Sermon, Ascension Day, June 2, 2019, St Petri
Acts 1:1–11 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptised with[a] water, but in a few days you will be baptised with[b] the Holy Spirit.’6 Then they gathered round him and 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.’9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’https://stpetri.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/20190602_message.mp3
I am not sure we know what to do with Jesus’ ascension. Jesus’ birth, miracles, teaching and his death and resurrection get big coverage, and rightly so. But not his ascension. Ever tried finding an Ascension Day Card? You won’t find one among the crowded shelves of Easter Cards and Christmas Cards.
Why does this final moment get left off our calendar and left out of our hearts?
Maybe we just believe that the Resurrection is the final triumph and is all we really need. Death is dead. Jesus is alive. Our future is secure in him by faith. Why bother with this last little bit that kind of serves as an ‘ending for the Resurrection story’?
Question: If that is all the Ascension is – the bit that ends the Resurrection story, then why does Luke begin his next Book of Acts with it?
Maybe we think that the Ascension just spells the end of Jesus actually being with us? We think that maybe he is like one of those helium balloons. He just floats off up into the clouds never to be seen or heard from again until the end.
For now, it seems best to stay with those first things we know of Jesus, not this strange final bit. We resign ourselves to hanging on until we all “go to heaven with him when we die”.
And what about that ‘heaven’? So many of us believe that ‘heaven’ is this whole other place where only spirits go. So, the Ascension is Jesus’ spirit going to this other spirit place. Our eternal soul will go there too. So, Luke’s accounts of Jesus, seeming to go to this other place somewhere as a spirit does not really seem too helpful for living life on this human and earthy planet earth now.
Maybe we are not quite convinced about how Jesus was resurrected either.
There is a well known song by Keith Green we have often sung here: ‘There is a Redeemer’. The chorus gives it away.
“Thank you, O my Father, for giving us your Son,AND LEAVING YOUR SPIRIT ‘TIL YOUR WORK ON EARTH IS DONE.
So, Jesus has gone to some other place. Only the Holy Spirit is left here. One day Spirit Jesus will come back again and take us eternal spirits to this other spirit place called ‘heaven’?
This flies in the face of the New Testament witness and this Ascension moment. Jesus was not just a divine spirit who entered a human body to get the job done and flew the coop back to his heavenly spirit place. Once resurrected, he spoke, he ate, he let them touch his wounds. Remember the wise guys in white?
‘This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven’.
Jesus is still Jesus after his defeat of death. Jesus was not a floaty non-human eternal spirit. Luke, John and Paul especially, speak much about this. Jesus was resurrected still human. He is still the one they know. He will be the same Jesus we know.
Friend, what if Ascension is the BEST thing, the fullest thing, the most complete thing in the whole account of Jesus? What if it wraps up Christmas and Easter and everything else Jesus achieved for us and puts it to work – here and now?
This Ascension moment is like a detonator. The birth, the life, the teaching, the miracles, the cross, the resurrection are the TNT waiting to be set offafter the resurrection; waiting to be set in perpetual motion, and the Ascension is the detonator that set them off; the thing that sets them off into explosive action (eg, Book of Acts).
Luke tells of the Ascension twice – once to end the telling of the gospel: the beginning of Jesus’ work, and once to tell of the beginning of the future of Jesus’ work in the Acts.
The ascension is both the crescendo of the whole symphony of grace already played, and the first note that sets off ongoing grace playing in a thousand places in the world; playing at a theatre near you!
The Ascension triggers everything that Jesus “did and taught from the beginning” into this now new era when he ‘continued to do and teach’ as his new creation; new kingdom; new sky and ground; new city and garden; new community come into existence, right in the middle of the old dying creation?
Can we give each other Ascension Day cards now?!
Why? To share the good news that Jesus never left and is always human as he is divine – with us that way now, and that he is available to all humans as the new way to be human now.
And even more: Because Jesus is doing something: he ascended to rule. Jesus does not ascend to the glory cloud to hang around in the clouds for ages doing nothing in particular. He has ascended to do something – to RULE this world, and to do so with us, who are named “co-heirs in Christ” (Romans 8:16-18).
The Ascension reveals that Jesus is active: active through us; not just hanging around doing a few odd jobs, waiting for the guests to arrive, but ruling this new creation, seeking his guests, tending his new creation right in the middle of the old one.
And by ruling, he does not mean by power or politics or war (as the disciples wish he would) but by grace and with suffering
17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
Friend, the Jesus you know is the Jesus available to you everywhere always. He is all in all (Col 1:17, 3:11). His glorious cross fills your sky and all of his gifts of presence, wisdom, direction, healing, love and victory are yours today.
How do you know? How can you trust that this is you, and this future is you now? Baptism. You have died and risen with him.
“The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him”. (2 Timothy 2:11–13)
You are not just hanging around doing nothing in particular either! You, as a baptised person in Christ are involved in what he is doing. You fulfill the prophetic, priestly, and kingly roles for which Jesus has been sent and ascended and now rules through us his body on earth (Rom. 6:14; Gal. 4:1–7).
We are all prophets called to proclaim God’s Word, priests ordained to offer ourselves as sacrifices, and heirs resisting the Lord’s enemies as he expands his gracious rule (Matt. 28:18–20; Rom. 12:1–2; Rev. 17:1–14).
Let him set you off this morning! “Lord, light us up, set us off!”, we pray.
Pledge yourself to your King not from fear but pure joy. This life you have and this life we share as his body is not about us but about him. We are called into His Majesty’s Service to be his prophets proclaiming, priests praying, and co-hears resisting enemies of Jesus within us and in the world as the King expands his gracious rule.
Long live the King!