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“Taken Up Into Heaven”: Meditation One - 5/13/2018

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Sermon Text: Luke 24:44-53

Heights and I don’t always mix. I can stand out on a balcony on a high-rise and look out and be just fine but have trouble driving over high elevated bridges. I can handle plane flights and happily look out the window but not ride on roller coasters at the fair. Maybe it has something to do with movement, I don’t know. But the thought of someone rising up into the air---my thought---“better them than me”. But that’s thinking in “earthly” terms and Jesus’ rising and ascending into heaven was far from an “earthly” happening. It’s an important event that should not be missed.

Perhaps the Ascension is overlooked because it’s “in between.” In a way, we can see it as a continuation of the Resurrection and also a prelude to the Holy Spirit’s arrival (10 days later—on Pentecost---50 days after His Resurrection---which we celebrate next Sunday).

For forty days after Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus came back to teach and to “inspire” his disciples. They needed to know He was alive---though not in quite the same way. He could still eat but he could also appear inside locked rooms. You could feel the nail and spear wounds but He was alive. He spoke about the coming of the Holy Spirit. He gave them a calling and a blessing.

Matthew’s Gospel ends with the Great Commission: “to go out into all the world to preach the good news.” It does not mention the Ascension. Mark’s Gospel ends with the Ascension: “After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it. As an informative note: this last part of the last chapter of Mark is contested by scholars as some believe it was added to “give Mark a more appropriate ending than that of: “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.” John’s Gospel does not mention the Ascension. It ends in this fashion: “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”

It is in Luke’s Gospel that we receive this: “When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.” Luke continues in his other book, The Book of Acts with this: “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up into heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of 40 days and spoke about the kingdom of God.  (vs. 1-3) After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were intently looking 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.” (vs. 9-11)

One commentator points out that in Luke: “Jesus lifts up his hands and blesses them before departing to continue his work from God’s side. What follows for them are worship and joy. They return to the temple, where Luke’s story began with Zechariah, in order to praise God for all that has taken place. Luke never forgets that the heart of a believer’s walk involves responding to God with joy.”

In the Apostles’ Creed, we remember: “The third day he rose from the dead, he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”

John 16: 7 records Jesus saying this: “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate (Holy Spirit) will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”
Jesus still had work to do on our behalf. The statement of the two angels encourages us to live well-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2: 12-13).

Another commentator wrote this at the end of his commentary on Luke: “Just contemplating the task and the process is testimony to the power of Jesus’ resurrection to ring across the centuries with its message of hope and forgiveness. What other movement has been able to span the centuries and the variety of cultures that the Christian movement has touched? Where else can people of a wide variety of national backgrounds be woven together in a rich fellowship? Part of the gospel’s power is surely seen in the success of the commission that was launched from the original apostles. God has surely been at work in the movement that began with an announcement at the temple and a birth at Bethlehem. God is at work in it all, fulfilling what he promised centuries ago in some ancient Jewish writings. He is present in our own sharing as he was in the commission Jesus issued to a small group of mostly Galilean followers in the first century. The march of faith moves one era at a time, one person at a time, one testimony at a time. Amen.