Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Beginning in the End

Luke says in the very first verse of the Acts of the Apostles that in his former account (presumably the Gospel of Luke) he wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach.  If you had never read the book of Acts before, this opening verse might lead you to believe that you were going to hear quite a bit more about all that Jesus continued to do and to teach in this second volume of Luke's work.  However, it is only nine verses later that Jesus ascends into heaven leaving the disciples behind on earth.  Jesus is often spoken of but rarely seen in the rest of this rather lengthy New Testament book.  One might easily wonder then how it is that Luke's former book was only about the beginning of Jesus' ministry if by the opening of this second book he has already exited the stage.  Does that not mean that Jesus' ministry is done?

The fact that Jesus' ministry is not yet finished even though he has ascended into heaven seems to be one of the primary theological points of the ascension and the book of Acts as a whole.  In other words, although the person of Jesus himself is mostly absent from the story of Acts, what Luke does go on to narrate is the actions and teachings of the early church empowered by the same Spirit which empowered Jesus.  That is to say that the Acts of the Apostles is indeed a continuation of the story about what Jesus did and taught; it is the narration of Jesus' work in the world through his Spirit-filled Church.  The Spirit empowered Church is the presence of Jesus in the world after his ascension into heaven.  

What a tremendoues and sobering responsibility we have been given.  After beginning his kingdom ministry here on earth, Jesus has left it up to us to carry it on.  That is why we must not be a Church that is constantly gazing heavenward..  Its not hard to imagine how abandoned and vulnerable the disciples must have felt as they watched their Lord and savior disappear from their presence.  But immediately, two heavenly messengers arrive to redirect the disciples gaze and to assure them that Jesus will return (Acts 1:11).  In the meantime, the Church's mission is not simply to gaze into heaven wondering when we will be joined with our savior once again.  The Church's mission is to wait on the Holy Spirit so that we might be empowered to continue the ministry of Jesus in our world.  

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