Texts: Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53
Theme: Jesus was taken up into heaven and his glory was revealed. The disciples and we are witnesses to these things, in the power of the Spirit we are called to bear witness beginning in our Jerusalems.
The ascension matters? Why? Such is a commonly held view in the church. The texts for this week say it does matter.
Jesus was taken up into heaven, his earthly mission was completed, but that does not mean the mission of God (missio Dei) is completed. For with Jesus’ departure – the accounts in Luke and in Acts agree – the disciples (which includes us) were to become witnesses to what they have seen and heard.
Witnesses have a story to tell – a story with meaning. The story tells about the events of Jesus’ life – and points to repentance and forgiveness. The witnesses are to begin telling their story in Jerusalem and from there the story will spread.
We are witnesses of what Jesus has done in our lives and in the life of the world bringing repentance and forgiveness. We have stories to tell – we are to be witnesses beginning in Jerusalem.
Where is Jerusalem for the people of your congregation – the people close by who take little effort to reach? Where is their Judea – a bit of a stretch, takes some effort to reach those people? Where is Samaria – those people different from us, who we may be alienated from, but who are still our neighbors? The ends of the earth – all nations – are coming to North America. Most North Americans and Europeans don’t need to travel far to be witnesses to people who have come from every continent on earth. It is worth unpacking for our hearers where their Jersualem, Judea, Samaria, and ends of the earth might be. But before we do the planning and the strategizing and write the program notes, we need to realize we are not witnesses who rest on our ingenuity and ability – we need the power “promised by the Father”.
The mantle of being God’s witnesses in the world falls from Jesus to his disciples at the ascension – and with the responsibility comes the promised power of the Holy Spirit.
And all of this – Ephesians and the Psalm remind us of are for God’s glory and honor – for that is the only thing that matters. Even the Luke passage points to this – the disciples returned to the temple and rejoiced.
On putting the Luke and Acts accounts together:
“Luke was an artist, not a newspaper reporter. The contradiction in the accounts of the ascension are clues to the author’s intentions. In Luke 24 the ascension is a conclusion, a dramatic finale to Jesus’ earthly ministry. The one whom Pilate and Caiaphas sought to entomb is taken up in glory. In Acts 1 the ascension is the beginning presupposition on which the church is based. The end becomes the beginning as the story continues. Luke is looking at the same ascension from different points of view, drawing from it different implications for the community.” – William Willimon
On Luke 24
“And now the last stage of the King’s journey on earth is complete, and he must proceed to the goal that was always in view from the time the journey began: the King ‘having suffered these things will now enter into his glory’. Today he must go alone, and leave his servants to do his service, preach his gospel and spread his kingdom here on earth; one day he will return and introduce them too into his glory.” – David Gooding
On Acts 1
“Even to know all about Jesus, even to have received instruction from Jesus himself for forty days is not enough to accomplish the church’s mission. The challenge is not the intellectual one of knowing enough to tell about Jesus but rather the challenge is to have the authorization and empowerment which enable succeeding witnesses to be doing the work of Jesus. Until those who know the facts also experience the power, they do well first to wait in Jerusalem and pray.” – William Willimon
Music: “A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing” Venerable Bede
“The First Place” Matthew Westerholm
“Rejoice, ye pure in heart”
“Clap Your Hands, All You Nations/Psalm 47” John Bell
“The Most Excellency Is Jesus” Nigerian
Ascended Lord Jesus, we adore You!
Once You lived a human life subject to the limitations of time:
now You are the same yesterday, today and forever.
Once You were limited to one particular place:
now You are present wherever people turn to You.
Once only those who met You face to face knew You:
now Your divine love extends through all the world.
Jesus, ascended Lord of time and space,
Love as wide as life, we adore you. Amen.
Eternal God, the king of glory,
You have exalted Your only Son with great triumph to be Lord of all;
leave us not comfortless but send Your Holy Spirit to strengthen us,
that we may labor for the coming of Your kingdom,
through Jesus Christ, our Lord,
who lives and reigns with You and the Spirit, one God now and forever.
Jesus Christ, You left Your disciples,
that You might send the Holy Spirit to be our advocate.
Grant us the Spirit of truth to convince the world
that You are risen from the dead.
Eternal God, you have given Your Son authority in heaven and on earth;
grant that we may never lose the vision of His kingdom
but serve Him with hope and joy. Amen.