Summary: A sermon for Resurrection Sunday
“…He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.”
When publicity shorts and previews and posters came out for the soon-to-be-released movie of Superman in 1978, the tagline heard over and over again was, “You’ll believe a man can fly”.
The line was chosen to pique interest in the film for two very logical reasons. One reason was that some innovative special effects were being used that had not previously been available, to make it appear as though actor Christopher Reeve really was flying. The other reason the line was employed to draw theatre goers was for the very simple reason that men cannot fly.
In fact, the idea of men flying was probably less astounding to theatre patrons of the 20th century than it would have been to people living almost 2000 years ago, the vast majority of whom never would have so much as dreamed of even aircraft or balloons sailing over head.
The most exciting exclamation one might have heard back then, would have been, “Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird!” And that’s as far as it would have gone.
Nevertheless here is this very brief and unapologetic narrative, written by a doctor, documenting the departure of our risen Savior from a mountain top in ancient Judea, from close and intimate proximity to His closest friends, into the blue sky and out of their sight beyond the clouds.
The ascension of Jesus Christ from the Mount of Olives 40 days after His resurrection from the dead does not seem to get the attention that the event deserves as far as I am able to observe.
I know that it is often mentioned in conjunction with a teaching either on the resurrection itself or in connection with a teaching on His second coming. I just don’t know how often it is approached as a single event focusing on its historical reality and its doctrinal significance.
For perspective’s sake I went to the website, SermonCentral.com and did a quick tally of sermons specifically categorized under these topics. Now these numbers change constantly because everyday there are many preachers submitting their sermons to the site. But on the day I checked, of those that were tagged as sermons on the Second Coming there were 681. Of those specifically marked as sermons on the Resurrection of Christ there were 899. The number of sermons categorized as being specifically about the Ascension of Jesus was 29.
So today I would like for us to begin on the premise that we all believe in the death of the Man Jesus Christ, God incarnate, for the propitiation of sin, and in His bodily resurrection from the dead on the third day as He had proclaimed in advance that He would rise, and in all the proofs that are documented for us in the Gospel accounts that He appeared bodily and personally to many witnesses over the course of the next 6 weeks.
As Bible-studying and Bible-believing Christians we believe those things without question and there is no need to go over those Scriptural claims for assurance. I would suggest to anyone who does have doubts or has simply never learned those things, that they begin a diligent search and inquiry of their own, with the assistance of a trusted helper who knows the Bible, and with the help of the Holy Spirit seek to become convinced of those fundamental truths so that you may come to Christ in the obedience of faith and receive life from above and a place in His eternal family.
For today though I want for us to focus entirely on this amazing doctrine of Jesus leaving the world and what it means for those who are of His church.
First then let’s talk about the historical reality of Jesus ascending into heaven.
As I mentioned earlier, the book of Acts is written by a physician. There is no need to defend Luke here. He has been lauded, even by some secular historians and archeologists with no interest in the Bible for its spiritual truth, as a serious and diligent gatherer and documenter of fact in his own right.
One of the most well known examples is “A biblical skeptic, Sir William Ramsay, (who) trained as an archeologist and then set out to disprove the historical reliability of this portion of the New Testament (referring to ‘Luke” and “Acts”). However, through his painstaking Mediterranean archeological trips, he became converted as – one after another – of the historical statements of Luke were proved accurate.” - Hank Hanegraaff, Christian Research Institute (parenthesis mine)
Well Luke opens his Gospel with this assurance to the intended recipient of his letter, Theophilus, “…it seemed fitting for me…having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order”. Luke 1:3