Imagine for a moment your closest friend has moved to the other side of the globe. For months, you’ve deeply missed that person. You try everything you can to stay connected but, it’s just not the same. Staying connected is so hard and expensive that as time passes, you connect less often. Then one day your phone rings and it’s your friend saying, “Hey bud, I’m in town! I’d love to have dinner with you. I have so much to share.” You’re thrilled to see your friend again and cannot wait for that dinner, but deep down you dread the moment when you’ll have to say “goodbye” again.
Just for fun, let’s change this story a bit. Let’s say instead of your friend moving away, your friend gets brutally murdered. That adds a whole new level of pain to the story, doesn’t it? But even more surprisingly, you still get an unexpected call from your friend. “Hey bud, I’m back. Let’s have dinner. I have so much to share with you.” Of course you’re freaked out as dead people rarely come back to life and call you, but you’re ecstatic about the chance to be miraculously reunited. Your mind swirls with the possibilities of getting another chance for friendship after it had been so ruthlessly taken away. But after a wonderful dinner, your friend leaves. This time by his choice and not the evil choice of others.
Often when I read Scripture, I try to put myself in the sandals of the characters in the story. Today, let yourself enter the story of Acts 1 from the vantage point of one of the disciples. Feel free to ask, “What did that feel like? How would I have experienced all of this?” For 40 days, the resurrected Jesus spent time with his disciples. They were thrilled to have him back. I’m betting there were some pretty wild conversations among the disciples about what the possibilities were now that Jesus had proven that death was not a problem for him.
Then Jesus surprises his friends by leaving them again. I think this was a surprise to them because of what the disciples ask Jesus just before he ascends into heaven: “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” It sounds to me that they are still looking for relief from Roman oppression. So Jesus answers them in a unique way. He says (my paraphrase), “My Father knows when all that will happen but he’s not telling you. Instead, you’re going to receive tremendous power. This power will come from the Holy Spirit. And when you receive this, you will tell the whole world, near and far, about me.” At that moment he leaves them—shocked and stunned—once again.
I wonder if any one of them remembered what Jesus said the night he was betrayed. I like how Eugene Petersen translates this passage in The Message:
“If you love me, show it by doing what I’ve told you. I will talk to the Father, and he’ll provide you another Friend so that you will always have someone with you. This Friend is the Spirit of Truth. The godless world can’t take him in because it doesn’t have eyes to see him, doesn’t know what to look for. But you know him already because he has been staying with you, and will even be in you! I will not leave you orphaned. I’m coming back. In just a little while the world will no longer see me, but you’re going to see me because I am alive and you’re about to come alive.” John 14.16-20 (Message)
Ten days after the Ascension, everything would change. The disciples’ confusion would shift to crystal clarity. Their grief would be transformed to joy. Their stagnation would move to passionate, missional activity. Jesus had left. The Spirit had arrived. The God who was near became the God who was within. The Ascension triggered the biggest movement the world had ever seen.