Exaude (The Sunday after Ascension) May 24, 1998
213, 221, 339, 215
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven. So far the Holy Word.
In the name of Jesus Christ, our risen and ascended King, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
A person’s final words before death very often have great significance. When the Apostle Paul was nearing his end, he said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me.” II Tim 4:67-8. In the year 155 AD, an elderly Christian named Polycarp faced death at the hands of the Romans when he refused to curse Jesus. He said, “I’ve served Him for eighty-six years, and He has done nothing but good for me. How could I curse Him, my Lord and Savior?” Martin Luther, on his deathbed, said, “Our God is the God whom salvation comes from. God is the Lord by whom we escape death. Into Your hands I commit my spirit: God of truth, You have redeemed me!”
In our text for today, no one died. But there were some very significant last words spoken on that Ascension Day. It was the last chance the disciples had to speak to Jesus in the flesh, and the last chance Jesus had to speak to them. What do their words mean for us? Let’s find out, as we consider the theme:
As you know, ascension means, “going up.” When we said the Apostles’ Creed a few moments ago, we confessed that Jesus suffered for our sins and was buried, “He descended into hell, and the third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven…” It was exactly forty days after His resurrection, and Jesus was about to return to His heavenly throne. Was He leaving His disciples? Not really. He would of course continue to be with them: “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” Mt 28:20. But it was the last time they would enjoy His physical presence, the last time they would see Him with their eyes, the last opportunity they would have to speak to Him and ask Him questions. Only a few minutes left! And how did they use that last golden opportunity? They asked Him—well, they asked Him kind of a dumb question!
They asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? Evidently, the disciples still thought that Jesus was going to make Himself an earthly King, and rule over an earthly kingdom. Since He had shown He has the power to heal people and perform miracles—even rise from the dead—well, then, He obviously had the power to kick the Romans out of Israel and restore the nation to it’s former glory. What He was waiting for?
The disciples’ words revealed their ignorance. Jesus had spent countless hours instructing them, teaching them that the Kingdom of God isn’t a place. It’s His ruling in the hearts of believers by faith. He told them countless parables, trying to teach them about His kingdom in words they’d understand. Over and over He’d said it: “My kingdom is not of this world.” And again, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” Lk 17:20-21. Wherever there is a person whose heart is filled with faith in Him, Jesus said, that’s where the kingdom of God is. But still the disciples didn’t get it. Right up to Ascension day they kept hoping for an earthly kingdom!
Does your life reflect that same ignorance? If you believe what today’s liberal churches teach, it will. “If we all get together and try to be nice people,” they say, “we can make this world a wonderful place in which to live.”—It will never happen. If you believe the false doctrine of the millenialists, you’ll make the same mistake. They say that Christ will come to initiate a “thousand-year reign” on earth. If you buy what TV evangelist Robert Schuller teaches, you’ll make the same mistake. He says that the main purpose of the Bible is to give you a fulfilled, happy life in the here-and-now. The main theme of God’s Word has to do with something much more important than that: eternal salvation. The Lord has saved us from the kingdom of death and sin. To do it, He gave His only Son, Jesus. The perfect life that God demands, and that we could never live—Jesus lived, in our place. The huge payment for our sins that God demands, and that we could never pay—Jesus paid, in our place.
Well, Jesus didn’t scold the disciples for asking a stupid question; He let them down easy. “He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.’” Jesus knew that very soon they would have a much better understanding of these things. Why? Because in ten days, it would be Pentecost. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. With these words, Jesus revealed their assignment—and ours!
“Ye shall receive power.” I once saw a barbed-wire fence that had received some power—about 50,000 volts of it! An electric line had come loose from its pole and fallen across the fence. One of the firefighters on the scene joked that anyone who happened to touch that fence would have had a very shocking experience! Well, you and I, as believing Christians, are a little bit like that fence. We’ve been charged with the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit, and our assignment, no less than those original apostles, is to touch as many people as we can with that power. To transfer the jolting energy of the Gospel to as many people as possible! Like the disciples, we know the facts of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection. We know that faith is Jesus is the key to the life that lasts forever. Can we keep that power to ourselves? Impossible! We are to be Christ’s witnesses, both here in our own community, and throughout the world. We are “the light of the world,” and “the salt of the earth.” God designed us believers to be witnesses of Christ. God’s kingdom has come to our hearts, and Jesus’ assignment to us is to spread that kingdom to the hearts of others.
And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel. This always struck me as a humorous scene. We can picture the surprise of the disciples as Jesus begins to rise slowly into the clouds. Here are all these men, standing around in a circle, staring straight up into the sky with their eyes wide and their mouths open—they must have looked kind of silly! Pretty soon somebody looks around, and notices that there are two angels standing there.
On this day of “famous last words,” the angels, too, had something very important to say. They said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven. The importance of these words is obvious: they are a promise of Jesus’ future return.
Like those disciples, we labor under a certain disadvantage in this world. The most important Person in our life, the Person on whom we depend for everything we want and need, the Person who holds our life in the palm of His hand—we can’t see.—At least, not physically; not with our eyes. That doesn’t mean He’s not here, of course! In fact, we know that He is here in this room with us right now, because He said, “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” But sinful people like us often find it difficult to maintain such a close relationship with our Savior when we can’t see Him. The apostle Thomas had the same problem, you remember. But Jesus promised that, while we remain on this earth, the Holy Spirit will bless us with the eyes of faith. And those angels of Ascension day have promised us something further: one day we will see Jesus with our physical eyes, when He comes again in glory!
Like a flash of lightning, Christ will arrive back on earth, and we’ll see Him coming in the clouds to receive us. The same way He went on Ascension day, that’s how He’ll return. On that last Day, you will recognize your Savior—you’ll know Him by sight! And He’ll take you to enjoy the eternal fruits of the salvation He earned for you. When you’re tired, when things in your life have you down, remember—the time is coming. It’s one day closer than it was yesterday, and it’s a half an hour closer than it was thirty minutes ago! You, too, can say confidently with Job, “This I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” Job 19:27.
I’ve got a little nephew who’s still a pre-schooler. I think this young man is as ready for Christ’s return as anyone I know. One day he asked his mother, “Mom, how do we get to heaven?” “Well,” she said nervously, “the Holy Ghost comes into your heart and makes you believe in Jesus. When God says it’s time, then you go to heaven.” He thought about that for a few seconds, and then he said, “Ok Mom, I believe in Jesus. Can I go, now?” God grant each of us the child-like confidence to expect Christ’s return at any moment—and to be ready for Him when He comes! AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.