the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
Devotional Hours Within the Bible
The Ascension was part of the work of Christ as our Savior. It was not the end of it. The Gospel narrative is described by Luke as “all that Jesus began both to do and to teach.” It is interesting to think of words and deeds of Jesus as beginnings. He did not cease to live and work when He went away from earth. He only returned to heaven, where He continued His active interest in behalf of this world. The atonement was made on the cross but the real work of saving men goes on all these common days. Men are not saved merely by Christ’s death on Calvary; each one is saved by a personal relationship with Christ, and by the work of Christ, which goes on in his life from the day he is savingly converted, until he enters heaven. Thus the work of Christ is going on; He only began it in His years on the earth. The coming of the Spirit was really the return of Christ to this world to continue His ministry. His work is carried on, too, by His people in this world. We are the body of Christ and we are to be Christ to others; Christ would live in us and work through us.
The most wonderful miracle the world ever saw was the raising of Jesus Christ from the dead. The truth of the resurrection is the very cornerstone of our Christian faith. Everything depends upon it. If it could be disproved, the whole system of Christianity would be swept away! A Christ who died and did not rise again could never be the Helper and Savior we need. If the body of Jesus still lies amid the dust of Jerusalem, how can He help us in our struggles, our toils and our duties? If death was too strong for Him how can we hope that He can conquer death for us? In those forty days during which Christ remained on the earth He appeared again and again to His disciples in different manifestations of His love, and gave them proofs, which left not a shadow of doubt in any heart.
“Do not leave Jerusalem but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
No doubt they would gladly have gone forth at once to begin the work of preaching and saving men. It would seem, too, as if they were prepared to go, for they had been in training with Christ for three years. Now that He was risen and ascended to heaven, why should they wait longer? We think of them as eager to begin their work. But they were not yet ready. We learn that waiting sometimes is out first duty. It is easier to be active than to wait but sometimes everything depends upon our ability to be patient and not to move. When Christ wants us to wait, though it may seem to be a waste of time we can always serve Him best by simply waiting. Indeed we can serve Him then in no other way. Many a good life is marred and its usefulness wrecked, by impatience ; it is the patient man to whom blessings come.
A story is told of a Christian woman who had been active for many years, busy in ministries for Christ, who at last was laid aside in wasting consumption. Yet she was as quiet in her waiting as ever she had been in her most active years. One day her pastor said to her: “I cannot understand your quietness and peace these days. In former times, when you were well you were ever going somewhere on some ministry of love, and were never still a moment. But now you seem to be as contented and restful here in your bed, when you can do nothing, as ever you were in your busy days.” She replied: “When I was well, I used to hear Jesus say, continually, ‘Go and do this or that,’ and I always went quickly and obeyed Him. But now I hear Jesus say each hour, ‘Lie here and cough,’ and I know that it is His will for me, and I do it as sweetly as I can.” She had caught the secret of the restful life.
The waiting was not idle there was a purpose in it. There was a promise of divine power. “Wait for the promise.” They were not yet ready to go out to work; they were not prepared to preach Christ’s gospel until they had received the divine gift. There is a good lesson here for very many of us. Ofttimes we are in too much of a hurry to get to active work. We do not think of preparation for it.
Some young men can hardly restrain their impatience to get through college and theological seminary, that they may begin to preach. They want to combine as many years as possible in their course of training, that they may get the more quickly into the field. They think they are wasting time in studying Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Church history and theology. But they make a serious mistake. To be fitted for work in life they need all the preparation they can possibly obtain.
Then, even after one has finished the formal courses of study and is intellectually ready for the work, there is still something more to wait for; no man should begin to preach the gospel of Christ until he has waited at Christ’s feet for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This preparation he cannot get from book nor in colleges and seminaries. The apostles had been well taught, with Christ Himself as the teacher; yet even they were not fitted to go out and meet the world until they had been filled with the Holy Spirit.
The lesson applies to all of us. Every morning we should linger in prayer before God, to receive His Spirit to fit and empower us for the day’s life and duty. Before every special ministry to which we are called we should also wait until we are endued with spiritual power.
The disciples were full of questions. All their original thoughts about the Messiahship of Jesus, and the form of their own service had to be readjusted. So they came with the question, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus answered, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” They were anxious to know about the future, to have a sort of program or chart of the coming years. They were somewhat inclined to speculation. Jesus taught them that they had nothing to do with future times and dates they did not need to trouble themselves about these things.
The lesson is important for all of us. There are many things that it is better we should not know beforehand. Indeed, it is a merciful provision that we cannot see into the future. If we could see the sorrows, struggles, defeats and trials that we shall have to meet before we get to our heavenly home all our bright days would be saddened by the anticipation of these things. As it is, we go on, unconscious of shadows that lie before us living as if all were clear and bright, trusting God for the future. Then when we come to the hard points God gives us grace to meet them. “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own!” Matthew 6:34.
On the other hand, if we knew the joys, blessings and prosperities, which we are to have in our life, it might make us vain and self-confident. At least it might hinder us from doing our work in the very best possible way. It is better far that we should leave all our future in God’s hands; it is not for us to know the times or the seasons.
The disciples were assured that they should receive something better than a chart of the times. Instead of worrying about the future, they would have strength given them to meet the future, as it would be opened unto them. Instead of idly prying into hidden things their duty was to take up the work of Christ and enter heartily upon it.
The lesson is very important. We are told to watch for Christ’s coming but the way to watch is not to sit down in idleness and wonder if He will come tomorrow but to keep our hands ever full of earnest work in His service. Work which will help to hasten the coming of His Kingdom, work at which we should like Him to find us, when He comes.
The particular form of the work of the disciples was indicated. “You shall be my witnesses .” It was for this that they had been called and trained that they might be witnesses for Him. A witness is one who know something of which he is to testify to others. Forty days before, Jesus had been put to death in Jerusalem, and they were to go out and witness of this. They had lived with Him for three years, hearing His words and seeing His life. They were to testify of all they had heard and seen.
To the men who had stained their hands in Christ’s own blood, was the gospel first preached. Another thought is, that the murderers of Christ first received the gospel and many of them were saved. This would prove to all the world, that none need perish. For if those who had nailed Christ to the cross should receive remission of sins, surely no other sinner anywhere could have sins too black to be forgiven! A still further suggestion from this command, was that all Christian work should begin at home, right among those whom we know and love the best. We are to begin at this center and then work out as we can into all the world.
While Jesus was talking one day to His disciples “He was taken up.” In the other account of the Ascension, we are told that it was while with uplifted hands He was blessing, that He parted from them and was carried from them. This was the last glimpse the world had of Jesus. We like to remember how a friend looked and what he was doing, the last time we saw him.
No wonder the disciples stood looking up into heaven after their ascending Lord. But this was not their most important duty. There was no reason for sorrow. They had not lost Jesus. He had told them it was beneficial for them that He should go away that He might send the Comforter. Besides, He had not gone to stay. In due time He would return again. Pensive gazing is never the best occupation. Working and witnessing are better. When our friends leave us, we are not forbidden to sorrow but certainly we are forbidden to sorrow in a way that breaks up our life of duty and service.
A mother, who lost a beloved daughter years ago, has done scarcely anything since but visit the cemetery and weep. Her home duties have been neglected. The living members of her family have received almost no care. She sits and gazes up into heaven ad weeps for her child. This is not the way our Lord wants us to behave. He wants us to go at once back to our duties, thoughtful and serious, yet earnest and faithful, looking for blessing from heaven, and witnessing by our faith and hope to the glory of our Savior.
One was telling me of a friend who came in one morning and sat for half an hour and spoke of matters which were much on his heart, giving this younger person advice and counsel and showing the deepest, most loving interest. In two days he was gone and then my friend said he never could forget that last visit, with the eager affection and the deep interest. That good face will always be remembered, just as when it was last seen. That was the way the disciples would always think of Him.
This last act of the Master, as He was leaving the earth, ought to mean a great deal to us. The last thing He did was to stretch out His hands and breathe from His lips a blessing. Christ’s mission to the world was to bless it. At every step He left blessings. Wherever He went He carried cheer. There are a few human friends whose visits are full of inspiration. A sick woman, a great sufferer for many years, said one day to a friend: “Yes, I am better this afternoon. I had Mr. Chalmers, my pastor, here, and he never comes but I say: ‘That is just how Jesus would have come to see me. That is the way Jesus would have spoken. That is the way Jesus would have looked.’ And I am better afterwards.”
Jesus was always lifting up His hands and blessing people. He blessed the children, the sick, the sorrowing, the lonely. His whole life was really just like that vision the disciples had of Him that day of the Ascension.
Some people spend too much time gazing into heaven. There is a time when we ought to look upward, toward the skies. Man was made to adore. The original word in Greek for man means the upward look. One who looks always downward only grovels. Heaven is above us. We get our inspirations from above us. Our final home is above us. Never to look upward is to miss all that is worthy, beautiful and divine in life. But there is a gazing into the heavens, which is most idle and wasteful. The disciples saw their Master as He left them, and watched while His form was visible, until it was folded away in the cloud. Then it was their duty to hasten away to begin their waiting and praying. They were not to lose a moment.
Peter wished to build tabernacles and keep the transfiguration glory on the mountain. But it was a mistaken wish. Work was awaiting him, and the purpose of the transfiguration was to prepare the Master and His disciples for going forward in the service of love. It is not enough to read the Bible and to have our hearts warmed by its revealings and our spirits stirred by its calls to duty. The fervor is meant to send us out into the world to live nobler and to make the world better and happier. Let us heed the call that bids us away from our idle gazing to serious duty. We dream too much dreaming accomplishes nothing, until we turn away and put our dreams into acts. We need the dreams to give us the inspiration, to show us the ideal, to set before us the heavenly pattern; then we must go forth to make the dreams become real in life, in character, in service!