‘‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky?” Do you think the angels were really looking for an answer from the disciples when they asked that question? It doesn’t seem as though they were. The question appears to have implied that the disciples had no good reason for standing around looking into the sky. Jesus had returned to the right hand of his heavenly Father. Waiting around at the place were they last saw him wasn’t going to bring him back. And Jesus had told them what they should be doing. They were to wait for the Holy Spirit to be poured out upon them. Then they would become witnesses for Jesus in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
But for a moment let’s suppose the angels actually planned to allow the disciples to answer their question. Why were they standing there looking into the sky? Their teacher, their Lord, their Savior, their friend was gone. They were stunned and likely afraid. “What are we going to do now?” was probably a question they were asking. “How will we know what to say and where to go as witnesses for Jesus?” “Who is going to lead us now that Jesus is gone?”
Although I am sure that the disciples could have given all kinds of explanations for the fact that they were standing there looking intently into the sky the angels knew what they needed to hear. Jesus hadn’t left them forever. He will return in the same way the disciples saw him ascend into heaven. On top of that fact Jesus had promised to prepare a place for them in heaven. He had assured the disciples that when he ascended into heaven he would rule all things for their good and for the expansion of his Kingdom.
“Why do you stand here looking into the sky?” Although we aren’t literally doing that perhaps we are living our lives as though we were. When it comes to the work Jesus has given us we may frequently be afraid and confused. As we face the uncertainties of life we may often be looking into the sky wondering where Jesus is and what he is doing about our problems. In relation to our boldness in faith and Christian living we may feel as helpless as the disciples did when the angels caught them staring into the sky.
Today we ask the Holy Spirit to work through the verses of Psalm 47 to gently remind us of what the ascension means for us. We have no reason to live our lives like deer caught in a car’s headlights. (Read text.) In light of this Psalm may each of us be empowered to:
“LIVE WITH AN ASCENSION ATTITUDE”
I. Celebrate the great things Christ has accomplished
II. Live with confidence in what Christ continues to do
The portion of Scripture that I just read is from the “hymnal” that the Israelites used in their worship. Certain Psalms were picked for specific festivals and celebrations at the Temple. When I read the Psalm you may have noticed the break in the middle marked by the word, “selah.” Although we don’t know exactly what that meant some Bible scholars believe that there was a musical interlude at that point in the Psalm. That would have allowed the worshippers to reflect on what they had just heard. It divides the Psalm into two logical parts.
For what occasion did the Holy Spirit breathe this Psalm into its writer? Some think it may have been when King David brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. In a sense that would have meant that God “ascended” up into the capital city. But these verses may also have been written to commemorate a great military victory that God had brought about for his people. Some Bible scholars suggest the time of Hezekiah for this event. Whatever the occasion this Psalm makes one thing very clear. God rules all people. There is no nation, nor ruler, nor power outside of his authority. And because of that God’s people can celebrate what God has done and what he continues to do. That is also the message for us in Jesus’ ascension.
“Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy. How awesome is the LORD Most High, the great King over all the earth! He subdued nations under us, peoples under our feet. He chose our inheritance for us, the pride of Jacob, whom he loved.” The Psalm writer called on everyone in the world to give God praise for the great things he had done. The power and love that God had showed toward the Israelites was to be the reason for such a response from all nations. At no other time in the history of the world and never in such a dramatic way had God taken a nation to be his people. But as the Psalm writer reflected on what God had done for Israel he wanted the whole world to celebrate with him.
Starting with Egypt the LORD had subdued nations for his people. Through the Ten Plagues he broke the will of the Egyptians so that they begged the Jews to leave. They even loaded them down with gold and silver. That was victory number one for the LORD. And how could a group of slaves escape one of the greatest military powers of that time? Because God fought for his people in the desert and at the Red Sea. And how did that same ragtag group of freed slaves conquer the nations that occupied Canaan? Once again it was because of the LORD’s power. Psalm 47 could have been written about the victories that were won under Joshua or perhaps Samson and Gideon. The military successes of King David and his son Solomon would also fit under this Psalm.
And God did more than just win victories for his people. Because of his love for the Israelites he gave them a rich and bountiful land. Each tribe was given a portion of the Promised Land so that all their physical needs were satisfied. That was an inheritance that God wanted his people to pass on from generation to generation.
When we know some of the history of God’s people we can understand the attitude of worship and praise expressed in this Psalm. They appreciated what God had done for them in the past. Again and again he had shown them his power and his love. They worshipped him as the LORD of the nations and the one who gave them the many blessings they enjoyed.
I pray that Jesus’ ascension will produce that same kind of attitude in us. Think about the celebration that took place when Jesus returned from his mission to save the world. The moment the cloud hid Jesus from the sight of the disciples the party in heaven must have started. We can imagine the angels celebrating the fact that God’s Son was back were he belonged on the throne of God—at the Father’s right hand. He was back for good. And God the Father certainly must have had words of approval for Jesus. Yes, Jesus’ resurrection proved that he had paid for sin and conquered death. But his ascension strengthened the awesome truth that his victories were complete. If Jesus still had work to do for our salvation he wouldn’t have returned to heaven.
As we recall Jesus’ ascension may our knowledge of his victories give us the attitude expressed in Psalm 47. “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy. How awesome is the LORD Most High, the great King over all the earth! He subdued nations under us, peoples under our feet.” That really does capture an ascension attitude. We know and believe that Jesus has satisfied our need for forgiveness, he has crushed death for us, and he has sent Satan away with no claim on us. If we are going to look up into the sky like the disciples did at Jesus’ ascension let it be for the purpose of celebrating what Jesus has accomplished.
‘‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky?” The angels didn’t let the disciples answer that question. But one thing that might have been going through their minds was what Jesus had said about going to prepare a place for them. As that cloud came and hid him from their sight their thoughts may have returned to the night in the upper room when Jesus said, “ 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:2-3) Wow! After all that they had seen and heard there was more to come. Jesus was ascending into heaven to get everything ready for their arrival. How could that not put a spring in their step and joy in their hearts?
Once again we are presented with a reason to pause and appreciate what Jesus accomplished. He is preparing a place for each of us in heaven. There is a space that belongs to you and me in glory. Our eternal inheritance is secure. Heaven is our home. Knowing that and believing that will give us an ascension attitude.
But practically speaking what does it mean to live with an ascension attitude? It goes beyond knowing that Jesus accomplished everything for our salvation and that he has prepared a place for us in heaven. It also means that we live with confidence in what Jesus continues to do.
This ascension Psalm directs us to the ongoing work Jesus does on our behalf. “God has ascended amid shouts of joy, the LORD amid the sounding of trumpets. Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises. For God is the King of all the earth; sing to him a psalm of praise. God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne. The nobles of the nations assemble as the people of the God of Abraham, for the kings of the earth belong to God; he is greatly exalted.” Since all the Scriptures point us to Jesus we can be confident that this Psalm too directs us to our Savior. Jesus now reigns over all things. He is seated on his holy throne. The powers of every government on earth belong to him. He is calling the shots each day.
What does it mean for us that Jesus reigns over the nations? In his letter to the Ephesians the Apostle Paul stated that God the Father, “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” We have no reason to wring our hands over the evils that our government is allowing and even encouraging. Jesus is in control of those who govern us. And when the powers of this world fight against Jesus and seem to win we can be confident that they aren’t. The great King still works history out for the good of his church.
And what does it mean for us that Jesus is seated on his holy throne? The Bible tells us that he prays for us, he intercedes for us, and uses his power for our benefit. Hebrews 7:25 says, “25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” 1 John 2:1 says, “But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” Jesus didn’t ascend into heaven to take a long vacation. No, he is still working all things out for our good.
Imagine if you were best friends with Carl Lindner. And he told you that if you ever needed anything you should just call. With his money and connections he could take care of just about any problem that you faced. Or imagine if your brother was the president of our country. And he told you that if you ever needed help you should just call him. Suppose a local government official was unfairly and illegally trying to take away your home. Do you think your brother the president could get him to leave you alone? Now take both of those imaginary situations and multiply them about a hundred times and apply them to the real situation you have under Jesus’ protection. All the resources of heaven and earth are at his disposal. Although some might say that Carl Lindner has more money than God, he doesn’t. Everything belongs to Jesus. And even the president of our country answers to Jesus. Let those truths give you an ascension attitude as you live with confidence in what Jesus continues to do.
Now let’s go back to the question that the angels asked the disciples when Jesus ascended into heaven. “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky?” The ascension was not meant to take the wind out of the disciples’ sails. It was meant to empower them. They had no reason to hang around like lost children after Jesus had ascended into heaven. His victories were complete his reign over all things had resumed.
“Men, women, and children of Abiding Word Lutheran Church, why do you stand around looking into the sky?” If a couple of angels asked us that question we could come up with all kinds of answers. “We’re afraid! We want Jesus to come back and show us his power.” “We don’t know what to do!” “Everything in the world and everything in our lives seems to be against us. How will we survive?” “We don’t know what the future holds. It’s scary.” Yes, those may sound like legitimate reasons for standing around looking into the sky wishing Jesus were here. But Jesus’ ascension tells a different story. If we believe that Jesus rules all things for our good how can we possibly be standing around looking into the sky? He has promised to be with us always. He assures us that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. We can’t be defeated.
To enable us to live with an ascension attitude let’s all join in re-reading Psalm 47. As we read it think of that day that Jesus was taken up into the sky in front of the disciples. Recall his victories for you. Celebrate what he has done. And then leave here today living with confidence in what he continues to do. “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy. How awesome is the LORD Most High, the great King over all the earth! He subdued nations under us, peoples under our feet. He chose our inheritance for us, the pride of Jacob, whom he loved. [Selah] God has ascended amid shouts of joy, the LORD amid the sounding of trumpets. Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises. For God is the King of all the earth; sing to him a psalm of praise. God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne. The nobles of the nations assemble as the people of the God of Abraham, for the kings of the earth belong to God; he is greatly exalted.” Friends in Jesus, may we never again be standing around staring into the sky. May we live with an ascension attitude. Amen.