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Monday, May 23, 2022

The Ascension of Christ

For the Season of Easter this year, I challenged you to read the book of Acts.  It's only 28 chapters.  How are you doing?  It's not to late to read the book.  Try to finish it by June 5th for Pentecost Sunday.

There are 7 Sundays in the Easter Season and then Pentecost Sunday.  Today is the 6th Sunday in Easter.  Jesus rising from the grave is such a powerful event, you can’t celebrate it all in just one Sunday.  Plus, Jesus was alive and on earth in the flesh for 40 days from the time He walked out of the

tomb until the day He ascended into Heaven.  If you’re counting, Easter was 5 weeks ago on April 17th.  That’s 35 days ago.  That means this Thursday would be the 40th day after Easter.  So, that’s the day we call Ascension Day.  It represents the day Jesus “ascended into Heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father Almighty…” as we say in the Apostles’ Creed.  It is tradition to celebrate the ascension on the 7th Sunday of Easter (next Sunday) but I will be out of town that Sunday.  So, I want to study the story of Jesus’ ascension into Heaven with you today.

Act 1:3
During the forty days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God. 

[I just want to say here that I really do believe Jesus rose from the grave.  He is alive.  The ressurection is not some nice story or symbol.  True Christians believe that Jesus literally rose from the grave.  If Jesus did not rise, then there is no point to Christianity.  But if Jesus is alive, that changes everything.  I believe Jesus is risen indeed.  How about you?]

Act 1:3-11
Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 

So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”

He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. 

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. 10 As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”

This World Is Not Our Permanent Home
Jesus ascension reminds us of an essential truth which we must not forget. This world is not our home.  Jesus left the glory of Heaven to be born as a baby.  He lived on Earth for about 33 years.  His public ministry was 3 years.  He lived on earth in resurrected form for 40 days.  Then He returned to His rightful place in Heaven.  

Just as this world is not Jesus home, it is not our home either (at least, not in it's current, broken form).  So let's don't get too attached to this world.  We will be leaving this place too, one day.  

I can’t help but think of graduates this time of year.  Families have been posting their graduation pictures on social media.  People are attending graduation ceremonies.  Students spend 13 years of their life attending school.  Many go on for 4 or more years of college.  Education is a huge chunk of everyone's life in our modern world.  However, school isn’t the point of our lives.  Right?  The point of education is to prepare people to live life in the real world.

In the same way, Jesus time on earth and His ministry was to prepare the Disciples and us for something important.  We have a job to do.  Jesus reminds us of our job in verse 8 – “…you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere…”

We are called to be witnesses for Jesus.  In other words, we are to tell people what we know about Jesus.  We are to share how He changed our lives.  We are to share the Good News that Jesus forgives sins when people repent and restores them to a right relationship with God.  

Of course, people like to point out that you can be a witness both by what you say and what you do.  And what you do is often more important than what you say.  This statement is tru, but it often serves as an excuse for people who don't feel comfortable talking about Jesus.  It's ironic.  Most people don't have a problem talking about their spouse, their children, or even an amazing destination they visited.  However, we feel uncomfortable talking about our Lord so we say, "Well, you can be a witness by what you do as much as what you say."

On the other hand, being a witness for Jesus by what you do can be very challenging.  It requires you to fight for the oppressed, clothe the naked, help the needy.  It means you must welcome the outcast and alien.  It means you must forgive people even if they don't deserve forgiveness and pray for your enemies, bless those who curse you.  It can be challenging.  Witnesses for Jesu by what you do can mean picking up a cross and carrying it and maybe even being crucified upon it.

There’s an interesting thing about this word witnesses in Acts 1:8 (and other places in the New Testament).  The original Greek word is martys.  It is actually the same word we use today for martyr.  Originally, the word martyr, which we think of as someone who died for the faith, just meant a witness.  If you had a court case, your would call your "martyrs" up on the stand to testify.  How, then, did this word martyrs come to mean what it does for us today--someone who died for their faith?  Well, the early Christians were telling people everywhere that Jesus was murdered on a cross and rose from the dead and was absolute Lord of all.  The authorities didn't like it and told them to stop or else be executed.  The Christians replied, "Kill us if you must, be we are going to be faithful witnesses!"  And many Christians were killed for continuing to tell people about Jesus everywhere they went.  And so the word that used to just mean "witnesses" took on a whole new meaning.  

You see, Christians are still called today to be people who are willing to tell people about Jesus no matter what the cost--even if it costs us our lives.

And we are supposed to be the witnesses willing to die for the truth everywhere.  Many of you will be going on vacation this summer.  I’ll be going on a trip this week to take my daughter to see the redwood forest.  It's a trip we planned in 2020 that was canceled because of COVID.  We are finally just now able to make this trip.  And I'm looking forward to it.  

Many of you will be taking trips this summer for vacation or to see family.  While you are away, you may be around people who don’t know anything about you.  You they don't know whether you go to church or what kind of Christian life you live.  You can do anything you want and it might not even damage your reputation because people will never see you again.  Who cares what they think about you.  (As the saying goes:  What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.)  So we need to ask ourselves, "Will you still be a witness of Jesus by what you say and do--even if you are far away from home and nobody there knows you?"  Some of the greatest opportunities to be a witness can come when we are with people we've never known before.  You may be the only person who ever talked to them about Jesus.

The story of Christ's Ascension ends with the Disciples starring up into heaven in amazement.  I imagine them there, with eyes gazing up at the clouds and their jaws firmly laying on the ground!  They must have stood there like that for a long, long time because a couple men in white robes had to appear and snap them back to their senses.  It’s kind of like they said, “Hey guys!  Wake up!  Why are standing here staring up into heaven?”  And the men said, “Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”

These men remind us all that Jesus is coming back.  We don’t know when, but He is coming.  How will He find you when He comes?  Will He find you faithfully doing what He told you to do?  Will He find you being a witness (a martyr completely committed to His Kingdom’s mission)?

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