“Sent to Witness”
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.
The Messianic Age is ended!
It’s done. Over. Long since gone.
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.
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,
“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;
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,
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
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.
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.