Monday, May 6, 2013

Ends of the Earth

"Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?"

Acts 1:6 is the only place where it is recorded in scripture that Jesus' disciples asked this question but I have to imagine it was one that was on their minds frequently. They had seen Jesus' miraculous power and they hailed him as Messiah and savior. They're expectation was that Jesus was the one who would usher in God's reign in Israel and over all the nations. I imagine that when Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem at the time of Passover and all the people are shouting "Hosanna!" and Jesus begins to make his way to the temple the disciples must have been thinking "Is this it? Is Jesus finally going to begin the rebellion?" Instead, Jesus is crucified just days later and we hear the disappointment in the disciples who walk the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus as they say "We had hoped that he was the one who would redeem Israel."

Now the disciples encounter with the resurrected Jesus has restored their hope; namely, that hope that God's kingdom would be established. Not only is Jesus alive again but here, in the opening of Acts, he begins to speak about the promise of the Holy Spirit. If the prophecy of Joel is any indication, it is likely that the gift of the Spirit is something that the disciples would have associated with the establishment of God's reign. So its natural with Jesus now resurrected and promising that the gift of the Spirit is near that this same question would be on their minds once again: has the time finally come for the kingdom to be restored to Israel?.

Its not only those first disciples who seem to be preoccupied with that question. There are plenty of disciples today who seem to spend enormous amounts of time and energy on the same question - whole segments of Christianity with the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other trying to discern whether the end is near. To them and to us, Jesus very plainly says "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority." It doesn't get much plainer that that.

Jesus also goes on to say "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth." Jesus is not merely turning their attention away from speculating about chronology. He is also turning their attention to  mission. The focus of the disciples is not to be on the end of the world but the ends of the earth.

Immediately after commissioning the disciples on this mission, Jesus does an unexpected thing - at least I imagine it must have been a surprise to his disciples - he leaves! The disciples are just getting geared up to follow Jesus wherever he leads, even to the ends of the earth, and then he is out of sight. As their leader, teacher, and friend ascends into heaven two men appear and essentially say "Why are you staring into the sky. He'll be back." And the implication seems to be "But in the meantime you have more important things to do than stand around watch for his return. There is an urgent mission at hand."

It strikes me as remarkable that Jesus leaves in order to get this mission underway. Shouldn't Jesus be the one leading the mission? Shouldn't he be our general, our CEO, making sure we get it right? Isn't this an abdication of leadership on Jesus' part? Jesus has given us this remarkable mission, one to the ends of the earth, and he expects us to carry out with his Holy Spirit empowering us to do so. To me, that speaks volumes as to how much responsibility God has put in our hands. Jesus has entrusted this kingdom mission to us with all our fragility and failures and he expects us to be able to carry it out so long as we wait upon his Spirit to empower us for it.

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