Summary: An Ascension Sunday sermon
44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
The Ascension of Jesus
(Mk 16.19—20; Acts 1.9)
50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
The Sunday school teacher told the class that Jesus was buried in a borrowed tomb. One student raised her hand and said that she knew why. "Jesus only needed to use it three days."
Today is designated as the Ascension Sunday to commemorate the day Jesus was lifted up to heaven. People pay a lot of attention to the Easter, but few really thought much about his ascension. Luke said at the beginning of the Book of Acts, “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
After the resurrection Jesus stayed with the disciples for forty days and appeared to a total of about five hundred people before he was taken to heaven. The lectionary text today focuses on his last words before the ascension.
The disciples were in shock when Jesus was arrested and crucified. They followed him mostly because they believe he would restore the kingdom of Israel as a physical king. Suddenly their three years of dream with this rabbi has exploded with the shameful and helpless death of one the cross. Three days later, they were extremely puzzled to see their master came back to life. They thought he was a ghost. Jesus proved himself that he was not a ghost by allowing them to touch his wounds and eating with them.
The condition of the disciples reveals that they didn’t have much of a clue of what they got themselves into when they signed up to follow Jesus Christ. Now Jesus reminded them of what he has taught them and what they really meant. Verse 44 said,
44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”
What he is saying is that everything I went through was according to what has been prophesized about me. If you read the scripture nothing should be a surprise for you because everything has been prophesized.
Verse 45 says, “Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
This passage has two parts. Jesus said that his death and resurrection is part of the prophecy, which is now fulfilled, and the next part is for the disciples to proclaim the repentance and forgiveness to all nations.
To have our minds to understand the scripture is to know where we are in the timeline of the epic story that begins from the Genesis to Revelations. The disciples, like all of us, wanted to get to the end of the story. I have heard some people like to read a novel a few chapters at the beginning and jump to the end, and then come back to read from the beginning. All of us love to know the end of the story. It’s okay, and the Bible has already told us the end of the story, but God does not want us to skip the middle and jump to the end of the story.
In the Book of Acts, Luke told the story in a little more detail,
“So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”