Summary: a sermon for ascension day

“Lord is this the time when you will restore the Kingdom to Israel?”

It is 40 days after the most amazing surprise - Jesus came back from the dead. And now it is obvious what is going to happen next: Jesus is going to lead a massive army, possibly including angels and defeat the Romans. He is going to drive both Romans and religious hypocrites from Jerusalem and establish the Kingdom of Heaven.

It is obvious because the disciples had read their bibles. It’s not quite so obvious to us, because a few years after the time of Jesus the Pharisees edited their Hebrew bible and cut out certain books, including the books of Maccabees, and several centuries later Luther and calvin followed the pharisees lead and cut these books from the Protestant Old Testament. But if we go back to the bible Jesus had, to the bible the first disciples had, then this verse makes perfect sense

“Lord is this the time when you will restore the Kingdom to Israel?”

God had sent Moses with many miracles to deliver the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt and take them to the promised land

Then God had sent King David to drive out the Philistines and establish the Kingdom

but King David was far from perfect, and future kings were even less than perfect.

The monarchy was ended and invasion happened, but prophets told of a coming king.

Empire succeeded Empire in ruling Israel, and worst of all were the Antiochenes, the successors of Alexander the Great.

The book of Maccabees describes the abomination of desolations - how pigs were sacrificed on the altar of the Temple. How many faced martyrdom rather than deny the faith of God. Then God raised up Judas Maccabeus who drove out the Antiochenes and brought short term victory, before a couple of generation later the Romans arrived.

What was needed was a new Judas Maccabaeus. No greater - a new David - no greater - great David’s greater son.

and here is someone - at first he dies a martyrs death, like the martyrs at the beginning of the book of Maccabees. But then the surprise - he conquers death. Surely now he will conquer the Romans

“Lord is this the time when you will restore the Kingdom to Israel?”

And at this point you have to recall the Spanish Inquisition Clip from Monty Python.

I am sure most of us have watched it. It begins in a mansion in 19th Century Yorkshire, introduced by appropriate for an industrial sketch as the foreman says to the Mill owner “thar’s trouble up them mill”. Then suddenly from nowhere in bursts the red suited cardinals “nobody expects the Spanish inquisition”.

God is the God of surprises. And we christians keep not getting it. Jesus is dead. And suddenly three days later, there he is in the upper room, alive. “Nobody expects the risen Jesus”.

But those of us who have seen the Monty Python sketch know the middle part of sketch and how it continues. The inquisitors, very keen to get their threatening lines perfect, keep starting all over again, and re-bursting in.

well after the second, the third, the fourth time “nobody expects the spanish inquisition”,“nobody expects the Spanish inquisition”.“nobody expects the Spanish inquisition” - well actually sorry cardinal - but we did. we think we are now used to it. We know what is coming next.

So it is with God.

We get one surprise. “oh I didn’t expect that”

But whatever lessons we learn from it, the one lesson we never seem to get is that God is going to surprise us again.

jesus is risen from the dead -it’s shocking. It’s surprising. And yet almost immediately the disciples fit it into their old understanding. jesus appears in the upper room “nobody expects the risen jesus”. Jesus appears on the road to Emmaus“nobody expects the risen jesus” jesus appears by the lake of Galilee “nobody expects the risen jesus”. It’s a bit like the Spanish inquisition sketch: actually we are beginning to expect it by now. If tomorrow Jesus descends on the clouds with an army of angels, the disciples won’t be at all surprised. “nobody expects the risen jesus”

But then at the end of the Monty Python sketch comes the real shock - much quieter, but less expected. A bowler hatted man walks on and walks up to the Yorkshire mill owner. “hello, you don’t know me but I’m from the BBC - would you mind being in a sketch where you open a door”

Similarly in the book of Acts - they might well be expecting Jesus to arrive descending on the clouds. The one thing they are not expecting is for him to disappear quietly into the clouds. Just when we think we have got our heads around God, he surprises us again.

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