I haven’t heard any sermons preached about that incident, as far as I can remember, but it is one of the most amazing stories of the New Testament. At least as far as I’m concerned.
And here’s why.
This Is A “No Standing” Zone
Immediately after Jesus issued the final details of His revealed Great Commission mandate, the miraculous Ascension took place. Jesus began to “be lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). While the disciples were “gazing intently into the sky,” two angels emerged in their midst, appearing as “men in white clothing” (Acts 1:10).
What these angels said to the disciples simply fascinates me. God could have had these angelic messengers say any number of things, yet their very first words were, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky?” (Acts 1:11).
This seems like a bizarre question, particularly because the resurrected Savior was floating up through the clouds right before their eyes. Yet then again, it isn’t so strange when you consider what the disciples were supposed to be doing at that very moment. They were supposed to be boarding the first chariot to Jerusalem!
The angels then say, in verse eleven, that Jesus “will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven,” but it seems strange to insert a doctrinal teaching regarding the Second Coming in such an obscure passage. Furthermore, it is unlikely the Lord would use two unidentified angels to explain—with such brevity even—about the manner in which Jesus will return one day. God would soon enough use the apostle Paul to pen inspired epistles detailing that inevitable and rapturous event (e.g. 1 and 2 Thessalonians).
Although the angels’ statement about Christ’s return would have certainly been encouraging to those watching their Lord depart, I believe the real issue lies in their first statement, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky?”
Get Your Head Out Of The Clouds
What we have here, I believe, is a mild reprimand. The disciples needed to recognize the importance of obedience according to God’s timeline, not theirs. They should have been sprinting down “the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away,” but they just stood there with their eyes fixed on clouds (Acts 1:12).
To put the angel’s announcement in the context of today’s vernacular, they were essentially saying,
Get your heads out of the clouds and get moving! There is no dilly-dallying when the Son of God gives you a mission. To Jerusalem and fast! Jesus will certainly return someday but you need to do what you have been commanded to today.
And what does the Scripture say immediately following the angel’s words? “Then they returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives” (Acts 1:12).
I could be wrong on this, but I think God sent His disciples two angelic messengers to remind them that He is serious about this Great Commission business. This is important stuff—determined by God before the foundation of the world—and they were not permitted to go about it in any manner they chose. Immediate and absolute allegiance, faithfulness, and radical obedience to Jesus Christ was required.
It is what’s required still today as well. This is God’s revealed will for everyone who names the name of Christ.
Really, these brief verses set the stage for the remainder of, not only the book of Acts, but our mission today as well.
God is saying to each one of us today,
“Get your heads out of the clouds and start making disciples, church!”
Image credit: stuartpilbrow (Creative Commons)