Acts 1:1-11 (Seventh Sunday of Easter—Series B)
“He Ascended into Heaven”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
May 17, 2015
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text this morning is from Acts 1:
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 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. 4 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; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” 6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 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.” 9 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. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 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.”
The new bride stood on the dock in the misty rain, watching as the ship pulled away. Her husband, a sailor, was on that ship. She had said good-bye, and now he was sailing away. She stood there waving as the ship receded toward the horizon. The feeling of loneliness and abandonment was growing. She had no idea how long it would be until she would see him again. His tour of duty was supposed to be six months, but since there were hostilities, that could easily and quickly change. Fortunately, he had left her with a farewell love letter, and she clutched it. She looked forward to reading it and rereading it and to all future letters, knowing that, in his absence, it was his word to her.
The new Bride stood on the Mount of Olives, looking intently at her Bridegroom as He bodily ascended into heaven. Staring, gazing, and straining to keep her eyes on Him until the last possible second when a cloud finally hides Him from view. The feelings of loneliness and abandonment began to grow in those moments. “He’s gone. He’s really gone away. What do I do now?”
This young Bride on the Mount of Olives is the fledgling Church, the apostles’ of Jesus, who Himself is the Bridegroom of His people. This Bride had been on a roller-coaster ride over the last month. She had seen her Bridegroom crucified, dead, and buried. Then she was a witness of His triumphant resurrection from the dead, eating and drinking with Him. For forty days Jesus presented Himself alive with many convincing proofs. He spoke to them about the Kingdom of God. Paul gives us a sampling list in 1 Corinthians 15 of those to whom Jesus showed Himself risen from the dead: Peter and the twelve, more than 500 brothers at one time, and to James then to all the apostles.
How wonderful those moments with Jesus had been—in the upper room, on the road to Emmaus, breakfast along the shore of Galilee. Gathered on the Mount of Olives, it was like everything was going to be just fine. He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the heavenly Father which they had heard, that John baptized with water, but “you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Jesus told them that when the Holy Spirit has come upon them, His Bride would be His witnesses in Jerusalem and all of Judea and Samaria, and unto the ends of the earth. How awesome, how wondrous! What a team Bride and Bridegroom would make going to the ends of the earth together! But then it all goes bust. “He was lifted up and a cloud took Him up from their eyes.”
And so the new Bride stood on the Mount of Olives, looking intently at her Bridegroom as He bodily ascended into heaven. Staring, gazing, and straining to keep her eyes on Him until the last possible second when a cloud hides Him from view. The feelings of loneliness and abandonment began to grow in those moments. “He’s gone. He’s really gone away. What do I do now?”
What do we do now, O Bride of Christ? Our Lord and King, our heavenly Bridegroom Jesus has ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father, Almighty. We can’t see Him, touch Him, hold Him, talk to Him, or eat and drink with Him face to face. We cannot reach out our hand and take His when we are sinking into the sea because of our lack of faith. We cannot call out to Him standing in front of us, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us,” hoping to be healed of our “leprosy.” He doesn’t come into our home or to our graves and raise our dead. Feelings of loneliness and abandonment lay hold of us. What do we do now?
The apostles were undoubtedly asking the same thing on that first Ascension Day. And the answer wasn’t standing around looking into the sky. “Yes, this Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will come again in the same way you saw Him go into heaven. All of that is true just as He promised. So why are you standing there?” the angels asked. “Don’t you have something that you are supposed to be doing? Shouldn’t you be taking care of business and getting ready for the mission?”
An interesting twist, don’t you think? Or have we simply forgotten already? Remember—witnesses? Jesus’ witnesses in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth? Can’t do that standing staring into heaven! “Yeah, but Jesus left. We can’t do it alone!” But what did He promise? You will receive power, the same Greek word from which we get our word “dynamite,” when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. Then, and only then, will you be the Lord’s witnesses when are you fill with the Holy Spirit and with the fuse of dynamite lit exploding the testimony of Jesus’ death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life into the world!
“So we’ve not been abandoned by our heavenly Bridegroom?” Not at all, quite the contrary. What did Jesus tell His Church in the upper room on the night in which He was betrayed? From John 16, Jesus said, “But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:4-14 ESV)
Jesus had to ascend into heaven so that He could empower His Church for the mission of witnessing to His death and resurrection for forgiveness and life. Once Jesus work had been accomplished—His perfect life lived on our behalf, His perfect death that purchased our forgiveness, and His glorious resurrection that guarantees our resurrection from death—Jesus would send the Holy Spirit to His disciples. The Holy Spirit couldn’t begin His work of applying Christ’s redemption until Jesus had actually accomplished it. So Jesus comforts us, His disciples, with the promise of the Helper, the Holy Spirit, who guides us into a deeper understanding of Christ’s Word. Mistakenly, we sometimes think that Jesus’ physical absence places us at a disadvantage. Not so! Jesus is present with us through the witness of the Holy Spirit, who works among us through God’s Word and Sacraments.
Jesus ascended into heaven. And even though we may be tempted to think we’ve been abandoned, Jesus truly remains with us as He promised, “I am with you always, until the completion of this age.” (Matt. 28:20). Christ has left us His Word, and He has given us His Holy Spirit. Even though we don’t know when He will return, He promises that He will return, and His Word and Spirit will keep us strong until that day. So like the new bride at the docks clutching her husband’s letter to her, we, the Bride of Christ, Jesus’ Church, cling to His love-letter to us, His Gospel Word, which He left for us to read and to reread. It is that Word which is more than a mere letter. For that Word delivers to us by the power of the Holy Spirit the forgiveness of our sins which Jesus won for us on the cross. Through that Gospel Word and Spirit we freely receive eternal life and rescue from death and the devil.
This being the case, what then do we do, O Bride of Christ, while we receive Jesus’ Word of forgiveness and life and receive the Spirit’s power through Word and Sacrament? Do we just stand around looking up into heaven waiting for Jesus to come back on the clouds? By no means! You don’t light a stick of dynamite unless you intend to use the power that it will release. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, our Lord intends to use the power of the Gospel through us as His witnesses to share the message of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ with the world. In Baptism, the Holy Spirit has been poured out upon us and has made us witnesses to the Word of Jesus’ death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. Like the first disciples, you and I have been commissioned by the Lord to be His witnesses in Jerusalem and all of Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth! This is what we have been given power to do while we wait for our Bridegroom Jesus to return to take us into the eternal wedding feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom.
Jerusalem was where the disciple were waiting 10 days following the Ascension for the promised Holy Spirit, poured out in power on the Day of Pentecost, which we will celebrate next Sunday. They were to proclaim the crucified and risen Christ there, at home. Then they could take the message to the surrounding areas of Judea and Samaria. From there, the possibilities were endless—the message of the Gospel would be taken all over the globe! Consider what possibilities the Holy Spirit is giving you as you are a witness of Jesus Christ. How can you share Christ in your personal Jerusalem—your home, your work, your neighborhood and community? How could you share Christ more broadly—in your state or nation? What about in other countries? Might the Lord of the Church call you to service in His Kingdom as a pastor, a teacher, a deaconess, a director of Christian education? Might He use you as a missionary in this country or overseas? Never count “down and out” the power of the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament to use you to share Jesus in wondrous ways that you haven’t even thought of yet.
And so we pray: Almighty God, You have called Your Church, the Bride of Christ, to witness that in Jesus You have reconciled us to Yourself. Grant that by Your Holy Spirit each one of us may proclaim the good news of Your salvation so that all who hear it may receive the gift of salvation; through Jesus Christ, our Bridegroom and Lord. Amen .