May 17, 2020

Sermon for the Sunday before Ascension, May 17, 2020

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Passage: Acts 1:9-14
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Sermon for the Sunday before Ascension – May 17, 2020
Calvary/Marquette ● Soli Deo Gloria

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you. (1 Peter 1:3–4, NIV84)

Acts 1:9-14, NKJV
9 Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, 11 who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey. 13 And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son 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 brothers. *

In the Name of Jesus, the Christ,
Our Glorious and Ascended Lord,
Dear Fellow Redeemed in His Blood –

“When will things get back to normal?” Many of us have begun to ask this question, and a few others as well.

“Will life ever return to ‘normal’ to the way things used to be or will there be a ‘new normal’ in the days and months ahead?” Those who are optimistic would like to think that things will eventually return to ‘normal’ and many of us will fall back into the same old ruts. We will happily – or unhappily – go back to the way it was.

So, I can’t help but wonder if Jesus’ disciples asked similar questions after the Resurrection. They all – both the male and female disciples -- thought that they had lost their master and teacher. Their far from ‘normal’ lives with Jesus suddenly came to a screeching halt when He was crucified, died and was buried. They must have wondered, “What now?”

But before they could fully digest the loss…He was alive again. He suddenly appeared to the women on the way back from the empty tomb. He appeared to Mary Magdalene at the tomb. He walked up on the Emmaus Disciples and when they recognized Him…He disappeared again. He suddenly appeared to the disciples without Thomas; and then a week later He suddenly appeared again for Thomas. He appeared in Galilee, and then was gone again. It continued for 40 days.

Was this going to be the ‘new normal’ – Jesus appearing and disappearing at will? Were things ever going to return to ‘normal’ to the way that they had been before, traveling and listening and learning? Maybe things would dramatically change and Jesus would re-establish Israel as a world leader on earth.

Actually, they had just finished asking Jesus a question about that very thing as they gathered around Him on the Mount of Olives on the 40th day after the Resurrection (Acts 1:6):

“Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”

Is this the new normal that you have in mind, Lord? Will you restore the kingdom to Israel? Are you going to establish your own earthly kingdom on earth? Lord, tell us some more about the future. We want to know!

Jesus said to them (Acts 1:7-8):

“It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. 8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

It's not your business what plans the Father has for Israel. They were not to be concerned about the future of Israel, but their own work and future as His witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

Then, as if in answer to their thoughts about an earthly kingdom of Jesus, the Savior lifted up His hands and blessed them and ascended into the sky, returning to His native Heaven. Then He was Gone. No, strike that. He wasn’t gone. He would never leave them ever again. He would always be as near as prayer. He would never be far away for He promised them what He has also promised us (Matthew 18:20):

20 For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
He is not gone; He is not visible…and not forgotten.

Prayer:
Merciful God and Father, in my anxiety and loneliness, I turn to You. You have promised me that You will never leave me or forsake me. You alone can give me calm and strength to face the troubles and challenges of each new day. Wrap your everlasting arms around me and turning me to Your Word, teach me to be unafraid. Hold me up and teach me to follow as you lead me through life. Bring me at last to the safe haven of the Father’s House which you have prepared for me. Help me to remember that when alone, you are always with me. Amen.

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It’s been said [by many a teacher] that there is no such thing as a ‘stupid question.’ Well, that’s debatable. There are stupid questions. Nevertheless, it’s important that we ask questions and find the answers to those questions.

When the disciples asked Jesus if He would then ‘restore the kingdom to Israel’ - after all that He had told and taught them about His Kingdom - it bordered on a stupid question. Jesus’ immediate reply wasn’t the ‘answer’ they were looking for…but what happened next was most certainly an answer.

Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.

Jesus didn’t suddenly disappear. This departure wasn’t like the disappearances during the 40 days after the Resurrection. The Evangelist Luke is the only Gospel writer to describe the event…and to clarify its meaning.

While they watched Jesus was slowly taken up into the sky until a cloud hid Him from their sight. Jesus ascended into heaven because His work on earth was complete, finished. He was sent by the Father to live a sinless life to be credited to sinners by faith. He was sent to lay down His life for sinners and take it up again. He spent 40 days preparing His disciples to be His witnesses to the world. He even told them to stay put in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came upon them with power (Acts 1:8). Then He led them to the Mount of Olives, near Bethany, and He Ascended.

The Work of Salvation was complete – then – and it still is today. Jesus left nothing ‘undone’ nothing to be completed by you or me. Everything necessary to obtain heaven for sinners is done. So, Jesus has withdrawn His visible presence from earth. He now rules all things in heaven and on earth for the benefit of His People.

All that remains is for Jesus’ people to get the message out so that the Holy Spirit may do His Work of convincing, converting and enlightening. It was for that very reason that two angels were dispatched from heaven to gently bump Jesus’ workers into motion.

10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, 11 who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”

Now I imagine that when we return to ‘regular face-to-face worship’ we are going to want to stick around and talk. We haven’t seen one another for two months or more. We are friends. We will want to get caught up and be reacquainted. We won’t want it to end.

Mary Magdalene wanted to hang on to Jesus the rest of her life. Simon Peter wanted to erect tents to spend more time rubbing elbows with Moses and Elijah. On the Mount of Olives, the disciples stood there looking intently into the sky, hoping for one final glimpse of the Savior.

They would see Him again. We will see Him on that glorious day when His Ascension is set in reverse and He returns in the same way as He went into Heaven. He will come again visibly, to judge the living and the dead and to forever deliver us from the bonds of sin and death forever.

It’s interesting that the Evangelist Luke doesn’t tell us anything about the Disciple’s reaction to the angels. It doesn’t say that they were ‘greatly afraid’ or ‘they bowed their faces to the ground.’ The Angels didn’t begin by saying, ‘Do not be afraid.’ Whether they were surprised or not isn’t told us.

We can be assured that they listened to the words of the angels. We should carefully look at their words because reveal important truths that some today deny.

1) It was the same Jesus. The man who appeared and disappeared over the course of 40 days was the same Jesus. He wasn’t a spirit or ghost; He wasn’t an angel; He was the same Jesus in flesh and blood but glorified. He lifted up His hands in blessing and for a final time showed them His pierced hands, the receipt of their redemption (Luke 24:50).
2) He was taken up into Heaven. He wasn’t playing ‘hide and seek’ with the clouds. He had ascended to heaven as He said He would to Mary Magdalene (John 20:17). The Gospel of Mark reports simply that He was received into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. He is exalted to the highest position in the universe where He rules all things for the benefit of His People.
3) He will return from Heaven in the same way. He will ‘come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.’ He ascended to heaven visibly and will return from heaven visibly (Revelation 1:7). Jesus’ departure was noted by angels and when He returns, He will be accompanied by the Holy Angels (Matthew 25:31). He departed among the clouds and will return on the clouds (Revelation 1:7).

The Ascension is a foretaste of His Return.

Now very often when someone we love departs – by airplane, car or even death – we are sad. We don’t like to be separated from those we love.

Jesus’ disciples didn’t fall into depression after the Ascension. We note their response and the results because this too is how we should live in these days as we await His return.

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey.

Let’s clarify something: It wasn’t the Sabbath Day. The 40th day after the Resurrection was the fourth day after the Sabbath, the day we know as Thursday. In fact, this coming Thursday is the Ascension, the 40th day. On the Sabbath Day the Jews were to refrain from work. They would travel no more than 2,000 paces. ‘A Sabbath Day’s Journey’ is not a marker of the day but of the distance from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem.

We aren’t only to note how far they walked, but their attitude when returning. It’s reported in the Gospel of Luke (24:52-53):

52 And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God. Amen.

They returned from saying ‘goodbye’ to Jesus knowing that they hadn’t really said ‘goodbye.’ They returned with great joy. They were no longer sad. They were no longer afraid. They didn’t hide out in the upper room behind closed doors, they also were continually in the temple praising and blessing God. The same men who had run in Gethsemane and hid on Easter Sunday came out of their hiding places. They came out to praise God for sending His Son to Save.

We too will come out of our homes to gather to praise God for sending His Son to Save us. We don’t have to gather on the corner of 6th and Ohio to have great joy. Jesus is neither confined to the church nor to heaven. He rules all things for our benefit. He has enlisted us to go out, to speak of what He has accomplished for us all. We don’t have to be afraid. Jesus holds the keys to death and the grave (Revelation 1:17-18).

They did still gather together as a smaller group, with one mind for prayer.

13 And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son 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 brothers. *

We will again gather together to offer up prayer with one mind to our gracious God. It is comforting to pray together, not because it’s more powerful, but because it is a reminder of our Spirit created unity, based on agreement on Scripture. We also know that our prayers offered up in the privacy of our own homes are heard and answered by the same Jesus.

He is not Gone. He is not Visible and Not forgotten.
Amen.