Parting Instructions

Task list

Acts 1:4-11 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”  So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.  They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.  “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

As I think about my own departure, my last “goodbye” at the end of my life, there are two parts to preparing those I leave behind. One: I am leaving them a will. It determines how my gifts will be distributed. My remaining property will help to take care of the family that survives me.

Two: I have taken an interest in what my surviving children do with their own lives after I am gone. I have tried to model a Christian life. I have led them to the feet of the same Savior I follow. As much as I want them to be good citizens and contributing members of society, I want them to have faith and live a Christian life.

For three years Jesus taught the twelve men who followed him. He modeled for them what it means to live a life of love. He didn’t try to cram it all into the last few days. But as his last moments with them face to face were winding down, a few instructions rose to the top. In the last moments before he ascended, we hear parting instructions from his own lips.

Maybe the first thing we hear comes as a surprise: “Wait!” “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised….you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you…” Wait for the Spirit. Living life as a Christian isn’t all about frantic activity. It isn’t a life of constant motion, always doing, always moving, never pausing, never resting. There is a time to wait for the Spirit. For the men in front of Jesus on this day, of course, this was the ten-day wait until Pentecost, ten days spent in prayer and worship, until the Holy Spirit came pouring down out of heaven with fire and the sound of a rushing wind, and new courage and new words to preach the gospel to people of every language.

For us, it is the quieter, less dramatic Pentecost Jesus pours out on us when we gather around his word, or when we pause in our little room at home to read, to sing, to meditate on his word, and to pray. Streams of his Spirit still pour down on his quiet, listening people. He still gives them power for the things he wants them to do.

Only after this does Jesus tell them, “Go!” and “Speak!” “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Jesus gives us the words and the power to speak. He gives us the entire population of planet earth as our audience. If that seems overwhelming, don’t start with the billions spread all across the globe. Start with the person nearest to you. Tell him about the good things God has done for you.

And know that the time we have is limited. Jesus wants us to remember that he has not said, “Goodbye,” forever. He is coming again. Expect his return.

On the one hand, that gives us a sense of urgency. We don’t know how much time we get to tell our friends. We don’t know how much time we have to send a missionary. The time to say something, the time to send someone, is now.

On the other hand, this gives us a sense of relief. It is hard to live as Jesus’ witnesses. Not everyone appreciates our words or Christian witness. Not everyone wants to tolerate us Christians at all. Don’t get discouraged. Jesus will return to take us home soon enough.

Until then, he has left each of us with something to say and work to do.

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