Summary: Ascension Sermon
Acts 1:1-11 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and 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. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. 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."
There Is No Back Up Plan
There is an ancient apocryphal story about Jesus’ arrival at the Pearly Gates following the Ascension. The angel host was gathered to welcome God’s Son and celebrate his return home after his incredible sojourn on earth. Everyone had questions and wanted to hear his story - born of a virgin, raised in humble circumstances, years teaching, preaching, healing. Eventually, there was that gruesome torture and murder, but finally the conquest of humanity’s most feared enemies: sin, death and the devil. All to share the good news of a loving God who wants nothing but the best for creation. Now the Christ is home, and everyone is exultant.
Someone asks, "Lord, now that you are no longer physically on earth, who will continue to share the good news?" Christ responds, "There are 11 who were especially close to me, and I have given them the responsibility of getting the word out." "O Lord, these 11 must be incredible people - the best and the brightest that creation has to offer!"
"Well, actually no," the Lord responds. "These are average folks with ordinary abilities. Not the "best and the brightest" by any means." "But Lord, if these are only average people with ordinary ability, how can you be sure that they will get the job done?" "Well, to be honest," Jesus answers, "I can’t be sure." "You cannot be sure, Lord? Well, what if they fail to do the job? What is your backup plan?" Quietly Christ answers, "I have no backup plan."
I wonder if the 11 standing there starring up at the clouds had any idea that there was no "backup plan." I suspect that they were not thinking so much about the ramifications of the Ascension. After all, these past three years had been quite a ride. They had seen the teaching, preaching and healing. They themselves had been in danger of the torture and murder. They had been witnesses of their Lord’s conquest of death. These past 40 days of close communion may well have given them the idea that things would resume where they had left off prior to the crucifixion. But such was not to be.
During the Passover Seder prior to the Lord’s arrest and trial, Jesus had said he would be moving on, but in that new scheme of things, they would be sustained by God’s Holy Spirit. Now they have heard the same thing again from Jesus; instructions to wait in Jerusalem and, "in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."
A hard instruction to hear, I think. Wait! Do you like to wait? I hate to wait. I do not like the new way they serve the hamburgers at McDonalds because I have to wait longer than I used to. And you don’t like to wait either. We often say the waiting is the hardest part. Waiting to see if you have a job after these latest rounds of lay-offs; waiting for the test results to see if you have cancer or not...even just waiting for these last couple, few weeks of school to be completed so summer vacation can start. We don’t like waiting, and considering the personalities of those disciples who surrounded Jesus, I doubt that they liked to wait any more than you or I do.