“Sent to Witness”

Luke 24:44-53

May 13, 2018 – Ascension of the Lord Sunday

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion and East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 

Luke 24:44-53 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=392965534)

 

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.” 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. You are witnesses of these things. 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.”

 

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

 

 

Prayer.

 

The Messianic Age is ended!

Hallelujah!

It’s done. Over. Long since gone.

Hallelujah!

 

With Christ’s ascension into heaven

The chapter of Jewish messianic expectation has been closed.

It was done.

All his disciples are told to stay in Jerusalem and wait

For the dawning of God’s next age to begin.

Sit tight.

Wait.

The new age is going to be awesome!

 

Our Jewish ancestors had plenty of reasons to watch and wait

For the messiah, the savior of the world, to come.

The promise of prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah

Echo back to Moses (see Deuteronomy 18:15-22);

That God was sending a savior to the world,

To redeem the world,

To fix the world of its original sin.

 

 

From scriptural authority,

Our ancestors anticipated

A human leader,

A blood line descendent from King David,

Sent by God with a plan

To reunify and gather together the tribes of Israel,

To remove foreign occupation,

To forgive sins and save the redeemed,

And to usher in an age of universal peace and God’s dominion.

 

The annunciation of Jesus in the Jerusalem Temple

Revealed Jesus as the much anticipated messiah,

Son of God, and descendent of David.

Of course, not everyone bought it,

Many still don’t.

But those of us who were his disciples,

And by our baptismal heritage his disciples today,

We know differently.

 

Jesus was the long-anticipated messiah;

That’s why we call him “the Christ,”

Literally meaning, Jesus the messiah.

Now, he had flown away,

Right out of their sight.

 

The wait must have been interminable,

Filled with anxiety and uncertainty.

Yet, Jesus had just opened their minds to the scriptures,

 

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“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.” (24:46b-47)

 

They knew the mission.

They knew the will of Jesus:

Begin with proclamations

Of repentance and forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus

Starting right there in Jerusalem.

But, what’s next?

 

“Stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high,” Jesus commanded. (24:49b)

Stay and wait.

 

 

Close one chapter.

Wait for the next chapter to begin.

Luke reports they passed the time

Worshipping Jesus and blessing God in the Temple.

He also tells us they chose a replacement disciple: Matthias. (Acts 1:12-14)

 

Finally, Christ’s disciples understood.

No more secrets.

No more bumbling misunderstandings.

They knew what they had to do.

They just had to wait

To be clothed with God’s power.  

 

Our Lord’s band of brothers only had to sweat it out

Until Pentecost, for the coming of the Holy Spirit

(which we will celebrate next Sunday)

For the next chapter to begin.

 

 

The age of the Holy Spirit was about to begin.

 

Some might speculate that Jesus ascended to the Father

As some kind of reward for a job well done.

I see it differently.

I see the transition from one era to another

As a part of God’s unfolding, elegant plan

To love the world;

To set the table

For the Church to take root,

Experience explosive growth,

And spread throughout all nations.

 

When Christ dwelt among us,

He, and his small band of disciples, was the Church.

When Jesus became physically absent,

His body became the people who faithfully fulfilled his will

To witness to his death and resurrection.

 

His suffering and death had meaning;

Dying powerless,

At the same time, he took upon himself the sins of the world.

His resurrection had meaning;

Rising from the dead,

Eternal life given to all who believe.

 

 

Resurrection reveals cosmic power,

Divine power,

Power beyond human comprehension.

And now, in this new Holy Spirit age,

This divine power comes to all disciples.

We’ve become his body;

The Body of Christ,

Wielding God’s power and authority.

 

One of the first crisis to hit the early Church

Was the failure of Jesus to return as they believed he promised.

The problem was their assumption

Was that he would return in bodily form.

Many still believe this today.

Many a street preacher

And many tall steeple pastors

Will preach this very narrow assumption

Of our Lord’s physical return.

 

 

What could be wrong with Jesus flying back to earth

In an Elijah-like fiery chariot,

Leading the faithful in a victorious final battle of Armageddon;

Armies of righteousness bringing defeat to the devil and his minions,

Of good winning out over evil?

 

Second coming apocryphal images

Keep the mojo flowing,

Sells a lot of books,

And, in my humble opinion, instill an unnecessary fear

To keep people alert and faithful.

 

Allow me to challenge all of us.

The ascension of Jesus may be asking us

To broaden our field of vision,

Challenge our narrow and deeply engrained assumptions.

Let us consider a new way to contemplate the second coming of Jesus

In light of his ascension.

 

Let me to ask,

 

 

Hasn’t Christ already returned?

Isn’t Christ present in his Body,

The communion of Saints and

In the members of the faithful today

Who live Holy Spirit filled and sustained lives?

 

Isn’t the Holy Spirit in this house?

 

Fear is a lousy motivator.

After a while, fear drains out

Leaving behind

Tears of disappointment and

A feeling of unfulfilled expectations.

Many have died in the Lord disappointed

Believing that Jesus didn’t physically return during their lifetime.

 

Christ has come, we correctly proclaim!

And Christ will come again!

 

Scripture and the Christian journey lead me to believe

Christ has returned in the form of the Holy Spirit

That is present, powerful, and sustaining.

We are still children of the Heavenly Father,

But now, we are God’s children living in the Holy Spirit age.

 

 

We have been given the mission to witness,

To proclaim in the name of Jesus

The repentance and forgiveness of sins.

We’ve been given the Pentecostal power and the authority

To witness to the world.

For we now, are the Body of Christ,

Redeemed by his blood.

 

Yes, Christ will come again.

He will come to greet each and everyone of us

With an outstretched hand

Welcoming each of us home into eternal life.

Christ coming again is our Lord’s most elegant fulfillment

Of his promise of eternal life.

 

In many ways,

The message and meaning of Christ’s ascension into heaven

Is more about us than it is about Jesus.

 

 

The ascension means

The messianic age has ended.

Jesus is gone.

The Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost

Ushering in a new age.

 

It’s now all on us

It’s up to us.

Where we are now the Body of Christ.

God gives us the power and authority,

But with it comes the responsibility to use it according to God’s will.

 

Dearly beloved,

Accept the responsibility.

Receive it with joy and thanksgiving!

Live faithfully according to Jesus’s commands and God’s will.

For we are now his body,

The Body of Christ.

Christ has come,

And Christ will come again.

Amen.