19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
Not now—so what do we do in the meantime?
Acts is part of a 2 volume set—as least that’s the way we would talk about it. Because of the way the church leaders set up the order of the books and letters of the New Testament, the books of Luke and Acts were separated. The author, Luke, a physician and a Gentile, wrote the Gospel according to Luke and continued with the Acts of the Apostles. So it is Luke-Acts—a two-part series.
In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4While 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; 5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” 6So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But 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.” 9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward 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.”
The first verses from the book known as the Acts of the Apostles begin as the Gospel of Luke ends—with the ascension story, the account of the resurrected Jesus going back to God. The Gospel according to Luke tells all that Jesus did and taught and the Acts of the Apostles tells the story of how those who lived with Jesus became the ones who carried the stories of Jesus forward into the world. “You shall be my witnesses to the ends of the earth” is the charge that Jesus leaves with the disciples who watch him as he leaves earth. Now we 21st century people scratch our heads at someone being taken up into the heavens, but we should remember that it was not uncommon in the ancient world to tell stories of important people ascending bodily into the heavens. Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythology are full of such stories. The early church writers saw this as giving credibility to the story.
Even after all that Jesus told them time and again, even after the crucifixion and the resurrection and even now these 50 days that the resurrected Jesus has been hanging around with them, the disciples still ask when the kingdom is going to be restored to Israel. “Is it time now, Jesus? Are we going to be given back our place of power? Now, Jesus?” One more time Jesus says, “It’s not for you to know the times or periods that God has set.” Not knowing was a hard thing for the disciples to understand and not knowing is a hard thing for us to comprehend as well. On the flip side, we also are well aware that sometimes it is better not to know what’s ahead of us.
This need to know what lies ahead and yet not wanting to know what will happen next is one of the realities of life—a paradox in which we live day to day. We go through life hearing “not now…it isn’t time yet…wait…maybe someday… be patient.”
Jesus answers the disciples question about “when”, with “not now”; but he doesn’t leave it there. He tells them that in the meantime there is something for them to do. He says they will receive power because the Holy Spirit is going to give it to them. And then Jesus says they will be witnesses to him in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Without so much as another word, they watch him go up into a cloud. They stand there until these two guys in white robes ask why they are still standing there. I think they were in shock! Can you imagine the conversation as they headed back to Jerusalem? “Did Jesus say the ends of the earth? How we are going to do that, guys? Well, you know, I think if we”…and off they went to bring in the kingdom in their time and their place to all the people they could reach.
There are days when I really wish that Jesus would come back and fix all the things that are broken in our world. There are days when I wish that God would say enough is enough and would set the world right. But that is not the way of God. God didn’t send Jesus to fix things. God sent Jesus to teach us how to do it ourselves. God didn’t lift the disciples out of the troubled world in which they lived. God sent them off into the thick of it. And that’s what God’s been doing throughout history. This is the real “left behind” story. Jesus left them all behind…not to wallow in self-pity, but with work to do and the promise of the Holy Spirit who would give them power.
It’s easy to forget that the ancient world of the disciples and the first “church”, if you will, was a world of insecurity. The disciples were not powerful and wealthy and the message they preached got them killed just as it did Jesus. The first “church” was an underground church—it was not the beautiful structure prominently built in the center of the city. Followers of Jesus used symbols, like the fish you see on cars, to let each other know that a place was safe. And although they had spiritual power, they didn’t have a road map all laid out on how to take this to the ends of the earth. It was a journey of trust and hope in the way of Jesus.
Like the disciples, God isn’t giving us all the answers right now. Like the rest of the human race, we have to make the journey of life with all its joy and all its struggle. God is found in the everyday stuff of life. God is here and we too are filled with the Holy Spirit. It is not for us to know the final outcome or the time when the world will end. It is for us to make the journey of our lives doing the best we can. As John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, said, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”