Luke shares a timeless question in Acts 1:11 that we might miss if we’re not reading closely. It’s the moment Jesus is exiting on a cloud bound for Heaven. They are staring into the sky, wondering, waiting, stalling. They are amazed and bewildered, like a deer in the headlights or a cartoon character who runs off a cliff, then pauses to see his fall is eminent. “What now?” they must be asking themselves. “Now, we’re alone… all alone!” The angels speak into their gaping silence with a question: “Why do you stand here looking into the sky?”
God Of Wonders
The humble position of humans in comparison with the vast sky above (and beyond, where God dwells) is not new. If we were present on the day Jesus left to prepare a place for us, we’d also be open-mouthed and wide-eyed – stuck without knowing what to do next.
Below are several cases where we see the sky in Scripture as a reference point to our wanderings and wonderings on Earth. It’s a thread that we can use in teaching our congregation about the ascension and our response to the God of wonders in Heaven, us on Earth, and the Holy Spirit as comforter.
As numerous As The Stars (Genesis 22:15-18)
God’s covenant with Abraham is told and retold with stars. When little hope exists and Isaac is set to be sacrificed, God tells Abraham to look to the stars. “I know you fear me and will be faithful,” God says. “I know it because you were willing to trust me with your only son. Now look up at the stars. I want you to really see them because your offspring will be that abundant! You can’t see it now; you can’t even fathom what I have in store for you, but I’m asking you to believe.” That’s not quite what Genesis 22 says, but it’s in the spirit of what Hebrews 11 confirms – his faith is accounted for righteousness. Besides looking to the stars to see the promise of Abraham’s descendants, we might also remember that the God of wonders even knows the stars by name (Psalm 147:4).
Stretch Out Your Hands To The Sky (Exodus 9-10)
During God’s work to free his people from Egypt, he instructs Moses to stretch his hands to the sky. If you’re familiar with the new drone technology, if you look up at certain drones and motion to them with your hands lifted, they will recognize you and take a photo. It’s similar to Moses in the midst of asking God to do his mighty works that will bring about deliverance. He stretches, reaching out to the sky in obedience to God and in humility before a God who alone owns the universe. Posture matters, it seems, and as Moses stretches out, God sees him and responds. Do we have a posture that is ready and willing to experience God?
Sky Of Iron (Leviticus 26:19-20)
Leviticus 26:19-20 is a warning against those who do not keep God’s commands, including making idols and ignoring the Sabbath. It comes after a promise of faithfulness if God’s commands are kept. It says, “I will break down your stubborn pride and make the sky above you like iron and the ground beneath you like bronze. Your strength will be spent in vain, because your soil will not yield its crops, nor will the trees of your land yield their fruit.” I remember reading an African myth some time ago about why the sky is pulled back and distant from the Earth. The myth explains that the sky was once close enough to pluck pieces of it and use it as food, but humans quickly became greedy and stored up pieces until the sky was nearly empty. God pulled it far away from their reach as a result of their sin. Leviticus 26 is warning us to never forget whose sky we’re under. We know we can trust it because God is good and he’s knelt down and cared for us since the beginning, but the message is a call to be his people and he, our God of wonders.
Walls to the Sky (Numbers 13:26-14:25 -33)
When the spies go out into the land God promises to the Israelites, the report isn’t good. The more complete story is in Numbers, but Deuteronomy 1 shares an abbreviated version and includes the additional observation about the city walls going up to the sky (verse 26). This is the occasion where the 12 representatives go out for 40 days and only Caleb comes back with faith. Only Caleb says, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” Caleb is looking at God’s faithfulness; the rest are looking at all the obstacles. And God says, “… because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.” The other 11 never see the other side. Where do we look when life’s challenges seem to overshadow God’s faithfulness?
Sun Stops in the Sky (Joshua 10:1-15)
What an amazing miracle! Joshua needs extra daylight and the Lord makes it happen. I like how Habakkuk 3:11-13 puts it: “Sun and moon stood still in the heavens at the glint of your flying arrows, at the lightning of your flashing spear. In wrath you strode through the earth and in anger you threshed the nations. You came out to deliver your people, to save your anointed one.” Do we believe God holds everything as his own and can move and make anything happen if he wills it? Read Joshua 10 afresh. Did you realize Joshua asks in boldness for the sun to stop? And the text says, “There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel!” Jesus says he takes care of the birds and flowers, so why do we think he won’t care for us? Let us enter boldly and humbly into our relationship with God and be reassured he is fighting for us! (Perhaps refer to Matthew 16:2-3 where Jesus talks of weather and faith.)
The Stars Will Fall (Matthew 24:29)
Jesus quotes from Isaiah when he says, “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken” (13:10;34-4). He is putting it deeper into context to the last days when his glory will be revealed and his church will be established. Psalm 89:35-37 talks of David’s throne that will, “endure before me like the sun; it will be established forever like the moon, the faithful witness in the sky.” With Jesus fully known, this witness of his mercy (sun, moon, stars, sky) is no longer needed. We come, then, the full way around. We start with Abraham’s covenant and we end with stars dropping into a sky full of Jesus’ revealed glory. We are only part of God’s story of redemption. All creation groans and he will unravel the curse placed on it because of our sin and the wickedness of the Devil and his angels. Let’s be about the Lord’s business and not our own.
Just before Jesus boards the cloud, he provides a few final instructions, “Don’t leave Jerusalem…you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:4-5). The disciples don’t understand. Maybe they think he’s raised up from the dead to finally, and dramatically, restore the kingdom of Israel. Wouldn’t that be great! A resurrected king would send a message to Rome that Israel is back in a mighty, everlasting way. Jesus’ response seems patient enough, identifying with their wants while preparing them for a longer wait than they assume. “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his authority… you will receive power… and you will be my witnesses.” It’s as if he’s saying again, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
When we look to the sky, let us know our prayers penetrate the firmament, that the God of wonders sees us with our hands and hearts raised, asking him to do his wonders.