Sermon 5.13.18 Ascension

Acts 1:1-11    5/13/18

Ascension    Rev. Kenneth Frey

Acts 1:1-11  In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructionsthrough the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them 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. 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. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”  Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 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.”  After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.  10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “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.”

Jesus’ ascension and our mission
1.  A gospel summary
2.  The theme of the book
3.  The ascension of Jesus

I was at the store the other day looking for a greeting card.  You know, this is kind of a big day to some people.  I looked long and hard and high and low, but I couldn’t find a card.  I went to store after store and I just could not find one.  I couldn’t believe that Hallmark had missed the boat on this one.  Nowhere could you find an Ascension card.  You would think someone would have tried to cash in on this holiday, like they have done with almost every other Christian holiday.  But no.  Nothing.  Not even balloons, which would make a lot of sense.  

Today we celebrate one the most neglected of the Christian holidays.  We focus today on Jesus’ ascension.  Our text is the opening section of Luke’s second book.  He wrote an account of Jesus’ life which, of course, we call the gospel according to Luke.  He wrote for a man named, Theophilus.  Now, he is continuing the story of how Jesus worked through the early church to spread the gospel of salvation.  

As a good sequel will do, he begins by summarizing what he covered in his first book.  In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.   Then he goes on to emphasize the main point:  After his suffering, he presented himself to them 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.   There has been a lot of talk about how the church needs to stay relevant in our culture.  Honestly, for the church to be relevant today or at any time, it only needs to give people the answers about death and eternity. And the answer simply is Jesus.  The answer that people need to know is that death has been conquered and eternity secured through the cross and empty tomb of Jesus.  Jesus spent forty days showing himself alive to his disciples to prove his resurrection and the certainty of salvation.

When a president leaves office, he often writes out many pardons.  Sometimes people might question the wisdom or even how ethical they may be, but nobody questions the right of a president to issue pardons.  He has that right by constitutional law.  In the same way, because of his death and resurrection, Jesus has the right to pardon us before God’s throne.  No matter how awful your sin may be, no matter how little you deserve to be pardoned, trust in Jesus to save you and you stand pardoned before God.  

Jesus spent forty days with his disciples to make sure they knew that he had conquered the grave.  He also instructed them about the kingdom of God.  Jesus once said that the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.  It’s a very small seed but when it grows, it becomes such a large plant that the birds can perch in it’s branches.  Luke’s account in Acts plays out the truth of Jesus’ parable.  The kingdom of God would grow from a handful of believers to thousands spread around the world.  How did that happen?  Jesus told 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.”    

Near the end of the book of Judges we are told that a young lion came roaring toward Samson.  Then it says, The Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him so that he tore the lion apart with his bare hands. (Judges 14:6)  Notice that when the Spirit of the Lord came upon Samson he had the strength to destroy the roaring lion.  When David was a anointed to be the next King of Israel, the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power and David was able to beat the giant Goliath in battle.  

With the power of the Holy Spirit, those disciples were able to witness Jesus to the world.  The book of Acts is the record of how that gospel message spread throughout the Roman Empire in one generation.  

The power of the Spirit also came on you at your baptism.  With that power you too can be his witnesses in the world.  I wish that each of us would spend ten times more time than we do in Bible study, devotions and prayer.  But even if we did, we can’t neglect witnessing our faith in the world.  If our religion becomes selfish, that is, if we are here in church simply to save ourselves, we are in danger of a cold, dead faith.  If we are concerned only about getting our souls to heaven and not others, does the love of God dwell in us? 

Jesus gave his disciples and us a mission:  to be witnesses of God’s salvation to the world.  In order for us to do that, Jesus had to get out of the way.  After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.  10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “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.”

How would you feel if your brother was elected president? He wouldn’t be staying here in Wisconsin.  He would have to move to Washington.  You probably wouldn’t see much of him for a long time.  But on the other hand, you would have a lot of advantages having a brother in such a powerful position.  

That’s the way we need to think of the ascension.  Jesus left his disciples physically to rule all things for the good of his church.  If you played football, think of it like the coach who sits upstairs in the box, watching the game from way up high.  He sees what the defense up to and communicates that to the guys on the field.  

Jesus is that coach or president whose going away is actually for our good.  Now, he uses his exalted power for our good.   Paul said,  “That power is the same as the mighty strength20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” (Ephesians 1:19-23)

Jesus’ ascension assures us that he is in control.  His ascension also is a promise.  A promise that he has a place waiting for us in heaven.  A promise that he will return.   And a promise that nothing more needs to be done for our salvation. 

If a person doesn’t finish a job, they are usually sent back to work on it until they do.  If your boss sends you to do a job and you come back and haven’t finished it, he will send you back to finish the job.  If there were something that had to happen to complete God’s plan to save us, Jesus wouldn’t have ascended into heaven.  He could not have left his disciples looking up into the sky, if there was something that they had to do to come to heaven with him.  

What does his ascension tell us?  He leaves, not with half a sacrifice for sin, but a complete one.  His work of salvation requires no finishing touches, no loose ends to be tied together by us.  His ascension shows us that our salvation is complete.  

So we can look forward to his return with confidence.  They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “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.”

The last thing the disciples saw were the nail marks in his hands as he lifted them up to bless them.  The first thing we will see when he comes is the nail marks in his hands, the symbol that our sins were paid for on the cross.  For those who have seen his death, witnessed his resurrection and gazed at his ascension, there will be joy and celebration when he returns.  

Until then, we have a mission: a mission to witness Jesus to the world.  May his ascension give us confidence to carry out our mission.