May 1, 2008

Why Did Jesus Ascend Visibly from This Earth? - May 1, 2008

The book called “Acts of the Apostles” was written by a doctor named Luke. First he wrote “The Gospel of Luke” which tells of our Savior’s life and work through which we were redeemed. Secondly Luke wrote the “Acts of the Apostles” which tells of how the Holy Spirit used men and women to spread the message of sins forgiven in Christ, throughout the world of the first century.

The portion of God’s message which we meditate on today is taken from Acts 1:1-11.

Acts 1:1-11 (NIV)

1In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3After his suffering, he showed himself to these men 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. 4On 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. 5For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

6So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

7He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8But 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.”

9After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

10They 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.”

These are the words inspired by God the Spirit.

Grace and Peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Before Thanksgiving is over, the world of retail has already begun to advertise for Christmas. There are stockings to hang, gifts to buy and parties to plan. Christmas is a time for family and friends, happiness and celebration. And there’s that whole thing about God’s Son being born too.

In the spring it’s time for Easter, again it’s time for family and friends, happiness and celebration. But this time pastel colors abound. Bunnies and eggs are seen everywhere. Pretty dresses are found for little girls and cute spring suits for little boys. And there’s that whole thing about Jesus being raised from the dead too.

I hope I don’t sound to cynical. I do enjoy the trimmings of Christmas and Easter, just not when those accessories overshadow the Person who is meant to be celebrated on those special days.

It seems that the retail giants and the merchants of the world have made our Christian holidays into seasons for money-making, instead of seasons for prayer and worship. Jesus violently clear the money changers and animal sellers out of the Temple in Jerusalem in His day. I wonder what He would do if He were to appear in the height of our modern “holiday” season.

There’s at least one Christian day of celebration that gets overlooked by the retail world. It seems that it even gets overlooked by Christians. That’s today, ascension day.

Forty days after our Savior was raised from the dead, He was raised from this Earth into the sky. In this grand way Jesus went back to the place He had come from, back to the Father’s side in Heaven.

Today, forty days after our Celebration of Easter we join to celebrate Jesus’ ascension.

Today we ask the question, “Why did Jesus visibly ascend from this earth?” As we meditate on the various answers to this question we will also see why we celebrate this day.

Why did Jesus visibly ascend into the sky?

His miracles of healing, storm stilling and wave walking had shown that He was who He said He was, the Son of God. And this last miracle of rising up into the wide open sky above served as one last sign that He is the Son of God.

From heaven God’s Son had come, to the Father’s side He was now returning. He had humbly submitted to His Father’s plan. He had descended from glory and had taken the fragile frame of humanity as His own. He had absorbed all sorts of pain and sorrow and abuse. He had even subjected Himself to hell and death in the place of sinners. Now, mission accomplished, raised from the dead, He would now also be raised from the earth as many looked on from below. Being hidden from their sight by a cloud Jesus was bodily transported into the mysterious invisible presence of God the Father. As it is written…

19After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it” (Mark 16:19-20 NIV).

And this brings us to another reason that Jesus had to leave in this visible and final way.

Jesus had told His disciples that they were to be His witnesses to the world. To help them say the right words, the Holy Spirit would be sent to fill them and guide them. Jesus had said,

5“Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. 7But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:5-7 NIV).

Jesus said that unless He left the Holy Spirit would not come. Why not? It was God’s plan that it work this way. The Teacher must go away and the students must become the teachers. The Holy Spirit would remind them of all that Jesus had taught them. The Counselor would work through the message they would proclaim. Their ministry would no long be one of bringing others physically to learn from Jesus. Now their ministry would be to actually speak Jesus’ words to the people as the Holy Spirit directed.

Jesus would be visibly gone so that their ministries could begin. But He would remain with them in every other way. As He had promised them in Galilee, He would be with them even to the end of the age.

Though Jesus is still fully human, He is now also fully glorified as God the Son. He no longer submits to the usual rules which govern the human body. He is at the same time present with us here today, and also at the Father’s side in Heaven. In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul tells us one of the reasons Jesus ascended.

34Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” (Romans 8:34 NIV).

What a reassuring image this is. Picture it for a moment if you will. God the Father is seated on the grandest throne that you could ever imagine. Holy angels sing His praise throughout the air around His presence. The light which radiates from His face is terrifyingly bright and the power which thrums from Him is too much to take.

Then a dark shape approaches the throne. The thrum of power from this one is also terrifying. But his power is dark. It is Satan. He brings a message of accusation. It seems that you have sinned against the Holy, Eternal Creator. Satan is requesting that you receive your just punishment - at his side.

But then we notice there is one seated at the right hand of God the Father. This one, glorious and powerful, leans toward the Father’s throne and says, “The punishment for that sin is already spent. I suffered it long ago.” It is the Son of God interceding for you. As long as He is there, no charge that Satan might bring can ever stick.

Jesus ascended visibly that He might intercede on our behalf, and that He might give us this comforting image to cheer us. As it is written in 1 Peter,

“…Jesus Christ …has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him” (1 Peter 3:21-22 NIV).

And intercession is not the only thing Jesus ascended to do for us. As He works powerfully on our behalf at the side of the Father, He also is preparing a seat for us in that same place. As Jesus told His followers,

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God trust also in me. 2In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:1-4 NIV).

Jesus ascended visibly so that He might prepare a place of glory for you and me in the Father’s presence. What His preparation for us all includes I have no idea. But I can’t wait to find out.

I am confident that I will find out. You should be too. We aren’t confident because of our own worthiness, for we are unworthy of walking the sky behind our ascended Savior. We are confident that we sinners will enter heaven because we are connected to Christ who has gone ahead of us. In Colossians chapter two it says,

13When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. 15And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:13-15 NIV).

And then in chapter three,

1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4 NIV).

Jesus ascended visibly into the sky to dash all our remaining doubts and fears and sweep them away. Jesus has joined us to Himself with the bonds of faith. He who sits in the place of ultimate power and authority has connected Himself to us! He is the head, we the body. He the head, we the church.

He wants us to think about this when dark times come. The sun is shining brightly above the dark thunderclouds, and He who has ascended is pulling us continually closer to that light by the cords of faith. Through the decades and the years and the hours and the minutes of life He is drawing us ever closer to Himself. His strong hands never stops hauling, one over the other, and one day we will meet Him in glory.

“…if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3 NIV).

I once had a conversation with a very cynical man. His heart was very hardened against Jesus. He took pride in saying that Sunday for him was just another day off work. I imagine he would have said the same about Christmas and Easter.

It is my joy to lead you in worship on Christmas, through Lent, on Easter and on this Ascension day. I pray that our children and our children’s children never consider these holy days of celebrating our Savior just another day off work. They are so much more in Christ. These holy days of Christians celebration are beacons of light and life shining out to our hearts, casting away the shadows of sin and pointing the way to heaven that is found in Jesus alone.

Let me leave you with one final thought before we close our sermon meditation.

The manger that little baby Jesus was laid in - is gone. The cross that the sinless young man Jesus died upon - is gone. The tomb that our resurrected Jesus left empty on Easter morning might be visited, but there are a number of locations which claim they are it. So you could say the tomb is gone also.

Sadly, we cannot go and physically view these places so dear to our hearts because of their connection to our Savior. But that isn’t the case with the place where Jesus ascended. Last time I checked, the sky is still there.

The sky will remain a reminder of Jesus’ glorification and His triumphant return to the Father until the last day. And for all who know His promises, the sky stands before us as the last path that we will walk when we go to meet our Heavenly King.

Yes, Jesus ascended visibly into the sky, to prepare the path for us.

All praise and glory be to the Ascended One, now and forever. Amen.

Hymn 223

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