In January of 1967, there was a launch pad test of Apollo 1, which was to be the first flight of a three-man Apollo capsule into Earth’s orbit. Somewhere in the capsule’s 31 miles of wiring, a wire had been stripped of its insulation. The bare wire happened to be near a cooling line, and there was a violent chemical reaction between the silver in the wire and the ethylene glycol. Within seconds, flames spread across the cabin ceiling. At 6:31 p.m., astronaut Roger Chaffee said, “We’ve got fire in the cockpit.” A few seconds later, the transmission ended with a cry of pain. All three astronauts died. Two years later, when Apollo 11 got ready to carry human beings to the moon, President Nixon asked William Safire to write a speech entitled, “In Event of Moon Disaster.” If anything went wrong on the moon mission, Nixon would read the speech on TV, the radio communications with the moon would be cut off, the astronauts would be left alone to die, and a minister would commend their souls to “the deepest of the deep.” But that’s not what happened. On July 20, 1969, with less than 30 seconds of fuel left, the lunar module landed in the Sea of Tranquility, and Commander Neil A. Armstrong stepped off the ladder onto the gray, powdery surface of the moon. It was the first time a human had ever gone to another celestial body. After their return to earth, the astronauts had parades and dinners held in their honor in Washington D.C. President Nixon gave each astronaut the Presidential Medal of Freedom. What a celebration! The human race had just accomplished its greatest technological achievement of all time. Kevin Miller, executive vice president, Christianity Today
Read Acts 1:6-14
The great risks of ascending into outer space and reaching for the moon were worth it to those who took up the challenge. In the same way, Jesus’ ascension caused all who witnessed it to take of a risky, high-stakes adventure that would change the world forever. We must understand what the ascension might mean for our knowledge of who Jesus is and our understanding of what Christians are expected to be doing with themselves.
Waiting and Praying
Before Jesus departed to his home outside of space and time, he promised again that his followers “will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come.” Jesus said that God will empower them to be witnesses, beginning right where they were. Eventually, they will spread deep and wide with the good news, even to “the ends of the earth.”
Jesus’ promises affirmed that his ascension was not the end of the story; rather it is the next chapter in the story of God’s salvation. Jesus only made one request, to remain in Jerusalem for the time being. The rest of his words are descriptive, almost matter-of-fact. He told them what God will do, and what their lives will look like as a result. No requests. No orders. No threats. No exhortations.
Jesus’ ascension took him to the right hand of God (Acts 2:32-35). Meaning, Jesus ascended to all power and authority. He is the king, the lord, our leader. Jesus reigns over all creation. It is his. Christ holds it all together (Colossians 1:17). His departure does not put Jesus out of the picture until the end of time. His plan and the kingdom he initiated are not on hold. The Book of Acts assures us that Jesus departed so that he could execute his authority and influence over all things.
When the two angelic figures called the apostles back to their senses, they did not order them to get busy. They simply gave the scene a conclusion and assured them of Christ’s return. With that knowledge, they went back to Jerusalem, waited, and prayed. They thought and talked about what Jesus said; about the kingdom of God, forgiveness of sins, release from sin’s power. After sufficient prayer, rest, and waiting for the guidance of the Spirit they began moving outward to bear witness with the power of the Holy Spirit.
It’s easy to overlook the waiting period. But, this little part of the story serves to remind us that even the apostles had to wait and wonder about God’s timing. We know they would eventually witness the birth of the Church through the widespread disbursement of the Spirit. We know that they earliest believers expected Jesus to return very soon after his departure. But God waits. God waited to deliver the full measure of the Spirit and launch the Church. God waits to authorize Christ’s return. We pray and rest and then watch for God to respond, but God often waits.
Waiting builds our character and we learn, or begin to learn. We learn to wait and see what God initiates so that we can join God in it. Waiting has an active quality to it. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, the apostles took care of important matters while they watch for signs of the Lord’s movement. The apostles went to the “room upstairs,” where they were “constantly devoting themselves to prayer.” They set themselves apart in seclusion, but expected God to act. While they waited they obeyed Jesus. Nevertheless, they were ready for whatever came next.
Waiting can cause us to grow impatient with God and dismissive of God’s plans, or it can cause us to be more attentive to God, so that we can be ready to respond when the time is right. We, like the apostles and believers before us, wait amidst enormous expectations – many of which are not easily understood. It is an uneasy time of the new realities and unknown timing. Like the astronauts mentioned earlier we must exercise courage, knowing that we may not survive to see the victory from this earthly perspective. We persevere and wait because we expect great things to come from God; many things that God asks us to take part in.
The ascension of Jesus and the pronouncement of the angels assures us that Christ is alive and in control. The events remind us that we are still waiting for his return. The actions of the apostles inform us that waiting and praying bears fruit, especially when we are watching for God to initiate the process that God intends for each of us to be part of. The presence of the Church today and the long history of its impact upon humanity is evidence of the struggle to wait, seek, and fulfill God’s purposes. Therefore, we are obliged to follow the best examples of the bible and Christian history, or risk repeating the biggest mistakes.