“To everything (turn turn turn), there is a season, (turn turn turn) and a time to every purpose under heaven.” I was 5 years old when that song was recorded and released by the Byrds. It was a song that was based on the verses in the 3rd chapter of Ecclesiastes. Here, Solomon struggles with the vanity of existence and the hope found in God’s ultimate will and wisdom for life.
By the way, the United States was going through some pretty dark times in 1965 with Vietnam, assassinations, riots, violent protests, and general societal upheaval. We wondered if the country was coming apart. It didn’t. We survived. And now our society is plunged into chaos again with the horrors of another war in Europe, school shootings here at home, and a general sense among our young people that life has lost purpose! There may be some wisdom for us here, especially as we face this current health crisis!
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!
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 are we a good witness or a bad witness, for we certainly are witnesses!
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.
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 being Orthodox on Purpose!
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.” Amen