Monday, April 7, 2008

This week's sermon: Ascension

Acts 1:1-14

Verses 4-5
"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."

Jesus told his disciples to stay together and to stay in Jerusalem, because God was going to baptize them with the Holy Spirit. We read in the Gospels, particularly John, how Jesus told them they would receive another comforter to be with them always. This promised comforter was the Holy Spirit and was not only their companion, but is our companion today if we have repented and turned to Jesus. This baptism with the Holy Spirit is set apart and different from the water baptism of John the Baptist, which was an outward symbol of a person’s repentance. This baptism of the Holy Spirit marks the lives of those who have turned to Christ and trusted completely in him for the salvation of their souls. Jesus promised them that they would be receiving this gift from the Father as they waited in Jerusalem.

Verses 6-8
So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" 7 He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 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."

Even after his crucifixion and resurrection, the disciples were still looking for him to become an earthly ruler and liberate Israel, that is what they had been taught to expect from the Messiah. And so they come to Jesus with the question, “Now are you going to liberate Israel?” Jesus probably shook his head. We shake our heads at the disciples for still asking questions like this, but we do the same thing, don’t we? We chart and map and try to predict what will happen and just when Jesus will come again. We have also been told that only the Father knows the day and the hour when Christ will return to take us to be with him forever. That does not stop us from trying to figure it out. And it doesn’t stop “experts” from claiming they have all the answers, just like there were Messianic experts in the day of Christ. Most of them missed the boat because God didn’t work in the way they wanted him to, or the way their charts and maps and plans were organized. We have to allow God to work out his plans in his timing.

Jesus tells his disciples, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” The same message goes to us today, not just because we will get it wrong, but because it is a waste of our time, a diversion from the thing God has for us to do. What else distracts us, and gets in the way of our doing what God wants us to do? For many it is the next part of Jesus’ statement “You will receive power.” We look for power, we seek after power, we want all of it we can get. But Jesus says that power is for a purpose. Whenever God gives power or gifts or abilities, they are for his purpose. In this case, the power of the Holy Spirit coming on those disciples would enable them to be witnesses in the world. Look here at what Jesus tells his disciples in the very same breath. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth.”

Our mission to be Christ’s witnesses in the world is more important than having all the plans figured out, or all the power in the world. And these were the last words that Jesus spoke to his disciples. Matthew puts them a little differently, “28:18 Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Luke puts them a little differently in his Gospel. “24:46 He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.” Mark puts it a little differently, “16:15 He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” They all phrase it differently, but it is the same message, “You are my witnesses, go and share the good news with those you come across as you walk through life. Teach them what I have taught you.”

Having said these words to his disciples, Jesus ascends into heaven. While they are standing there gazing after him, two angelic messengers from God come to tell them that Jesus will return, as he promised, in just the same way that he ascended. And the disciples get ready to wait. They had been given two commands and two promises. They had been told to wait, and promised that the Holy Spirit would be given to them. They had been told to be Christ’s witnesses throughout the whole earth, and they have been promised that Jesus Christ will return.

Verse 14
They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

They go back to Jerusalem. They stay together. They wait. And they pray. These disciples did not know what being witnesses for Christ would look like. They had never done this before. There was no precedent to follow. They needed to receive the Holy Spirit so that they would know what to do, specifically. They needed to have his power in their lives to be brave enough to follow through. They needed this constant companion and reminder of the one who had gone into heaven and was coming again. God has a plan and purpose for each of us. He has promised us his companionship in the Holy Spirit, if we give our lives over to him. He calls each of us to be his witnesses. He calls each of us to serve him. He has promised us the power to do what he calls us to do. Take courage and know that the one God calls, he equips to do the work of his kingdom.

Seek the Lord, and be willing to follow him, to be his witnesses in your everyday life. He is faithful to provide strength and courage and power for you to follow through.

No comments: