The disciples are staring up into the clouds, trying to figure out what just happened.
We see a quick glimpse of the disciples still not truly understanding what Jesus was about. Yet rather than go through another discussion, Jesus tells them they don’t need to know the details, they will receive the Holy Spirit, and they will be his witnesses. Then he just kind of floats up into the air and disappears.
I would be gawking too.
So many questions left unanswered, so much mystery, so much going on “up there” we don’t know about.
But then the angels show up and ask a profound and jarring question: Why do you stand looking up into heaven?
It is a profound question because it speaks to more than just the group who watched Jesus ascend into heaven. It is a question for all of us who live in the world between Jesus’ first and second coming.
It is a question that is intended to jar the followers of Jesus from worrying about the details of the second coming and ends times, and get on to the business at hand.
There is a job to do. There is Spirit to be received. There is witness to be shared.
Stop staring up at heaven, it distracts you from the work of Jesus here and now.
This is a question which we need to ask ourselves in the American Christian context. It seems as if we have begun to be the kinds of people who have gotten lost staring up into heaven.
Take for example the odd phenomenon of “Heaven is For Real.” To be clear, I haven’t read the book or seen the movie, so my intent is not to dump on either. I know for some people, these have been helpful in their journey. But I think the popularity of these kinds of books points to a deeper issue.
There is a growing list of books where people have “died” for a few minutes and then come back and now describe the afterlife, thus proving its existence. These books top best seller lists and now they even have appeared in theaters.
There is an obsession over what exactly the afterlife looks like and the details of the end times. Within a two- or three-mile radius of my house, I know at least three churches who have or are preaching on Revelation as a book about the end of the world.
One of the most controversial Christian books in the last few years has been one about Heaven and Hell.
Not only are we standing looking up into heaven, we are really mad at the people who see something differently in the clouds.
Yet it is interesting when you look through what the Bible actually says about “end times.” It is a question which bothered even people of Jesus’ day. And the answer Jesus gives is pretty consistent:
Don’t worry about the details, just live in a particular way.
He says it on a few occasions during his ministry, and he says it here to his closest followers.
Jesus was dead for three days and instead of writing a New York Times bestseller he eats a lot of fish, reconciles some relationships, and empowers people to live like he did.
For Jesus and the early Christians, proving “Heaven is for real” was not about trying to figure out the pattern of the end of the world or understand the detail about what Heaven and Hell looked like. Otherwise, we would have more details.
The details of the end which you need to know are this: Heaven is the world set to rights. Humanity, God, and all of creation living in harmony and relationship as they were made to be.
Jesus has promised to return and restore the world back to the way it should be, and initiate these new, uncorrupted ways of living we call “heaven.”
That’s about it.
What seems to be more pressing for Jesus is that his disciples live in such a way that our life now will be consistent with the Kingdom Jesus restores.
As Christians, our job is to let people know: Heaven is for real.
Your life is meant to be a billboard for a world where everything and everyone lives in love and harmony and unity.
Sin and death don’t have the last word. Jesus is doing something here and now as a part of this process to heal and reconcile and redeem the world. And he is doing it through you.
When we live in ways consistent with the Kingdom, we are proving heaven is for real. Love can conquer death, and there is good and beauty and light pushing back the darkness until Jesus comes to eliminate it all together.
We prove heaven is for real by living in ways where heaven break through right here and right now.
We need to take seriously the business of showing the world heaven is for real.
But perhaps in order to do so we need someone to jar us with the question: Why do you stand looking up into heaven?
There is work to be done.