Thursday, May 21, 2009

Day of the Ascension

Chapel Sermon for Lutheran High
Acts Chapter 1:1-11
Bror Erickson

Acts 1:1-11 (ESV)
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, [2] until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. [3] To them he presented himself alive after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
[4] And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, "you heard from me; [5] for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."
[6] So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" [7] He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed 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 and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." [9] And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. [10] And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, [11] and said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."

To them he presented himself alive after his sufferings by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. Today is forty days after the resurrection, after Easter. So today is the day that we celebrate the Ascension. For forty days we celebrate Easter then we celebrate the ascension and transition into Pentecost, the season in which we dwell on the time of the church, that time between Christ’s ascension and His second coming when He will judge the living and the dead. So it is a day of transition in the Church year. Today Christ ascends; today Christ leaves earth according to his local mode of presence, in order to fulfill his promise to be with us always till the end of the age.
For forty days he presented himself alive after his sufferings by many proofs, many proofs. I want to contend here that there is good reason to believe in the Christian faith. There is good reason to believe that Jesus is the Christ, that He lived, died, was buried and rose again from the dead. I am also going to make the point that reason and faith are not antithetical. You do not have to check your brain at the door when you walk into church. That you have reason to believe does not negate the fact that you do believe. We do not get to see as Thomas did, when Jesus gave him the proof, stood before him in the flesh and said go ahead, put your hand here, touch where the nails were driven through my hands. Thomas responded in faith, falling to his knees exclaiming “My Lord and My God.” Thomas was saved by that faith that rested in objective fact. That faith for which he had received proof. No we don’t get to see Jesus according to the local presence as Thomas did. But we still have reason to believe, and not despair.
Many proofs, Jesus gave them many proofs, because they doubted. He showed Himself to them. He ate with them. He performed miracles for them. He explained scripture to them, showing them how it is that the whole entire Old Testament pointed towards Him, and was fulfilled in Him. Christianity is about Christ. Seems simple and self explanatory doesn’t it. Christianity is about Christ. I repeat Christianity is about Christ. I repeat that because it is important for you to realize that. Too often that gets clouded in Christian discourse. We like to make Christianity about us, or about you, or about them, or about anything but Christ and his cross and his resurrection. We make it about us. What does Christianity do for me here and now is the question everyone wants answered. Pastors pander to it. Too often pastors give in to making Christianity about Christians and not Christ. We design worship services that don’t focus on Christ and his Sacraments, but about giving you an emotional high in place of the forgiveness of sins. Or Christ and the forgiveness of sins he won for us on the cross and proved for us with his resurrection, is replaced with a moral lesson. Now you guys know me. I’m not against being moral. Far from it. Repentance needs to be preached, but it must be followed by the forgiveness of sins. And the forgiveness of sins is grounded in Christ’s Crucifixion, and His resurrection. His resurrection gives us reason to believe that our sins are in fact forgiven. Do I need to list your sins?
How many of you are blameless before the fourth commandment that says honor your father and your mother? I’m betting a few of you haven’t exactly been Seeing Eye to eye with your parents lately. Have you honored them? Listened to them? Or did you cuss at them under your breath, curse them for being meany head idiots, slam the door and turn up the stereo to drown out your frustration that they don’t understand you? Yes we all have sins that need to be forgiven. That is what Christianity is about, Christ forgiving your sins. That is central, everything else is peripheral at best. And we have good reason to believe that they are forgiven.
Typically, the reasons to believe are handled under the theological discipline of apologetics, which is Greek not for saying I’m sorry, but for defense. Apologetics is defending the Christian faith with reason. We don’t go around and talk about burning bosoms as the reason we believe. We believe because a man died and came back to life, Jesus Christ, and that man told us our sins are forgiven. I don’t have time to go into all the apologetic arguments for the Christian faith. Get Frick to teach you some, go read “History and Christianity” by John Warwick Montgomery, or Craig Parton’s “The Defense Never Rests.“ Do not buy into the idea that there is no reason to believe, and lose your faith to a philosophical hack posing as a professor at college. Know that if nothing else there is reason to believe, even if you don’t know the reasons, investigate them. Your going to have it harder than Thomas. There is no place for you to go anymore to touch the wounds of Christ. Christ has left the earth according to his Local presence.
I say local presence. I say that because he has not left us, but only according to that one mode of presence, the one to which we sinful mortals are confined. We are mortal, finite, and sinful and confined to the local mode of presence in which we can’t be at two places at once. But Christ is different. Jesus is fully man and fully God. He can be where he wants when he wants according to that local mode of presence, showing himself in the midst of a locked room, or walking on the waves of the Sea of Galilee. But not only is he fully man, with flesh and bones like ours, but He is also fully God. And you see this is where things get complicated. God is not finite like us. God is infinite, and for all the inquiries of the 20th century physics and mathematics, we still no little about the possibilities of the infinite. In fact we still have a lot to learn about how this finite world works. And because Jesus is fully God and fully man, he has more at his disposal than we have. We see that here. Christ it seems levitate up into the heavens. Well the text says he was lifted up, but it doesn’t say by what. Only that a cloud took him out of sight.
Now you see this makes for many laughable theories proposed even at times by Christians. I’m not debating that Christ was lifted up. But people take this too far. They think that He traveled to heaven that way, as if heaven were some place on the far side of the moon. The one thing that becomes clear in reading scripture is that heaven is not “up there” as in a place you get to by walking up Jacobs ladder. It is a real place, but the portals through which people see heaven in the scriptures seem to break into this world anywhere. It’s as if heaven is a place that surrounds us, yet remains invisible to us, a reality we can’t see. I tend to think of heaven and hell as a sort of fifth dimension if you will. But that is aside from the point, really because we know that Jesus Christ, as we confess in the creed about him, that he sits at the right hand of God, has ascended to the right hand of God.
Mark 16:19 (ESV)
“So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.”
Now I would like to ask you, where is the right hand of God? Everyone knows that God is everywhere right? I mean there is no place that you can go to escape God, who is spirit. He doesn’t have a hand as we do. Oh he has the ability to appear as one of us. But he is spirit and he is everywhere. Jesus isn’t bound in heaven to one place we can only hope to go after we die. Infact it is so that he could fulfill his promise to be with us always.
Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV)
“ And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. [19] Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, [20] teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
Jesus had just sent the disciples out. He knew they would be in many different places. He sent them to make disciples of all nations. He ascended into heaven, sat down at the right hand of god, so that he could be with us always. He did it so that we would not have to go to Jerusalem to find him. But he is here, Jesus, he is with you everywhere and at all times. He stands by you and hears your prayers., and intercedes for you before the father all at the same time. Because the man Jesus being God, is here even now with you forgiving your sins. And for this he ascended, not to leave, but to stay and be with you until the end of the age, when He will come again to Judge the living and the dead.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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