Ascension

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Sermon Date: 
13 May 2010
Bible Base: 
Acts 1:1-11 and Luke 24:44-end
Preacher: 

David Jeans

Ground floor perfumery, wigs and haberdashery....so what comes next?
 
We don’t preach about the Ascension much. Partly because it’s always on a Thursday, and partly because we may be slightly embarrassed by the idea of heaven being up there somewhere, when actually it’s not part of our physical universe. Actually that has never bothered me that much. The point being made by the Ascension is that Jesus is leaving and going to be with his heavenly Father. It’s a bit difficult to think of any other way of demonstrating that the first century disciples.
The important point isn’t whether he went up or sideways or just disappeared as if in a Star Trek transporter. The important message begins with that he is gone. And when he leaves he wants to make sure that what he has started is going to continue. Here we have (very topically) a transfer of power! Jesus is saying ‘over to you’! 
Bishop Tom Wright likes to present the Christian message as a story in 5 acts. Act 1 is the creation; Act 2 the fall; Act 3 the story of Israel leading up to the Messiah Jesus; Act 4 the story of Jesus and Act 5 the church.
These two readings represent the transfer from Act 4 (Jesus) to Act 5 (the Church). Both readings are by the same author believed to be Luke. We see what he is trying to do at the beginning of Acts 1.
In the first book I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day he was taken up.
Luke’s Gospel is the story of what Jesus BEGAN to do and to teach – the ‘to do’ bit he summarises as that Jesus the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise again from the dead; the ‘to teach’ bit is about preparing the disciples to continue what he had started. That is why it says ‘began’. Jesus had done the first bit – and Luke tells the story in his Gospel. At the end of the Gospel comes the Ascension – but Luke also includes that story in his second book which we know as the Acts of the Apostles but is actually the continuing Acts of Jesus through the Holy Spirit.
So what does Jesus transfer to the apostles? We can summarise it as 3 things
·        A message
·        A task
·        A powerful presence
The message is about what they have witnessed – that he was the Christ who suffered for the forgiveness of sins and who was raised on the third day. The message is there in vv 46-47 of Luke 24. In Acts Luke summarises it as Jesus saying that they were to be his witnesses.
The message we have to pass on is not primarily a set of doctrines (though they have their importance). It is certainly not a message about the church – and really, really not about whether we have women bishops or not. It is not primarily a message about correct moral behaviour. The message is simply about Jesus and all that he began to do and teach, and particularly it is about his death and resurrection which they had witnessed. If you know what Jesus began to do and to teach you have enough knowledge to pass on the most important message in the world.
The task is to take that message everywhere and to call for response. The response is repentance – turning our lives around from being centred on ourselves to being centred on God and on others – and receiving the forgiveness of sins. The message and the call to response are to go everywhere. You are to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). The message is to be proclaimed to all nations (Luke 24:47). I believe for us this is about proclaiming the message to one another (Jerusalem); to those who have some connection to the church (Judea and Samaria – with perhaps Samaria being for us those who have left the church); and to those who are miles away from church (the ends of the earth). What is the church for? To be witnesses to Jesus.
The powerful presence. Jesus transfers a message; Jesus transfers a task; and he transfers the power to get on with the task.
Luke 24:49 Stay in the city until you are clothed with power from in high.
Acts 1:14 when they returned to Jerusalem they devoted themselves to prayer, waiting for God to empower them for the task ahead. That is why the ten days of prayer begin today and last until Pentecost. We are waiting for God to clothe us with power from on high. Because we need that power to leave Jerusalem and to go to the ends of the earth. We need the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit for the task we have of sharing the message about Jesus.
 The transfer of power from Jesus to the apostles is shown particularly in verses 6 to 11. In verse 6 they ask Jesus ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel’. They wanted Jesus to do it all for them. (Just as sometimes we want God do it all for us by miracles and revival – great as those would be). But Jesus does not say ‘I will now rule the world’. He says ‘YOU will receive power and be my witnesses – get on with it!’ And after he has ascended and they are all wondering what now? How will we cope without him? When is he coming back? the angels cut through all their speculation and say ‘why are you looking up into heaven? He will return’ And the implication is ‘So don’t just stand there, get on with it!’
Luke’s first book is about the message we have to proclaim – and we need to keep on looking back at that to get the message right.
His second book is about the continuation of Jesus’ message to the ends of the earth through the witness of the disciples.
His third book? Well, actually that is us! Just as Jesus transferred his message, his task of mission and the power of His Spirit to his first disciples, so it is now passed on to us and we will then pass it on to successive generations.
We are now his witnesses in Rookery and Stubbin, in Stocksbridge and Sheffield, and to the ends of the earth.
So let us wait upon God and pray for power from on high – and then let’s get on with it!