Going Up!

And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them.  While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven.  And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising God. (Luke 24:50-53 NASB)

Luke’s book, the Acts of the Apostles, throws me off.  I keep thinking that stuff about the resurrection is in a Gospel, but then I can’t find it in Matthew, Mark, or John.  It’s frustrating.  For instance, I thought that it was odd that Matthew and Mark have instructions from Jesus (or angels) for the disciples to go to Galilee and Luke doesn’t.  John doesn’t have instructions, he simply has them in Galilee fishing.  But then I realize that neither Matthew, Mark, nor John have an account of Jesus’ ascension (John mentions it in passing).

So, even though I thought there were two Gospels describing the ascension of Jesus, there’s one, and Acts, both of which are Luke’s writing.  Then the 40 days Jesus hung around with the disciples is missing from every Gospel.  Turns out it’s in Acts.  So, the return of Jesus into heaven is described only by Luke.  That’s weird to me.  I would think John would describe it, at least.  But in Acts I think I find the reason the others don’t describe it.

In Acts, after Jesus ascends, two angels appear to get the disciples moving off the hill top.  But they say something interesting, “This same Jesus you saw taken up will come back in the same way” (Acts 1:11).  That’s obviously not in the other Gospels as well.  Here’s why I think they left it out: What if Jesus visits before the “cloud appearance”?

In Matthew and John, Jesus just appears wherever and whenever He likes.  This happens in Luke as well.  Mark simply ends with the angels giving instructions to the women, like “reader-response literature” or something.  And Matthew and John really say little about any sort of return to the Father, at least not post-resurrection (except for Jesus to Mary Magdalene in the Garden).

I think this is because they know, or suspect, that Jesus comes and goes to the Father at will.  And that they believe He can, and will, continue to do so.  Think about this, there is no mention of a Second Coming of Jesus in Scripture, only the Appearing.  So, He’s coming in the clouds one day, that is clear.  But I believe that Matthew and John also believe that He can, and probably does, visit from time-to-time.

Now, I get that such a possibility sends dispensationalists into apoplectic shock, but I consider that a bonus.  On the other hand, considering the numerous “Angel of the Lord” appearances all through the Hebrew Scriptures, it shouldn’t shock anyone.  The God of the entire universe in human form would be Jesus, wouldn’t it?  Who do we think visited Abraham just before God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah?  Whoever it was enjoyed a meal with Abraham while they talked about Isaac’s eventual birth.

So, be cautious about criticizing those movies and books about God Almighty, or an impressive carpenter who goes to the Vatican.  It seems we find it so easy to believe in seeing angels, but not Jesus.  It’s very possible that we make an error there, possibly a very embarrassing one.  Why not just be gracious because we simply don’t know?  Would it kill us to be hospitable to someone randomly showing up with a message from God for us, especially if it actually were God?

No one ever seems to believe it at first.  Not even in Jesus’ days of ministry did they believe it, not at first.  So, it’s necessary and natural to be somewhat skeptical.  But let’s be hospitable as we listen.

What do you think?  What’s your view through your knothole this morning?

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A Little More Ready

If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants!  But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into.  You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Luke 12:38-40 ESV)

One of the ironies of Jesus’ teaching about His “return” in this historical context is that He hadn’t left yet.  Keep in mind that His disciples hadn’t yet accepted that He’s going to “leave” in any sense.  You also do well to remember that His resurrection may well have provided them the “return” in their minds, at least for 40 days or so.  So, in the actual context of Jesus saying these things they were baffling to His disciples.

I recently had a pastor tell me that calling Jesus’ final return the “Second Coming” was really misleading.  His point was that Jesus had been “visiting” this place a lot, even before His birth.  Why should be surprised to find that He’s visiting a few times before His “Return”?  That really got me thinking.  I don’t know where the term “Second Coming” actually came from, but I can’t think of a single Scripture that refers to Jesus’ final return with that term.  Could it be possible that we are as baffled as the disciples as to what Jesus teaches here?

The possibility of “entertaining angels” is one thing, but to consider that we could be entertaining the “Angel of the Lord” is actually quite frightening.  Think that through.  What if Jesus, in the form or office as the Angel of the Lord, does visit you?  Would you be comfortable having Him “checking in” on you?  “Thought I’d drop by for a visit,” He says, “How’s it going?” You reply.  For me, it could get very uncomfortable very quick.

I’m not saying that Jesus does this, but why couldn’t He?  He seems to have before (see an entry in my previous blog), and by this I mean a physical manifestation of God, often in human form (the burning bush was also referred to as the Angel of the Lord).  So, if Jesus has been here, or God has been here in physical human form, then what would prevent Him from showing up from time to time now?  I have to admit, it would be nice to have such an appearance now and again.  It often looks as if the church really needs a “visitation”.

But I also see in these prior examples that He shows up to one person, somewhat like the “…Almighty” movies with Morgan Freeman.  On the other hand He seems to “visit” believers.  So, a solitary believer might actually see Jesus, but who’d believe them?  I don’t think it’s about who would believe them, it’s about what they would do different after having seen Jesus.  Jesus’ appearances apart from His earthly ministry, were not for public consumption, not as our culture consumes anyway.  Jesus comes to help a person make a big change.

So, in that sort of light, am I ready? Is my lamp trimmed? Am I awake and ready to be visited by the Maker of all Matter?  And not for the end of the world, but for the end of my faithlessness, the end of my struggles with certainty, the end of my wishy-washy meandering I call “following Jesus”.  Are you ready?  Would you be ready to fire up the grill for the One having made the cow you’re about to throw on it? (Yes, I believe Jesus prefers beef, so what?) Well, I suggest we all be ready for a surprise visit from Jesus.  You just never know who’s coming to dinner.

What do you learn from Jesus’ call to be ready?