Why Stand Ye Gazing Up into Heaven?

This is not your BCC Gospel Doctrine Post for the week. But it is a post inspired by the first chapter of the Book of Acts, which is part of this week’s reading. It’s one of those passages that I’ve read before but never really noticed. It’s the time that the angels told the apostles to quit looking for God in the sky.

And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel. Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven. (Acts 1:10-11)

I have a lot of sympathy for the disciples. People, as a general rule, don’t float up into the air. Even people who have been dead and resurrected don’t float; it’s just physics. So when they saw Jesus ascending into the sky, they gaped in amazement. Of course they did! Floating people are eminently gapeworthy.

But they got it wrong again, and they got it wrong in a way that can help the rest of us get it right. They thought that, if they just looked long enough, Jesus would come back and do the one really big thing that the Messiah was supposed to do–the thing they asked Jesus about just before he started floating, “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)

Those who asked that question still didn’t understand what Jesus meant by his “Kingdom.” They were still expecting a political deliverance. They wanted things to go back to the way they were under David and Solomon. The good old days. The whole point of the Messiah, they thought, was to make Israel great again. 

To his eternal credit, Christ did not say the sort of thing that I would have said: “Did you people even listen to a single word I said? Have you missed the whole bit about the Kingdom of God being within you? The mustard seed? The lost coin? None of that stuff was about Israel having a big bad king again and going around and conquering people.” He simply said, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power” (Acts 1:7). This may be the closest Jesus ever came to saying, “none of your beeswax.”

Through his teaching and parables, Jesus taught the disciples what the Kingdom of God really meant. It was not the Davidic Kingdom of Israel, or any other political entity. Nor was it part of an afterlife or reward for being good or obeying orders. The Kingdom of God was and is part of the world of human possibility: something that people could build in the middle of whatever other kingdoms they inhabited by acting with charity, forgiveness, and compassion. It is a kingdom whose boundaries are drawn only among the network of people who are committed to its creation.

The disciples knew this, but they didn’t know that they knew it. They had all of the pieces, but they never put the puzzle together. They needed somebody to come along and force them to see what it had all been about. They needed a ton of bricks, and they got it.

The angelic beings who appeared after Jesus ascended forced the disciples to confront their failure with one forceful rhetorical question: “Why stand ye gazing up into heaven?” That’s not where the kingdom is. That’s not where He told you to look. The Kingdom is here already, but some assembly is required. Stop looking for God where He is not–on some big white throne up in the sky–and start looking where he told you he would be: among the poor, the outcasts, the despised, and the broken. Stop looking up and start looking out.

The Book of Acts is the best proof we have that they finally understood where to look for the Kingdom of God.

Comments

  1. Bro. B. says:

    Good points. Can also apply to those who want to wait for the Second Coming to build Zion.

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    Very nice.

  3. Michael, sometimes you almost make me want to be a Mormon again :-).

  4. adamsmith1221 says:

    Thanks for the post – very thought provoking and I love the emphasis on how Christianity is a religion that should result in true care of the poor and those in need. However…

    Sheri Dew frequently teaches that we should all first look up, and then serve outwardly. The idea is that we first commune with the Father, feel His love, learn His true doctrine and then we apply that in being about the work of teaching others the truth and serving them. That follows the pattern that the first and greatest commandment is to love God (to look to heaven). In fact, it is Jesus Himself who says (Matt 26): “ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.” Also see DC 11 “seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word”. I believe the message of the angels was something like, “He has taught you and now, after the resurrection, you finally get it – now go and preach my gospel to all the world”.

    Jesus repeatedly taught that love and reverence for God is higher than serving the poor. I totally agree that love of God will result in service and impacts to community, but when we know His true doctrine it will primarily result in teaching them to repent, to be baptized and to abide in His love and the truth (Peter and John didn’t give to the poor, they healed them to demonstrate the power of the priesthood and taught them the truth about Jesus). The final commandment that Jesus gave the disciples was “go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you”. Building a communal, service-oriented society has never worked as a mission – losing ourselves in the love of God, His doctrine, our own repentance, and then losing ourselves in the love of His children has worked every time (and interestingly, then has sometimes resulted in truly effective service-based societies). The sequence is everything – because God is everything.

    I absolutely agree that sitting in church and praying while never forgiving, serving or teaching one’s neighbor is not a true application of the gospel. However, the message to “stop looking up” is not correct. We can simply never stop looking to the Father. He knows everything and His work is not finished until He has made us perfect.

    I have heard others try to water down Christianity down to a message that we should basically just be nice to other people (which then leads to distortions of the truth because being nice isn’t a practical doctrine), but it is so much more! It is the process through which we learn of the eternities from the master and we individually change to be fully and forever rid of any tendency to do evil according to God’s laws.

  5. bwmwhitney says:

    I love this. It’s totally my religious perspective. God is not so much above us as She is between us.