14 May 2015

Acts 1:6-11

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven?” (v. 11)

Psalm: Psalm 24


Today is Ascension Day. The Gospel of Luke's account of the Resurrection and Ascension is very compressed (Luke 20:50-52) - everything appears to take place on a single day. He goes on to tell the story of the Ascension again at the beginning of Acts, his second book, this time expanding his account. It's also worth noting that the Ascension only appears in Luke's Gospel, apart from the less reliable ending of Mark's Gospel (Mark 16:19).

Verse 11 encourages us to engage with the question of the ascension, "Why do you stand looking up towards heaven?". The Ascension was the completion of Jesus' life and work, but it is not the end of the Christian story. This ending is also a new beginning and the angels are asking us the same question - Jesus is no longer physically with you, so what are you doing now?

For the disciples the Ascension offered an opportunity to quiz Jesus for the last time on the meaning of his mission, they are still focused on traditional Messianic expectations of liberation from the occupying Roman power. But Jesus, as so often, tells them that they are on the wrong track - "It is not for you to know the times or periods..." (v. 7). Instead he offers them something better, without telling them that this is linked to his departure, "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you" (v. 8). The saying goes, 'with power comes responsibility', so he confirms what their responsibility is - "and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judaea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (v. 8).

The story of the Ascension should be a call to us to get out into the world, be witnesses to the risen and ascended Christ and make disciples. These are all good Methodist themes and fit well with John Wesley's famous saying "I look on all the world as my parish".

To Ponder

  • What does the Ascension mean to you?
  • Are there times when we are standing around looking up to heaven, perhaps looking for liberation rather than concentrating on being witnesses?
  • What would you have asked Jesus just before he ascended?

Bible notes author

Julian Bond

Julian works for the Connexional Team as the grants team leader. Previous to that he was the director of the Christian Muslim Forum, which is built on friendship between a group of Christians and Muslims, showing how faith is a catalyst for good relationships and welcomes the 'other'.