The Ascension Reveals Our True PurposeFr. Barnabas Powell
Christ is Ascended!
There was an article recently in the Wall Street Journal talking about the noticeable increase in the amount of Americans converting to Orthodoxy. And one of the more amazing discoveries is that these converts are embracing the Orthodox Faith in spite of having no cultural connection to traditional Orthodox cultures. And, a sizable amount of these converts are young men.
Why is this happening, the reporter asked me when he spoke to me. I gave him a simple answer: purpose.
The reality is that, especially among young men in this society, there is a sense of purposelessness. And that leads to some pretty unhealthy masculine behaviors. There has been a ton written on the “re-enchantment” of the modern world, and how we all crave a meaningful life that has a sense of adventure and quest. But this is especially true for men. And when this is missing or, worse yet, this desire is called “toxic masculinity” young men suffer from anger and they don’t know what to do with that. It comes out in broken ways and does great harm. This lack of purpose also affects women and all of society. When you don’t know who you are and what you’re meant to become, you start looking in all the wrong places for answers.
But what if there were a clear message from God Himself as to our purpose and destiny? What if I told you there was a clear and unambiguous message we could offer confused humanity that would each person to discover just who and what they were created to be?
Look at our lesson today in Acts 1:1-12:
IN THE FIRST BOOK, O Theophilos, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom of Israel?” He said to them, “it is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said,”Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Then they returned from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away.
St. Luke follows up his written Gospel with the Acts of the Apostles and he addresses this book to the same addressee as his Gospel book: Theophilos. The name literally means “the friend of God.” Scholars dispute whether this “Theophilos” was a real person or just meant to be addressed to anyone who desires to be God’s friend. Regardless, the beginning of Acts reveals some powerful wisdom from the Lord on the Day of His Ascension to the “right hand of the Father.”
The disciples are still a bit shell-shocked by the past 40 days of visiting with the Risen Lord and learning from Him all the scriptures reveal about Him and the Kingdom of God. And yet, they are still convinced Jesus’ ministry is to kick out the Romans and make Israel “great again.” They are hung up on this political vision of the Messiah and they ask the Lord “Is this the time to restore the kingdom of Israel?”
Wow, are you serious, fellas? Are y’all still hung up on that? Hey, don’t be too hard on them. We still get captured by politics to this day! Hey, don’t be too hard on them. We would have probably been just as clueless before the Spirit came and brought us “all truth.”
But notice, the Lord doesn’t correct them! I would have, but Jesus doesn’t. He redirects these shell-shocked disciples toward their ultimate purpose: to be martyrs (witnesses) for the Faith.
And while the word “martyr” has taken on a notion of dying for your beliefs, that isn’t the main message of the word itself. No, a martyr for the Faith is a witness for the Faith. Now, to be sure, there are many times in history, and for all but one of the Apostles, where dying for the Faith was the ultimate witness for the Faith. And all of us are called to be witnesses of the faith. And we are. The only issue to be settled is whether we are a good witness or a bad witness, for we certainly are witnesses! This purpose, this call to be a faithful witness of the Resurrected Lord in our behaviors, choices, and priorities all flow from the miraculous Ascension of the Lord into heaven.
He doesn’t just disappear from them. He rises slowly through the air as an open spectacle of His victory over death and corruption. He takes His glorified, human body into heaven revealing the destiny of our human lives as well as we are connected to Him in His Church, the Body of Christ. He reveals what all of us are destined to have: Life with Him. And this ultimate purpose, this ultimate destiny fills our “right now” lives with meaning and adventure as we cooperate with BHis Holyn Spirit for the absolutely engaging adventure of taming our passions, maturing our desires, and becoming “by grace what Christ is by nature.” Wow! What a purpose! What a destiny! And it’s available to each of us every day!
And notice where the Lord promises His disciples would be witnesses – In Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria, and in the whole world. No wonder the Lord told them to wait 10 more days for Pentecost when the Holy Spirit would come and give them the power to accomplish this eternal task of being a witness for Christ. Anyone truly living this adventure and purposeful life of a faithful follower of Jesus Christ can’t help but be noticed in this dark and confused world. But our witness won’t just be limited to our home town. Living this Faith will ripple through the whole world! This is the adventure Christ invites you to take.
So, today, as we watch as the Lord ascends into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father and witness that this is the purpose and destiny for all those who love Him, let us love others enough to be good witnesses of this Faith by living a Normal Orthodox Life!
P.S. O Christ our God, upon fulfilling Your dispensation for our sake, You ascended in Glory, uniting the earthly with the heavenly. You were never separate but remained inseparable, and cried out to those who love You, “I am with you and no one is against you.”