As a child I loved to travel by air and by sea between our island home of Guernsey and mainland England, but I never travelled abroad until October 1973 when I flew to Sweden to join my first ship. Visiting far away places quickly became the norm, but didn’t stop when I finally became shore-based. In the last year I have undertaken business trips to Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Eire, Hungary, Norway, Poland and Sweden, visiting Eire and Sweden several times. And I am tired. I feel as if I have been on the road forever, and I wonder if I will ever reach the El Dorado of retirement.
Church feels very similar. There is always so much to do (and so few people to do it). There are times I wish that I could be a passenger in church, but I know that is not what God wants. I wonder if the early followers of Jesus had similar thoughts when Jesus ascended to Heaven. Most of them had been on the road with Jesus for three years, and it had been quite a journey. Then it seemed as if the journey had come to an abrupt and cruel end as their dreams disappeared on the day that Jesus was crucified.
But the journey had not ended. As Jesus appeared in different places in different ways to different people the small group of disciples who had faithfully travelled with Jesus began to understand that the journey had only just started. The problem was that they were tired, emotionally drained, frightened, and struggling on many levels.
Being a follower of Jesus was a risky business that became even riskier when Jesus announced that He was leaving. Instead of dishing out gold-plated pensions, Jesus gave His followers instructions to wait in a place of danger for the Holy Spirit to turn up. After this they were to travel the world and put their lives at even greater risk by telling people about Jesus. None of them followed the example of Jonah and took a trip on a passenger boat in the opposite direction. Most continued to travel for the rest of their lives in obedience to Jesus despite the challenges, regardless of how hard or tiring it was, and without any thought of retirement.
The early church, as it became known, set an example that sadly we find difficult to follow. There were no passengers, and there was no point at which any of its members expected to stop travelling, put their feet up, and let others do the work. This was work that was difficult and dangerous, often exhausting and usually thankless. But it was essential, and the need for it to continue requires a commitment beyond that which the church today appears to have grasped. That commitment is both individual and corporate. It can only be fulfilled with the continual touch of the Holy Spirit. The gift the Father promised not only to those early disciples, but to all who follow Jesus. If the rushing mighty wind of the Holy Spirit blew through our personal devotions and through our churches there could be no passengers, no retirement, and no stopping the Word of God from changing our towns and our cities and our nations.
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.”
Then they gathered around him and 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.” (Acts 1:4-11 NIV)