The Seventh Sunday of Easter May 12, 2013

INI

Your Part in Christ’s Ascension

Acts 1:4-11

Scripture Readings

Ephesians 1:16-23
Luke 24:44-53

Hymns

212(1-4), 738 [TLH alt. 221], 216, 212(5-6)

May the arisen and ascended Lord live forever in your heart as your closest friend and ally. Amen.

Dear fellow Christians:

Is there ever a polite way to say: “None of your business”? Is anyone ever happy to hear it? It seems to me I heard that a lot as a kid. Nor did I find it particularly helpful or more palatable when some folks altered the expression slightly to the rather puzzling: “None of your beeswax.” That didn’t help any—not at all. It still carried the same message which was that there was information that you didn’t need to know and which would, therefore, not be shared with you.

Oh, how that used to torment us as kids. Our ears seemed to have been specially tuned to listen for tidbits of things that were none of our business. While for some reason we were incapable of hearing our parents tell us to do the dishes or weed the garden no matter how loud they would say it, our ears were finely tuned to the faintest whisper of stuff we weren’t supposed to hear. We’d catch just a snippet of something interesting that the adults were talking about, and we’d instantly demand more information: “Who’s in trouble? Who got picked up by the police? Whose wife did what in the grocery store?” We wanted facts, information, a filling-in of the blanks. What we inevitably got was the dreaded: “None of your beeswax”—instant conversation stopper and mood killer.

But that was, in fact, exactly what we needed to be told. It was exactly what we needed to hear. Like it or not, there are things in life—information—that is none of our business. There are things that we not only don’t need to know about, we aren’t even owed an explanation as to why we don’t need to know any more than we do. It’s just plain none of our business. The end.

We are going to find an example of this very thing in today’s text. Jesus Himself dropped a polite, “None of your business,” on His disciples. Did they like it? Probably not. Did they understand the need for it? Again, probably not right away, but they certainly did later.

The text by which we will be instructed is found in the first chapter of the book of Acts:

And being assembled together with [the disciples], [Jesus] commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”

So far the words of our God. Understanding that these are God’s Words and not the words of man, and longing to be instructed and uplifted by these words, we pray: “Sanctify us by Your truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth! Amen.”

Did you catch the “none of your business” event in our text? The disciples asked Jesus a really bad question: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?[v.6] Why was that such a bad question? Partly, because it begged the question. To “beg the question” means to assume as true the very thing you need to, or are trying to, prove. The disciples asked a bad question in that they didn’t ask “Are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” They wrongly assumed that He was. The only question in their minds was whether or not Jesus was going to do so “at this time” as in “right now.”

Jesus didn’t even want to try to go where the disciples were trying to lead Him. He knew His men, He knew their level of understanding and exactly what information they were capable of grasping at this pre-Pentecost stage in their development. To try to get the disciples to grasp what they had not been able to grasp for the past three years would have been something akin to trying to teach calculus to a chicken. Jesus recognized that it just wasn’t going to happen, so He dismissed the entire conversation with a “It’s none of your business.” [cf. v.7]

While that answer probably frustrated the disciples, there is little doubt that after Pentecost they came to understand and appreciate the wisdom and truth of Jesus’ words. The disciples, again at this point in their level of growth or understanding, evidently still thought in terms of earthly power and prestige. Jesus alluded to this fact in His answer. He laid bare the thoughts of their hearts when, in addition to “It is not for you to know…” He also said, “…But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.[vv.7-8]

Like most human beings, the disciples seemed to crave power. In fact, they argued about who was going to have the most power once Jesus established His kingdom. A few of them lobbied Jesus for special positions of authority. Jesus knew their hearts, which is why what He said to them was, in effect, “You’ll get your power, but it’s going to be a whole lot different than what you now imagine. Your power will be my glory.”

And that was the end of the conversation. More than that, it was the end of the last conversation that they would have with Jesus on earth. Immediately after, Jesus ascended into Heaven, and it is that event that we commemorated this past Thursday.

What we uncover in our study of Christ’s Ascension is not only that this is our business, but that we, like the disciples, also have some rather serious issues that need to be addressed. Here we find not only selfishness, but also a profound lack of appreciation for the great things that lie ahead.

The Church’s celebration of the Ascension is almost non-existent, no doubt due in large part to the fact that Christ’s Ascension is mostly about future promises—good things that lie somewhere in the distant future. Add to that the fact that we tend to be more subdued in our celebration of the good things that happen to others, and it’s not hard to see why the Ascension passes mostly unnoticed.

Today we seek to remedy that problem as we seek to gain an understanding of the meaning and promise of Jesus’ Ascension—for Jesus and for us—and thereby be filled with comfort and eager expectation concerning this event.

Unlike Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter we need to be reminded each year of the glory and benefit of the Ascension of Jesus—mostly because of our own self-centeredness and our natural impatience.

First, our self-centeredness. Ascension is actually not our holiday, is it? Not really. That doesn’t mean it’s none of our business, it means the event belonged, for the most part, to our best Friend. Think of it. If you were Jesus, where would you rather spend your time, in Heaven or on earth? Wouldn’t you be anxious to return to Heaven to be with your Heavenly Father and exist in the perfect bliss of Paradise? How much more with Jesus who had once existed there and knew just how great Heaven was.

Whom among you wouldn’t want to be there right this minute? Do you remember what Paul said in Philippians 1:21-23? “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.

So it was with Jesus. The Ascension was a great day for Jesus because it was the day He got to go home victorious, and what a home! The Ascension is therefore a unique holiday in that it is not all about us. The other holidays? Again, mostly all about us. We find it easy to overlook Ascension because it was, for the most part, Jesus’ great day. He got to return to the glory and bliss of His Father’s side in Heaven.

Clearly then the Ascension is worthy of our focus and attention because of what it meant for our Savior. That’s not to say there’s nothing in it for you and me. The problem is that the Ascension holds mostly promise and potential for us, and that’s where our impatience and inclination toward instant gratification work against us. Since we have little patience for the promise of even great things if those things lie in the distant future, we are perfectly content to let this holiday slide by without so much as a second thought.

Isn’t it ironic that we have so little trouble criticizing the disciples in our text for their obvious faults, when here we find evidence that we can be just as cold, just as self-centered, just as obtuse, and just as impatient? Jesus really did come to save sinners, didn’t He?

You will recall how the disciples stood staring up into Heaven while and after Jesus ascended. The word the Bible uses to describe how they were staring off into space is the same as it uses to describe how the Children of Israel stared at the glowing face of Moses when he came down from Mount Sinai and how Stephen stared at the vision of angels when he was being stoned. Which means this event was absolutely amazing to those who witnessed it. Who knows how long the disciples stood there, or how long they would have stood there had the two men dressed in white not arrived when they did. The angels asked the same question anyone walking up to a similar group today would ask, “Why do you stand here looking up into the sky?” [cf. v.11] The angels obviously knew the answer, so with the question they offered an explanation. The explanation was a promise—a great promise of the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ: This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.[v.11]

Stop for a moment and contemplate the absolute reality of that simple statement from the angels. Jesus will one day return to this earth as He once left at His ascension. What an amazing, heart-lifting, thought. Jesus is coming back—at any moment.

And He is coming back for us. Because He made us clean. In fact that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Jesus returned at His ascension to the Father, and He could only do so if He was victorious, that is, if He accomplished His Father’s mission. The fact that He went home means that He was successful in doing what He came to earth to do. What did He come to do? He came to wash us clean, to save us from eternal damnation which, because of our sins, we had rightly earned for ourselves. He came to pay what He did not owe. He came to pay for you and me who owed what we could not pay.

Every time that we “see” our Lord ascend back into Heaven we ought to be reminded that His very ascension is a declaration from God that the full debt for our sins has been paid by our Savior. That’s our part in it. That’s how we participate in the event of Jesus’ ascension. He went home because His work here had been successfully completed, and His work was the redemption of fallen man.

Yet we also want to note that Christ’s ascension is the ongoing promise of better things to come. The Ascension was a necessary step in the chain of events that would lead up to Pentecost. We sinful human beings are too slow and foolish to understand the truths of Scripture without the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit could not come until Christ had ascended to the Father. Only after Pentecost—when the gift of understanding was given by the Spirit—only then did the disciples really comprehend what Jesus had been talking about for all those years. In his first sermon after Pentecost, Peter demonstrates a marvelous growth in his Christian understanding. Listen to his inspired words to the Pentecost crowd, and compare them to the rather foolish: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” At Pentecost Peter said, “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.(Acts 2:32-33 ESV).

All praise and thanks be to God, the Son, on this Sunday after the Ascension. Sing His praise and rejoice in the perfect, holy reunion of Father and Son in Heaven. Clearly this is good and right for his thankful children to do. Yet in doing so, don’t forget your part in this event. Because of what Jesus has done salvation is ours—free and complete. The debt of sin has been paid in full. All thanks and praise to our risen and ascended Savior, who even now sits at the Father’s right hand and speaks to Him in our defense!

Ascension—what a great day! Amen.

—Pastor Michael Roehl


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