II Kings 2:1-12, Acts 1:1-11
May 6, 2018
If you know me, you know I’ve always been interested in astronomy. Constellations, eclipses, super moons, meteor showers, conjunctions, you name it! I love that stuff! When I’m at Kirkwood, I’m often found late at night, standing out in the meadow, in the pitch dark, looking up at the night sky.
I learned a lot from a guy who used to be on TV, a guy who called himself “The Star Hustler.” Do you remember him. It was a PBS thing, I think. His name was Jack Horkheimer. (I had to Google him!) He would be on in little segments between certain shows, and he would tell of interesting astronomical events that were coming up in the night sky. He was always trying to peak people’s interest in the heavens. It was great stuff! And he always closed his broadcast with the phrase, “Keep looking up!”
I borrowed those words for today! Because, at the end of our story for today, the disciples were “looking up!” But they hadn’t been! For a long time, they had been focused mainly on “earthly things,” despite what Jesus had tried to tell them for three years about looking to the heavenly!
And now, even after all that had recently happened, after their master – their rabbi – had been arrested and executed, after the horrible despair of those three days, even after his resurrection, and his numerous appearances, they still weren’t sure what was going to happen. And even after all that, they still had, in the forefront of their thoughts, the return of the “earthly kingdom” of Israel. “All that spiritual stuff is nice, Jesus, but we need you to be the one to free us from the Romans!”
That’s what they were thinking! And they weren’t the only ones! As you know, that’s what pretty much everyone was thinking! Do you remember what the two travelers said on the road to Emmaus? “We had hoped this Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel!” And if you stillaren’t sure, you only have to think back to what happened on Palm Sunday, and remember how ready the people were to hail Jesus as their deliverer, and to crown him King!
So here were the disciples. They were with the resurrected Jesus, for what they probably didn’t know was the last time. And still, they were wondering what it all meant, and what was going to happen now. And Luke, the likely author of this book, made sure to include from that conversation, what were some of the most prominent words spoken that day. The disciples asked, what? “Lord, will you now restore the kingdom to Israel?”
There it was again! That was still their greatest hope concerning this Jesus! (Even though he always seemed to avoid that subject!) They had lost that hope on Good Friday. That, and any other future they had with Jesus, died that day. But now! Now that he was resurrected, now that he was in possession of even greater powers than they had ever before imagined, now it all seemed to be back on the table! “So,now, Jesus? Now will you restore the kingdom of Israel?!”
There was that question again. But it was more than that! In one of the Bible versions we read the other night, there was a rendering of this passage that brought out something I said a few weeks ago. Maybe you remember. In the Greek language, the past tense would often denote, not just an action in the past, but a repeated or even a habitual action in the past. Not just, “He jumped.” But “He often jumped.” Or “he kept on jumping.” You see?
So, in the one translation we read, it said, not just that “The disciples asked him, ‘Lord, will you now restore the kingdom to Israel,” but that “They kept on asking him…” They didn’t just ask this question once. This was still so very important to them, and so very much on their minds, that they asked him a number of times! We might say, they kept bugging him about it!
So this was Jesus’ “final answer” to that question. He said to them, “It is not for you to know. But(!) you will receive power, and you will be my witnesses. You will be in charge. You will usher in my kingdom.” “Oh and by the way, that ‘earthly kingdom of Israel’ thing? Uh uh! It’s a lot bigger than that! In fact, you will be going, not just to Jerusalem and Judea, but also to Samaria! Oh… and to the ends of the earth, too.” “And yes, I really meant Samaria!” (You know what those “good Jewish boys” thought about the Samaritans!)
That was to be the kingdom. And that has been the kingdom for the last 2,000 years! And of course, we are part of that! We are part of the kingdom Jesus meant when he talked about “the ends of the earth!”
So then, having said that, having given them his “final answer” to their “often repeated” question, Jesus did this thing we’ve been talking about ever since. We say it every time we say “The Apostles’ Creed.” “He ascended into Heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father, from thence he shall come…” Here’s that statement in this story. “He ascended into Heaven…” And this became yet another of the things Jesus did, by which we can know that he is who he said he is! And maybe it was for them, too!
So the disciples were left standing there “looking up.” And I wonder… could we say they were finally “looking up” for the first time? And I wonder, after all that Jesus tried to tell them about the heavenly kingdom, did they finally see it? Even if they did, I’m guessing they got just a glimpse. But, it was enough to divert their attention from the worldly.
And I wonder about us. Are we ever like they were? Are we ever so preoccupied with the earthly that we can’t see the heavenly? We can’t help it, really! The earthly is ever before us, ever in our minds, ever demanding our attention. And I wonder, is God ever frustrated with us? He tries to point us to the heavenly, but we can’t seem to switch our focus?
The question by the “two men in white robes” is an interesting one. “Why are you looking up?” It’s as though they were saying, “You have things to do here on earth now!” I get the sense that they were saying, “Great! Finally, you’re looking up!” “But this Jesus will return just as you saw him go. So, in the meantime…” “Remember what he just said about going to the ends of the earth!”
I think that’s part of it. But, I don’t think the question “Why are you looking into Heaven?” was meant to dissuade these men from “looking up.” I don’t think it meant that they shouldn’t be looking to the heavenly realm. After all, this Jesus they just watched ascend, was constantly trying to point them to the heavenly kingdom! I think we need to find a balance between the earthly and the heavenly. And, I think, if we look to God in Heaven, we are able to see life on Earth much clearer!
There’s an expression you might have heard before. It refers to someone who thinks very spiritually, but perhaps doesn’t think enough about things here on earth. It is said of such that they are “So Heavenly minded they are no Earthly good.” Have you heard that one? Could that ever be said of you?
Well, what about the opposite? That was the problem with the disciples. They were “So Earthly minded they were no Heavenly good!” And that’s usually more of our plight, isn’t it? Again, the key is keeping that balance between the two. And that’s why we have to do whatever we have to to concentrate on the heavenly. Because the earthly is always before us. The heavenly, we have to look for. And so, as Jack Horkheimer would tell us, we have to “keep looking up!”
Eternal God, help us to look to, and see glimpses of your kingdom. Help us to keep looking up, and searching for the spiritual in an intensely “earthly” world. Help us to know you are touching us, filling us, and guiding us in this life, as we look to the next life. These things we pray in Jesus’ name, and for the sake of his kingdom! Amen!