A. Goodbyes aren’t easy. Especially if we or they will be gone for a long time.
1. There are some very memorable goodbyes in history.
2. On June 13, 1948, Babe Ruth stood in Yankee Stadium, eaten up with cancer and with tears in his eyes, said goodbye. He died two months later.
3. On August 8, 1974, a unique and tragic event in American history occurred as President Richard M. Nixon appeared on television to announce his decision to resign the presidency effective at noon the next day.
a. The announcement came as a result of the Watergate scandal and the subsequent collapse of political support for him in Congress.
b. The next day, members of Nixon’s staff assembled for a final, tearful White House farewell.
c. Nixon delivered a remarkable impromptu speech amid the tremendous emotional strain of just having resigned the presidency in disgrace.
4. One of the hardest goodbyes that anyone has to say are the ones made to soldiers as they go off to war. Like the picture of this man and his son.
5. Personally, our hardest goodbyes have been the ones we have made as we have dropped off our daughters at college.
6. It is also especially hard to say goodbye to an elderly friend or loved because we know that it might be the last time we will see them.
B. Today we are going to talk about Jesus’ goodbye to His disciples – we know it as the Ascension.
1. The most important events in Jesus’ life certainly include His birth, baptism, temptation, transfiguration, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension.
2. It is interesting to me that not all of the Gospels record this event.
3. John says nothing about the ascension of Jesus. He ended his Gospel, saying, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (Jn. 21:25)
4. Matthew ended his Gospel with Jesus gathering with His disciples on a mountain in Galilee. He issued the Great Commission and then promised, “And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mt. 28:20)
5. Mark ended his Gospel with a speech similar to the Great Commission in Matthew, and then he wrote, “After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.” (Mk. 16:19)
C. It is Luke the careful historian who gives the most ink to the ascension of Jesus.
1. Luke ended his Gospel, written especially for the most excellent Theophilus, “When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” (Lk. 24:50-52)
2. Then Luke opened volume two, saying, “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:1-3)
3. Luke recorded Jesus’ instructions that they should not leave Jerusalem, but should wait for the Holy Spirit to come upon them, and then they would be His witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
4. Luke then wrote, “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’” (Acts 1:9-11)
D. When I look at Jesus’ interaction with His disciples as He gives His farewell, I see a lot of similarities to the kind of farewells that we have with our loved ones.
1. Our farewells often include three things.
2. We often review the time we spent with the person on that visit.
a. We might say something like, “Well, thanks for inviting us to the wedding. It was great to be a part of this important event.”
b. Or, “This holiday weekend has been great. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit with you all.”
3. The second thing that is often a part of our typical goodbye is the promise to stay in touch.
a. We say things like, “We really need to get together more often, or I’ll give you a call when we arrive home, or in a week or two.”
4. The final things we often do as we say goodbye is to remind each other of our next visit.
a. “We’ll see you next year, or next month, or whenever the next visit is planned.”
5. As I said, it is interesting that that seems to be the very thing Jesus did with His disciples.
a. He reviewed the things that were accomplished on His visit, and what they needed to accomplish in His absence.
b. Jesus promised to stay in touch with them.
c. And Jesus told them of His plans to see them again.
E. As I was preparing for this sermon, I looked back in my own preaching records, and discovered that I have never preached a sermon on the ascension.
1. I would have addressed it in my series from the Gospel of Luke back in 1993, but we started into a one year program called Look at the Man, which was a packaged curriculum that unified the sermons, Bible classes and devotional readings for the year.
2. It was a good experience, but it stopped my series in Luke 20 and I never completed it, so I didn’t get to the ascension in chapter 24.
3. But as I was gathering my resources for study of this subject, I noticed that I didn’t have anything in my files on it, and it wasn’t something given a lot of attention by others.
4. In some respects I can understand why.
5. The birth of Jesus is a truly important event.
6. Certainly His crucifixion and resurrection are the most critical for our salvation.
7. But the ascension is also an important event.
I. Why the Ascension was an Absolute Necessity
A. There are several reasons that the ascension was an absolute necessity.
1. First of all, there had to be a final moment when Jesus returned to heaven.
2. Imagine if the resurrection appearances of Jesus had just simply petered out.
3. There would be something wrong and indefinite about that.
4. There had to be a day dividing when the Jesus of earth would become the Christ of heaven.
5. The ascension marked the transition from His earthly ministry to His heavenly one.
6. Behind Him was the persecution of men; before Him was the applause of angels.
7. Behind Him was the cruel cross; before Him was the glorious crown.
8. So the ascension was an absolute necessity because there had to be a final moment when Jesus left the earth.
B. A second reason the ascension was an absolute necessity, is the fact that Jesus’ going allowed for the Spirit’s coming.
1. Jesus told them in John 16, “Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ’Where are you going?’ Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (Jn. 16:5-7)
2. Jesus continued in verse 12, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.” (Jn. 16:12-14)
3. So the going of Jesus allowed for the coming of the Sprit, and the coming of the Spirit ushered in the beginning of the church.
4. It is hard to imagine life in the church without the Spirit. It is an impossibility.
5. It is hard to imagine our lives today in the church without the work of the Holy Spirit.
6. The Holy Spirit brings me such hope, peace and power, while at the same time convicting me of my sin when I get off course.
C. Another reason the ascension was an absolute necessity, is the fact that it allowed Him to begin His permanent, heavenly ministry.
1. It has been well said that: “At the ascension Jesus left the here for the everywhere. He left the now for the eternal. He left the First Century to fill all the centuries.”
2. Just as the grave could not hold Him when His Father raised Him from the dead, so the earth could not hold Him when the time came for Him to return to His Father.
3. And as Mark says, “he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.” (Mk. 16:19)
4. Similarly, Peter wrote, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit… this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also…It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.” (1 Pt. 3:18,21,22)
5. In heaven, at God’s right hand, Jesus is our interceding High Priest, giving us the grace we need for life and service (Heb. 4:14-16).
6. He is also our Advocate before the Father, forgiving us when we confess our sins (1 Jn. 1:9-2:2)
7. The exalted and glorified Head of the church is now working with His people on earth and helping them accomplish His purposes. (Mt. 28:19-20; Mk. 16:20)
D.. We have proof that Jesus ascended and is now ministering at the right hand of God.
1. In Acts 7, we read about Stephen, the first Christian martyr.
a. As he was on trial before the Sanhedrin, the Bible says, “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.” (Acts 7:55-58)
2. That same Saul had his own encounter with the risen and ascended Christ.
a. The Bible says, “As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’” (Acts 9:3-6)
3. About seventy years later, the apostle John was on the island of Patmos, exiled by the Roman authorities, when Jesus the resurrected and ascended Christ appeared to him.
a. The Bible says, “On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet…I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone ‘like a son of man,’ dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.’” (Rev. 1:10, 12-18)
4. So we see from these verses that the ascended Christ is very much alive and active.
5. He is busy standing beside his followers as they face trouble and persecution.
6. He is busy calling people into ministry, and He is busy inspecting His churches.
E. One final reason the ascension was an absolute necessity was the fact of His return.
1. Jesus could not return if He never left.
2. Before their very eyes that day, Jesus began lifting into heaven in a way that may be described as dignified and majestic.
3. No whirlwind came along and swept Him away like happened with Elijah.
4. Rather, as He ascended, a cloud appeared and hid Jesus from their gaze.
5. That cloud might well have reminded them of the cloud that enveloped them during the transfiguration, or the cloud that led the nation of Israel in the wilderness in the OT, or the cloud of God’s glory that filled the temple (1 Kgs. 8).
6. But unlike the transformation, where Jesus remained after the cloud disappeared, in the ascension, Jesus did not remain after the cloud hid Him.
7. There they stood intently gazing into the sky, when they were interrupted by two men standing beside them.
8. It was obvious they were angels because of their white garments, and their knowledge.
9. “‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’” (Acts 1:11)
10. Their rebuke is a bit humorous – “Why are you standing around staring into the sky?”
11. In so many words, they said, “Yes, Jesus is going to come back the same way you saw him go, but not right now, not today, so get to work.”
12. So the ascension testifies to the fact of our Lord’s return. “He will come back.”
13. The disciples were not told that they themselves would see the coming again of Christ.
14. The time is left open and it is futile and foolish to speculate as to when it will come.
15. Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us and He will come back to take us to be with Him.
16. That is His promise to us in John 14:1-3.
A. So here we find ourselves some 2000 years after the promises of Jesus and His ascension to heaven, and we are still waiting for His return.
1. But unlike those early disciples, we are not just standing idly gazing into the sky, we are busy at work for our Lord.
2. Several of the parables of Jesus point out the importance of carrying out the will of our Master in His absence.
3. We must not be caught by surprise when He returns.
4. Matthew 24:46 says, “It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns.”
5. Jesus will say, “Well done my good and faithful servant…come and share in your master’s happiness.” (Mt. 25:21)
6. The key here is not perfection, but faithfulness; good stewardship.
7. God is pleased when we are busy employing our gifts and talents in the administration of His grace.
8. God is pleased when we make good choices as we invest our time and our finances for kingdom purposes.
9. And God is pleased when we love one another as He loved us, and as we love our neighbor as ourselves.
B. But I know it is not easy.
1. I know that the battle is tough.
2. I know that overcoming temptation is difficult – I give into it far to often myself.
3. I know that many are facing the weariness of all kinds of troubles – disease and death, conflict and strife, layoffs and mounting bills.
4. And this time of year, although filled with cheer for many, for others is a time of sadness, stress and depression.
5. Let’s pay close attention to those around us who might be struggling this holiday season.
C. So I know that life can be hard, and that many of us are hurting and struggling.
1. Although I can’t take away our troubles, I know that God is there for us and that He loves us.
2. And a word of encouragement that I can give all of us today is this – some day soon that trumpet is going to sound.
3. As Paul has told us in 1 Thessalonians 4:
a. The Lord himself will come down from heaven.
b. There will be the loud command in the voice of an archangel.
c. There will be the trumpet call of God.
d. The dead in Christ will rise first.
e. Then those of us who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds.
f. We will meet the Lord in the air.
g. And we will be with the Lord forever.
4. Some day the Lord will return and we will never have to say goodbye to Him ever again.
5. That is a promise we can count on – day in and day out; when things are good and when they are bad.
6. I can’t wait for that day– how about you?
D. But a critical question to answer is this: Are you Ready?
1. If the Lord comes today, are you ready to meet Him?
2. The answer to those questions is a matter of spiritual life or spiritual death – it is just that serious!
3. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:16)
4. Jesus said, “I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Lk. 13:3)
5. Jesus said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mk. 16:16)
6. Let me end with the question that Ananias asked Saul of Tarsus, “And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.” (Acts 22:16)