After Easter: “Ascension”

 

After Easter: “Ascension”
A Message on Acts 1:3-11

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
April 29, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Acts 1:3-11 (NRSV)

 

After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

The Ascension of Jesus
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

 

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The topic I want to explore today is the “ascension” of Jesus.

 

I want to focus on it because it is so often overlooked, yet I believe it is an integral part of our faith story and something we need to pay more attention to.

 

A lot is said about Jesus’ life. A lot is said about Jesus’ death, which we observe on Good Friday. A lot is said about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, which we celebrate as Easter. But Jesus’ resurrection is not the end of the story. There is more.

 

You may not be aware of it but on the liturgical calendar there is a day called “Ascension Day.” It occurs 40 days after Easter (based on the scripture from Acts that we read today), 39 days from Easter Sunday. It occurs on a Thursday and this year will occur on May 10. (I didn’t want to wait until then to talk about it, though, so my apologies to all those who are sticklers for preciseness with the liturgical calendar.)

 

But how many of us know about that date on the calendar? Not very many. I have to admit that I myself wouldn’t probably realize that it’s May 10 of this year if I didn’t have an app on my Google Calendar program and includes the Revised Common Lectionary readings and liturgical dates on it.

 

I think it means I am like this disciple in this cartoon. (Show cartoon) I have ADD: Ascension Deficit Disorder.

 

So we’re going to remedy that today and talk about the ascension.

 

The word refers to Jesus rising up into the sky, into heaven. Why is this important?

 

Here’s what I think is the bottom line: to prove that he was/is God.

 

We know Jesus was a man. That part is pretty clear. He came to earth as a baby, grew up, was baptized by John in the Jordan River, then went into the wilderness where he fasted for 40 days and was tempted by the devil.

 

At the end of those 40 days, he began his ministry. He was around 30 years old at the time.

 

He taught, he healed, he performed miracles, he made the religious folks very angry, and eventually was killed by crucifixion. On the third day after he was killed, however, he rose from the grave. (“Ain’t no grave gonna hold my body down…”)

 

After that he appeared to the disciples and many others. On the road to Emmaus he walked with two followers who didn’t recognize him until he broke the bread with them, and then he disappeared. He just showed up behind closed doors with the disciples (except Thomas, who became known as “Doubting Thomas” because he wanted to see to believe). He cooked some breakfast on the shore of the Sea of Galilee for the disciples who had been fishing.

 

So he makes many appearances after his resurrection. So why was the ascension necessary?

 

Here’s what I think. Remember when the disciples are out on the sea in a boat and a big storm is tossing them around? And they look up and see Jesus coming to them walking on the water? Their first reaction is that he is a ghost.

 

Now I don’t believe in ghosts (except for the Holy Ghost) but a lot of people did back then. It could have been argued that Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead, that it was just a ghost all the witnesses encountered after his death.

 

I think that’s why in the 24th chapter of Luke when the resurrected Jesus appears to the disciples they kind of freak out and think that he is a ghost. Then Jesus asks them if they have anything to eat. They give him some broiled fish and he eats it. Ghosts don’t eat. Jesus ate the fish to prove to them he wasn’t a ghost.

 

In Luke’s gospel right after this happens he leads them out to Bethany, blesses them, and then as he is blessing them he ascends into heaven.

 

In the scripture we read from Acts today we finds several things that happen that are important in relation to the Ascension.

 

The first thing is that there is a specific topic he discusses with the disciples during the 40 days he makes appearances. He speaks to them about the Kingdom of God.

 

So what is the Kingdom of God? I believe it is God’s reign over all the universe. And I believe it is both here and now and also to come. I think that’s why we pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” in the Lord’s Prayer.

 

The next thing he tells them is to stay in Jerusalem. Now this was probably not something the disciples wanted to hear. After all, it was in Jerusalem that Jesus was arrested, beaten, and killed. They had to be wondering if the same thing was going to happen to them. But Jesus tells them to stay put.

 

Then he tells them why: the Holy Spirit would come upon them, that they would be “baptized with the Holy Spirit.” This is what we celebrate at Pentecost, which is 50 days after Easter.

 

Then the disciples ask Jesus, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” We have to remember that the Jewish people at the time thought the messiah would come in, conquer the Romans militarily, and restore the kingdom of Israel. Jesus rising from the dead must have been convincing evidence that he was indeed the messiah because… Well… Dead men just don’t come back to life.

 

So the disciples are wanting to know when Jesus will kick the Romans out of the country. Here is his response from The Message translation: “You don’t get to know the time. Timing is the Father’s business. What you’ll get is the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world.”

 

And that brings up the next thing Jesus tells them. Once they get the Holy Spirit, they are to spread the Word to all of the world. It’s not something they keep for themselves, a little secret only the most righteous are privy to. No. Go tell everyone.

 

And then he ascends into heaven, rising until they can’t see him anymore.

 

Here’s how I think about this. My family will tell you that I love birds and consider myself to be somewhat of an amateur ornithologist. I know the difference between a “Rufus Sided Towhee” and a “Yellow Bellied Sap Sucker.” I am fascinated by birds and love to watch them.

 

One of the most fascinating thing about birds is how they can soar on thermal convection currents. I love to watch hawks catch those thermals and circle around in them, going higher and higher. And at some point they get so high that I can’t see them anymore.

 

I think it was probably something similar with the Ascension of Jesus. Not that he had to use thermal convection currents or that he circled around, but that as he went higher and higher he would become smaller and smaller until he finally goes from just a small speck to disappearing.

 

In the Apostle’s Creed Jesus’ Ascension is an event that we state is an integral part of our faith, a rock on which we base our faith.

 

“The third day he rose from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.”

 

The divinity of Jesus reminds us just how much the God of the Universe loves us humans, even though we are sinful. We have in heaven, with God, someone who walked among us, understands us better than we understand ourselves, and loves us so much that he went to the cross for us.

 

This wasn’t just a friend that did this for us. This isn’t a benevolent earthly ruler. This is God himself, the creator of the universe, God who always has been and always will be. The God of all power and might loves each one of us so deeply we can’t even comprehend it.

 

Earlier in the service we had a baptism. A young woman prayerfully made the decision for her to respond to the love that God has shown her through Jesus Christ. Through baptism her sins were forgiven and she became a new person, one of the redeemed, a true child of God.

 

The Ascension of Jesus helps to make that happen. We know that Jesus reigns with the Father from heaven, intercedes for us, and was willing to go to the cross so that all who ask may have their sins forgiven and become reconciled to God.

 

So my challenge to you this week is to remember that the Ascension of Jesus is an important part of the “After Easter” story. Remember that Jesus IS God, one that went to the cross out of his love for you. In response let us love others the way God loved us.

 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

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