Pastor Sherry’s message for May 21, 2023
Scriptures : Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Eph. 1:15-23; Lk 24:44-53
Today is Ascension Sunday, the anniversary of Christ’s departure from earth and arrival back in heaven. Of the 5 major Christian holidays, it is probably the least known or celebrated. We delight in (1) Christmas in which we commemorate His incarnation and birth. Many also celebrate (2) Epiphany, in memory of the visit of the Gentile Magi to the Christ child in Bethlehem. Folks count 12 days from Christmas Day to Epiphany, the 12 days of Christmas, and even give one gift a day for each day as opposed to all gifts on Christmas Day. At (3) Easter, we go all out to celebrate Christ’s bodily resurrection from the dead. On (4) Pentecost, which we will celebrate next Sunday, we honor both His gifting all of us believers with the power of His Holy Spirit, as well as the Birth of the Christian Church.
Finally, (5) Ascension Day –40 days after Easter–marks the end of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. The Gospels record 10 specific citings. The point of these was to demonstrate that Jesus really had overcome death and the grave. Jesus ate and drank with folks, thus he was not a ghost, a fake, or an illusion. Then He miraculously left earth. He had completed 1st His mission here. It was time for Him to be reunited with the Father in Heaven. It was time for Him to regain all of the divine privileges and prerogatives He gave up to come to earth.
As we read in our Acts lesson (Acts 1:1-11), He led the disciples to the Mount of Olives, gave them their “marching orders,” blessed them, then “lifted off.” They were to await the impartation and power of the Holy Spirit. They were then to share their testimonies regarding Jesus with those in Jerusalem where they were at that time; then Judea, kind of like the rest of the county; then Samaria, like the rest of the state; then to the all the world. Next, as they watched, (v.9)…He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight.
To give us some idea of the impact of this often least celebrated event in the Church year, I want to share a true story:
“The story begins with a real life prince, Sao Kya Seng, from an independent collection of states in northeastern Burma. In the 1950’s Seng came to Denver, Colorado, to study agriculture. Since he wanted to experience what it was like to be a student in the US, he kept his identity secret. Not even his professors knew who he really was.
“One of his fellow students was Inge Sargent. Inge was from Austria. Since both of them were exchange students, Inge and the prince quickly found that they had a lot in common. They started to spend more and more time together. Their friendship eventually grew into love.
“Now here is where it begins to sound like a fairy tale, but I assure you it is not. The prince decided that he would not tell Inge who he really was even though their relationship was beginning to get serious. He didn’t want her to love him because of his title, but for himself alone. Even when they became engaged, he did not disclose his secret. Even on their wedding day in the U.S., he did not reveal his true identity.
“However, on their honeymoon they took a ship to Burma to see his family. As their ship docked in his native land, hundreds of people were waiting at the harbor. Many of them were holding up welcome signs. A band was playing; people were tossing flowers at the ship. Surprised at all this excitement, Inge turned to her new husband and asked whose arrival these people were celebrating. The prince turned to his bride and said, “Inge . . . These people are celebrating our arrival. You are now the princess.” (1) Suddenly Inge saw her husband in a new way” (www.sermoncentral.com, 5/10/2023).
I know a little about this kind of excitement. When I was in the 7th grade, and again in the 11th grade, the Navy sent my officer father and us to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii (for two 2-year tours of duty). On both crossings of the Pacific Ocean, they sent us by ocean liner. We slept on what I suspected was the bottom deck, but on an ocean liner, it’s all luxury. When we docked in Honolulu, there was a band playing, streamers blowing, and crowds waving and cheering. In fact, there was a group of naval officers and their wives with a sign saying, “Welcome Adams Family.” These were the men my father would serve with on board a navy ship based at Pearl Harbor. It was a thrilling surprise for me and comforting to know that a community of sorts awaited us upon our arrival.
No doubt realizing that her husband was a prince was both a shock and a delight to Inge. Similarly, seeing Jesus lift off into heaven was undoubtedly a shock and a delight to the disciples as well. Once again, their perceptions of Him were challenged. Just as the curtain separating the Holies of Holies—and our direct access to the Father–was opened up at Jesus’ crucifixion, Jesus’ Ascension removes a veil and confirms for us His divinity.
For one thing, He did not require a rocket to leave the earth’s atmosphere. He was taken away in a cloud, and not just any cloud. This cloud was pretty special: Remember it was a cloud that guided the Israelites in the wilderness by day. Remember a special cloud hid Moses for 40 days as He communed with God on Mt. Sinai. Remember how the glory of God, in the form of a cloud, entered Solomon’s completed Temple, indicating that the Father had taken up residence there. Remember that a cloud, on the Mount of Transfiguration, hid then removed Elijah and Moses following their conversation with Christ. The cloud in all four examples is the Shekinah Glory of God.
Jesus jetted back to heaven, in a miraculous conveyance, upheld by the power and majesty of God the Father. Consider this for just a moment: In John 12:32, Jesus says But I, when I am lifted up, will draw all men to Myself. The apostle John interprets this to mean Jesus’ crucifixion—lifted up high on a cross—will be what draws folks to Him. Rev. Dr. J. Vernon Mcgee believes Jesus’ resurrection—lifted up back into life–is the truly convicting event. Could it be that the three “liftings up”—crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension—all demonstrate Jesus’ divinity and encourage us to believe in Him?
Psalm 47 is a psalm which provides a picture of the praise and worship in the future Millennial Reign of Christ. After Jesus defeats the massive army of evil people at Armageddon (His 2nd coming), the book of Revelation tells us He will establish His kingdom rule on earth. At that time, all nations of the earth will praise God. Verse 5, especially, predicts Jesus’ ascension God has ascended amid shouts of joy, the Lord amid the sounding of trumpets. This psalm predicts that at His glorious return to earth, He will reign, exalted, over all people.
In our Gospel lesson, Luke 24:44-53, Jesus holds a Bible study for the disciples, revealing to them how all the Law and the prophets predicted His death, resurrection, ascension, and 2nd Coming. Then He tells them they are to be His witnesses to those who don’t know Him. They are to testify to the truth of Who Jesus is. Even though our courts have stopped acknowledging their Christian foundations (in Biblical Law and British Common Law), we still place our hands on the Bible and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God, when sworn in as a witness in a court proceeding. Jesus commissions His followers to go out into the rest of the world, declaring what they have seen and learned. He instructs them to wait on empowerment from the Holy Spirit. He then blesses them (prays a blessing over them), and then lifts off to heaven in the Shekinah glory cloud. Their response, like ours, was to worship Him.
Paul does not lift off to heaven, but he does pray for the members of the Church at Ephesus (Ephesians 1:15-23). Do you notice that he did not pray for material blessings for them? In our prayers on Sunday (Joys and Concerns), we often lift up needs for physical healing, comfort from grief—even for jobs, cars, help with tests, travel safety, and etc.
But we also ask for the kinds of spiritual concerns that Paul mentions:
(1) He wanted the Ephesian Church and us to develop spiritual wisdom and revelation about Who Jesus is and why they/we need Him.
(2) He prayed that those who do not yet know Christ will come to know and love Him more deeply.
(3) He prayed that all might know that in Jesus there is hope that—despite the political or economic situation in our country, in any age–He is the God of all hope!
(4) That those of us who love Him may suffer in this life, but we will inherit blessing upon blessing in the next.
(5) Paul also prays that they/we might be assured of God’s amazing power. God had, and still has, the power to raise Jesus from the dead (and us too). Jesus had the power to ascend to heaven (and He has promised to bring us there also).
Today we celebrate the fact that Jesus ascended to heaven when He completed His first earthly mission. That is where He is now, enthroned, lifted up, with the Father. As the Creeds affirm, He will come again to judge the living and the dead, and to rule and reign here on earth.
I don’t know about you, but I can hardly wait until He establishes His kingdom here on earth. Let’s conclude this sermon by singing together “Joy to the World.” We think of it as a Christmas Carol, but from the perspective of Jesus’ ascension and 2nd Coming, it is more than that:
Joy to the world! The Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heav’n and nature sing.
Joy to the world! The Savior reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy.
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love.
(Sir Isaac Watts)
Amen and amen!
©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams