Very early in the morning on the first day of the week, the women went to the tomb, bringing the fragrant spices they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. They didn’t know what to make of this. Suddenly, two men were standing beside them in gleaming bright clothing. The women were frightened and bowed their faces toward the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He isn’t here, but has been raised.” – Luke 24:1-6 (CEB)
Last Easter, I preached the Luke resurrection story. Since then, the question of these two mysterious men in white has replayed itself over and over in my mind: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” This question was raised again on Sunday in a sermon I heard on Acts 1:1-14.
The Book of Acts is the second installment in the Luke-Acts trilogy. Scholars believe that Luke intended a third book, but it was either never written or has been lost. In the opening passage in Acts, Jesus is teaching the disciples about the Kingdom of God, reminding them of his promise to send the Holy Spirit, and telling them they will be his witnesses over all the earth. Jesus spends 40 days doing this. The disciples respond like this is their first day with Jesus:
As a result, those who had gathered together asked Jesus, “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?” – Acts 1:6 (CEB)
As a result? I don’t think this is the “result” that Jesus was hoping for after three years of discipling, betrayal, death, resurrection and promise of the Holy Spirit. I have to believe Jesus was hoping the disciples would be thinking about what they were supposed to be doing next. Instead, they are basically asking him, “Are you the Messiah?”
It’s like the last three years didn’t happen.
After Jesus said these things, as they were watching, he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going away and as they were staring toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood next to them. They said, “Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you saw him go into heaven.” – Acts 1:9-11 (CEB)
The women were looking for the living among the dead and the disciples are just standing there looking at the sky. It takes an act of heaven (since we assume the two men in white robes are angels) to get them to stop looking back and start looking forward.
In the sermon Sunday, the pastor said we need to start asking the right questions. She was right, but I think we also need to look in the right direction. It is so much safer to look back to what we think we know. To go where we’ve been before doesn’t take an act of faith. Sometimes we may need to wait, as the disciples did for the Holy Spirit, but we’re never called to stay at the tomb or to stand looking, endlessly, into the sky.
We can’t be Jesus’ witnesses if we stay in these places.
At Easter, we celebrate life that comes from death. At Pentecost, we celebrate the Spirit who fills the empty places in us. This sermon and this text cause me to ask myself where I am looking for the living among the dead, and where I am looking at something that is gone rather than to the place I am to go. God is working in the world, but I’m going to miss it if I stay at the tomb or stand looking at the clouds. In Revelation 1:5, Jesus is called Faithful Witness. I think we are called to the same. The question I need to ask is, “Where (and with whom) am I called to witness to the Living Christ?”
This is a scary question. The answer will always take me out of my comfort zone and require an act of faith. But if I’m willing to ask it, I believe the Holy Spirit will lead and empower me. So the real question is whether I trust that Jesus was telling the truth and whether he is able to keep his promises. My actions – our actions – witness to what we really believe. Therefore, my prayer is that of the man who brings his son to Jesus and asks Jesus to heal him if he “can.”
“ ‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” – Mark 9:23-24 (NIV)
Sweet Lord Jesus, please help me to overcome my unbelief with belief so that I may act as though what I believe is actually true.