I can only imagine the disciples’ complete and utter confusion here. It was just a little more than a month ago that Jesus had been betrayed, arrested, beaten and crucified. Three days after they buried him, they found his grave open and the body gone only to have to Jesus appear before them alive and then continue to appear to them on and off for the next 6 weeks. Now he has gathered them all together, given them a final command or mission and literally disappears before them by rising into the clouds. I can understand why the disciples are all just standing there looking up – they really don’t know what is happening here. They have never seen anyone ascend into heaven before – even Jesus has never done this before, and they don’t know if this is temporary or permanent. Is he gone for good or will he suddenly appear again like has before. So I can imagine them all standing around staring into heaven in silence, wondering to themselves, what is this? What’s going on? Now what are we supposed to do?
I can also imagine the disciples feeling somewhat abandoned by Jesus, again. He left them once when he died, and here he is leaving them alone again without a clear understanding of what is going on and what they are supposed to do from here. Many of us can identify with this feeling of being let down or abandoned by God. Maybe it is graduating from college with no job prospect in your field and wondering if working part time at a coffee store in the Mall is all there is for you. (that was me!) Maybe it is the sudden loss of a job where we are left wondering where God is and what His plan for us is now.
Maybe it is a difficult diagnosis where we struggle to find God in the midst of the pain and hopelessness. Maybe it is coming home to find a relationship or marriage we thought was strong suddenly over and we are literally abandoned and alone and afraid of what the future will bring. At different times we all struggle with feeling abandoned and let down by God and like the disciples we might just stand and stare into the sky asking God, where are you? Why have you left me? When will you return? If we are asking ourselves that today, the story of the ascension has something for us because this story is not just about Jesus going up into heaven and leaving the disciples behind it is also about 3 promises that Jesus makes before he leaves. Jesus gives the promise of His power, the promise of His purpose and the promise of His presence.
The promise of Jesus power is given in Acts 1:8a, You will receive POWER when the Holy Spirit comes on you. Now the disciples didn’t know how this power was going to come, what it was going to look like or when it would appear, but they knew Jesus was a man of his word so they believed it would come. They also believed it would because there was another story they knew of someone being taken up into heaven and once he was gone the power of God came upon his follower, Elisha. This story of Elijah and Elisha was one of the most well known stories among the Jewish people and I can imagine the disciples sitting around after the Jesus was lifted up into heaven talking about what they had just seen and thinking about the only other person they ever heard of being taken up into heaven and comparing the two events.
The story of Elijah and Elisha is found in 2 Kings 2:11-14. So here is Elisha, alone and feeling abandoned after his leader and friend is gone and he cries out asking God where he is, and God answers by saying showing Elisha that his power is now with him. When Elisha takes the cloak of Elijah and touches the water, the waters part – a sure sign that the power of God was with him. So the disciples must have thought to themselves, the only other time a person was lifted up into heaven, the power of God came upon his follower, so in time the power of God, the power of Jesus that he promised, will come upon us. And it did
Jesus promised gift of power is coming for the disciples; they just have to wait for it and be ready. They did wait as they were told, in Jerusalem, and it did come on the day of Pentecost and they did receive it and it changed their lives. If we are feeling alone or abandoned by God then we need to remember that the power of God is available to us as well. Sometimes we have to wait for it and we always have to be ready and willing to receive it, but the promise of God’s power is just a real and true today as it was this day. God doesn’t want us to struggle feeling weak and helpless – he wants us to move forward with his strength and power. The prophet Isaiah said, God gives power to the weak and strengthens the powerless. Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and never be faint.
We may have to wait for God’s power to fill us or be poured into us, but it is coming and when it arrives it reminds us that we are not abandoned by God, in fact, when it comes we will experience God in ways we never thought possible. As we wait it is important for us to let God know we are available and ready and we can do that by simply asking God for this power. Come, Holy Spirit, Come, is an ancient prayer of the church that we can pray today when we are feeling alone and powerless and it reminds us of this promise Jesus made to us at his ascension.
The second promise Jesus makes is the promise of his purpose. Acts 1:8b You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. While they may be wondering what their future holds, Jesus has given them a purpose and it is to witness to or share with others what they have seen and experience of God through Jesus. This is still our purpose. Our purpose is to simply share with others in very real, simple and heartfelt ways what we have experienced of God. Now this is not as easy as it sounds in a culture that is growing more and more secular and politically correct. Sometimes it’s not easy to know how to talk about our faith or we are afraid to say things like, I’m thankful to God for what I have, or I’m trusting God to bring me healing or hope for the future, or Jesus has really made a difference in my life, but we need to.
I have been truly humbled by the stories of both men and women who have been bold in giving a witness to their faith in the midst of persecution. We have all been hearing about the Sudanese woman
who has not denied her faith. She gave birth to her child this past week in prison and has been given two months to nurse the child and then will be put to death if she does not deny her Christian beliefs. You may also have seen this clip of a teenage girl whose father and brother were killed by the Boko Haram group several years ago. Her witness and testimony to the faith of her family is moving. video clip
Would we be able to stand as strong as those who face this kind of persecution? People are dying as they stand up for their faith and I am humbled and at times ashamed because with all the freedom we have to share it – we too often are silent. God has given us a purpose and it is to simply give a witness to his presence in our lives. We don’t have to shout it on from the roof tops or preach it in the streets, God just wants us to be genuine and authentic and share with others how much his love and grace and presence means in our lives. He gives us power to do this, the question is are we willing to use His power to do it. The ascension of Jesus tells us we have a purpose, each and every one of us, and it is to be a witness to God’s grace and love.
The third promise that is made in the ascension is that Jesus will return. He is coming back. Acts 1:11b, This same Jesus who has been taken from you into heaven will come back in the same way you have seen him go. Jesus will return. We don’t know the day or the hour or the year or the century, but it will happen because the promise has been made and God keeps his promises. The promise of his return is one that Jesus made often. In several parables Jesus talked about coming back like a thief in the night, or like an unplanned return of a master to his home, or a groom coming in the middle of the night to marry his bride. It will be unexpected and unannounced, but it will happen and because we can count on it happening at some point in time, we need to be ready.
While the return of Jesus, is important and needs to shape our lives today, what is also important to remember is that the presence of Jesus is still us today, right here and now. We don’t see Jesus, we can’t reach out and touch his hand or walk by his side, but that doesn’t mean his presence isn’t here. While his physical presence ascended into the clouds, his spiritual presence remained. Jesus said, I will be with you always, even to the end of the age, so Jesus is still with us and will be until the moment his physical presence returns, which means we can experience that presence if we will open our hearts and minds to him. In Rev 3 Jesus says, Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in. So the presence of Jesus can be experienced if will open our hearts and minds and lives for him to enter.
If we aren’t feeling the presence of Jesus then maybe we just haven’t opened the door. Maybe we are closing ourselves off to God because we don’t feel worthy enough or important enough or good enough – but the promise is that if anyone opens the door – Jesus will be there. If you or I open the door – Jesus will be there and more importantly he will come in here (to our hearts and lives).
Through our worship of God at the communion table today we have the opportunity to trust in these three promises of Jesus’ ascension. It is right here that we see the power of God to forgive us and to bring us new life. It is right here that we see our purpose, which isn’t just to share in this meal but to share this meal with others and help them understand and accept what this is all about. This meal also brings to us the very presence of Jesus. This is the body of Christ – this is the blood of Christ. Jesus is here, right here, and he is always here in spirit and grace and power and he will be here until he returns. This is a meal which reminds us of the promises Jesus made when he ascended into heaven, the promise of his power, the promise of a purpose and the promise of his current and future presence.
The 3 Promises of Jesus’ Ascension
The Promise of Jesus Power:
1. Where are you feeling weak and powerless in your life?
a struggle with sin a feeling of failure
a fear of the future a heart that is hopeless
2. What would these areas look like if you felt God’s power?
3. Read these promises and ask God for his power.
Isaiah 40:28-31 John 14:10-19, 25-29,
Philippians 4:13 2 Timothy 1:7-12
2 Peter 1:3-8
The Promise of Jesus’ Purpose:
1. Who in your life needs to hear of God’s love and power? Write down what they need to hear and look for an opportunity to sincerely and humbly “witness” to them.
2. With many stories in the news of people dying for their faith, we have the opportunity to stand up and share with others how we feel. Look for those moments and pray for the power and boldness to speak.
3. Listen to the full story of Deborah Peters at c-span.org. Pray for Meriam Ibrahim and others being persecuted for their faith and trust in Jesus.
The Promise of Jesus’ Presence:
Jesus stands at the door and knocks. Ask him in.
Lord Jesus, enter into the chaos and confusion of my life.
I struggle to see you and hear you, but I long to know and be assured that you are with me.
Help me this day to feel your spirit upon me and your right hand holding me fast.
Come Holy Spirit, Come. Come, Lord Jesus, Come. AMEN