Acts 1:9-11 New King James Version (NKJV)
“Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, 11 who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”
The disciples were “looking steadfastly toward heaven…” We may think that this is a good thing, and in a way, it was a good thing but not in terms of some of Jesus’ final words of instruction to them.
What were Jesus’ final words of instruction before His ascension? (Acts 1:4)
Jesus had told them to “go make disciples”, to “go wait for the empowering” and “then go be witnesses in all the world…” and yet here they were with their focus on heaven. You may say that Jesus was just finishing ascending and so it’s not like they were disobedient. If you think about it, they may have just needed a moment to process what they had experienced over the past couple of weeks and what they had just witnessed. I know many of you reading this need time to process things.
We aren’t sure from the passage in Acts whether they were staring for a long or short period of time. The impression I get from this is that it all took place within a few minutes and that the angels were not giving them any time to process things and take a breath. The angels seemingly interrupted them to turn the disciples’ attention away from heaven. “Men of Galilee…” they didn’t say “men of heaven.” The angels were reminding them of their location. “Why do you stand gazing up into heaven?” It’s as if the angels were reminding them of their location and the fact that while they may desire to be with Jesus in heaven, they have work to be done.
In order to be effective in this world we must be heavenly-minded, but we shouldn’t be so focused on eternity that we forget where we are.
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes,
“A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do.
It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is.
If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.
The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven.
It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.
Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”
Paul said something similar in his letter to the church of Colosse,
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. 5 Therefore…
(Colossians 3:1-5 New King James Version (NKJV))
Your focus on heaven should lead you to the “therefore” in verse 5 – that is that your heavenly focus should lead to heavenly living! The greater your gaze into heaven the greater your impact on earth!