This week's Bible Study - April 12, 2015
Taken to Heaven Like No Other
Quotes of the Week:
A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.
In the past week, at least at the writing of these lessons, we celebrated Easter. Many believers (and non believers) alike celebrated the birth of the risen Jesus. Some have heard that story over and over, and may be able to recite the different variations from the different gospels, but have made it more of a fact issue and less of a faith issue. They can say that Jesus rose from the dead, but it really doesn't have the impact on their lives that was intended. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was certainly out of the realm of possibility and remains today as a key element to our salvation. However, it doesn't stop there.
In his first book, the gospel of Luke, Luke wrote about many of the things that Jesus did and taught during his time on earth. Luke was a non Jewish doctor who gave a very detailed account in both the gospel of Luke and his second book, the book of Acts. In Acts, Luke continues the story and tells what was next for Jesus, and ultimately, what was next for the disciples, the early church, as well as you and I. I feel sure that they still had some of their own misconceptions about what was going to come. The disciples had experienced years with Jesus in ministry, as well as enduring the wide range of emotions associated with His capture, His death and then, marvelously, His resurrection.
While the disciples hadn't connected all of the dots regarding Old Testament prophecies, they had certainly seen how many of the prophecies regarding the Messiah were fulfilled by the life (and death) of Jesus. After Jesus had arisen, they likely understood that the things that Jesus said that seemed problematic at the time (things like He would die and rise again in three days) were absolutely true. Given that they had this better understanding of some of the Old Testament prophecies, they surely also began to realize that this was not the end of the story. And, perhaps, even more importantly, many of the things that Jesus had spoken were yet to be fulfilled. They had to be ready for the next step.
After Jesus arose from the dead and after His disciples had gotten over the initial shock that ensued, Jesus presented Himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that He was alive. This continued over a period of forty days and during that time, Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God. I would imagine that much that Jesus said had to be repeated, due to the fact that they were certainly not expecting to hear from Jesus again. He spoke about the kingdom of God, which was to come.
In verse 4, while He was eating with them, He told them that they should not leave Jerusalem, but instead they should wait for the gift that was promised by the Father. This gift was one of the ones that Jesus had spoken about in His ministry, and they never fully comprehended the meaning during His lifetime. In His ministry, Jesus would give the word to His disciples and then send them out to reach others, healing many and sharing His love. In this case, Jesus spent days and days speaking to them about what was coming, but telling them that they had to wait for it. He explained that John had baptized with water, but in a few days, they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
They were told to wait, primarily because they did not have the power to accomplish what Jesus told them to do on their own. Have you ever been told that there was a task that you needed to do, and then told that you needed to wait? Often, we think of waiting as being stagnant, but if we wait appropriately, it should be more than just not moving forward. We can be learning about what we will be doing and preparing ourselves as best as we can. Some of us have a hard time waiting and when we get frustrated, it can lead to bad choices, which may prolong what God had originally intended for our lives. In essence, when God calls us to do some task, we need to realize that we cannot do it on our own. Often, people will head out and then find that they have created a longer detour than if they had waited for God to open the doors. If you some of my coworkers (and family) that I have traveled with (especially in rental cars), I have often found myself making short trips around a new town much longer, because I haven't really studied the route and find myself relying on a map on my phone.
One other point from the words we read in this passage is the utter simplicity of the message. The disciples, as well as you and I, are simply called to be witnesses. We are not called to be salesmen and saleswomen, marketing professionals or debaters. When we think of salespeople, we often think that they do whatever or say whatever it takes to make the sale. In some cases, they are speaking truthfully about their product, but in other cases, their product is potentially vastly oversold. When people try and push Jesus on others, as a pushy salesman would do, it can cause problems and actually have a negative impact. Marketers, on the other hand, try and highlight all the benefits of what they are marketing, but they are often not truthful about the downside. Even debaters often get sidetracked into facts and data to win their argument, without really looking at the bigger picture. We aren't to try and sell or market Jesus to others and our goal should not simply be to debate nonbelievers. We are merely called to be witnesses of what He has done in our lives. People really care more about what Jesus has done in your life than the facts you know. However, many believers shy away from sharing because they think they will be asked difficult questions about the facts, when all they need to know is how Jesus has impacted their life personally.
The disciples were keenly interested as Jesus talked about the restoration of Israel. We know that at least some of them had previously been hoping that Jesus would become an earthly king, and perhaps now they thought the time was now ripe. They gathered around Jesus and asked Him if He was going to restore the kingdom to Israel. Do you think that they were starting to think once again about which of them would be on His right and left Hand, in power? Jesus told them that it was not for them to know the times or dates that the Father had set by His own authority. They wanted to know when things were going to occur and if we were honest, we'd like to know similar information today, wouldn't we? Who wouldn't want to have insight into what was coming in the next six months, year or 10 years? Do you think if we 'knew' when things would happen, it would change how we live today? We should be living the same, regardless, and if we aren't, we should ask ourselves why.
Jesus told them that they were to have a mission and not a position. This mission was going to occur when they had received the power from the Holy Spirit. They would be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Isn't that amazing to even think that this small group of disciples would be able to impact the entire world? From one aspect, it is mind blowing to think of how this small group of people has impacted people to this day all over the world. And from another aspect, in our day we can get from just about anywhere in the world to almost any other place in the matter of a day or two. Without the technology to either travel or talk to others remotely, isn't it amazing to think how they, a small group of believers, would ever impact the entire world? Jesus was telling them that they were going to be able to do more than they ever had before, even though the disciples had already done many things, in the name of Christ.
This theme continues - we cannot successfully accomplish anything of spiritual consequences without divine help from God. You can receive all the training that is available in the best Christian schools and seminaries, but that isn't enough. You can have the best Mentor that can help you to see things from a different perspective. You can be a very good speaker and in many ways, very persuasive, but that isn't enough. You can be kind to others and people may respect the way you interact, but that isn't enough. You and I can do nothing of spiritual significance apart from the Holy Spirit. This is one of the biggest problems with most Christians today, if not the biggest. If we are honest, we would have to say that includes us, at times. We run into problems when we think that we can do everything (or anything) of significance without the Holy Spirit. You may be a Bible Study teacher, a pastor or some other minister, or you may work with a group of other believers in some common spiritually related task or project. However, if you are doing these things without the power of the Holy Spirit, you are missing your biggest power source.
After Jesus had spoken these words to the disciples, He was taken up before their very eyes and was hidden from their sight in the clouds. I can imagine that the disciples kept straining their eyes to see where Jesus went. Can you even imagine what it might like to be in that group? You would likely already a bit confused about what Jesus was saying and probably just getting used to really believing that He was there in your presence. How would you feel if you then saw Him taken up into the clouds?
Suddenly, two men dressed in white stood beside them and asked them why they stood there looking into the sky? You might think that if you were the disciples, you could say that you quit looking for Jesus to rise from the dead (which was a mistake), so why would they quit looking for Him to come down from the sky. They were told that Jesus, who had been taken from them into heaven, would come back in the same way. To this day, we anxiously await the return of Jesus Christ.
I often think about the disciples and all that they experienced. They didn't have the benefit of the 'rest of the story' and we often look at their reactions as if we would do something different. Really? None of us have experienced anyone like Jesus 'tangibly' in our lives, seeing miracles and hearing teaching. We would have to be stretching to say that we would do anything different.
You and I have heard about the Holy Spirit's power, and as believers, we have experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives in many ways. He convicts us of our sin, so that we can become a believer. He is a Comforter in times when we require comfort. He is an encourager to us. He guides us into the truth of God's word. There are many ways that the Holy Spirit has worked in the lives of believers, but even today, it is difficult to adequately explain that presence to others who are not believers. In fact, many people would think you to be quite strange to speak of a supernatural presence in your life.
As we think of the mission that was given to the disciples, what role do you believe that we play in that? We know that we are called to impact the world, and though you and I may not be in the outer regions of our world today, we are still to have an impact. We may not be a minister or serve in some capacity like that, but we are still to have an impact. In your daily life, do people know that you are a believer? If others don't know, can we honestly say we have an impact? Secondly, if others do know that you are a believer, what would you say that they believe about who Jesus is, based on who you are? We often forget that we each are witnesses through our lifestyle and through the words we use. We are a witness through the way we treat people and the things we consider most important.
We read that Jesus was taken up, like no other. And we read that He will be coming back in much the same way. We don't know when He will return, but we know that He will. While we shouldn't sell all that we are and go wait on a mountain (like some groups have done in the past), we should live with an attitude of expectation. Are you ready for Jesus to return?