Concordia Lutheran Church
Sunday after the Ascension, May 16, 2010
Let us Rejoice… He is Returning!
† IN JESUS NAME †
Dear friends, take confidence in this, that the God of peace will sanctify you completely, and His grace will keep you whole spirit, soul and body blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the God who has called you is faithful, He will surely do it!
Uhm… Why are you standing here?
As we look at the scenes that open the book of the Acts of the Apostles, a question pops into my mind.
How long would the apostles have stood there, gazing up into heaven?
A couple of hours? A day? A week? Until it rained? If the two men in white hadn’t come along, how long would they have stayed there on Olivet?
Jesus had ascended right before their eyes, having shared again with them the promise of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. He shared with them that they would be His witnesses from Jerusalem out to the furthest places on the globe, and in time.
Yet the most important piece of information that is recorded that day doesn’t come from Jesus. The thing that will see the Apostles return to the city of Jerusalem is uttered by the two men in white robes. The most important words for us to hear this day, are these.
“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
It is those words, which I believe has them leave the spot where they were standing, gazing into heaven, trying to understand what they have seen. According to Luke’s gospel, they return to the city rejoicing and worshipping Him, and praising God.
Hava Negilah ! Let us Rejoice! He has Risen! And He has Ascended, and He will come again!
Not the End…yet!
It’s not what he began to do and teach
It’s not about who He proved to be
The Great Commission is there..yet it’s not about that..
It’s not even the Ascension!
In many Bibles today, the words of Jesus are printed in red ink. This is to set them apart as His words. Yet it is my contention that for us, in this day, it is not verses 4 and 5, or 7 and 8, that are the most crucial for us to grasp this day. Don’t mishear me, we need to hear all the passage, and understand it. But what is crucial is verse 11, the message that He is returning. For in that concept, the other verses find their context, their and their importance. Let me explain…
In verse 1, Luke introduces this second book, the second part of the story. He describes the previous book, what we call the gospel of Luke, saying it describes what Jesus began to do and teach. It seems a little odd, at first, to consider that the gospel discusses only the beginnings of Christ’s ministry, the beginning of His work. Yet, as we look through scripture, we realize that we are Christ’s work, the church, the new creation of Christ, and that which is discussed in Phillippians 1 this way,
6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6 (ESV)
The work of Christ is completed that day, in His return for His people. The work begins in Creation, and then in His incarnation, His birth. It continues through His life and teaching that His kingdom is established. His work continues through the cross and the grave, and in His ascension, God is not quite finished. He will be our advocate, the one who pleads our case before the Father in Heaven, while His Spirit is sent to comfort us, and to give us the gifts and callings He wishes us to have.
Luke will then describe that Christ rose from the grave, and proved to the apostles and the disciples that He was alive –despite dying before their eyes. Paul describes it this way,
“Christ died for our sins, as the Scriptures say. 4 He was buried, and three days later he was raised to life, as the Scriptures say. 5 Christ appeared to Peter, then to the twelve. 6 After this, he appeared to more than five hundred other followers. Most of them are still alive, but some have died. 7 He also appeared to James, and then to all of the apostles. “ 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 (CEV)
In other words, Hava Negilah - Let us Rejoice – for He is Risen!
Yet as important as the resurrection is, there is something more here.
Some might point to the great commission seen in this passage – when Jesus tells the apostles that they will be His witnesses, starting in Jerusalem, then working out to Judean, then to neighboring Samaria, then to all the world. That this would happen after the Spirit comes upon them, and empowers them. Surely this is important, yet, the commissioning is not so much a command here, as the natural result of the Holy Spirit coming upon them.
I have mentioned this before, the difference between an imperative command, “Go – share the gospel,” and an indicative verb – the action based on a preceding action. So it is here – the preceding action being that of the Holy Spirit being poured out upon the apostles and the disciples and the entire church. It is the natural action of the church, filled with the Holy Spirit in their baptism, to share how incredible God is.
Lastly, the most important thing is not the Ascension, even as incredibly cool a scene that might be. Imagine standing there, on the Mount of Olives, and seeing Jesus simply begin to rise before you, being lifted by a cloud. The majesty and splendor of that moment is incredible. Jesus, as seen in full glory by all of his followers. No longer Is the glory hidden, no longer are their eyes blinded to His majesty and His reign.
As amazing as Jesus’ teaching could be, and stunning as the miracles, as awe-inspiring the Resurrection and Ascension, as humbling as our commissioning to be part of His work, these are all means to the end…. And it is the words about that end, that we need to hear
Hava Negilah, Let us Rejoice! – For He is returning (He is returning indeed!)
It’s about His return!
Here some of the promises of His returning,
Philippians 3:19-21 (NJB) 20 …our homeland is in heaven and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transfigure the wretched body of ours into the mould of his glorious body, through the working of the power which he has, even to bring all things under his mastery.
1 Corinthians 1:7-9 (NLT) 7 Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8 He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. 9 God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
1 John 3:2 (NJB) 2 My dear friends, we are already God's children, but what we shall be in the future has not yet been revealed. We are well aware that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he really is
1 "You must not let yourselves be distressed - you must hold on to your faith in God and to your faith in me. There are many rooms in my Father's House. If there were not, should I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? It is true that I am going away to prepare a place for you, but it is just as true that I am coming again to welcome you into my own home, so that you may be where I am.
John 14:1 (Phillips NT)
Revelation 21:3 (CEV) 3 I heard a loud voice shout from the throne: God's home is now with his people. He will live with them, and they will be his own. Yes, God will make his home among his people…..
This is what it means for Christ to return, that what has been God’s plan from all eternity, every prophesy, every promise, every part of the reason for Christ to descend to earth, to serve, to die to pay for our sin, to ascend, and to reign, is geared to the day when He returns,
For us, for His people.
This is why we baptize, and teach, this is why we share our faith, this is why we break bread and drink wine as we commune with His Body and Blood.
This is why we rejoice – why I shout Hava Negilah – Let us rejoice…
As I shared on Easter Sunday, a few short weeks ago, it is not just us who dance… it is the God who planned all these things, hear that promise one more time…
17 “Look! I am creating new heavens and a new earth, and no one will even think about the old ones anymore. 18 Be glad; rejoice forever in my creation! And look! I will create Jerusalem as a place of happiness. Her people will be a source of joy. 19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem and delight in my people. And the sound of weeping and crying will be heard in it no more. Isaiah 65:17-19 (NLT)
With our God, let us rejoice – Hava Negilah, Let us Rejoice for Christ is Risen, He has Ascended to heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father, and Let us Rejoice for He will return! AMEN!