When private, commercial, and military planes are in flight and approaching their destinations; pilots sometimes encounter landing delays. Causative factors can be air-traffic congestion, adverse weather, and/or unforeseen circumstances.
When landing delays occur; air-traffic control will instruct pilots to circle, at a certain altitude, their planes over the airfields until clearance is given to land. The circle, which is actually more of a long oval, is flown a certain distance before each pilot makes a right or left turn and flies back in the opposite direction. This maneuver, known as a holding pattern, is repeated until further instructions are given by air-traffic control.
Maintaining holding patterns at various altitudes in the same air space, there can be a number of pilots flying their planes as they await further instructions from the air-traffic control tower. Inside the tower or a separate building, an air-traffic controller sits visually glued to a radar screen as he or she deciphers planes and their paths of travel. Depending on the facility, there can be multiple air-traffic controllers on duty at the same time.
The air-traffic controller is responsible for giving instructions that start each plane descending—bringing it closer, in an orderly fashion, to the ground and a safe landing.
On final approach to an airfield, an airplane homes in on a beacon that guides the pilot—keeping him or her aligned with the runway and on the proper glide-path. If the airplane veers off the beam, an alarm will sound and/or air-traffic control will contact the pilot to assist him or her in making a course correction.
The Plane And Not-So-Simple Truth
My father served not only as an air-traffic controller in the United States Air Force, but also instructor to young airmen who were learning the trade. He allowed my brother and me the privilege of sitting through some of the air-traffic control classes.
Watching the steady sweep of the radar beam and the ever-changing positions of the glowing blips on the screen is not as easy as one might think. Observing a skilled air-traffic controller visualize a pattern in all of those little blips, each one representing a plane, and verbally fly and land multiple aircraft without their crashing into each other is a thing of beauty—not unlike watching a conductor lead a group of musicians or a choreographer lead a group of dancers.
During the height of the Cold War, one of my father’s assignments was at Ernest Harmon Air Force Base in Stephenville, Newfoundland. Harmon was a Strategic Air Command (SAC) Base and usually quite busy.
My father told me about his reporting one night for duty and standing, in order to familiarize himself with what was happening, for a few minutes behind the air-traffic controller, who was getting ready to go off duty.
When there was finally a slight lull, the air-traffic controller slid out of his seat—allowing my father to slide, without missing a beat, into the vacated seat. The transition was as smooth as silk.
My father said the air traffic was so thick that he was unable to even take a break from his shift. At one point, he actually had twenty-four planes in holding patterns. One by one, my father worked each plane down to the runway for a successful landing.
Needless to say, I am extremely proud of my father and his twenty years of military service.
Location, Location, Location
Our Scripture text begins with Jesus and the disciples (minus Judas) gathered on the Mount of Olives, which is on the outskirts of the city of Jerusalem. Jesus is giving the disciples some last minute instructions before He bids them farewell and ascends into heaven to assume His position at the right hand of God the Father.
I think it fitting that Jesus chose the Mount of Olives for His final point of departure from earth to heaven. The Mount of Olives just happens to be the location of the Garden of Gethsemane. You remember the story of how Jesus’ and the disciples’ last visit there ended badly:
After Jesus shared the Last Supper with His disciples and Judas left to expose Jesus’ whereabouts to the Sanhedrin; the remaining eleven disciples followed Jesus up the Mount of Olives, where He instructed eight of them to sit at the entrance of the Garden of Gethsemane and pray that they not enter into temptation. Jesus’ inner circle; Peter, James, and John; accompanied Jesus on into the garden.
Before going a short distance ahead to immerse Himself in fervent prayer; Jesus instructed Peter, James, and John to remain where they were, stay awake, and pray. Despite Jesus’ instructions, the three disciples fell fast asleep not just once, but thrice.
Shortly thereafter; Judas arrived on the scene and betrayed Jesus by kissing Him on the cheek. The temple guards arrested Jesus, and the chain of events was rapidly set into motion for His crucifixion.
Fast forward now to our Scripture text; where we find the resurrected Jesus and the disciples gathered, once more, on the Mount of Olives—this time for what is to be Jesus’ final earthly visit with the disciples. You know the disciples cannot help remembering the dramatic events of their previous visit—how they scattered and fled when Jesus was carried away to face, by Himself, the angry mob.
Acts 1:4, 5 (King James Version)
4 And, being assembled together with them, (Jesus) commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me.
5 For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.
A Gift To Be Shared
Jesus has just stressed the importance to the disciples that they not depart from Jerusalem, but maintain a holding pattern. When they leave the Mount of Olives, they are to reenter the city and wait on the promise of the Father.
What was the promise of the Father? Jesus revealed that the promise of the Father is a coming baptism by the Holy Ghost.
Acts 1:6-8 (King James Version)
6 When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?
7 And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.
8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
The disciples, however, quickly changed the subject—asking Jesus if He, at that time, would restore the kingdom of Israel. Jesus replied that this information is privileged and not for them to know.
Jesus then shifted the conversation back to the subject He originally intended—the Holy Ghost. Jesus explained that the Holy Ghost is coming to empower the disciples that they may be witnesses not just in Jerusalem and Judea, but also Samaria and the far reaches of the world.
Out Of Sight, But Not Out Of Mind
Acts 1:9 (King James Version)
9 And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he (Jesus) was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.
After Jesus had spoken to the disciples, He began to rise upward into the air—vanishing into the clouds.
Imagine, if you will, that you had been there, on the Mount of Olives, to witness the ascension of Jesus. After imparting to the disciples their mission; He, without so much as a warning, begins to float into the air and continue rising until the clouds block Him from view.
There you stand—dumbfounded, your mouth hanging open. In an effort to process what just took place, your brain has basically slammed into your skull.
Well, that is exactly how the disciples felt. In shock and awe; they stood there, on the Mount of Olives—lingering, staring into space, and trying to make sense of it all.
Acts 1:10, 11 (King James Version)
10 And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel;
11 Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.
As the disciples’ gaze slowly returned from heaven to earth, they were surprised to see their number had increased by two. Standing beside them were two men dressed entirely in white. The disciples realized they were in the presence of angelic beings and took to heart what these messengers from God prophesied regarding Jesus’ returning in the same manner, only vice versa, in which He left.
Maintaining A Proper Distance
Acts 1:12 (King James Version)
12 Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day’s journey.
The disciples, their faith having been boosted by the miraculous proceedings of the day, decided that the proper course of action was to follow Jesus’ instructions to the letter. Hence, they descended the Mount of Olives and reentered Jerusalem. We read that the length of their trip was a sabbath day’s journey.
In order to understand what is meant by a sabbath day’s journey; we have to go back in time to when Moses and the people of Israel, after fleeing Egypt, wandered for forty years in the wilderness.
As they journeyed toward the Promised Land; God would, from time to time, have Moses direct the people to go into a holding pattern. They, awaiting further marching orders from God, would stop and set-up camp according to specific protocol:
Order In The Camp
In the center of the camp, the tabernacle would be pitched. The tabernacle was a huge tent-like structure, which served as a portable version of the temple.
On all four sides; the tabernacle was surrounded by the tribe of Levi, which was the priestly tribe. Anointed male members of the tribe served as priests, mediators between God and the people.
Traveling outward from the tabernacle, the twelve tribes would be positioned as follows:
East of the Tabernacle
First Row Middle: Tribe of Levi
Second Row Middle: Tribe of Judah
Second Row Right: Tribe of Issachar
Second Row Left: Tribe of Zebulun
South of the Tabernacle
First Row Middle: Tribe of Levi
Second Row Middle: Tribe of Reuben
Second Row Right: Tribe of Gad
Second Row Left: Tribe of Simeon
West of the Tabernacle
First Row Middle: Tribe of Levi
Second Row Middle: Tribe of Ephraim
Second Row Right: Tribe of Benjamin
Second Row Left: Tribe of Manasseh
North of the Tabernacle
First Row Middle: Tribe Of Levi
Second Row Middle: Tribe of Dan
Second Row Right: Tribe of Asher
Second Row Left: Tribe of Naphtali
All tents faced inward toward the tabernacle, where God dwelt in a room referred to as the Holy of Holies. By the time the twelve tribes, each of which had several thousand members, assembled on the four sides of the tabernacle and pitched their tents; the campsite would have covered a large area—typically around two-thousand cubits extending outward from the area occupied by the tabernacle and tribe of Levi. Two-thousand cubits translate to approximately one-thousand yards or three-thousand feet.
Jewish law forbade working on the Sabbath, and walking was considered to be work. An exception, however, was a person’s walking to the tabernacle to worship God and then returning to his or her tent.
Adhering to the law; Jesus would have taken the disciples no farther than two-thousand cubits, a sabbath day’s journey, from what was the Second Temple. The First Temple, which replaced the tabernacle, had been destroyed. The Second Temple replaced the First Temple.
Everyone On The Same Page
Acts 1:13, 14 (King James Version)
13 And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James.
14 These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.
When the disciples arrived in Jerusalem, they went to the upper room. The general consensus is that this would have been the same upper room in which Jesus and the disciples shared the Last Supper.
The upper room was in the house of John Mark’s mother, Mary. John Mark was the writer of the Gospel of Mark. For followers of Jesus, the upper room was the central headquarters—a gathering place where they could find sustenance for their minds, bodies,and souls.
In a world where we seek instant gratification, we easily lose patience. Like many of the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Bible; we get the misguided idea that God, without our help, cannot spin the world on its axis.
Abraham and Sarah had been in a holding pattern. The Lord God, Himself, promised Abraham that he and Sarah would have a son. When the blessed event did not happen within a time period as set forth by Abraham and Sarah, they proceeded to take matters into their own hands and really muddied the water. Twenty-five years had passed before God fulfilled His promise—blessing Abraham and Sarah with a son, Isaac, who would continue the bloodline of the nation of Israel.
Joseph had been in a holding pattern. For thirteen years; he was kept waiting, as a slave and prisoner, in Egypt. God, however, finally moved in a mighty way for Joseph— placing him in a position second only to Pharaoh.
Moses had been in a holding pattern. He had fled for his life to the desert after he, an adopted prince of Egypt, killed an Egyptian taskmaster for beating a Hebrew slave. Moses herded sheep for forty years without a clue that he was being prepared to lead the people of Israel out of Egyptian bondage.
In the upper room, the disciples were in a holding pattern. They had no idea what the Lord had in store for them, but they continued with one accord—of like mind and like heart. After baptism by the Holy Ghost, the disciples advanced the work of the Church by sharing the good news of the Gospel with the world.
Then and now, the Church is in a holding pattern—waiting for Jesus to return and touch down His feet on the Mount of Olives from whence He ascended.
If you are a true member of the Church, you are not called to sit idly by as a Christian in waiting. Like the disciples, you are called to share the good news of the Gospel with the world—introducing others to Jesus that they may have the opportunity to repent of their sins; accept Him as their personal Savior; and be baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Your calling, however, does not stop there; but also extends to concernedly holding Christian kindred accountable in their spiritual journeys.
It has been said that, in Africa, early converts to Christianity were very dedicated when it came to their private prayer-lives. Each convert would steal away to his or her own thicket, where he or she would pray.
Over time, the converts’ paths would become well-worn as they frequented their private prayer-spots. If one of these converts began to neglect prayer time, his or her path would become overgrown. Aware that the path was not well-trodden; the other converts would concernedly reach out to the convert in question and say:
The grass grows on your path.
Donna has an oval-shaped backyard path on which she, accompanied by our two dogs, regularly maintains a holding pattern—walking and talking with God. Etched by footsteps of faith and gratitude into the landscape; the path is clearly visible not only on the brightest of days, but also darkest of nights.
In closing, I would like to leave you with an eight-step plan for enduring holding patterns:
- Always have faith in God.
- Trust in His unfailing love.
- Rejoice in His redemption.
- Depend on His Word.
- Be brave and strong.
- Have patience.
- Pray without ceasing.
- Repeat steps 1 through 7.
Yours in Christ,
Featured Image: Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, The Ascension of Jesus, Italian Oil on Canvas, Circa 1745-50, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia
To accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, all you need do is open your heart to Him, earnestly repent of your sins, and pray the sinner’s prayer.