Thursday, August 4, 2011

Why do you stand looking into the sky?

Read:  Luke 24:44-53

In our reading from Luke we read:

Now He (Christ) said to them, "These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you,

While I was still with you.  The crucifixion and resurrection have happened. 
Here Christ is talking to His faithful followers and says to them, Do you remember? 
This is not something new that He’s telling them!
They have heard it all before. He has told them this as many ways as He could think of.  He has told it in the form of parables and stories.  He’s  told it bluntly. 
But did they listen?
Did they understand?
Would we have understood if we had been there?

Christ contuse:
that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." 

Again He says: 
Everything that He has done,
everything that He has said
And everything that has happened to Him were told to prophets and Poets long ago!
It is why He told them that “He come not to abolish the law – but to fulfill it.”
These words have been read to them for thousands of years. (and to us for thousands more!)
We should not be surprised.  Here, Let Him explain:

Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 

and He said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, 

          Christ explained:
This HAS been done.
Christ’s part of the plan is finished - - - For now
He continued:        

and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem

            Jerusalem is but the starting point.
          Our Father is God of all; not just of the Jewish nation.

Do you remember what was said to father Abram when he was called from the land of Ur

Hear this passage from Genesis

“Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you.  And the one who curses you, I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.

This is the Father’s promise.
Jesus continued:

"You are witnesses of these things. "And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you;

We have experienced all these things in our lives.  Now, we must fulfill the promise given to Abraham, that “all the families of the earth be blessed.”
Previously  He sent the twelve out in pairs and told them to not take money, food, or even a change of clothes. 
They told the good news and did many miracles in His name. 
That was just a foretaste of the journey ahead.

Continuing our reading:
but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high."

He told them that even when they see Him no more, He will be with them.  Once He departed, they were to return to Jerusalem and His Father will send His Spirit upon them and cover them and fill them with His power, so that we can fulfill His promise to the nations.

And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. 
While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 
And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 
and were continually in the temple praising God.

            I was struck by the ending of the narrative in Acts where it says, “

And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.   
And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. 
They also said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven."

“Why do you stand looking into the sky?  Why indeed! 

The Ascension of Christ has always made me think of Superman flying away into the clouds.
Yeah, I read too many comic books as a kid.
But the image in my mind was of Him rising slowly in His own power.  Look at the many classical paintings of the Ascension and it will only reinforce that image; His hands raised, lifting on a shaft of light into the sky!
However, as I re-read all the accounts of this event in the New Testament and even the predictions of it in the Old, something occurred to me that I had not noticed before.
Notice again the words used: Luke “He was carried away”; Acts “He was lifted up”, Mark “He was taken up”
Do you see what I saw?
Jesus did not ‘fly away’.  He was carried, lifted, taken.
Jesus was passive.  It was the Father bringing Him home.

Now – Why? 
Why was he taken back into Heaven?
The scriptures say that He is seated at the right hand of the Father, a place of power. He resumed His rightful place.  His sojourn to earth was over.
The Ascension changed everything.
I believe He had to leave so that His followers would finally become His messengers.
Here is a personal illustration of what I mean.
Several years ago, a group of us were sitting around a table after a pancake breakfast at the clubhouse.  We got to talking about how nice it would be to have a Sunday worship service here at the campgrounds.
(Now I have learned over the years that the way the Spirit of God most often works with me is: An idea pops into my mind and I say, “somebody ought to …” and right there I get a spiritual poke in the ribs that says, “yeah YOU ought to …”)
I got a little nudge that day – but I ignored it.
Sitting at that table were ordained ministers, lay ministers, and lay speakers. 
None of us jumped up and said, “Let’s do it!”
I can only speak for myself here. 
I did not follow through with it because I was being very well fed, spiritually at my home church. 
I didn’t want to metaphorically “push myself away from the table and go to work”.
I have a feeling that for the disciples, Christ Ascension was kind of the “Lunch break is over – time to get to work” moment.
Without the Ascension the promised Comforter would not have come.
There is work to be done!

“Why do you stand looking into the sky?”

We look forward to the return to Christ in all His glory!
We look forward to receiving our reward.
We look forward to Heaven!

But are we still standing – looking into the sky?

There is work to do before He returns.  “The fields are white with harvest but the workers are few”

Here are the eleven remaining disciples.  Most have been along since the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.
They’ve heard his teachings.
They’ve seen His miracles.
Some saw the Transfiguration.
They witnessed his “Trial”
They saw the crucifixion.
Some went into the tomb.
Some walked with Him after the resurrection.
All saw him as He dined with them after the resurrection.
Now they’ve seen him Ascend into the heavens.

You would think that they’d be READY.
Yet Jesus says, “you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high."
He has one more gift for them.  A gift to empower them for SERVICE.  To fulfill the promise given to Abraham.
in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.

We, as children of God, have inherited both the blessing and the command.
“Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.”
Some will say, “I can’t go into all the world!”
You CAN go into the part of the world where you already are.

Some will say, “Proclaim the good news? 
“But I’m not a preacher or an evangelist!”
“I can’t quote Bible verses!”

Here is good news for us! 
We don’t have to be a preacher, an evangelist or even be able to quote lots of Bible verses.

What we CAN do is to tell people our own story.  That is the Good News!  Who Jesus is to us.  What His gift of salvation has done in our lives. 

It is good to be able to quote Bible verses – and I encourage you to learn the ones that make an impact on your life – but it is more important that people know God is STILL active today in the lives of His followers.

Frankly, most people are more interested in “What does that do for me?”  Than in events that happened 2000 years ago.

My own witness truly begins in my mid twentys.  I had been “churched” most of my life.  I attended many denominations’ services.  From Jehovah’s Witnesses, Nazarine, Church of Christ, Babtist, Lutheran, and on and on.  I was the kid who didn’t have a church home and so, when my friends were trying to earn a star in Sunday School by bringing someone, I was one they would invite. 

I had heard so many conflicting DOCTRINES by my mid twenties, I wasn’t sure I believed in anything! 

I was freshly home from the Army when a friend invited me to go to Sunday school with him … it was an old and familiar pattern and I went.
The Sunday school teacher shook my hand and asked if I was a Christian.
I stood there staring at him because I didn’t know how to answer the question.  I was American so of course I was Christian.  Didn’t the two go together?

Then he asked if I believed Jesus died “For Me!”?
In all the Sunday school class and all the sermons I’d heard.  No one told me that Christ died for me!  I’d heard he died for the world.  That he’d died to save the sinners.  But it had never been made personal to me until that day.
Do YOU know that Christ died for you?  Does your family know that he died for them?  Do your friends?  Your neighbor?  The people at work?

Maybe no one has ever ask them.

Remember, our witness is OUR witness. 
We need to introduce people to our friend, Jesus the Christ.

Why do you stand looking into the sky? There is work to be done!

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