One of the things that is difficult to get used to in our community is saying goodbye. International communities, by nature, tend to be somewhat transient. People are moving in and out all the time. You feel like you get to know someone and they are off again. Sometimes you are the one who is off again. International living has its benefits but it’s sad saying so many goodbyes.
An unexpected goodbye is the hardest to deal with. It’s far better when we know the transition is coming and we can prepare for it for. When Jesus died the disciples were overwhelmed with grief. They didn’t really understand and weren’t fully prepared for it. However, when Jesus ascended into heaven we have no record of the disciples being upset or confused. That’s because Jesus had spent time preparing them for his ascension.
Luke tells us that over the course of forty days, Jesus was able to get his followers ready for what was coming next. First, he had time to convince the disciples and others that he had actually risen from the dead. After the trauma of his death and resurrection the disciples needed to know they weren’t just dreaming. It really did happen. Jesus really did come back to life. Luke tells us that Jesus “presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3) Jesus spent time assuring his disciples that he is the victor over death and anything that followed would be easier to deal with.
The second thing Luke tells us is that Jesus used the time to tell the disciples what to do next. He told them to go to Jerusalem and “wait for the promise of the Father.”(1:4) That ‘promise’ was the coming of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told his disciples that it was necessary for him to leave in order for the Holy Spirit to come. The Spirit would come and empower them to continue, to be his witnesses and to proclaim the resurrection of Christ. The disciples could take comfort in knowing that as Jesus ascended into heaven they would not be forgotten. Someone was coming to help them.
Finally, Jesus used those forty days to clarify some of the disciples’ misconceptions. The disciples were still concerned over when Jesus’ earthly kingdom would start. They asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom of Israel?” (1:6) Jesus didn’t challenge their understanding of the kingdom – he will come and rule someday – but he told them not to worry about the timing. God the Father will determine when the time is right for the new heaven and new earth. In the meanwhile, his disciples are to continue proclaiming the good news.
Tomorrow is a holiday in Switzerland, Ascension Day. It’s a celebration of Christ’s bodily ascension to heaven. It’s also a reminder of his promise to come again. Jesus prepared his followers for his departure but it was two men in white robes who offered the most comfort that day. “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (1:11)
So my question to you is, “are you prepared for his return?”