Each spring, in the days between Easter and Pentecost, Students of Jesus have an opportunity to re-assess the mission we’ve received from Jesus. We are big on Easter, and rightfully so--God the Father raised Jesus from the dead, putting an exclamation mark on the life of his Son. Some branches of the faith are big on Pentecost, celebrating the coronation of Jesus in heaven, and the overflow of the Spirit which dripped down on the earth.
The forty days between Easter and Pentecost are less distinct, yet they provide us an opportunity to reflect on the significance of the resurrection in our lives. The risen Jesus didn’t leave in a hurry: he hung out with his disciples and put the finishing touches on three years of training. He wants to do the same for us. The first eleven verses in the the book of Acts suggests that we, too, can go deeper with Jesus and discover what he has in mind for us. Here are a few suggestions:
- The resurrected Jesus stuck around for 40 days. Apparently he had more to say and do. The very first verse in Acts teaches us that the gospels were about “all that Jesus began to do and teach.” The rest of Acts teaches us that Jesus was still doing and teaching in the days, weeks, months and decades after the gospels. The work of the first century church was the work of Jesus. Is that still true today? It’s all too easy to substitute our work for his, to engage in ministry apart from his direction. What is Jesus is doing and teaching in our day? Are we still working with him or simply working for him?
- Jesus’ message in the 40 days of resurrection was really no different than his message during his three years of ministry: the Kingdom of God (Acts1:3). During that time Jesus continued to speak about the Kingdom of God. It’s worth noting that the book of Acts opens and closes with the Kingdom of God front and center. The very last verse in the book shows us Paul, three decades later, proclaiming the Kingdom of God (Acts 28: 31). Have we meditated on the meaning and importance of the Kingdom, or have we reduced the message of Jesus to only his sacrifice of the cross? Individually and corporately, we need to rediscover the Kingdom message.
- The gospel accounts end with Jesus saying, “Go!” In Acts Jesus says, “Wait!” What was so important that Jesus told his disciples to stay in Jerusalem? In our day many Christians are familiar with the Great Commission (Matthew 28: 16-20) but are we aware that Jesus commanded us to wait? Jesus said, in effect, “Don’t go anywhere, don’t do anything until you receive all that I have for you?” Have we meditated on the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives? We can work for God without any special empowerment. We cannot work with him apart form the Holy Spirit.
- Jesus told his followers plainly that there were some things we would not know, especially regarding the times and the seasons of the last days. Yet this very topic is of great interest in the church today: Harold Camping’s foolish predictions are just a symptom, the true illness is a church preoccupied with an exit strategy when our mission is stay and represent. Biblically speaking, we’ve been in the “last days” for 2,000 years. Jesus tells us to focus on the mission, not the culmination of the mission (Acts 1: 7-8). Have we meditated on the wrong subject in our day?
- The angels who were present at the ascension asked a pretty good question: “Why are you looking toward heaven?” (Acts 1:11) It’s a question worth considering. Frequently we are more concerned with heaven than with the Kingdom of God. The breathtaking sacrifice at Calvary purchased the forgiveness of sins and the hope of heaven, but in our generation many followers of Jesus have limited his work and message to heaven and heaven only. We should ask: if the gospel is only about going to heaven, why did Jesus invite us to take up the yoke of discipleship?
I’d love to get the podcast of everything Jesus taught in those 40 days, but it hasn’t shown up on iTunes yet. In the meantime, he invites us to work with him just as closely as the first disciples.