We All Are Witnesses!

“We All Are Witnesses!”

Acts 1:1-11 (1:8) – May 16, 2021

            I have a confession to make. I do not say the Apostles Creed very often any longer. I used to say it almost every week, especially in the liturgical Lutheran church where I grew up. However, we here in this church do not regularly say the Apostles Creed. I wonder whether you remember a line from that Creed: “He (meaning, Jesus) rose from the dead, He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.”

            Those are just words from a Creed, aren’t they? Those words don’t really mean what they say, do they? Or, are those words instead blessed Gospel truth?

Commentator Carolyn Brown tells us that “during his life on earth, his disciples knew Jesus as a very special person, but after Easter Jesus was different.  He appeared and disappeared sometimes in locked rooms but still ate fish and bread.  Thomas could touch him.  Since the Ascension, people have seen Jesus only in visions and dreams. [The ascended] Jesus is still alive and is not just with God, but part of God.” [1] 

We just read about the last appearance of our Lord Jesus from Acts chapter 1. Jesus lived His life on earth witnessing to people around Him, teaching, healing, telling people about the Good News that He was sent to earth to share. Except – Jesus was about to ascend into heaven.

            What was going to happen to His mission after He left? How were more people going to hear about the Good News that Jesus was sent to earth to share?

            For that, we need to step back and look at the Gospel narratives. In fact, Dr. Luke gives us an excellent summary at the beginning of Acts chapter 1. He says in his first book, the Gospel of Luke, he “wrote about all the things that Jesus did and taught from the time he began his work until the day he was taken up to heaven.”

            Yes, the Rabbi Jesus did send out the disciples, two by two, during His life and three-year ministry on earth. Jesus did empower them to go forth and share about the coming kingdom of God – except it was not quite the same, was it? There could not be a clearer distinction between the sending of the two groups of people – before and after the coming of the Holy Spirit.

            True, the itinerant Rabbi Jesus did travel throughout Palestine, up and down the River Jordan, around the Sea of Galilee, and through the Decapolis in the north, teaching, preaching, and performing miracles for three years. Jesus performed His mission, which was communicating the Good News He was heaven-sent to share. His faithful, intrepid band of followers were with Jesus as interns of sorts, learning, doing on-the-job training.

But, there was a big difference between playing on the second or third string with the Rabbi Jesus there as coach, as opposed to going out on the field with the varsity team, sharing about the coming kingdom of God, to the uttermost ends of the world!

            Isn’t that sort of the distinction between before and after the resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ? Except, we haven’t gotten there yet! Pentecost is coming next Sunday. Not quite there yet!     

            Have you ever watched high school or college sports? I have. My two older daughters participated in a lot of them, especially my oldest. She lettered in three sports in high school: swimming, basketball and softball. Janet was especially wonderful at relay races, in the pool, where one swimmer would swim her laps and then tag the wall for the next swimmer to begin.

            Can you see the similarity? Just as my daughter was really skilled at relay racing and tagging the wall so that another swimmer could start, that is what our Lord Jesus did at His ascension. Jesus told His disciples – both men and women followers – that He was tagging the wall and expected them to carry on with the race. Jesus plainly told the disciples to carry on with the God-given mission to be His witnesses.  

            The Ascension was NOT an end, in and of itself. At least, it did not put a period to the life of the disciples of Jesus. By no means! Sure, when we repeat the words from the Apostles Creed “He (meaning, Jesus) rose from the dead, He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,” that is not an ending point!

            Remember back to school days? Near the end of school many elementary schools have field days featuring, among other events, relay races.  Though Jesus did not actually pass a baton to his disciples, he did tell them very clearly that they were to take up his ministry on earth.  Jesus’s earthly part of the race was complete, but theirs was just starting. [2]     

            Yes, with His last words, Jesus commanded His disciples to be witnesses, to tell forth God’s Good News. And, what does that look like? One way is to tell how our Lord Jesus has acted in our lives. What has Jesus done for you lately? I want to know your personal experience! Can you tell someone about that? That’s being a witness!

            I’m getting ahead of myself, but after Pentecost, everywhere the disciples went, they were accused of turning the world upside down. That’s what they did, and that’s what our Lord Jesus is commanding us to do, as followers of Jesus. Sharing God’s Good News is not just a suggestion – it’s a command from our Lord.

            What has Jesus done for you lately? Be a witness! Go and tell!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2016/04/year-c-ascension-of-lord-thursday-may-5.html

Worshiping with Children, Ascension C, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2016.

[2] Ibid.

Coming Attractions

“Coming Attractions”

Acts 1 ascension_of_jesus

Acts 1:6-11 (1:11) – May 24, 2020

When I used to go to the movie theater, I would be excited about the feature film. Of course! That is why many of us buy tickets and go to a theater, to see the big feature! What’s more, the feature film is usually billed as something special, indeed! Except – what about what happens before the feature film is shown? My children used to call them “commercials,” short teasers of movies coming soon. Another word for these? Coming attractions.

As we turn to the beginning of the book of the Acts of the Apostles, we find our resurrected Lord Jesus with a group of His disciples. He rose from the dead some weeks before, and I suspect this special time has been a time of intense learning. Similar to a condensed intensive course of study, if you will.

To be sure, the weeks after the Resurrection have been a time of training for the disciples. I am sure our Lord went over passages from the Hebrew Scriptures, pointing out how He fulfilled the promises given so long ago. I also suspect Jesus went over some practical things, too. What seminarians and professors refer to as practical theology – the every-day life and practice of being a follower of Jesus.

Now, Jesus is about to say good-bye. But, before He does, the disciples can’t wait to ask one more burning question. I get the feeling that this question just bursts out of them! “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

I imagine our Lord stifling a big sign, and almost saying to His followers, “You’re asking Me this again? Haven’t I explained it thoroughly to you guys and girls before? I mean, many times before?” I can just see a meme of Jesus doing a facepalm, on social media. The disciples still haven’t gotten it. They still just don’t get the full picture.

Before we come down too hard on the disciples, we need to remember that they did understand a great deal of what was said in the Hebrew Scriptures. Yes, after the Resurrection, everyone certainly expects God to do something.

Some of Jesus’s disciples must have expected to be clothed with power, and deputized as Jesus’s right-hand men and women. They understood that their leader was in fact the Messiah! In large part, “their question to Jesus about the restoration of Israel is perfectly reasonable. The Messiah is expected to purify the land and rule over the nations. Is this finally the time?” [1]

“Listen, Rabbi, we know a huge miracle happened, and God raised You from the dead. But now, aren’t You going to become the greatest King of the whole world? That’s what we remember from our Torah study as kids, and from the preaching and teaching You did, too. So, when is that going to happen? Soon? Right now? When, Lord?

Jesus doesn’t go into a long discourse the way He did in the Gospels, to explain His position more thoroughly. No, instead, He gives the disciples an outline of what they are to do. A short how-to statement, after the weeks of intensive learning.

Isn’t that what practical theology is all about? I loved my practical theology classes in seminary. In those classes, I learned how to put the theological learning I got in my other studies to work. Classes like preaching, or what I’m doing right now; like pastoral care—what I use in talking with church members or as a chaplain in the hospital. And, I learned more practical things, picking up great tools for my pastoral tool belt in those practical classes. I learned the every-day life and practice of being a follower of Jesus—in the classroom.

The disciples must have learned things about the every-day life and practice of following their Lord Jesus, too. Except, there is a big difference between the classroom and real life.

As Jesus responds, “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.” This is the real thing, Jesus! No being just an apprentice. Not practice, not any more.

After these words come out of Jesus’s mouth, He ascends to heaven. Another miracle, accompanied by angels, even!

This to-do list from Jesus Himself ought to be a highlight for all of His followers. First, look at where we start. Jerusalem, or home. Where we stand, right here and now. Next, Judea—or our neighborhood. Is there anyone next door or down the block who needs to hear the Good News about Jesus? Maybe it’s kinda difficult. Maybe we hesitate. Really, Lord? Invite my neighbors to worship with me? Why not? Remember, Jesus said so. And then, to Samaria. What, Lord? That’s where those different people live—different from me, I mean. Sure, I know it’s nearby, but I’m just not comfortable!

Now, wait a second. The ends of the earth? Seriously? Some days I have enough problems getting out of bed in the morning, much less going to the ends of the earth. Yet, this is what our Lord Jesus commands all of us to do.

There is no “end of the earth.” “The world is my parish” John Wesley said.

The work of proclaiming that Good News, that salvation to all people is still going on today. The exciting thing to realize is that the ascension of our Lord meant that the promised Holy Spirit would come to the disciples, soon.

Coming attractions, indeed! Stay tuned for the next installment: Pentecost! The coming of the Holy Spirit. Get ready!

 

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=884

Commentary, Acts 1:6-14 (Easter 7A), Matt Skinner, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011. 

Dynamic Spirit Power!

“Dynamic Spirit Power!”

Acts 2 Pentecost mural

Acts 2:2-4 – June 9, 2019

Have you ever been outside in hurricane-force winds? Either you, or a loved one you know and who is very dear to you? How about a massive storm that has huge bolts of lightning, and loud cracks of thunder? Can you imagine God’s mighty power displayed, for everyone to see and hear and feel? Anyone who has ever been caught in such a powerful storm can tell you, such a dynamic panorama can be earthshaking, literally. That mighty God-sent power is just what I’ll be preaching about today.

Most of us, perhaps even all of us are familiar with the disciples’ fearful reaction after our Lord Jesus ascended into heaven. And, for good reason! The Roman authorities were still hunting for the body of the Rabbi Jesus that disappeared from the tomb, some weeks before. Remember what happened on Easter morning? Not only the Roman authorities but also Jewish leaders were still demanding to see the body of this itinerant rabbi that they said was stolen from the tomb! Of course, we know better.

God’s mighty, miraculous power intervened, by way of the Resurrection and Ascension. Our Lord rose from the dead, walked and taught on this earth in His resurrected body for seven weeks, followed by His bodily ascension into heaven. What is more, the last instructions of Jesus to wait for power, to stay put in Jerusalem, were still fresh in people’s ears.

But—still, God left the disciples very much afraid, and very much in hiding. At least, after the risen Jesus went away for good. That’s what humans thought, anyhow.

Here we are, on Pentecost morning, waiting with the disciples. As was their custom, they were gathered for prayer in the Upper Room. Can you imagine a large group of disciples, with Jesus’ mother Mary in the midst of them? Talk about a prayer meeting! Still, they were huddled, in hiding. These disciples were being faithful, as best as they could. When, on Pentecost morning, a God-sent happening occurred. But, you don’t need to take my word for it!

Listen to what Dr. Luke says at the beginning of Acts 2: “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.

Now, today, if something like that happened, we might look around for the fancy special effects team in the background. We might wonder where the cameras were placed when those tongues of fire wondrously appeared above each person—marking them, letting everyone know that God was director, and God wrote the script.

Getting back to a description of a display of God’s mighty power, that other-worldly power was certainly on display in the sound like the blowing of a violent wind from heaven. In keeping with my analogy, God was also producer and certainly handled all special effects.

The Koine Greek word for “power” is dunamis, which the Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament defines as: able to produce a strong effect power, might, strength” and “as supernatural manifestations of power, miracle, wonder, powerful deed.” This is the same word that is used ten times in the book of Acts to refer to God’s mighty power or acts. Plus, dunamis is the root word for dynamite: the mighty, powerful dynamite of God!

This dynamic power was on display to the disciples, in the upper room. Dr. Luke mentions that “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” On display only among the disciples—at first. But, soon, other people started to get in on the action!

Let’s hear from Dr. Luke: “Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?”

Once the dynamic Holy Spirit blows in on the disciples with tongues of fire, and their physical tongues are loosened in many other languages, what an awesome display of power! Passersby from other countries off the street gathered around. They heard the violent wind of the Spirit and the expression of many languages that quickly followed. All of the disciples were telling the Good News, that Jesus our Messiah is risen from the dead—in many different languages. And, probably because of the regional pronunciation, the expat onlookers were able to tell that many of those who were speaking different languages were Galileans. Is it any wonder that these onlookers were totally amazed?

I am reminded of a flash mob in some public place, like a mall or in a downtown square. Just as passersby are engrossed in the performance the flash mob does, in a similar way, the onlookers are fascinated by the whole God-sent operation that happened in Jerusalem on Pentecost morning, especially by the sharing of the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ in their own heart-language, their own mother tongue. And, since the Holy Spirit was present in mighty power on that Pentecost morning, many came to believe in Jesus as their Messiah that day.

But, Pentecost was not just a one-time event. You know, an event that happened just in the distant past, in Bible times, never to be repeated. No! Whenever anyone believes on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, a Pentecost happens! The Holy Spirit blows through that person, that beloved one of God. The Holy Spirit blows into each of our lives, and the power and possibility of God acting with and through each one of us is an amazing and awesome truth!

Commentator Rev. Gary Simpson brings out the fact “I am more aware of the numerous ways the Holy Spirit comes into people’s lives and affects positive change. No longer is my understanding of Pentecost simply wrapped around the phonetic languages we speak out of our mouths. Rather, I am aware of the many ways the Holy Spirit speaks through us and to us through sounds, pictures, ideas and even hope.” [1]

I am reminded that some people think Pentecost was just a day, an event that happened two thousand years ago. But, no! Wait a minute! Are these well-meaning people putting limits on the mighty power of God? What about that violent wind of the Holy Spirit that blew through the house on that first Pentecost? Are these well-meaning people trying to put God in a little box of their own devising and understanding?

As the Rev. Simpson reminds us, Pentecost is not simply a day to remember the birth of the Church, but it is also a day to celebrate the mighty power of the Holy Spirit, the dynamite of God, active and present in each believer’s life and heart. It is God’s power working in us and through us, so we can be witnesses to what the risen Lord Jesus has done for us. Yes, we are changed, too! And we have the opportunity to change the world, just as much as the first-century disciples of Christ—by the power of the God-sent dynamite of the Holy Spirit.

Alleluia! Amen.

[1] http://www.theafricanamericanlectionary.org/PopupLectionaryReading.asp?LRID=88

Lectionary Commentary, Acts 2:1-8, Gary V. Simpson, The African American Lectionary, 2009.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

 

Pour Out the Spirit

Acts 2:17-18 – June 4, 2017

 

Acts 2-3 pentecost

“Pour Out the Spirit”

Waiting can be difficult. We wait for buses and trains. We wait for school to let out and for work to end for the day. Waiting in a doctor’s or dentist’s office can sometimes be long and painful, too. In fact, time seems to pass much more slowly as we wait, with caution, questioning, or with fear and trembling.

Let’s consider the followers of Jesus as they waited. Were they eager? Were they fearful? How did they feel, not knowing what was going to happen? What was their situation, after the ascension of their leader, Rabbi, our Lord Jesus Christ?

Remember our service last Sunday, how we celebrated the Ascension of Jesus? After several weeks of post-Resurrection appearances, Jesus went to the top of a hill and addressed His friends for the final time. Jesus gave the followers specific instructions to go to Jerusalem and…wait. Wait for power. Wait for some Spirit to come from somewhere. Then, He rose from the earth, and ascended bodily into heaven.

Shortly after the ascension, the followers of the risen Jesus do go back to Jerusalem, in obedience to the final words of Jesus. These followers include Mary, the mother of Jesus and His brothers, plus the disciples and the women who followed Jesus faithfully, as well. And—they all wait. They wait for several days.

The followers of Jesus stayed in hiding, keeping a low profile, not wanting to attract the attention of the religious leaders or the Roman soldiers in Jerusalem. Remember, these leaders were still really angry that someone “stole” the body of the Rabbi Jesus several weeks before. Of course the friends of Jesus wanted to lie low, in case any of these religious leaders wanted to drag any of them in for questioning.

Then—something happened, all right! It was another important feast of the Jewish calendar. Let’s listen to what Dr. Luke says in Acts 2: “When the day of Pentecost came, all the believers were gathered together in one place. Suddenly there was a noise from the sky which sounded like a strong wind blowing, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.”

The followers’ time of waiting suddenly was interrupted! Can you imagine a strong wind blowing, so strong you could feel it almost blow you over? Except, they were all locked in that closed upper room, inside, and they actually felt the strong wind inside the building.

But, that wasn’t the end—by no means! “Then, they saw what looked like tongues of fire which spread out and touched each person there. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to talk in other languages, as the Spirit enabled them to speak. There were Jews living in Jerusalem, religious people who had come from every country in the world. When they heard this noise, a large crowd gathered. They were all excited, because all of them heard the believers talking in their own languages.”

We are not going to describe the differences in speaking foreign languages, or speaking in ecstatic utterances. No, I will leave that for specialists in biblical interpretation. I am more of a general biblical interpreter, as a pastor and preacher. What I see from this scripture passage is that God sent the Holy Spirit upon the followers of Jesus in a powerful way. What is more, a huge audience gathered when this Holy Spirit phenomenon happened in Jerusalem that day—a multicultural audience who had traveled from all over the known world to worship God.

We are all aware of the multicultural, multi-ethnic community we live in, here in Morton Grove, Niles, Des Plaines, Glenview, and Skokie. Such wonderful, diverse neighborhoods we all share! That was very much what the disciples and other followers of Jesus were dealing with, in Jerusalem on that grand feast day.

Sure, the followers of Jesus had the mighty power of the Holy Spirit poured out upon them, as they spilled out into the street and started talking what God had done in their lives, crying out, excited and overjoyed. The awesome power of God filled them, energized them, so much so they could not hold it in.

The audience—the gathered crowd in Jerusalem had a few reactions to this action. Surprise, certainly! “In amazement and wonder they exclaimed, ‘These people who are talking like this are Galileans! How is it, then, that all of us hear them speaking in our own native languages?’” However, some in the audience scoffed: “But others made fun of the believers, saying, ‘These people are drunk!’”

As commentator Mitzi Smith says, “Confounded, the men do not agree about how to interpret the event that they have all witnessed together at the same time. Some translate what they hear as babble resulting from a midday drinking binge (2:13).” [1] Many of these people were confused—confounded, as Mitzi Smith says.

How often did the disciples have problems understanding what was going on, while Jesus was with them? How often do we misunderstand the words and acts of God? Didn’t the people of Israel need to be reminded again and again and again of the lessons and works and words of God? Is it any wonder that these multicultural Jews had difficulty comprehending the mighty works of God through the pouring out of the Holy Spirit?

Then Peter stood up with the other eleven apostles and in a loud voice began to speak to the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, listen to me and let me tell you what this means. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose; it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 Instead, this is what the prophet Joel spoke about: 17 ‘This is what I will do in the last days, God says: ‘I will pour out my Spirit on everyone.’”

Can you picture this scene? More than a hundred excited believers in Christ, newly energized by the Holy Spirit, spilling out into the streets of Jerusalem. They are not like robots, emitting a canned message, like a cookie cutter, exactly the same as everyone else. No! The pouring out of the Holy Spirit is truly an amazing event.

As Mitzi Smith says, “the first act of God’s Spirit at Pentecost honors the diversity and individuality of the believers.” [2] Each person who believes is still an individual, and each one who hears is celebrated in their diversity! Each one hears God’s mighty acts in the heart language they grew up with. Listen: “Devout males, Jews and proselytes, from every nation, and who had traveled from Africa, Rome, and Asia hear this group of disciples speaking to them about the mighty acts of God in their own languages (2:8-11).” Plus, here is the kicker, the most important part: “God’s acts remain God’s acts in every language and culture.” [3]

God pours out Holy Spirit power that enables us to do God’s work on earth.  God inspires us, gives us gifts (talents), and works through us.  God expects us to “do something in God’s name.”  This is a powerful self-image.  We are powerful and God has work for us to do. [4]

The followers of Jesus told others about what God had just done in their lives! It doesn’t matter when or where we talk about God. We are still witnessing. (Just like the disciples.) We can still talk about God’s mighty acts in our lives, today.

Can you name something that God has done in your life, recently? You, or someone in your family? Are you excited about what God has done in your lives? I encourage you to tell someone about it, today! What is more, we can look forward to what God will do in our lives, tomorrow. We can all celebrate the mighty acts of God with joy, with praise, and with adoration.

Alleluia, amen!

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=823 Mitzi J. Smith

[2] Ibid, Mitzi J. Smith.

[3] Ibid, Mitzi J. Smith.

[4] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/05/year-pentecost-june-8-2014.html Worshiping with Children, Pentecost, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

He Was Taken Up

Acts 1:9, Luke 24:51 – May 28, 2017

Acts 1-9 Ascension ENLUMINURES HILDERSHEIM

“He Was Taken Up”

Mentors often teach and assist their followers through conversations. Whether it’s a one-on-one relationship or a small group mentorship, many respected, learned teachers often are in a position where their followers are hanging on every word that comes out of their mouths. Imagine how much more closely our risen Lord Jesus’s followers listened to His words in the weeks following His resurrection!

This whole situation after Easter was totally unprecedented. The Rabbi Jesus, God’s Anointed, the Messiah, come back from the dead? Being resurrected, and brought back to life?  How can such a thing be? It was a blessed miracle of God, that’s how!

Jesus walked and talked for forty days with His disciples. We do not know for sure, but I suspect He gave them further information about why He had come down from heaven, setting aside His divinity, being born of the Virgin Mary as a human baby. From our Gospel passage this morning: “44 Jesus said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”

Wouldn’t that be absolutely fantastic, to have Jesus, the Word made flesh, interpreting Scripture so that we could more fully understand it? Talk about an in-depth bible study! Those would be some awesome conversations. I know I would be sitting at Jesus’s feet, like Mary of Bethany, hanging on His every word.

I also suspect our Lord Jesus significantly affected and touched His followers while He realized His time was becoming shorter and shorter. Don’t you think Jesus must have told them He would be going away—soon? We know how upset the disciples became when Jesus told them such things before His crucifixion. In John 16, at that Last Supper the night Jesus was betrayed, He spoke plainly about His departure. But, that was the last thing His followers wanted to hear about, or think about, either!

If we reflect more deeply on that thought—the thought of Jesus going away—it’s similar to the idea of our loved ones dying and going away. Many people become deeply distressed at even the thought of it, much less the actuality. Even if we know our loved ones have died and gone to heaven, and we will eventually be reunited with them, it still can be distressing, even traumatizing for us to contemplate their departure.

This common feeling may well be similar to the feeling of the disciples as the time of Jesus’ departure got closer and closer. One of the commentators on the passage, Bob Deffinbaugh, wrote, “While we know that God’s will has been done and that those who have died in Christ are with the Lord…We do not find great comfort or joy in reminiscing over the departure of our loved ones. So, too, I believe the gospel writers did not have any predisposition to write of our Lord’s departure to return to His Father.” [1] That may be part of the reason why there was not much mention of the Ascension in the biblical record.

Taking a look at our companion reading from Acts 1, we can see that the disciples still do not quite understand. Even though Jesus opened their minds to the Scriptures that they might have fuller comprehension of the purpose and coming of the Messiah, as foretold by the biblical writers, they still had some misconceptions.

Reading from Acts 1: “Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

We can tell that the followers of Jesus are still thinking “of the day when the nation of Israel will be reestablished as it was in the days of Solomon. They dream of themselves as the chief executives in the new kingdom.” [2] They are having a glorified view of a powerful earthly kingdom.  I cannot imagine our Lord Jesus being unclear about this, so I think the problem is on the disciples’ end. They have faulty presuppositions that just do not match up with the clear things Jesus is telling them. The followers of Jesus need to have their vision clarified. The kingdom Jesus is preparing is not of this world, but instead of the spiritual world.  

How often are we like the disciples? So often, we focus on unimportant issues. Things like denominational differences, whether to baptize by sprinkling or by immersion, how often to offer the Lord’s Supper, social justice, church growth, choice of church music: all of these pale in comparison with the foundational purpose of Jesus and His coming to earth.

As we can see, the followers of Jesus were narrowly focused on the restoration of the kingdom to Israel. They were completely missing the larger picture of our Lord Jesus reconciling the entire world to God, His heavenly Father.

For Jesus, His followers have one overarching assignment—a far greater purpose than these unimportant things. “For Jesus, that purpose is witnessing. His disciples are witnesses of His life, death, resurrection, and now, His ascension.” [3]

We all are familiar with the words of the Apostles Creed. I quote a portion: Jesus Christ, “born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” These words are the very words I am preaching about here, today. They are not just the dusty old words found in some theological tome or some stilted book of creeds of the church. No! These words of the Creed are faithful, true, and powerful.

While the disciples were being distracted by their pie-in-the-sky view of the restoration of the kingdom of Israel to home rule, Jesus had the cosmic view in mind. In other words, it is like Jesus is telling His followers, “Forget that other stuff. Look, I am going now. I will send you all a Helper, an Advocate, to help you in the important work of being My witnesses. So, BE my witnesses!”

Acts 1:8 tells us where the followers are to be witnesses: “you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Then, in verse 9, Jesus rises and is taken up into heaven.

Do we understand yet? The ascension of Jesus was glorious! He rose up into a cloud, most probably the Shekinah glory that surrounded Him at the Transfiguration, earlier in the Gospels. He ascended into heaven, just as we confess in the Apostles Creed. And, in Acts 1:11, we are reminded that the return of our Lord Jesus will be like His ascension.

“The ascension was a display of the splendor and glory of the coming Kingdom. As such it was a reassurance to the disciples that this Kingdom was the same as they had previously been instructed.” [4] A glorious, heavenly reassurance!

Remember, the followers of Jesus were not left to undertake this purpose, this task in their own power. Jesus tells us, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.” And then, “you will be my witnesses.”

The followers of Jesus did not know what to expect. But, we know.  This ascension may be the end of Jesus’s time on earth. He may be going away for a time, but no fear!

We are going to celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit next week, on Pentecost Sunday. Talk about coming attractions! Praise God, today we have the power and help of the Holy Spirit assisting us as we share the Good News of Jesus, reconciling us to God. Jesus assured us of the help of the Holy Spirit, whenever we witness to Him. What a promise! Alleluia, amen.

[1] https://bible.org/seriespage/41-ascension-luke-2431-acts-11-11  “The Ascension,” by Robert Deffinbaugh at the Biblical Studies Foundation.

[2] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/studyot/ascensionot.html  “The Ascension,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://bible.org/seriespage/41-ascension-luke-2431-acts-11-11  “The Ascension,” by Robert Deffinbaugh at the Biblical Studies Foundation.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)