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Up, Up, and Away! May 5, 2016

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
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Acts 1:1-11

Ascension Thursday

May 5, 2016

 

Focus:  God is expanding His kingdom.

Function:  That the hearers serve their neighbors in love while awaiting Christ’s Second Coming.

Structure:  Walkthrough the text.

 

Up, Up, and Away

 

For the last month or so now, we’ve really dug into the Scripture texts during the sermon.  It’s fun, it’s a good way to pour through God’s Word.  And as summer approaches, it’s just nice to have this chance for extra Bible study, to continue to drum up your interest in God’s Word.  It’s not an all the time preaching style, but it’s helpful.

So we continue that way tonight, as we celebrate the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ into heaven.  If you’d like to follow along either in the Bible or in your bulletin, we’ll be walking straight through our reading from Acts chapter one.

  1. In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach

 

What other book of the New Testament was written to Theophilus?  The book of Luke, the gospel according to Luke.  For our purposes, it really doesn’t matter who Theophilus is.  Many simply think it’s the patron of Luke’s writing, the man perhaps funding Luke to do this research and compose these works.  Others, however, have simply thought it was a play on words in Greek, as the name means “lover of God.”  So Luke might be writing this to all people who love God.  I lean toward it being an actual person, but really it’s just something neat to think about.

Either way, this is a sequel.  Officially titled, “Acts of the Apostles,” this is Luke 2.  Or 2 Luke, or whatever you want to call it.  It’s a continuation.  Luke is about the ministry of Christ for the church.  Acts is about the Holy Spirit at work through the church.  And they fit right together.  It’s like when you watch your favorite TV show, it ends on cliffhanger, and then the next week’s episode starts by recapping last week.

Luke ends with the ascension.  Acts begins with the ascension.  Unfortunately, our English publishers like to put John in between.  Luke and Acts, take them together.

  1. until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.

 

So again, Luke was about all Christ did, and that included the instructions for what the disciples were to keep doing after Christ left them.  And so that’s where we’re picking up, going back to those instructions.

  1. After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

 

Sometimes we get the idea that faith is just separate from reality.  Like we can compartmentalize it.  It’s spiritual, we can’t really know, so you just gotta have faith.  I can’t answer your questions, but just believe in Jesus.  The New Testament doesn’t really talk that way.  Here we have concrete proof to the disciples.  Christ rose from the dead, appeared to them, did miracles before them, and continued to teach them.  This matters.  And it’s the same way the disciples will turn around and share the gospel.  They will give proofs of the resurrection as they witness to others about Christ.

And while we can’t say we are eyewitnesses of the risen Christ, well, we actually kind of can in the Lord’s Supper, but that’s not as convincing to a non-believer.  We do still have evidence, and some pretty good ones at that.  We can prove Jesus lived.  We can prove that the things the New Testament records are actually what He said.  We can’t prove correct, that’s where faith will come in, but there’s a lot of good, and helpful, stuff available.  That’s what Sunday Bible class downstairs has talked about, and if you ever want to know more, just ask.

Jesus appears to them over 40 days and continues to teach.

  1. 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.

 

We can only imagine what the disciples might have been thinking when Jesus started to say this.  But, why is this odd?  Why would Jesus have to tell the disciples not to leave Jerusalem?  Well, they had just crucified Jesus.  They had just killed the Christ.  The disciples are now locking themselves away in a house hiding for fear that the Jews will kill them, too.  We can only imagine that they were thinking, plotting how they might escape, where they might go next.  Where on earth might be safe for them.

But Jesus tells them to stay.  Remain here.  Remain in Jerusalem in the very midst of the people who seek to take your life.  This is another spot where we misinterpret our New Testament.  Much of American Christianity today is about happiness and comfort.  We think of God’s blessings to us as material things, that if we just are faithful enough, if we just give enough, God will pour out material blessings on us.  And bad things won’t happen to you.

We live in a culture that’s about being comfortable, enjoying life.  And I’ve had to warn the confirmation students about this.  If you’re comfortable in life, if there’s nothing causing you trouble in any way, you’re probably not doing what God has called you to do.  Because the New Testament promises that “all who desire to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” (2 Timothy 3:12).

That’s what Jesus is calling the disciples to do, to give up their concern about themselves and this worldly life, to forsake this life for the sake of the kingdom.  Remain in Jerusalem, remain here until the Father gives you the gift you’ve been promised.

  1. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

 

This is the gift, the Holy Spirit being poured out from heaven onto these disciples.  It’s the day we call Pentecost, it’s the day the Church on earth is truly born.  And we’ll talk more about that in a week and a half when we celebrate Pentecost.

  1. So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

 

As pastors, we teach.  And Jesus’ patience with His disciples is truly incredible.  I run out of patience every week in confirmation.  But not here.  I need to learn from this.  For three years, Jesus has been teaching the disciples about the kingdom of God, and they still don’t get it.  They just don’t.  They still think He’s the conquering king, that He’s going to overthrow Rome and give power back to the Jews.  This after Good Friday and Easter.  They still don’t understand.

  1. He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.

 

And so the resurrected Lord continues to teach.  This is still the same Christ who said even He doesn’t know the day or the hour, but only the Father in heaven.  The Second Coming of Christ is coming, but that’s not for you to worry over.  I have something for you to do.

  1. 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.”

 

Again, Pentecost here.  You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.  And they do, and then they witness.  They go out, they leave the locked house and they share the good news of Christ with the world around them.

And while not everything Jesus says to His disciples applies directly to us, this one doesn’t, this is one we can still learn from.  Jesus isn’t commanding you to go to Jerusalem and Samaria.  That was their task, but we could still see it as formula in a sense.  Think about it.  Jerusalem is their immediate location.  That’s where they are.  For you, discipleship starts with your immediate location, your immediate family, it starts at home.  Train up your children in the way they should go.  As the head of the family should teach them in a simple way to his household.

What’s next?  Judea?  What’s Judea in relation to Jerusalem?  Jerusalem is the capital, Judea is the surrounding country.  Those closest to you.  Look at your vocations, think of your neighbors, your friends, your subdivision.  And after Judea, Samaria.  What’s Samaria?  It’s the capital city of the old rivaling nation.  This is why Jews hate Samaritans.  It’s a further distance traveled for certain, so your whole community perhaps.  Your enemies, maybe?  And then to the ends of the earth.  The good news is for all people.

  1. After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

 

There really isn’t much about the ascension.  It just happens.  Jesus is teaching, and then He just lifts up to heaven.  He’s going up, up, and away.  He’s gone, He’s left, and you can see the reaction:

  1. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.

 

 

You can imagine that.  You’re just talking with someone, having a good conversation, and they just start floating off to heaven.  Strange stuff.  They were staring.  Jaws might have been hanging open.

And who are the men dressed in white here?  We have a couple of angels that appear and speak to the disciples.

  1. “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.”

 

He’s gone, but He’s coming back.  It’s almost like the angels just came down to tell the disciples to snap out of it.  It’s reassurance, certainly, comfort.  Don’t worry.  He’s with you.  He’s promised.  That’s great stuff.

The whole of the ascension is great stuff.  Jesus doesn’t float off to nowhere.  Don’t get the image of Jesus drifting around in space on an inflatable pool toy.  That’s not what this is.  He’s made promises to us.  First, that He would return to His Father in heaven.  This is His reign.  This is the 1,000 years of Revelation stuff as Christ reigns as King over His kingdom, over the whole earth.  He’s doing that as He’s sitting in His throne at the right hand of the Father in heaven.  In the midst of political chaos, that’s comforting.  He’s King, He’s in charge.  Everything is going to be alright.

Then He also promised that if He left, He would send the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to us.  This is the same Spirit who comes on the disciples at Pentecost.  This is the pouring out of the same Spirit in the waters of baptism that proclaims you to be a forgiven child of God, heir of the everlasting Kingdom of Christ.  Christ left so He could send the Spirit who would then work faith in you.

And then He also promised that He was preparing a place for us.  We talked about that a couple weekends ago.  A new heaven, a new earth.  Our final home, whatever it may look like.  Jesus ascended to prepare that home for you.  And it is finished.  And you’re going to love it.  Because you’ll be in Paradise with God forever.

This is a great text.  There’s teaching here, Jesus gave His disciples things to do.  But there’s also sweet gospel, as the ascension of Christ into heaven fulfills God’s plan.  Christ is King of creation as originally intended.  He is caring for us.  He sent His Spirit into our midst to create and sustain faith in us.  And as the angels promised, He’s coming again to reclaim what is His.  And that includes the children of God.  That includes us.  And so we await the Second Coming of Christ.  Praying indeed, “Amen, Come Lord Jesus.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Till Christ Returns May 17, 2012

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
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Acts 1:1-11

Ascension

May 17, 2012

Focus: God lifted His Son to His right hand and poured out His Spirit upon His people.

Function: That the hearers bear witness to the ends of the earth.

Structure: If this…then this…and thus this…

 

Till Christ Returns

            Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed, alleluia!

As we draw near to the end of our Easter season, we’ll be moving from the time of Jesus’ ministry on earth to the time of the church.  Luke’s second book, the Acts of the Apostles, which we call Acts, will help us make that transition.

Luke prefaces Acts with the idea that his first book, Luke, talked about all that Jesus did and taught up until His ascension into the heavens.  Much like we might expect from the books and TV shows in our own culture, the sequel begins with a bit of summary or recap of what happened before.

Luke rewinds to the suffering of Christ.  It’s a flashback to Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, to the betrayal of Christ, His arrest, and the bitter torture He endured all the way to the point of death on the cross.  But considering that’s only verse three of an entire book, we know that death isn’t the end.  Instead, we rejoice each and every day that on Easter morning, God the Father raised Jesus Christ from the dead.

And Christ’s resurrection was no secret, either.  The resurrected Lord and Savior of man revealed Himself to His people, appearing to the disciples, and many more as proof of His message.  Proof that He is the very Son of God, and that His death defeated our sin.

For forty days then, Jesus Christ roamed the world, preaching and teaching again, but this time with all the authority of God the Father in heaven.  No longer did He speak in parables and ways which the disciples couldn’t understand, but instead He slowed everything down, began with the Old Testament, and explained all that the prophets had said about Him.  He taught them how all of the Scripture pointed to salvation through Him, forgiveness paid for on the cross.

But Luke then recounts one of Jesus’ last conversations with His disciples.  He told them to remain in Jerusalem, remain in that city where Christ was arrested, where His followers are persecuted for their faith.  Remain, and wait.  Wait for the gift from above, the gift that the Father will surely give.  It’s the very gift that Christ Himself told the disciples about.  “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him.  You know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.”

Jesus didn’t hide anything from the disciples here.  He made sure that they knew what He was saying.  “For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”  When John prepared the way for Jesus, he said that he was baptizing with water, but that One would soon come who would baptize with the Holy Spirit.  The disciples knew John was talking about Christ, but now Christ reveals that that baptism is about to happen.  Stay here in Jerusalem for a few more days and then “you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Luke then tells us how the disciples confused law and gospel, though they did err on the side of the gospel.  We can debate just what they meant when they asked Jesus whether now was the time for Him to restore Israel.  They may still have been stuck in that culture’s idea of the Messiah as One who would set up an earthly reign.  Or perhaps they truly understood now and knew that the end was near.  Either way, here we see that their thoughts were like ours, in that we do nothing, and salvation comes from God alone.  Is it time yet for You Jesus to restore everything?

Whichever way they were thinking, they were likely surprised by Jesus’ response.  That’s God’s alone to know.  It’s not our job to try to plan the end times.  But rather, Jesus tells them, you have something to do.  See, in just a few days’ time, the disciples would receive the Holy Spirit.  And to this our Lord instructed them “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.”

By Luke’s account, these were Christ’s final words to His disciples before the ascension.  In verse nine, the disciples witness Christ being taken up into the heavens and then being hidden from their eyes by the clouds.   Luke makes it sound like they just kept staring, fixated on what had just happened.  Puzzled that Christ had not only just left them, but just did something not humanly possible.

That they were mesmerized and astonished is evidenced by the angels that then appeared to them.  “Men of Galilee, 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.”  Thinking about the situation, we might’ve expected the angels to say something more profound or to tell them that the ascension was necessary, but they simply don’t bother.  The angels did provide some comfort for the disciples in reminding them that Christ would come again, He would return.

Luke’s accounts of the ascension, both in Luke and in Acts, have a different purpose.  The disciples wanted to focus on Christ, what He was doing, and how He was leaving.  But for Luke it’s all about the transition.   I don’t want to launch into a sermon on what we’re transitioning to, as that would spoil Pastor’s sermon next weekend when we celebrate Pentecost, as that’s the transition.  So instead we’ll focus on Luke’s account at hand today.

Luke downplays the importance of Christ’s ascension.  That doesn’t mean he makes it irrelevant.  It’s still important that Christ ascended into the heavens, took His rightful place at the Father’s right hand, and began His everlasting reign.  It’s still important because Christ had to go heaven in order to send the Helper, the Comforter, the Paraclete, to send the Holy Spirit to us.

Just as we know from the beginning of time, that God the Father didn’t stop with creation, neither does Jesus stop.  Sure the Father rested on the seventh day, more so to provide us with an example than anything.  But He has continued creating, sustaining, and caring for His creation ever since.  In that same way, just because Jesus has ascended into the heavens doesn’t mean that He has stopped working.  Christ is still the mediator between God and man.  He still forgives us of our sins and reconciles us to our Heavenly Father.  He is still present among us when two or three are gathered in His name.  He’s still with us, present in body and blood at His table.

But Luke shifts the focus.  As he already noted, his gospel was all about what Christ did and taught.  But this introduction to his second book shifts from what Christ did, to the work of the Holy Spirit.  The book of Acts is all about the glorification and growth of God’s kingdom through the Spirit’s work, and how He then works through the disciples and the church to strengthen and sustain the church.

Oddly enough, the Lutheran Study Bible describes the power mentioned in verse eight, the power the disciples would receive when the Holy Spirit came upon them, as superhuman strength.  I’m going to stick myself out on a limb here and disagree with the Lutheran Study Bible’s unholy footnote.  In a media rich society, that sounds like a superhero.  But, the Spirit isn’t giving them the power to lift boulders.  The power instead, is the gospel.  The love, forgiveness and salvation of God.  And it’s the gift of the Holy Spirit, that in Him, we may do good works.

This particular work, that Christ Himself has given, is to share the gospel.  That’s why He immediately followed power with being witnesses, spreading the gospel in Jerusalem, all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  Christ’s command here is in all essence, the same as the Great Commission in Matthew 28, that we “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

So while He was speaking directly to His disciples, and we’ll hear much more on that next weekend at Pentecost, Christ’s command, commission, exhortation, includes us.  Part of being a follower of Christ, being filled with His Spirit, is sharing the good news to the ends of the earth.  There are people right here in Elmhurst who need to hear of God’s love and forgiveness.  They’re in Villa Park, Bensenville, Chicago, St. Louis, Ohio, and Asia.  People everywhere need to know.  And the Spirit enables us to tell them.

All of this is why the angels’ statement seems so strange.  Why are you standing here?  Sure He’s gone, but He’s coming back.  In the meantime, there’s work to be done.  It’s glorifying to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit that His kingdom and His message is shared with everyone.  For God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”