and allow the Father’s will to be revealed in due time. Except shortly thereafter Jesus was taken into the heavens by a cloud and the disciples were left staring at the skies. The two men in white robes appeared and slapped them back to reality: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Now I hear their rebuke and sense the men are accusing the disciples of more than simply inappropriate witnessing. They’re actually accusing them of inept witnessing, much like the sales clerk at the pet store! They’re looking at the wrong things! Or at least they’re registering the wrong things about the scene around them. Their heavenly, wide-eyed gaze suggested the same sense of abandonment as they had at the foot of the cross. Yet again, Jesus wasn’t abandoning them, he was simply transforming into a new entity before them. This is the mystery of Jesus the Christ: he both sits on the throne and walks among us today. He both left the disciples and remained with them. To further complicate matters, we also confess in our Apostles’ Creed, “he will come again to judge the living and the dead.” You see, there is a past, present, and future reality to Jesus Christ! He was, he is, and he will be! I know, this is some heavy, paradoxical thinking but we can’t help but delve into it if we are to understand Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection created a great paradox and mystery that none of us can fully understand.
But that’s okay. All will be revealed to us in due time…in God’s time! What’s important to note about these opening verses to the book of Acts is that they revealed even Jesus’ disciples were prone to inept witnessing. Those closest to him continually saw the wrong things about him! Through God’s grace, they must have realized the ineptitude of their witness because we hear by the end of our reading that they have returned to “the room upstairs” and “were constantly devoting themselves to prayer.” They sought God’s clarification and guidance on their witness. What had they seen? What did it mean? Were they registering the right things from their witness? Well, answers to these questions can come through prayer. God speaks to us through prayer. God validates and corrects through prayer. God encourages and strengthens through prayer. There is great strength to be found in prayer. And we are all called to be witnesses, testifying the light we’ve found in Jesus. As Christians, each of us has seen a portion of his light somewhere in our lives. Perhaps in reading Scripture or in worshipping him or in loving someone or in helping someone. We all have had some experience of seeing his light at work in the world. But there are many in the world who haven’t seen his light yet. They still live in the darkness. And that’s why we are called to be witnesses and to testify to his light! No one deserves to be condemned to the darkness. It’s cold and lonely and scary in the darkness. No, everyone is a beloved child of God and deserves to live in his light and warmth and peace and community! We all deserve his love, even those who do terrible, heinous things in this world! We ALL deserve God’s love! And if you keep that at the forefront of your mind, it is all the more easier to share his love with others. It’s easy to witness when you believe everyone deserves God’s love.
In devoting themselves to constant prayer, the disciples were likely able to better understand this too. They were able to see Jesus in the world around them again. “Stop looking up…look around!” Witnessing involves not only testifying to the light we’ve seen but also to the light we continue to see. David sang in his 40th psalm, “I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; see, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O Lord. I have not hidden your saving help within my heart, I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.” (vs. 9-10) Time and time again, David testified to the light he had witnessed. He was assured of his witness and sang boldly of it. God’s steadfast love and faithfulness are what we are called to testify to. God is relentless in his love for us! He never stops loving us! That is what we are called to testify to! Anything less is simply inept witnessing!
We witness God’s steadfast love and faithfulness in the resurrection. God came back to us having conquered sin and death and continues to walk with us. We rejoice in this Easter hope and testify his unending light. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.