Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: May 9, 2002 -- THE ASCENSION OF OUR LORD Acts 1:1-11 Title: “Let God be God in our lives.” Color: White


Acts 1:1-11

Title: “Let God be God in our lives.”

Color: White

Luke is the author of both the Gospel according to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, the only evangelist to write a two-volume work. He delineates three periods of salvation history: 1) the period before Jesus Christ, ending with John the Baptist;

2) the period of Jesus, ending with the ascension; and

3) the period of the Church, beginning with the bestowal of the Holy Spirit and ending with the final coming, the Parousia.

Verses one to eleven, introduce the second volume. They provide a transition from the second period to the third. There is really no new material here. They elaborate on the final scene in Luke, Luke 24: 36-53. There the ascension took place on Easter evening, just as in John 20: 22 the bestowal of the Spirit took place on the same day as the resurrection. Luke knows this as well as the other evangelists. Yet, he also records that those same events happened more than once, that there was an extended period of resurrection appearances, that the Lord “disappeared” from the sight of the disciples several times, but that they eventually came to an end. In all of these instances, Jesus appeared from glory, not from some in-between realm, some intermediate, earth-bound state. Nor are we to think that during those forty days the Holy Spirit was not present and active. This is Luke way of story telling. He likes to finish one story before beginning another, although he knows as well as anybody else that things overlap, that more than one thing is going on at the same time.

The subsequent church has benefited from Luke’s separating the moments of salvation history, even though they occurred more as one continuous movement rather than a series of disconnected moments. Our liturgical year is based on Luke. We highlight, without isolating, various moments like Nativity, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost, etc. and celebrate those moments over a year’s duration even though we know in fact that they are really one movement of God on behalf of his people. This enables us to concentrate on one aspect and glean from that concentration deeper insight into the entire meaning of the Christ event.

In verse one, In the first book, Theophilus: This is the second of a two-volume work. The first volume is the Gospel according to Luke. None of the other gospels has a sequel. It is written in the light of the delay of the Parousia. Indeed, it is the answer to that delay, showing that the Holy Spirit is the continuing presence of Jesus-in-power on earth in the church he established. Both volumes are dedicated to the same person, Theophilus, a Greek name meaning “dear to God,” a rather common name at that time. However, despite the fact that such dedications were common form in contemporary literary circles, it is impossible to know whether this refers to an actual person, perhaps a financial patron, or a common dedication to all who are “dear to God.” In any event, this volume will be an account of what Jesus continued to do and teach after his ascension, thanks to his gift of the Holy Spirit.

In verse two, until the day he was taken up: Luke, that is, the author of Luke and Acts, is the only New Testament writer to specify the end of Jesus’ ministry by the ascension. In this verse he does not, however, specify the actual day. In Luke 24: 50-53 he depicts the ascension as taking place on the evening of the day when the empty tomb was discovered, i.e. Easter evening. However, in Act 1: 9-11 he depicts it as occurring after an interval of forty days. These two seemingly conflicting “dates,” will help us understand the ascension properly. The ascension forms the hinge between these two volumes.

After giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles: To Luke “the apostles,” means the Twelve Judas will be replaced by Matthias to bring the number to full complement. Though “apostles,” means a broader group as well, including Paul, Luke prefers to limit its use to refer to the Twelve. Thus, through this special instruction between the resurrection and the ascension these “apostles,” become the official transmitters of the gospel that Jesus himself preached, stressing the Spirit-guided apostolic character of the Christian gospel.

In verse three, appearing to them during forty days: Luke tells us there were many postcrucifixion appearances of Christ before they finally ended. This agrees with what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15: 5-8. The term “forty days,” need not be taken precisely. It refers to an extended but limited time, roughly six weeks. While it has symbolic meaning as well, e.g. Moses was instructed by God for forty days on Mt. Sinai, the main reason for specifying it seems to be to make it fit in between Passover and Pentecost, the Jewish feast occurring fifty days after Passover and the day of the dramatic giving of the Holy Spirit, the baptism of the apostles.

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