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
Today’s passage is really a continuation of yesterday’s passage about the Easter gift to all those who choose to receive it. This passage describes an encounter between Jesus and His followers after He has risen from the dead. Jesus was eating with His disciples and telling them more about the coming Holy Spirit and what they could expect in the journey ahead.
The disciples are demonstrating once again a profound ability to to ask the wrong questions. They are wondering “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”. Even now, after witnessing His death and resurrection, they miss the message and the purpose of the Messiah. They want Jesus to stick around and lead them to an earthly victory, when the reality is that His very presence in the room is a victory over the death and darkness of this world. They still don’t get it.
Jesus’ response to their question is really interesting, he does not answer the question they asked but rather the questions they should have asked “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” So basically Jesus is saying mind your own business and I will take care of the rest. He goes on to help the disciples to understand what their “business” is to be, “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.” No military campaigns to restore Israel. No restoration of the kingdom of Israel. Only empty vessels ready to receive the promised Holy Spirit so that they can be Jesus’ witnesses to the world, near and far.
So the first part, being an empty vessel to receive the Holy Spirit sounds easy, but in practice I think it is hard. We have to flush out all the ego and self-centered parts of our soul to make room. Then we need to use this new guide or co-pilot to be a witness. In my experience a witness is one who has seen or experienced something, in this case the life and teachings of Jesus. The disciples are to be part story teller, part cheer leader, part historian, to spread news of their encounter with the Living Water that flowed on earth for a time and would soon ascend into the heavens.
Interestingly, just after this Jesus is “taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight”. He is taken up into heaven and hidden by a cloud. A cloud is paradoxically the way God used to appear to the Israelites between the walks in the Garden of Eden and the arrival of Jesus. The puzzled disciples are looking skyward when two figures show up and ask “why do you stand here looking up at the sky?” Jesus already told them where to look and it was within themselves to make room for the coming Holy Spirit. These men go on to explain “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.” They do not say when.
So we are left with the same choice as the disciples, we can look to the sky and wonder where Jesus went, or we can make room in our hearts for the Holy Spirit and bear witness to the ways we find Jesus there.
Prayer: God help us to make room in our hearts for the Holy Spirit and bear witness to ways we encounter Jesus.