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May 2, 2019, 8:57 PM

The Ascension - I'll Be Back

            Now over the last few weeks we’ve experienced Jesus’s grand entrance into Jerusalem; His grizzly death on the Cross and His resurrection from the grave; what those kingdom events meant to those witnesses present and what they mean to all of Christianity. Now we move into the final phase of Eastertime; Christ’s Ascension. I realize Christ walked the earth for 40 days and this year the Ascension is actually scheduled to be celebrated on Thursday May 30.

            But I want to pull all of it together in this series now, not another 30 days or so down the road. Plus following schedules has never been a strong suit for me anyway. So we’re going to talk about His ascension today, but not just the supernatural element of what occurred. More importantly why it had to occur the way it did.


        Our Scripture is found in Acts 1:4-11; Luke’s account of Christ’s ascension. It’s interesting that not much is found about it in the Gospels. In fact, Matthew and John don’t mention the ascension at all. Mark brings it out almost in passing, “So then the Lord Jesus, after He has spoken to them was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of the Father (Mark 16:19).” And Luke in his Gospel, about the same as Mark, but then obviously he expands on it in our Scripture.


            So when we consider the supernatural effect of a man rising to heaven right in front of eleven witnesses – His closest friends, wouldn’t they have just been in total amazement? Mouths hanging open. You’d think maybe tearful that their Master was leaving them again. Wouldn’t you think they would have written it down in extreme detail – to document what they’d seen?


            Well, I think we’ll find part of that answer to those questions in our Scripture today. But we’re going to approach it from another angle too and capture some truth about what was actually taking place. So let’s read, Act 1:1-11.

                In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.

                He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

                And while staying with them he ordered 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 you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

                So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.

                But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, 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.”


            Now I want to go straight to the point about the questions I posed. The disciples had been walking with Jesus off and on for the past 40 days after His resurrection. We don’t exactly know how constant He was with them, but we know he appeared to them many times. Sometimes they recognized Him. Sometimes they didn’t immediately.


            But we know enough about that final moment when He ascended into heaven to understand that the apostles were prepared for anything. Having already witnessed His abnormal strength of will and perseverance during His final hours before His death and then the supernatural event of His resurrection and the brief, but quality time spent with Him afterwards, ascending into heaven certainly wasn’t outside His realm of possibility.


            Plus as Jesus’s prophetic nature goes, He had given them plenty of warning. All of it had been foretold and pieces of the puzzle were finally starting to fit together for the disciples.


            Luke tells us too in our Scripture that Jesus had given them further insight to God’s kingdom during those 40 days, so it was all starting to make sense - finally. And we’ll tie in to some other Scripture in a few minutes that if they had thought back and made the connection; what He’d said to them before would have brought on that aha moment when the light bulb finally came on.


            We talked about how suddenly and tragically Jesus had been taken from them and how overwhelming it all was. But how many of us have lost someone, maybe suddenly, maybe not, but things just weren’t reconciled. And we add to our burden of loss the pain and guilt of knowing that we didn’t leave things we would have liked. Things unfinished; filled with regret we wish we could go back in time and make things right; say those things that weren’t said; stop that last argument before it starts; just spend more time with each other.


            But we don’t get that second chance after they are gone. That’s why Jesus makes the point in John 13:34, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” If we follow that command, our lives guided by love, there may be an argument or things that just don’t get said quite right or at all, but the overall attitude of love in our relationships will prevail. We’ll still grieve for a loss, but guilt won’t drive the pain. We’ll know we were loved and that our love was known.


            But the disciples; they did get that second chance. They had that extra time to work through their failure which was immense; to understand the depth of Christ’s forgiveness and to redeem their relationships with Him. All that made it just a little easier to say good-bye. That and His promises.


            Jesus tells them to wait, be patient, “you will be baptized by the Holy Spirit, not many days from now.” They may or may not have completely understood what He was telling them there, probably not, but by now they understood that Jesus was good on His promises. And if He told them something was going to happen in a few days; well, they could count on it.

            We know today what happened on Pentecost, but they had no idea what was going to hit them that day and the series of life changing events that would begin to unfold for all of them.  Their cowardice would turn to courage. Fear would become boldness. Hesitation would become urgency.


            In our Scripture, the disciples’ lack of clarity of Jesus’s words came through loud and clear as it always did. They immediately asked Him if He meant by that that He would then restore the kingdom to Israel. I can almost see Jesus shaking His head, “It’s not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority.” Stop trying to second guess everything. God has a plan. Be patient and let it unfold. We all tend to be so much like the disciples here. Ok God, I’m here. Finally I’ve arrived. I’m ready now. Show me what you want me to do right now!


            I think most of us here though understand the value in patience, in waiting on the Lord. “But they who wait for the Lord will renew their strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint (Isa 40:31).” This kind of patience isn’t about the tortoise and the hare – slow and steady wins the race, not that kind of patience. This is about persevering; it’s about trust; about faith in God’s plan for our life and the bigger picture of His kingdom plan. Be part of it and just let it unfold.


            Jesus’s point is this… we don’t know. We’re not supposed to know. Just like Jesus said to His disciples, only God knows. We are to live in the present; serve God in this moment.                               Saw a picture of a man and his dog sitting together on a park bench. The caption was, ‘why a dog is happy.’

            Showed the man sitting there on the bench staring off in the distance, with the dog by his side, thinking about all the things he wanted that would make him happy, new car, a speed boat, a new house, a new gun. But the dog was sitting there thinking about just one thing that made him happy; being there at that moment with that man. True joy is found in the moment and an appreciation of serving the Lord in that moment.


            The disciples just always seem to struggle with that – being in the moment. And to our benefit, they never could quite grasp what Jesus was saying. He always had to repeat himself several different ways to get His words to sink in. So in our Scripture, He said it to them again, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”


            Then He moves into His final words to them. His parting thought was meant to make a lasting impression and it most certainly did, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” The Great Commission. The period to His earthly life. I am leaving you. Now it’s up to you. I’ve taught you all I can. You’re no longer my disciples. Go! Be my apostles. Spread the Good News. Grow God’s kingdom. But I’ll be with you in Spirit and you’ll have power like you never imagined. Then He was lifted up.


            Well presumably then the two men in white mentioned in our Scripture are angels, telling the disciples that Jesus would return the same way He left. Those men in white that seemed to appear mysteriously throughout Scripture, historically had a pretty good grip on what was going on and what was to come.


            Probly still a bit dazed by His departure though, the disciples took Jesus at His Word that the Spirit would be coming to them soon, although probly not sure exactly what that meant, and these two men at their word that Jesus would be returning… again. He’d done it before. He’ll do it again.


            So for now, be obedient, get back to town… to Jerusalem… to the upper room… and wait. So when we pull all this together, the apostles… they weren’t left with an overpowering sense of loss. Instead, they were left with hearts filled with hope. Instead of the end, they were left with a new beginning. They had been empowered by their Lord and Master in His final words; given the chance to make everything right; to continue His work on an even bigger scale than HE had – to the ends of the earth. All with the confidence that someday He would return, just like He promised.


            That’s our hope today too. We live in that same hope that someday He will return to rule His kingdom. But you know what strikes me about that, just like His disciples, we’re all missing the point just a little. Just like the man sitting with his dog and losing sight of the moment that He’s in. Jesus is already here. Right now.


            We have such a tendency to get so hung up on end times and prophesy and trying to identify where we are in relation to those last days; when Jesus will return. Maybe because it’s shrouded in such mystery and we love a good mystery. But we lose sight of the present and our call to live Christ in the moment.


            Is He going to come as a physical presence to literally sit on a throne and rule the world? I’m not sure exactly how that’s all going to unfold – again that would be speculation. But just like Jesus told His disciples, stop worrying about it. That’s not your thing to be concerned with. God has a plan and it will be carried out. You don’t need to try and figure it out. In fact, you can’t begin to anyway. How many projections of the exact day of Christ’s return have come and gone. Now the new one out there is sometime in 2028. Who knows!


            I posted something on Facebook the other day about the persecution in China that we’ve mentioned here a few times here.  One of my friends commented that they’d been talking about it in their church too and how their own pastor’s family was doing mission work in China and had to sneak out of the country to avoid death. She ended her comment by saying, “the end times are coming.”


            Well, as a matter of fact they are, but who knows when. I responded to her, “I don’t know that this speaks to end times any more than the atrocities of WWII. But it does say we are all engaged in a life and death battle for God’s kingdom. We have to be strong in our faith and committed to Truth and live that Truth. Take up our Cross daily and be prepared every moment to fight the good fight.”

            I watched one from the Billy Graham archives the other night – probably sometime in the 1940’s – his Hour of Decision. He said never in the history of the world have we seen an Easter like this, more problems, more pestilence, more wars and rumors of wars, suspicion and hatred, even the United Nations is confused and mixed up and they’re the ones supposed to bring peace!

            It’s almost funny to hear those words today and think brother Graham… you thought it was bad then…


            Our work is now; not fretting about the end times or trying to figure out God’s plan. “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. (Matt 24:36).” We’re called to God’s work and we’re living right now in Christ’s promise. You see that should have been the REAL light bulb moment for the apostles. Putting 2 and 2 together with what He had told them before.


            “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also (John 14:1-3).”


            But Jesus had also told them and this is the most important message for them to connect with His departure and for us today to understand, “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to Him who sent Me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.   

            Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:

            concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.


            “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on his own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come (John 16:1-13).”


            That’s the lightbulb that should go on in all of us. It was NECESSARY for Jesus to ascend to heaven. Because it was only then that His promise would be fulfilled; the promise of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was then sent to earth to live among us and is alive today, convicting and giving new life to believers. Our spirit within us, made in the image of God, it is dead toward God unless we are reborn. Mankind needs life.


            We all have sinned, so we all are dead toward God. The Holy Spirit gives us new life in Jesus Christ, rebirth. Jesus said, “No one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again (John 3:3).” We must be born again. And the Holy Spirit is the One who does the work of making us born-again believers in Jesus Christ.  


            When we accept Jesus as Lord of our life, we are indwelt by His Holy Spirit. We are a “new creation, the old has passed away, the new has come (2 Cor 5:17).”  But we are still and always a work in progress.

            The message of Easter and the bottom line of our faith is this. Jesus Christ died for our sins. He rose from the grave. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He is coming back again, and He is ready to come into your heart today by the power of the Holy Spirit and make you a new person. That’s the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


            If you believe this and you’ve accepted Jesus Christ into your heart, praise God. You know then the work that’s in front of you, because the Spirit is talking to you. The question is, are you listening? Those of you who haven’t accepted Jesus as Lord yet, the Spirit is talking to you too… nudging, convicting, asking YOU to open the door of your heart. Can you feel it? That urge. A nudge to open the door, to come forward and commit your life to Him.


            The Spirit is at work in all of us. Jesus is saying to all of us, “Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come to him and eat with him, and he with me (Rev 3:20).” Open the door and let Jesus come into your heart today.


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