Acts 1:1-11 (Seventh Sunday of Easter/Ascension—Series A)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
June 5 2011
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is from the account of the Ascension of Our Lord recorded in Acts 1:
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
After 14 years of studying the Bible, William Miller became convinced that Christ would return in 1843. When Miller announced April 3 as the day, some disciples went to mountain-tops, hoping for a head start to heaven. Others were in graveyards, planning to ascend in reunion with their departed loved ones. Philadelphia society ladies clustered together outside town to avoid entering God’s kingdom amid the common herd. When April 4 dawned as usual they were disillusioned, but they took heart. Their leader had predicted a range of dates for Christ’s return. They still had until March 21, 1844. The devout continued to make ready, but again they were disappointed. A third date—October 22, 1844—was set, but it also passed.
Not much different from Harold Camping, the false prophet who predicted that Christ was going to return on this past May 21. Now he’s picked October 21 of this year for the big event. Like William Miller, I suspect that Camping will be wrong yet again, making this his third “oops.” But that’s okay, because you can buy an “I Survived Judgment Day 2011” T-shirt for $20.40.
Miller and Camping are just two among way too many people attempting to predict the end of the world and the Second Coming of Christ. According to www.ReligiousTollerance.org there were 42 failed end-of-the-world prophecies in the year 2000 alone. Didn’t Jesus tell His disciples in our text not to worry about the date? Jesus said, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority.” But don’t worry, I promise that you will not miss the end of the world. You will not miss the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus in great power and glory on the last day. And that’s why we don’t need to be concerned about it and watch for it so intently that we forget to be doing what the Church is supposed to be doing while we wait.
On Thursday, we marked 40 days after Easter. It was Ascension Day, the day we remember that the Risen Lord Jesus was bodily taken into heaven with the promise that He will come again in the same way that His disciples saw Him go into heaven. Like I said, you won’t miss His return. Jesus promised in Matthew 24, “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” (Matt. 24:30) In Luke’s Gospel, we hear the words of Jesus, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. And they will say to you, ‘Look, there!’ or ‘Look, here!’ Do not go out or follow them. For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.’” (Luke 17:22-24) And St. Paul writes by the power of the Holy Spirit in 1 Thessalonians 4, “For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17) Our Lord’s coming again is not going to happen secretly or quietly. It will not be a behind-the-scenes event like His first coming among us as a baby in Bethlehem’s manger that was announced only to a few shepherds in the fields. The Lord Himself says so in Revelation 1:7, “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced Him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.”
As Christians we don’t sit around and wait for the End. That is, in fact, the last thing Jesus wants us to do. “And while they were gazing into heaven as He want, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?’” Implied—don’t you have something else you are to be doing? Nor does Jesus want us doing such insane things as Harold Camping’s followers did this past year. Maybe you know how countless followers donated their life savings, quit school and jobs, and left families to alert people of the predicted coming day of doom.
No, Jesus gave very specific instructions to His disciples that did not involve selling off their live savings, quitting job and school and forsaking family. He wanted the Twelve, including newly elected Matthias, to wait 10 days in Jerusalem. Then Jesus would send them the promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit. And once the Holy Spirit had been poured out on them in power, the work began.
Jesus said very plainly, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” You and I don’t need the power of the Holy Spirit to sit around looking up into the sky. It’s like leaving the light on in the basement when no one is there to use it. It’s a waste. God did not give us to Holy Spirit so that we might waste His power doing nothing or doing what we think we should be doing. The Holy Spirit provides the superhuman strength that enables the Church to fulfill God’s commands. The Lord charges the Twelve and all His people to bear brave (and often costly) witness to what they have seen, heard, and touched—the risen Lord Jesus, the very One who was crucified and bore the sins of the world on the cross, who is now alive forevermore!
What is so important for you and me to remember is this. First and foremost you and I are children of God. We were made His children in Holy Baptism, when He poured out His Holy Spirit on us and gave us the power of that same Spirit. Ephesians 1:13, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” You and I were gifted faith and trust in Jesus Christ as our only Savior from sin and death through the water and the Word of Baptism. We were given Gospel power, the power of God unto salvation, through the Holy Spirit,!
The New Testament word for power is dynamis from which we get our word “dynamite.” When a stick of dynamite explodes, it releases all that stored energy and power that was packed inside of it. As Christians, we have the power of God the Holy Spirit, the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, packed inside of us. So in a spiritual way of thinking, you and I are highly explosive. The power of the Spirit inside of us is ready to explode out from us into our community with the message of life and salvation. For Jesus says to us too, “You will be my witnesses!”
And we don’t have time to sit around and wait. Jesus may return at any moment. He delays so that many more people might come to know Him through faith. But one day, one hour, one second, He will come as unexpectedly as a thief in the night. So it is vital that you and I be about the work that Christ has given us to do in the power of the Holy Spirit. We must be His witnesses, sharing the powerful, life-changing, life-saving message of Christ so that the Holy Spirit can use that precious Means of Grace to produce faith in the heart and save people from their sins. Your witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Gospel words you use to share your faith, are dynamite, releasing the power of God in the forgiveness of sins upon the lives of whoever hears you.
On the night of October 15, 1940, 480 German aircraft dropped an estimated 386 tons of high explosive and 70,000 incendiary bombs on London. The incendiary bombs were something new, and while Londoners sought shelter in basements, important and historical buildings burned out of control above their heads. If this were to continue, nothing of London would be left. Winston Churchill became the chiding angel. “’To the basement!’” he said, “must be replaced by ‘To the roofs!’” With courage born of near desperation the people no longer went into hiding when the nightly attacks began. With little or no protection beyond a tin hat, the able-bodied among them took the streets and the rooftops as fire spotters and fire fighters and saved much of the city.
Has it ever occurred to you what might have happened in the history of the world and the Church if the disciples of Jesus had not taken to the road with the power of the Holy Spirit and the message of the Gospel? They could have stayed where they were, in Jerusalem or in Galilee, simply waiting for the promised return of Jesus. But Christ had given them a mission to carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth. And now it’s our turn to take the dynamite of the Good News of Jesus “to the rooftops!” It is in Jesus alone that there is forgiveness, life, and salvation. We must be the ones tell as many as we can about the Savior who died and rose again to save the world.
We certainly don’t have time to be sitting around waiting for the world to end. We have a message of forgiveness and salvation to share. We have a word of hope in a hope-less world. It is the message of Jesus Christ—crucified, risen, and ascended. He has poured out the Holy Spirit into our hearts and made us His witnesses. So on with the task of sharing our faith in Jesus with others. Amen.