Easter 7a - Asecension

Preached: June 5, 2011

Jesus Leaves Us to Be with Us, so that We Are His Witness
Acts 1:1-14

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which Jesus speaks to us is Acts 1.

Dear Theophilus, I wrote my first message about all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up. Through the Holy Spirit he had instructed the apostles he had chosen. With many convincing proofs he had presented himself alive to them after his suffering. Throughout forty days he appeared to them and spoke about the kingdom of God. While eating together, he commanded them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for what the Father had promised. "Which you have heard from me," he said, "seeing that John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit in a few days."

Then when they had come together, they began asking him, "Lord, might you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?"

But he said to them, "It's not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you. You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

After he said this, while they were watching, he was taken up, and a cloud hid him from sight. While they were intently staring into the sky as he went -- Look! two men in white clothing stood by them. They said, "Men of Galilee, why are you standing looking into the sky? The same Jesus, who was taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."

They then returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, about a Sabbath's walk. When they entered, the went to the upper room where they were staying. There 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. All of them, united in heart, were busy in prayer, along with the women and Mary, Jesus' mother, and his brothers. (Acts 1:1-14)

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

For forty days he had appeared and then disappeared. On many occasions the disciples had witnessed Jesus alive, risen from the dead. They had seen him, touched him, eaten with him. He had instructed and taught them. He was with them for awhile and then disappeared to return shortly. But this time it was different.

As their eyes carefully watched, Jesus was taken up from them. With his hands raised in blessing, he rose from their midst and ascended higher and higher, until a cloud hid him. They could clearly see that this departure was different. His visible presence was leaving them. Their physical hands would not touch him on this earth again.

God's heavenly messengers confirm this observation. Recall how God had used his angels at the significant events in Jesus' life and ministry. The annunciation to Mary, Jesus' birth, after his temptation in the wilderness as his ministry began, Gethsemane near the end, Easter, and now his Ascension. The angels confirm that they would not see him again as they had on earth until his final return.

He had left them, but yet he was with them. Yes, that sounds like a contradiction but remember what Jesus had said. "I am with you always" (Matthew 28:20 NIV1984), he had promised them during those forty days. He wasn't speaking figuratively, like when we say “I'll be with you in your thoughts.” He was with them, not just in their thoughts as they remembered him. He was with them, not just spiritually as his Word empowered their faith. He was with them, not just divinely since as God he has always been present everywhere. He was with them as their crucified and risen Savior, true God and true man. His body wasn't removed to heaven alone, confined there. Rather, the man, Jesus Christ, who has a real body and soul, is fully present everywhere, as God and man. He said, "*I* am with you," not just a part of him, but the full person, God and man.

So he was still with the disciples, although they had seen him leave. And he is with each one of us, no matter where you are. The real Jesus, the God-man, is with you. For example, he is standing beside each of you, but not as a disembodied spirit. He is standing next to you with his body, the same body that was crucified for you and raised from the dead. It's not that his body is so big that it expands to fill everything. That's an earthly idea. And it's not that his body is multiplied to be in many places, like clones. It is one and the same body in every place. For otherwise, it wouldn't be your Jesus who died for you who's with you, would it? Our human minds cannot picture it. He doesn't conform himself to the laws of physics. But be assured, although you cannot see him or touch him or explain how it can be, the real Jesus, your Savior, is truly with you. How that gives us courage and strength to be his witnesses!

So today as we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord, we see him leave us to be with us so that we are his witnesses. His apostles testified as eyewitness, and we too testify because our Savior is with us. Think about that theme and parts.

A. His apostles testified as eyewitness

Before Jesus ascended, he made it clear to his apostles what he had left them here to do. They were not to wonder or worry about the times and dates the Father had set by his authority. Rather they were to wait for the Holy Spirit, whom the Father had promised. We know that ten days later on Pentecost, Jesus kept this promise. He poured out the Holy Spirit on his disciples to empower them with additional gifts. Just as a human hand pours out water in a baptism, so Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit with his gifts. And just as in a baptism the baby has done nothing to earn or deserve the faith given, so also the disciples had done nothing to earn or deserve the gifts the Holy Spirit brought at Pentecost. That's why Jesus calls it a baptism.

But Pentecost was just the starter's gun for the race the apostles were to run. Jesus lays out their course: "[Y]ou will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8 NIV1984). Now go from the racetrack to the courtroom. What does the person at the witness stand do? He testifies. He tells the truth about what he has seen and heard. That's what the apostles were to do. That was their mission.

They had seen firsthand Jesus' ministry unfold from the time of John the Baptist and through Galilee, Perea, Samaria, and Judea. They heard Jesus teaching the people on the hillsides and shorelines. They watched his miracles. Not only their eyes but theirs hearts as well witnessed the agony of Gethsemane and Calvary. And what joy overcame their despair and doubts, as they witnessed Jesus alive, risen from the dead, their own eyes, ears, and hands testifying. The Apostles were unique, one-of-a-kind witnesses.

As your read the book of Acts, you hear them witnessing in Jerusalem, and then in Judea and Samaria. You see their testimony beginning to go out into the world, to Ethiopia and Europe. But did it really reach the ends of the earth? What about North and South America and Australia?

Consider this. These men, the Apostles, although long dead, are still testifying today. In fact, you personally have heard these witnesses. Where? Well, what do you think the New Testament is? They recorded their testimony to sound out in all place and in all ages. The testimony of these witnesses has truly gone out to the ends of the earth. Don't let their testimony become an unread book for you.

And what comfort for us that Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit to give them that special gift, so that what they wrote in the Scriptures is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. For the testimony they recorded in the Bible as eyewitnesses of Jesus is the exact words the Holy Spirit wanted them to write. Believe their testimony. It is the truth, God's truth.

And as these witnesses spoke and wrote, they knew that Jesus was with them. Even though they had seen him leave, he was with them. The same Jesus that they were speaking and writing about was by their side. The same Jesus whom they had seen and heard and touched was with them. So they boldly testify as witnesses, telling the truth of who Jesus is and what he has done to save sinners like you and me.

Dear friends, believe their testimony. It comes from Jesus through them for he was with them. He alone is your Savior from sin and death. He died because of your sin. He rose because God has declared all sinners, including you, not guilty because Jesus has paid the penalty for you. Without faith in Jesus, all that he has won for you is lost to you. Believe their testimony. It is God's truth. Jesus left them to be with them so that they testified as his eyewitnesses.

B. We also testify because our Savior is with us

Now we aren't eyewitness of Jesus' ministry as the apostles were. What can we testify about? Consider what we have heard and seen. You have heard their eyewitness account. In fact you have it in writing. You can testify to what they have said. These words are written not only for you to believe personally, but also for you to share.

Moreover, you are witnesses of how the testimony of Jesus has changed your own heart and life. Let others see that change in you. In the way you treat others, in the way you speak, in the way you love your family, in the way you do your job, in the way you have fun, in the way you patiently bear suffering, in the way you hold preaching and God's Word sacred -- in all parts of life, let others see the change that Jesus has worked in you. Then as you testify about Jesus, they'll know that your witness is authentic and true.

And remember who is at your side in all this. Jesus. He left on that day of Ascension to be with you. The same Jesus, who hung on the cross bearing all the sins of the world including yours, is by your side. The same Jesus, whose sacrificed body rose from the dead in glory, is by your side. He is with you. So be his witnesses. Testify because your Savior is with you.

That's not always easy. As you read Acts it wasn't easy for the apostles either. When our witness about Jesus is rejected, when others penalize us or try to shame us for following Jesus, we may well wonder where he is. Is he really by my side? But faith takes him at his word. “I am with you always.” That's not figurative. The real Jesus, the God-man, your crucified and risen Savior, is with you. I cannot prove it to my senses. I cannot understand it with my reasoning. But faith takes Jesus a his word.

What courage and confidence that gives us so that we let Jesus shine out in all that we do in life! What courage and confidence that gives you and me to share the hope that we have in Jesus as we testify about him! Remember what the angel said, "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 NIV1984). He is coming. No one can stop him. What a hope to hold on to! What a hope to share!

So as we watch Jesus' ascension and see him leave, remember: He leaves us to be with us so that we are his witnesses. Believe the eyewitness testimony of the Apostles. Share their testimony confident that Jesus is with you. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313