Our message comes to us today from the 1st chapter of the book of Acts, beginning with the 6th verse, “Jesus’ companions at prayer.”
Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. (Acts 1:6-14)
“The Ascension of Jesus”
Before the days of modern navigational aids, a traveler made the Atlantic crossing in a boat equipped with two compasses. One was fixed to the deck where the man at the helm could see it. The other compass was fastened up on one of the masts, and often a sailor would be seen climbing up to inspect it.
A passenger asked the captain, “Why do you have two compasses?”
“This is an iron vessel,” replied the captain, “and the compass on the deck is often affected by its surroundings. Such is not the case with the compass at the masthead; that one is above the influence. We steer by the compass above. (Tan, P.L. “Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations”, 1924)
As Christians, where is our compass? Is it on the earth, or is it in things above? Today, I’d like to look at the story of the ascension and examine both what it means in the ministry of Jesus, as well as how it affects us today. What was the ascension, and why should we spend time looking up?
In the Old Testament, Jesus was the messiah predicted from long ago. The prophecies of old talked about a coming messiah. Throughout the scriptures that our Jewish fathers followed, the words spoke of a savior who would rescue men from sin and lead the world to redemption.
When Jesus finally came on the scene, it was with much fanfare: a star leading the way for wise men and angels rejoicing the birth of the new king. We make a big deal out of Christmas with trees, colorful lights, beautiful displays in stores, concerts in our schools, Christmas markets, and even carolers. We celebrate the gifts the wise men brought to the messiah when we exchange gifts with family and friends. We celebrate Christmas with a bang, and it’s a very big deal. We remember the coming of our Lord into this world. We don’t forget that Jesus came into the world.
Similarly, leading up to Easter, we remember the week prior with services during the season of Lent. We get palm leaves to celebrate Palm Sunday and the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Some choose not to eat meat on Fridays during this remembrance period. During Holy Week, we remember the first communion that Jesus celebrated with his disciples and the events that eventually lead to the cross and His death. The celebration really begins with Easter as we celebrate His resurrection and the defeat of death! We throw special celebrations with sunrise services, often accompanied by pancake breakfasts or special Sunday brunches set-up, especially for the day. We decorate crosses with flowers, put on our new, best clothes for the day, and make a special day of the celebration of the resurrection of our Lord. We don’t forget that Jesus died and rose again.
From the prophecies of a coming savior to the birth of our Lord to the death and resurrection, we celebrate these events as we should, but we don’t give the same attention to the ascension of our Lord. For 40 days, Jesus walked the earth after His resurrection. For 40 days, He continued to meet with and witness to many. When His final earthly message was delivered, He rose up into a cloud with a few disciples as witnesses. I’d like to look at the significance of that event and see what it tells us of the things to come.
Think about the events that led up to this passage of Acts that you read a moment ago. Jesus has suffered so many pains and heart-aches that we can scarcely understand the physical and emotional suffering. He bore on His shoulders the punishment of sinners, even though He Himself was a spotless lamb. He willingly suffered on our behalf.
Three days later, He rose from the dead and walked among men. He appeared to His disciples and allowed Thomas to touch the wounds. He even ate with them to show that He had a physical body.
But, some have contended that Jesus’ rising from the dead was only in the imagination of a few delusional men and women. Others have gone on to say that even His death on the cross never happened. How much credence do these stories have? Is it possible that Jesus lived a different life as the book the DaVinci Code would have us believe? If so, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the ascension would all be fiction. But, God’s plans are not so easily dismissed. Jesus did die. Jesus did rise from the dead, and Jesus did ascend to Heaven.
God added credence to the truth that Jesus was truly raised by allowing 40 days on earth to walk, talk, and reach out.
He did these things to show that it was not a dream. He did these things to give credit to the stories that would follow. He talked with his disciples during this period and gave them directions on what to do next. In Matthew 28, Jesus gave a direct command to His disciples. He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
At this point, the disciples had seen numerous miracles. Jesus had healed the sick, restored sight to the blind, raised the dead, and even risen from the dead! For 40 days, he continued his ministry with the disciples, preparing them for the things to come. He used this time to build them up and send them on their way.
But, Jesus had no intention of continuing this phase of his ministry forever. When the time was right, He chose to return to the Heavenly realm and allow the disciples to enter into their own ministry. The ascension ended Jesus’ ministry on earth and began the phase of the Apostles.
But, it was more than a dividing line. It also demonstrated God’s power. Jesus defeated death, then defeated gravity. Jesus showed that He was able to go beyond the normal rules that apply to men and showed God’s power. The ascension demonstrated that Jesus is still alive.
Before He took this journey, Jesus explained what He was going to do. In John 14, Jesus said, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:2-4) Jesus is going to prepare a place for us, and we are to join him.
Keep this text in mind as we continue, but let’s go back to our message in Acts for a moment. The words “in the same way” show that Jesus will come again. Just like his first coming was a physical appearance with a visible body, so again the next coming will also be a physical appearance with a visible body. Jesus came back from the grave not just as a vision in the minds of believers, but in the physical appearances to over 500 people. Acts chapter 2 attests that many people saw our Lord and not just a few wishful thinking. When Luke wrote of this appearance, there were still many walking around the earth who could attest to the fact that this took place. This was not the wild and lose imagination of a select few wishful thinkers. This was the unbelievable power of God shown in the resurrection of the messiah.
The ascension was another of these public displays. It was another way to confirm that this was not an ordinary man that suffered the punishment of Roman rule. It was a message that God was there with His chosen one. It was a message that His ministry, His words, His message were all unique and different.
Rather than marking that Jesus’ ministry was other than ordinary, He had a word that we need to pay attention to today. Retake a look at Acts 1, verse 11. Two men robed in white, probably Angels sent to deliver this message, said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11).
Jesus’ resurrection was indeed in body and not just in spirit. He ate with the disciples. He allowed Thomas to touch his wounds and his side. He walked, talked, breathed, and interacted with those around Him. The disciples had no idea that He was going to leave them. They were enjoying the company, companionship, and the leadership of their previously dead Rabbi. They wanted to continue to follow Him and gain the insight that only He could provide. They wanted to continue with what they had enjoyed in the past. But, this was not to be. Jesus left the world into a cloud and left miraculously just as his resurrection was miraculous.
But, that’s not the end of the story The Angels who spoke gave us a promise that Jesus would again come. His coming would not be in a vision or a dream but would be a physical appearance. He will come back in another unexpected way just as he left in an unexpected way. As he ascended to on high, He will one day return.
Just as the disciples didn’t know that Jesus was going to leave them, we don’t know when Jesus will return. We don’t know when Jesus will come again to take His followers to the place He has prepared. The disciples were prepared by Jesus Himself to begin their ministry as the Apostles. We don’t have the physical Jesus to prepare ourselves, but we continue to have His words of wisdom and the promise that He will always be there for us in the future. We must be ready when He chooses to come back.
I’d like to close with a story which I think best sums up our situation today.
A young lady busied herself, getting ready for a blind date. He had promised dinner at an exclusive downtown restaurant with live music and dancing. She wanted to make a good first impression; she had taken the day off work. She cleaned her apartment; she went out that afternoon to have her hair done and get a manicure. When she got home, she put on her best dress and was ready for his arrival. The time came and went, but he did not knock.
After waiting over an hour, she realized that she had been stood up. She took off her dress, let down her hair, put on her pajamas, gathered all her favorite junk food, and plopped down to watch TV with her dog. Sometime later, there was a knock at the door; it was her date.
He looked at her, surprised, and said, “What! I gave you two extra hours, and you’re still not ready to go?”
Jesus has given us a few hours more than we expected, but he is coming. Does your life reveal that you are ready for his return, or is your profession not matched by your practice?
The waiting began many years ago with the ascension of Jesus into the Heavenly Kingdom. He left because his earthly ministry was over. He had another phase of service to prepare a place for our arrival. As believers, our Heavenly home is waiting for us just as we wait for our savior.
Just as the woman in our story waited for her date, we too wait for the bride-groom of heaven. However, it’s up to us to be prepared for He will arrive when we least expect it.
Let us pray: Father God, forgive us for not always being ready for your return for your Church. Lord, help us to live our lives like we really believe that you are coming back for us. God, we don’t want to be caught out of place when you come. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.
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Scripture is taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Sermon contributed by Scott Jensen.
The Ascension is an important part of the ministry of Jesus. He came to save our sins, and He will come again when we least expect it. Be ready!