Gazing Into Heaven – Acts 1:8-11
Leaders are, by definition, special people. They stand out from the others that follow. Spiritual leaders therefore are destined to be extraordinary individuals. And in knowing that, we can see the potential for both blessing and compromise.
The potential blessing is easy to see and understand. As leaders are given more and more to living the God-given vision for church growth, they will receive more and more of God’s infinite grace, the necessary spiritual resources that support the effort of the body in evangelism. The potential compromise is harder to spot, however.
Unfortunately, a real danger lies in being closely associated with the Spirit of God in the performance of God’s will on the earth. The expansion of the Church is priority number one, and leaders should expect to see the divine intervention of God’s mighty hand in their lives and ministries. And this means that we might sometimes lose focus on what is most important at the moment. In fact, we might even be looking at only one aspect of the Holy Spirit’s action in the body, when another aspect should be the true priority among leadership. In other words, simply being around the move of the Spirit is never really enough. We must be joined to the will of God at the moment, working as He directs us in the harvest. Often, it is too easy to be distracted by the miraculous presence of God as He does something wondrous before our eyes, while we should in fact be readying ourselves and positioning ourselves for usefulness in the next steps of growing His Church.
Gazing Up Into Heaven
At first glance, “gazing up into heaven” doesn’t sound so bad, really. After all, saints should sometimes simply gaze toward heaven and contemplate the majesty of the One who gave Himself as our ransom. But in the first chapter of Acts there was a serious problem with the followers of Jesus merely looking heavenward when they should have been actively moving toward Jerusalem and the next phase of God’s revealed plan. Looking, in lieu of moving, can often trouble leadership and impede the progress of the work of God in the earth.
Leaders might sometimes lose focus on what is most important at the moment.
In John 4:35, Jesus had admonished the disciples to “lift up” their eyes, and to look upon the fields which were already ready to be harvested. In that case, they had been looking downward or inward. They were focused on what there was at hand to eat instead of recognizing Jesus’ intervention in the life of a “lowly” Samaritan woman. In not recognizing that the Kingdom of heaven was meant for not just Jews, but for everyone, the disciples made the huge error of fixing their gaze on the wrong priorities. They had only marveled that their Master had even talked with such a woman as the one at the well of Jacob. And they had failed to understand the huge importance that Jesus’ conversation with her had signified, and that the time was at hand for everyone to be reconciled to God despite their nationality or race. The Lord then instructed them that his food (His true sustenance) was in doing the will of God and in finishing that work. The answer for the disciples, therefore, lay in lifting up their heads and seeing what Jesus saw, a world in need of a spiritual rebirth. Nothing less would be acceptable to the Almighty.
There is a big difference in trying to “guess” what God might do next and in recognizing what He is doing now. Our responsibility as Christian leaders must be oriented toward the latter. In fact, by really understanding and participating in what He is doing presently means being properly positioned for usefulness tomorrow and in the future. One of the more important principles of the Kingdom is that by using what we are given now, we are promised even more. So what was really so wrong with gazing up into heaven that glorious day when Jesus was received up into the cloud? The answer to that question lies in what held their attention at the moment.
Misunderstanding His Instructions
Jesus had made it abundantly clear in Luke 24. Or at least it had seemed to be clearly communicated that the disciples were to carry on the fulfillment of God’s promised redemption by preaching repentance and remission of sins in His name beginning at Jerusalem. He had closed the story in telling them to go and wait for the promise in Jerusalem. Then, in Acts 1, we read a bit more of the same occasion. Here, He tells them that they would soon be baptized with the Holy Ghost. But they did not truly understand what God wanted to do in them and through them. Their first reaction was not unlike the thinking of their fellow Judeans:
Leaders should rely less on guessing what God will do next an more on what He is doing presently.
“Lord, is this the time when you are to establish once again the sovereignty of Israel?” –Acts 1:6 (New English Bible)
There was no thought toward the command to preach repentance or remission of sins. There was no urgency regarding carrying the gospel message to the ends of the earth. And there was no obvious commitment on their part concerning becoming empowered by the promise of the Father for His purpose. There was only the feeble and selfish hope that Jesus would recreate Israel as a new world power and cast out the Roman oppressors. In other words, they simply did not get what Jesus was trying to say. His answer to their misdirected question was gentle, yet firm.
It was not for them to understand the times or the seasons which God had in His own hand. Instead of simply going to Jerusalem and preparing themselves to be given the necessary power to participate with God in His plan, they were focused on some kind of political and temporary fix for their fallen nation. Some things will never be understood by Christian leaders. Sometimes, we are instructed to participate here and now with the present plan, rather than expend energy in trying to figure out the next best thing that God should do. By substituting the latter for the former, we fall victim to missing the will of God in our lives and ministries right now. And so Jesus then tried to make their first priority abundantly clear: receive the power and become His witnesses.
Perhaps it would do well for leaders to understand the difference between the two words that are translated “power” in verses 7 and 8. In verse 7, speaking of God’s power to decide on the times and seasons (the ways in which He acts and why), the word in the Greek is “exousia,” and actually speaks of God’s authority. But in verse 8, speaking of the power that the disciples were ordained to receive (to participate with God in carrying out His will), the Greek word is “dunamis” and denotes an abiding power or ability. So for leaders, God’s sovereign power to decide what is best and when and how it should be instituted is without question. But so also is the undeniable necessity of being empowered to move with God in the fulfillment of His will. While leaders do not always need to know God’s schedule or timing or the specific manner in which He will carry out His divine will to reach the world, they do need to cooperate in that plan as it unfolds before them. And so with this simple exhortation to them, Jesus was lifted up from the earth and disappeared into the heavens.
For leaders, God’s sovereign power to decide what is best and when and how it should be instituted is without question.
Worrying About the Transition
Another reason that these disciples were fixated on Jesus’ departure might have been the change and uncertainty that it represented. What would become of them once “left to themselves?” No doubt, they were faced with leaving a certain “comfort zone” that they had enjoyed in the physical presence of Jesus. They had already gone through this uncertainty shortly after Jesus’ resurrection. He had appeared twice unto them in Jerusalem, but it was some days before they once again met Him on the shores of Galilee. In that time, they had revealed their doubts and returned to fishing, something that they felt secure in, rather than calling on their Lord to give them the next instructions regarding their responsibility. This encounter with Jesus in John 21 was a scene of both comfort and gentle rebuke: comfort in seeing Him once again in their midst; rebuke in choosing professional fishing over spiritual development in His physical absence. It is no wonder then that Jesus assured them that He would be forever with them, even until the end of the world (Matthew 28:20.)
The temptation here for leaders, therefore, is in relaxing in the past comfort of His manifested presence, and thereby ignoring an even greater and more effectual presence that is to come. The disciples could not have imagined how powerful the infilling of the Holy Ghost would be! While it was great to share the fish and the bread and the fire with Him at the lakeside, it would be so much greater to be filled with His presence in Jerusalem. Losing one level of relationship with God may seem daunting to most Christians, but leaders recognize that it is part of growing into the next level. And standing and gazing up into heaven would not bring this new level to reality.
Fixated On the Spectacular—Forgetting the Mandate
While leaders will certainly enjoy the spectacular and miraculous presence of the Lord in their lives and in their work for the Kingdom, they should never become fixated on any one moment longer than they should. To do so means to delay their moving forward in their mission. While Acts 1:10 does not reveal just how long they stood there and gazed toward the sky, it was long enough that two angels were dispatched to urge them onward in the mandate. There is no doubt concerning the glory of watching the risen Lord ascend into heaven. Nothing could have compared to the magnificence of that singular event; at least nothing up to that point in time. And that is something that leadership must recognize: there will always be more.
Leaders recognize that losing one level of relationship is part of growing into the next.
God sees the end from the beginning, while we see”through a glass darkly.” While we may only imagine what is next, God understands just how glorious the future can really be. Leaders, therefore, should learn to focus on the mandate given, rather than on the glory of the past or present. What comes next is in God’s capable hands, and it is our privilege to be part of it if we so desire. To put it simply, we should never spend too much time reveling in what He has already done and thereby miss what He presently desires to do.
What We Hear and How We Hear It
Acts 1:10 tells us that these disciples of Jesus “looked steadfastly toward heaven.” The Greek word is blepo, and denotes an earnest contemplation. They were sincere in what they were doing, no doubt. But they still missed the point. While sincerity is a key element in the character of a godly leader, it should not be misconstrued. Leaders, like others, can be sincerely wrong!
The story of Jesus relating the parable of the sower and his seed is told in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Most Christian leaders will know and understand the parable quite well. After all, it speaks of the Word of God producing eternal results once it finds its way to good ground. It warns as well of the uselessness of trying to see the seed grow on three other kinds of ground that simply have no potential for production. But in the accounts given by Mark and Luke there is a principle that emerges that should just as well be clearly understood by church leadership.
Mark tells us in chapter 4 that the crowd to whom Jesus gave His short sermon on the sower and his seed was a formidable one. There were so many people gathered to hear Jesus that He was moved into a boat and put a short distance from the shore in order to maintain eye contact with His audience. Whether it was hundreds or thousands, we cannot tell. But apparently it was indeed a large crowd. We should notice nonetheless that after the conclusion of this very brief address by the Master, only His disciples remained behind with Him after the great crowd had dispersed. And it was this small group of His followers that begged the question: what does this parable really mean? He replied in pointing out that first of all it was for people like them that the mystery of the kingdom of God would be known. In other words, such a parable was given to separate those that really wanted to know from those that took only a casual glance at what Jesus had to say. And then He went on to fully explain the meaning of the parable. But what followed after that is equally important.
Mark tells us in verse 24 that Jesus warned the listeners to “Take heed what ye hear.” This in itself is easy to interpret. Leaders must be diligent to listen carefully to what they hear and filter the lies from the truth. They should be likewise meticulous in really hearing what God has to say to them. But in Luke’s version of the same story, we find another slant on the message. Luke 8:18 tells us that Jesus said, “Take heed therefore how ye hear.” This is equally important for today’s leaders. Once leaders have heard the truth of God’s revealed will for their lives (what they hear), what will they do with this truth?
This, in fact, is the principle of the Kingdom that begins to define leadership and set it apart from the rest of the followers of Jesus. How leaders apply what God has imparted to them is just as important as gaining the information to begin with. Do we really see what God is trying to say and do? Do we insist on a clear understanding of His principles and their application in our ministries? If not, we may become satisfied with the presence of Jesus in our midst, but compromised in the comprehension of His true message to us. Luke 8:10 gives the insight we need here:
“Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.” (KJV)
It is possible to “look steadfastly” as they did in Acts 1:10, yet miss the target and lose the prize.
Now What Should We Do?
So it all really came down to the decision that had to be made after the angels’ reproof. What should they do now? And there were in fact other options. They could have continued to dwell on the
political aspect and engaged their popularity with the public in seeking to courageously overthrow an oppressive regime. Or conversely, out of fear they could have disbanded and fled each one to his respective place of refuge and comparable safety, thereby surrendering the dream altogether. But they didn’t. They chose instead to follow the angelic command and go on to Jerusalem. In other words, they dared to believe what Jesus (and the angels) commanded them to do. And this made all the difference!
How leaders apply what God has imparted to them is just as important as gaining the information to begin with.
Leaders have to make the tough but necessary decisions. They rise to the occasion as often as necessary and make the way forward clear to those that follow. Leaders simply lead, and they do it with a strong conviction that what they do is both ordained and blessed by the Lord. They, like Paul, can say:
“For I know whom I have believed, and am confident of his power to keep safe what he has put into my charge, until the great Day.” 2 Timothy 1:12 (NEB)
“Then returned they unto Jerusalem.” These are great words indeed! The disciples made their difficult decision and went on to realize the dream that Jesus had so desperately wanted them to see. But there was one more factor that was necessary to the fulfillment of this long-awaited promise.
This giant Greek word is another key to the disciples’ destiny. Acts 2: 1 tells us that once they had returned to the city, “…they were all with one accord in one place.” Homothumadon is the Greek word that is translated “accord” by the King James Version. It literally means “of the same mind.” And this is what real unity is made of. It only truly becomes a reality when members of the body are joined together in the same task and working toward the same objectives. By the decision to jointly participate in doing what Jesus had commanded them to do, they became genuinely united.
It had to be that way. After all, this was to be the birth of Jesus’ Church in the earth. How else could it be inaugurated but in a unified manner, with all members dedicated to the common vision that they had received from their Lord? Leaders recognize this principle. Real unity (that we speak and preach about so often) only comes in a commonality of purpose and direction. Anything else is a poor substitute. It is no wonder that congregations (and some national churches) struggle with divisions and strife. Where there is no clear cut and God-given vision, people will perish in their efforts to move forward together. But the Church was far too important and valuable to be divided at its conception. This new body of Christ would have to be founded with members that were unanimously joined to God’s will for their lives and for their individual and corporate ministry.
Leaders recognize the origin of real unity. Leaders make the way forward clear to those that follow.
The disciples’ feeble efforts at trying to walk with Jesus would be forever changed in a moment in an upper room at Jerusalem. But getting there was the challenge. Gazing had been great, but receiving the Holy Ghost would be greater still. Leaders in today’s Church must have the same life-changing determination that took our early brethren to the place of real progress. Only this commitment will propel us into the harvest as God wishes. Leaders must match their priorities with the Lord’s, and thereby reap the privilege of seeing His will carried out in the world.
by Ted Grosbach