May 29, 2014: Ascension

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM OUR RISEN AND NOW ASCENDED LORD, JESUS CHRIST!

TEXT: Acts 1: 1-11

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

Memorial Day. We just commemorated that important day. We remembered especially the many soldiers who gave their lives to insure our freedoms. I saw a news report of a soldier’s homecoming a day or so before Memorial Day. In this case his 5 year old daughter was told to unwrap a giant box in order to receive a present. She had no clue as to what was inside. Well, she ripped the paper aside and out popped her dad! She let a whoop and kept it up as he swept her into his arms and hugged her seemingly forever. It was a homecoming neither will ever forget. And of course, it begs the question: Who got the better homecoming gift?

Ascension is Christ’s homecoming into heaven. He was the ultimate “soldier of the cross.” After leaving His home in heaven, for the next thirty years He prepared for the ultimate battle to save our souls. Then for three years He waged war on Satan and his allies. At the end of the war, Christ died, but so did Satan’s power over us. But then, Christ arose from the dead. His victory made the saints and angels in heaven rejoice. It makes us rejoice today. It cheered the hearts of the many disciples. For the next 40 days Christ took His victory lap, enriched the lives of the faithful, and “gave many convincing proofs that he was alive.” And then, at the end of that time frame, He ascended up into heaven. He went back home. Can you imagine the homecoming celebration He received? Certainly, Easter made heaven reverberate like a gong. But, I really believe the Ascension celebration exceeded it when it came to decibel levels! And tonight we get to join in that celebration once again. You say: “But Pastor, how can that be, it happened almost 2000 years ago?” Ah, you forget that heaven is timeless. And whenever one sinner repents, whenever one believer in sainted, the celebration continues on. This is because Christ’s victorious homecoming, and ours, is completely wrapped up in Him, alone. As Scripture says: “He is the Author and Perfecter of our faith.”

I

The human condition of sin is “me” centered. Even as Christians, made holy by the blood of Christ, we tend to focus on “me.” We’re told to: “Love our neighbor as ourselves.” But, we usually fail. You see and hear it all the time. “I want to do this or that at church.” But, what about everyone else? Is it good for them? Does it meet their needs?

During those 40 days before the Ascension we’re told that the disciples were unconcerned about saving the world, reaching out and extending themselves in love to the lost, or lending a patient ear to anyone outside their cozy little group. They were saved. And now they wanted immediate, human glory right here, right now. “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” They were important to God and knew it. Now they wanted to be important in the eyes of the world, without doing any heavy-lifting when it came to professing and confessing Jesus by word and action. They wanted heavenly glory right now and that was that. Their question to Jesus is the ultimate in selfish “me-ism.”

But, our patient Lord deals gently with them—and us, too. To paraphrase His answer: “Don’t worry about the future, I’ll take care of it. Just be ready when I send the Pentecost Spirit, inflame your hearts, and send you out to do My work of saving souls.” Whenever the Lord lays challenges in life before us, individually or as a congregation, this answer bears repeating. At such times, the “me” is never as important as the “we” and neither are as important as: Christ alone.

II

Then, on the backside of the Mount of Olives, Christ is visibly taken up to heaven before their eyes. He levitated into the clouds. We have airplanes, helicopters and jet-packs. But they had never, ever, seen such a thing. No wonder they stood with mouths agape! But then, two shining angels appeared, (remember: God is light and in Him dwells no darkness at all) and those angels gave them and us a memorable promise that we commemorate to this very day. “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way that you have seen him go into heaven.”

“This same Jesus.” Just think of what those words mean? The Savior who worked miracles, the Brother who ate and drank with us, the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep, the resurrected Lord of heaven and earth—the One Who cared about little children and forlorn, hurting women and men—He is coming back someday visibly to give us an eternal homecoming, too.

This is all just delicious. He will be like that soldier springing from the wrapped box and we’ll be like the little girl crying out in joy as He sweeps us up in His strong arms. One final thought: Who had the better homecoming in that family? The girl or her father? Well, we know that Jesus’ homecoming was the best party in the history of heaven. So, can you imagine what yours will be like? Amen