Do you need to know “why?”


“Waiting The disciples were to stay in place for ten days. It is doubtful they fully understood what would happen, but they were obedient nonetheless.” from “30 Events That Shaped the Church: Learning from Scandal, Intrigue, War, and Revival” by Alton Gansky

Are you like me – wanting to know “Why?”

What if we (you and me) were present when this happened –

Jesus Taken Up Into Heaven

Ac 1:1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
Ac 1:6 So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Ac 1:7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Ac 1:9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
Ac 1:10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

Let’s look at what’s going on here.  
While we’re at it, let’s look at it as if we (you and me) were part of the group Jesus was addressing.

  1. Jesus told us to not leave Jerusalem.  
  2. Jesus told us to wait for the gift my Father had promised.
  3. Jesus said in a few days we will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.

What do we see if we examine each of those three things, in detail –

Jesus told us to not leave Jerusalem.

As the book points out, Jerusalem is probably one of the last places we’d want to hang around.  Jesus was captured, tortured, and killed here.  The Jewish leaders responsible for that were still here – and very much in power.  The Romans, who carried out those actions were still here – also very much in power.

Let’s look deeper into just how afraid we were, even as disciples of Jesus.

We know this, from the moments after Jesus died on the cross –

Lk 23:47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” 48 When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. 49 But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

The Roman centurion says of Jesus – “Surely this was a righteous man.”
All the people who witnessed Jesus’ death beat their breasts and went away.
And we stood at a distance.

If we look at those actions in light of customs today, we might think the centurion realized Jesus was somehow very good person.  And, especially if we are sports fans, we’d think the breast beating was a sign of victory by the people.  However, that second impression would be totally wrong.  Notice this, also from Luke –

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

Lk 18:9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
Lk 18:13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
Lk 18:14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Notice the part about the tax collector beating his breast.  The original Greek words used to describe these actions are the same.  Here’s a look at what the action meant at that time, in the Jewish culture –

19.1 τύπτωa; πληγήa, ῆς f; πλήσσω; παίωa: to strike or hit an object, one or more times—‘to hit, to strike, to beat.’τύπτωa: ἔτυπτον αὐτοῦ τὴν κεφαλὴν καλάμῳ ‘they beat him over the head with a reed’ Mk 15:19. Note that the imperfect tense may be used of a repeated action, and therefore the translation ‘beat.’ ἔτυπτεν τὸ στῆθος αὐτοῦ ‘he beat his breast’ Lk 18:13. The action of ‘beating the breast’ in Lk 18:13 is symbolic in that it has the meaning of repentance and contrition. In other languages, however, the expression ‘to beat the breast’ may constitute a symbol of pride or self-flattery. In some languages the equivalent of the biblical expression ‘to beat the breast’ is ‘to strike the head’ or ‘to grasp the abdomen.’  1)Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, pp. 221–222). New York: United Bible Societies.

Notice specifically that, while different meanings are possible in different cultures – even at that time, to the people witnessing the events of the crucifixion, as well as the tax collector in the parable, it meant –

in Lk 18:13 is symbolic in that it has the meaning of repentance and contrition

In that culture, at that time, breast beating wasn’t a sign of victory.  It was a sign of defeat – realization that the person had totally screwed up.  A realization that what we thought was good, was actually far from good.  What we had done was an offense to God.

This is even more striking, when we remember what Jesus had just said about these very people shortly before His death – while he was hanging on the cross –

Lk 23:32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
Lk 23:35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.”
Lk 23:36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
Lk 23:38 There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

Still looking at it as if we (you and me) were part of the crowd – Jesus had just asked forgiveness for us – because / even though we were killing Him.  And we just sneered at Him – made fun of Him – told Him He was nothing.

Back to the scene of the crime

Going back to the scene of Jesus’ death – we now know the Roman centurion knew they had messed up – that Jesus wasn’t a criminal, but a righteous man.  The Jewish people knew they had messed up – that they had cried out for the death of an innocent man.

And yet – we stayed back in the distance.
We had a great opportunity to preach the words from Jesus – but we didn’t.  

And now, Jesus is telling us to stick around – stay here – where we previously had this great chance to talk to all those people who realized a mistake had been made – but we didn’t.

Jesus told us to wait for the gift my Father had promised.

“…but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.”

We, the disciples, should have recognized what Jesus was talking about – and just in case the memory wasn’t immediately there, Jesus specifically said He had spoken about this gift.  In case a reminder is needed now – here is one –

Jn 14:15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”

This is at least part of what we’re waiting for.  However, it would, at best, answer only part of the “why” question.

We still don’t know why waiting in Jerusalem is so important.  Why not someplace else – someplace safer?
And once the gift is given – what happens after that?
Some pretty major “why” questions, don’t you think?

Jesus said in a few days we will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.

OK – now we know something about the timing.  We also know that we only need to hang out for a few days.  That sounds like something we can handle.

But still – do you wonder, why can’t it be now?  Why do we have to wait, even for a few days.  We’re people of action – like Peter – let’s just do this.  We don’t like to wait – we want to, as Nike used to say, “Just Do It!“.

In this passage, Jesus doesn’t even tell us what we’re going to be doing.  And there’s no reminder from Him that maybe He had already told us – like He reminded us about the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The thing is – He did tell us.  But with all the “why” questions – do we remember what He said?  The verses below come after Jesus’ death and resurrection but before the passage we’re looking at now – when Jesus ascended to Heaven.

Mt 28:16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

That is what we’re going to be doing.

But still – why not start now?

“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky?”

If you’re thinking that this passage in the heading – “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky?” came out of nowhere – think again.  It was in the passage from Acts at the top of the page.  No – it wasn’t one I highlighted or mentioned above.  But it was there.

And while some churches emphasize certain passages from the Bible, and while some of us even tune out major parts of the Bible – it’s all important.  If we want to really understand things “better” – not perfectly, but better – we need to pay attention to everything in the Bible.

This question, “why do you stand here looking into the sky?” – tells us something very important about ourselves.  While we say we are people of action – want to do things “now” – we’re not really like that.

When Jesus tells us this awesome message about the Holy Spirit coming to us – knowing that it’s supposed to be to make disciples of people – to all the nations – we ask –

“Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

Seriously?

We actually did that – even though we knew the task was going to be the Great Commission – spreading the Gospel to literally everyone?

Even though Jesus had already said –
Lk 22:25 … “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. 28 You are those who have stood by me in my trials. 29 And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

Jesus already said His kingdom wasn’t of this world, but we ask if He’s going to restore the kingdom to Israel – here on earth?

And then, Jesus responds by reminding us of things we already knew –

Ac 1:7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

And after all that, we just stand there looking up into the sky.

Back to Jerusalem

Finally, after being asked why we’re just standing there looking at the sky – we see this happen –

Ac 1:12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
Ac 1:15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus— 17 he was one of our number and shared in this ministry.”

And Peter’s talk on the topic continues.

And that – the meeting and Peter’s words – answers at least a big part of the “why did we have to wait” question.  

The answer to that question – they (we — you and I) weren’t ready yet.

When the time was right though –

Ac 2:1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Conclusion

Through this whole thing, we’ve looked at it from the point of view that we (you and me) were part of the group of disciples. 

They – the actual disciples at the time – didn’t act immediately.  They didn’t really get answers to all their questions.  On the other hand – they didn’t just keep asking questions, and waiting until they all got answered.  They certainly didn’t get upset when some of these questions didn’t get answered.  With a small bit of prodding and a few reminders of what they already knew – they did, rather quickly, do what Jesus told them.  And when the group got together in the upper room, they didn’t talk about why they couldn’t have been given more information – why did they have to wait – what about the Kingdom of Israel – what about all this talk of what we would today call – “need to know”, and how come they didn’t need to know – not to mention the fact that they were following a leader (Jesus) who didn’t have a “need to know” everything either?

With our culture today – with our mindset today – if we had really been there – would we have behaved like they did?  Or would we have been the ones that kept saying – “Wait! We need to know why!”

Truth is – we are part of that group.  Through the continuing action of the Great Commission, we are part of that process.  We often don’t know exactly what we’re supposed to do – or when – or why.  Sometimes we’re just supposed to wait until we’re ready.  And when we are – we need to act, rather quickly – as they did back then.

Will we?

Or will we be stuck on “why”?

 


The quote and information on the book are available at amazon.com –> http://a.co/j7EjlY9

References   [ + ]

1. Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, pp. 221–222). New York: United Bible Societies.

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