When our family lived in Georgia and drove home to North Carolina with three little girls, it was a very long trip. We’d get an early start, but have to turn in at the first rest stop. Then somebody in the back would ask, “Are we there yet?”
I think the disciples had about the same idea of what to expect after Jesus recovered from his recent crucifixion They wanted God’s kingdom to arrive according to their sense of importance. That is, they thought Jesus would establish the kingdom just for them. What they really said at his Ascension is in the first chapter of Acts, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
“Are we there yet?” When Jesus celebrated Passover the night before his arrest, they thought Jesus had completed his work. Now, all that remained was for God to set up his throne in Jerusalem and watch all the nations of the world stream toward the holy mountain. The disciples proved once again they were not listening when Jesus was talking. They must have been especially dense on that night in the upper room before his betrayal. That conversation is related by John in the form of a prayer which Jesus prayed aloud. He has given them bread and wine, saying this is his body and blood, so that in the sense of giving himself, he has completed his life’s purpose.
Only crucifixion remains. His prayer was a sort of valedictory for his disciples in which he looks ahead to the final outcome. He says he has accomplished his mission. Then he says to his Father, “I have made your name known to those you gave me from the world.” Truth of the matter is, the disciples were a long way from understanding what they were to do next.
They did not understand their part in his mission, if we can take their remark in Acts as a pointer. “Lord, is this the time you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” Like voices from the back seat, “are we there yet?” Had Jesus left only a legacy of God’s grace-filled love, then we might understand the ‘me and Jesus’ syndrome of our times. But the focus of his message was not on individual salvation.
The church, the faith, the meaning of congregational life and the exercise of the Christian religion — all involve full participation in the worship and mission of a group.
The sentiment expressed in a well-known Gospel song sounds good, but the joy divine
that comes from leaning on the everlasting arms happens first in the fellowship of a congregation. “Lord, are you ready to set up thrones for us? Now can we fall asleep in the everlasting arms?” When salvation is used for each individual’s joy and blessed peace, the point of his life and death and resurrection, and the promise of his ascension and the second coming, are all simply missed.
There is another approach to the matter of salvation and the place of the church, and how individuals are involved. In the church year, we are almost at the midpoint, half way between the first Sunday of Advent, and the season of Pentecost. In the first half of the church year, the lessons review the life of Jesus from his prediction by the prophets through his birth, ministry, and final days in Jerusalem. The second half of the church year brings his message to our attention in such a way that we are supposed to do something.
After reviewing the life of Jesus, it’s our turn to take action without asking whether the ride is almost over. All those ups-and-downs of the Israelites pointed toward the time when Messiah completed his divinely appointed mission. I think it’s a lot of fun to see children or adults dress up like Joseph and Mary and the shepherds, particularly when they wave to their parents in the congregation.
But we need to get past the Christmas pageant understanding of Jesus’ birth. Do we let our ideas of God and the Christian faith stop right there with a reenactment of Bethlehem? Do we hang on to the idea that Jesus came to promise individual salvation?
What is wrong with that view is that we miss the result, the effect, the commissioning that came from Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, together with the promise of the spirit. Instead of pressing on, we haggle with God: “Have we gone far enough? Are we there yet?” When Jesus ascended, he left behind a fellowship who should expect a fiery ordeal that comes with sharing in his sufferings.
In his prayer, Jesus said, “All I have is yours and all you have is mine, and my glory is shown through them.” He points to us because his followers are partners with him in his mission to the world. He established a fellowship, a group, a worldwide congregation, a holy nation, a royal priesthood banded together to do his work. We are not sitting in the grandstand applauding God for Resurrection morning. We are the team on the playing field of the world showing forth the glory of Christ who lives in us.
If we are in him, if we are his, as he prayed, and if we belong to him as gifts from the Father, then we as a family, a group, a fellowship, are involved in the life of the world to show forth the glory of the risen Christ. I shudder to think of the responsibility that God has laid on all of us who name Jesus Christ as our Savior.
In a story definitely not in the Bible, when Jesus returned to heaven after his three years on earth, the angels ask him, “How did it go?” Jesus replies, “Well, I left behind a group of ordinary people.” “And what are they supposed to do?” the angels ask. Jesus answers, “They will pray and baptize others and gather for worship and fellowship. I hope they will understand that they are the kingdom of God on earth.
“They will do the kinds of things that I did – the healing, the works of mercy, telling the story of the kingdom, overcoming sin and entering into a new relationship with God.” An angel persists: “What if that doesn’t work out? What then?” And in this fictitious story with real truth in it, Jesus replies, “I don’t know. I have no other plan.”
For us, the story suggests the combination of both hope and burden, both joy and responsibility. God has no other plan, and that’s a true statement.
Jesus left no legacy except the story of who he was and how he could be found — and he left it with people just like us.
We are the people in this time and place who are given by the Father into the hands of Jesus. We are called out of the world to live with all people in fellowship with the risen savior. In the inscrutable ways of God, we have heard the gospel. We know the joys of fellowship with other Christians and the presence of the risen Christ.
Therefore we have an awesome responsibility. God is counting on us. The maker of heaven and earth has reached down and said to congregations everywhere that he has picked us to carry on the ministry Christ started 2000 years ago in Palestine.
We are the ones honored to be his partners, honored by his claim that we are his people. We’re not sitting in the back of the bus being carried toward an eternal vacation, asking are we there yet. Our place is up front at the driver’s seat helping things happen.
Recently, someone in my hearing said he didn’t know whether a particular individual would be saved. I answered that God’s mercy is not restricted by our ideas about him.
I am far more concerned that in every age, the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God, first Peter, (chapter) four, (verse) seventeen.
Peter encourages us, “Let us humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God and cast all our anxieties upon him.” He cared about us enough to send Jesus Christ. Because he is brother to all of us, we are not a society of individuals dedicated to privacy with God.
We are involved in the world. God comes to us in this world. We are the family of God. As Jesus and his heavenly Father were one together, so we remain one as the body of Christ on earth.
The Kingdom is always coming, every day and night. The kingdom keeps on coming every moment.
It is always arriving.
In this time, we have much work to do, because we are witnesses for God, even to the ends of the earth.