Life on the Day After…
The Ascension might have set up the disciples for a let down
When you’ve been on an absolutely amazing trip, the first day back home can seem a bit anti-climactic. Of course we all know that the day after Christmas is, for many, a bit of a let down after all of the build up for the holiday. As a kid, if you went to church camp, you were warned that leaving “the mountaintop experience” could be difficult, and it probably was.
But imagine having been through what the eleven remaining disciples had been through by the time of Jesus’ ascension into heaven one Thursday, forty days after his resurrection. You had watched the triumphal entry (up), and then heard Jesus talk about His impending betrayal (down). He confounded the Pharisees and Sadducees (up), but they were angry and looking for ways to destroy Him (down). At the last supper He talked about the kingdom (up) but said one of them would betray Him (DOWN). He was betrayed (by Judas, the man they’d trusted as treasurer! down), tried, crucified and buried (down, Down, DOWN), then rose on Sunday and they saw Him (UP x100). For forty days He continued to appear and tell them about the kingdom and the coming power of the Spirit (UP). And then He left and went back to Heaven, having told them to wait for that power.
While I doubt they were depressed at His ascension, I do wonder if they felt a sense of loss–He clearly was doing something miraculous, but separation had come. And the next day, there was no power–yet.
And the power didn’t come the next day either. They had to live in anticipation without any certainty of when things would change–except that Jesus had said it would be “not many days from now” before He left. That would be encouraging, until you start wondering what a “short” time for God would be–after all, Jesus said He was coming “quickly” at the end of Revelation, and 2,000 years is within that “quick.”
What they did was especially instructive for those of us who also live in a time where we already have received much, but are awaiting more. Today is the day after the anniversary of the Ascension, and we, too, need power to live faithfully until Jesus comes. I would suggest that they took four essential actions for living in the days in between mountaintops.
1. They obeyed the last instructions they had. Jesus had made it clear, they were to wait until the power that He would send would come. Apparently, His references to “baptize you with fire” was enough for them to know that when that power came, they would recognize it. Until then, they would stay where they were. Are you wanting God’s power, or direction, or anything else He might have for your future? Let me ask you this–are you doing the things He has told you to do up to this point? Are you seeking God’s direction for the future? While you wait, are you doing the last thing you know He had made clear was what you were supposed to do? Until new directions come, you follow the last ones you received.
2. They didn’t hold on alone. We see in Acts 1 that the disciples gathered together in the “upper room” where they were staying (1:13–very probably the same upper room where they had celebrated the Passover/Last Supper), and that the company of believers–about 120 people–was together then or soon after. Even before the official birth of the New Covenant Church, there was a clear and continuing pattern of togetherness for support, encouragement, prayer, and decision making. Imagine how much harder it would have been had they all dispersed to their own places for a week. I know that we can hardly get 75% of our people together weekly on any given week (it’s actually closer to between 50-66% of “regulars” in church on any given Sunday), but there was a sense that they really needed each other–to reaffirm what they had seen and heard, to encourage, and to comfort when doubt might strike.
3. They took what actions they could. The Scriptures were Peter’s guide in leading the believers to replace Judas, and they did so using biblical means appropriate to the times. Matthias was chosen, and that settled the matter–there was no later message from the Spirit that they had blown it and it was supposed to be Paul, even though he was also an apostle. Their motivation was pure, and it was simple–Jesus wanted 12 witnesses, and we only have 11, but there are others here who have been followers from the beginning that can fill that role, so let’s get this done. There may be power you have to wait for, but there often are steps you can take to prepare to be as ready as you can be for the power when it comes. I think about King David here. He was told he couldn’t build the Temple. So, what did he do? He gathered as much of the material needed as he could so that when Solomon started he would have what he needed. That’s what the believers did, too.
4. They prayed. Marking their gatherings and their decisions, and even their waiting moments, they sought God. They prayed for the power to come. They prayed for wisdom in decisions. They probably prayed about a lot of things, but corporate conversation with God set the stage for the arrival of the power. The more they talked to God and each other, the closer they were to the Spirit’s coming, but also the closer they were to each other and God! We want power, but do we pray together for it? We want greater unity, but do we regularly unite in prayer? We want to know God more, but do we even talk to Him, or just settle with ideas about Him?
Ascension Day was when Jesus went to His throne, but also when His absence was keenly felt by His disciples. They had His promises and the angels’ words that He would return, but the more immediate concern was a mission to be witnesses to the world, and the inability to do it without power. They came down the mountain (Mt. Olivet to be exact), and did exactly what was needed to prepare for power. May we use this day after Ascension Day to consider how we might faithfully live between the mountaintops.