6 So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 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.”
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11“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.”
This passage naturally evokes a lot of questions because of its remarkable and supernatural character. “He just floated away? Where did he go? Did anyone else see this?” I even had a very blunt friend ask, “Could everyone see up his robe?? Do you think Jesus crossed his legs?” See, this passage just begs questions of varying sorts, some more appropriate than others.
But there is another question that I ask when I read this passage, which is, “How did the disciples feel as they saw Jesus ascend?” And the answer probably would be, “Terrible”. And you can hardly blame them. This was the second time that they were losing Jesus, the first being the traumatic events of Good Friday. But lo and behold, Jesus returns to them, and they are sure that after His miraculous resurrection, He’s going to restore Israel from Roman occupation (they still don’t really get what Jesus is up to) and just generally be awesome. But instead…He’s leaving them again. And I would think that mixed in their sheer wonderment at the ascension, there was also a feeling of sadness and perhaps fear, as they saw Jesus leave them.
“He’s leaving us again??”
But the fuller purposes behind this event are revealed in John 16, where Jesus tells the disciples this:
5 “Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. 7 But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; 10 in regard to righteousness,because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
So as sad and painful as the ascension seemed to the disciples, it is in reality the start of something vitally important, and very good – the empowerment of the disciples, and the beginning of the early church. They are on the brink of being transformed from everyday people into the leaders of a movement that will forever change the course of human history, God’s very instruments here on earth. And it all begins not with a party and celebration, but with a moment of great loss and utter confusion.
Pain of any kind is unpleasant, and difficult to deal with and understand. Rejection, sickness, failure, loneliness, loss, whatever it is, can feel categorically negative and destructive, with no redeeming purpose. A setback of any kind sends us reeling, unable to understand what God is doing, or if He is even there at all. Perspective in the midst of pain is nearly impossible.
But what makes that perspective possible is the realization that there is enormous good that God can accomplish in moments of great pain. What’s more, sometimes we must experience those “negative” moments in order to experience the greater good that God has planned for us. And so, the journey to witness the greatest good that God has planned for us may actually begin in confusion and loss. Those moments are still difficult, but are not at all mutually exclusive to the work of God, and in fact, ultimately serve to make God’s ultimate redemption all the more amazing in the end!
So don’t let yourself being overwhelmed by disappointments and pain, but realize that often, those moments are just a prelude to something amazing that God is going to accomplish in your life!