Today is called “ascension” Sunday. Not long ago we celebrated Easter, and about forty days after the Resurrection, we find in today’s reading that Jesus left the Earth and ascended to Heaven in plain view of his disciples, who were eye-witnesses.
I wonder what do the words “finished” and “done” mean to you? Have you ever come to the end of perhaps a long and drawn out process or period of time where you had many tasks, many obstacles to overcome. Everything is wrapped up and it’s time to go home. It’s done, it’s over, you survived it and you can leave it and either forget it, or if you choose to think about it, know that you did everything you could and now you leave it in good hands.
As you know there are certain jobs around the house that never cease to stop, there always seems to washing in the pile and there is always washing-up to be done either in the bowl or dishwasher.
When I was younger, one of our favourite tricks we used to play on Dad, as kids, was to wait until he had just finished the washing-up and then go-in and get drinks of juice filling the washing bowl-up again with dirty glasses, and then running out of the kitchen to Dad shouting “not more washing – iv’e only just finished the first lot”
– though we never dared to try it with Mum, because she was rather too adept with the wooden spoon.
When Jesus died on the cross he uttered the words “It is finished. “ The words have great significance in that the work of redemption was fully completed, He had accomplished what He came to do, the price had been paid.
But there was still to come the Resurrection, and for some reason Jesus appeared to his Disciples and others for yet another forty days. He appeared bodily, in the flesh yet with a glorified body capable of what we consider supernatural movement.
What Jesus did in those 40 days can be a bit a mystery so today, as we consider the Ascension of Christ I have some thoughts on this period of forty days that Jesus spent on earth past the Resurrection, along with the very act of his ascension to Heaven.
For the Ascension means that Jesus’ work on earth was finished
Jesus had accomplished everything he had come to do, to the letter. There was nothing more that He could accomplish. As a matter of fact, had he not ascended to the Father, it would have severely limited and thwarted the Gospel. Jesus took upon himself a flesh-and blood body. Following the Resurrection his body was glorified, yet it was not a spirit. So Jesus could only be in one place at one time.
His work was completed, yet he left in place an empowered, faith-driven people, His Church.
And for forty days he taught his disciples and followers to walk by faith, and not by sight.
For at the time Jesus was taken, crucified and buried the disciples were completely dazed and confused by it all. They were scared to death and very unsure about what had happened. Was it all real?
Did we misunderstand. Most of them thought up to the very end that Jesus was waiting till the right time to incite a revolution. They still didn’t quite understand the nature of his spiritual kingdom and just what He was saying.
So Jesus rose from the grave. He didn’t appear just once to his followers. He appeared multiple times in varying lengths over forty days. He went from brief appearances to actually spending time talking, cooking and eating with them as he continued to teach them and build-up their faith.
All in all, Jesus appeared to about five hundred people following his Resurrection. This is quite significant in that there were five-hundred eye-witnesses, many of whom were alive and quite able to speak of it when the Gospels were being written. Jesus’ appearances over the forty days confirmed his power over death and the grave.
If Jesus had appeared once or twice, for a fleeting moment or two, the disciples would have never been empowered the way they were. They would have come to believe that it was a delusion or some sort of ghost story. But for forty days, they saw him, they touched him, they ate with him and they listened to him. And today they watched as he ascended into the clouds.
And over the next fifty years every one of them would lay their lives on the line for what they had seen. Ten of them died grisly, horrific public executions because of their witness and Paul, the apostle, lost his head to Nero’s axe.
These men were absolutely convinced of what they had seen; the risen Christ had become their sole passion and reason for living.
Jesus’ ministry on earth was limited by his choice of a flesh and blood existence and He was able to minister on a deep level to about five hundred people over three and a half years. The last forty days sealed what the three and a half years had built, and empowered leaders who could not be stopped or thwarted. You could say that up to the Resurrection, Jesus had trained followers. For forty days following, he trained leaders-
And the Apostles in-turn, by the power of the Holy Spirit chose to train leaders, rather than followers.
And two thousand years later, the multiplication continues. The power of the Resurrection is alive and well, those forty days were well-spent!
The witness has been passed to us, and we will pass it to the next generation.
Secondly, Christ’s ascension means that we have a friend in high (and low) places
The Holy Spirit of God dwells in us and among us, empowering us and driving our faith. As long as Jesus was on the earth, He was the one who empowered his followers and their faith. He was limited, but the Holy Spirit is not limited and lives in every believer, everywhere, in every age.
For the Holy Spirit empowers God’s people for service and life.
3) Thirdly we learn that Jesus will come again
Verse 11: “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
However the Ascension opens up some larger questions:
When will God put things right in this world?
Well the first part of the answer It’s not for us to know, for God’s time is not our time – we only see time as we live it, but God sees time from the beginning to the end of time and I don’t think we could grasp it even if God’s plan were laid out before us.
All we need to know is that things are broken, but not for good. Even now He is in process of bringing in His Kingdom and we are part of His plan. Every day we have opportunity to use our influence, our strength, our physical ability and our mind to impact His plan-to touch someone’s life.
And how long, Lord before You return again
We live in an “instant” generation where we demand results immediately. We know that waiting is difficult and an exercise in patience. Yet there is a purpose and a plan in “wait.”
(29) He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.
(30) Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted;
(31) but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
The waiting isn’t simply a distraction or a nuisance. It’s part of the plan. It causes us to fall into His arms of Grace and be enveloped by His mercy, knowing that He holds the seasons in his hand, and that He holds my life.
If there’s no wait, then there’s no power
If there’s no wait, then there’s no wings
If there’s no wait, then there’s no endurance.
And as the Angels said to the Apostles
While you are waiting..
Don’t just stand there lookin…
Let us remember that despite these difficult times, our Comforter and Guide, The Holy Spirit lives within us, equipping us to be witnesses for Christ in what we say and do.
So as we face the week ahead let us as God to guide us in ways in which we can share His Good News in both what we do and what we say.
Chris Lawton Sunday 24th May 2020