Common English Bible
The risen Jesus with his disciples
1 Theophilus, the first scroll I wrote concerned everything Jesus did and taught from the beginning, 2 right up to the day when he was taken up into heaven. Before he was taken up, working in the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus instructed the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he showed them that he was alive with many convincing proofs. He appeared to them over a period of forty days, speaking to them about God’s kingdom. 4 While they were eating together, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for what the Father had promised. He said, “This is what you heard from me: 5 John baptized with water, but in only a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
6 As a result, those who had gathered together asked Jesus, “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?”
7 Jesus replied, “It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
9 After Jesus said these things, as they were watching, he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going away and as they were staring toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood next to them. 11 They said, “Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you saw him go into heaven.”
It was about a month ago when Pastor Ross asked me to preach for the church today. It was the second week in April, but you won’t know it by the weather. It was cold and snowy week. Spring seemed to be hiding, even thought the calendar said it was spring. Winter was struggling to hang on. I know some of you love winter sports, but not me. Winter, especially in December, just doesn’t have enough light. Darkness comes in the early afternoon with the sunrise coming late. In that cold and snowy week of April light came later and later promising Spring. I don’t know about you. It’s the promise of spring that encourages me during the winter. Aren’t you glad spring comes, even if it doesn’t feel like spring some of the time?
Today’s lectionary reading focuses on Luke’s telling of the events of Ascension Day in the book of Acts. There he records the resurrected Christ ascending into heaven. For forty days followers of Jesus spent an incredible time filled in the light of the resurrected Christ. The darkness of the crucifixion had been forgotten. The disciples and others were warmed in the light of Christ.
The ascension of Jesus came forty days after his resurrection. Imagine, if you were among the followers of Christ as they were standing there watching Jesus rise. Suddenly, two “men” in white robes appeared, “Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way you saw him go into heaven.” – Acts 1:10-11. This promise is one of the greatest promises of all time.
So, what does Ascension Day and spring have in common? Spring promises renewal after a cold, dark, and snowy winter. Ascension Day promises a coming day of hope in a dark world. Both come in their season.
One of my favorite hymns comes to mind that connects our thinking between spring and the second coming. It’s called the Hymn of Promise written by Natalie Sleeth. The hymn has a message of hope and light. Listen to the message of the first verse, “In the bulb there is a flower, in the seed an apple tree, in cocoons a hidden promise, butterflies will soon be free! In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.” The message of spring is clear, but what about Ascension Sunday? The hymn reminds us of who hold the future, “something God alone can see.”
Like December life can seem so very dark some days. Clearly, there’s someone sitting here or listening on the streaming living in darkness. It could be someone next to you, or perhaps, it could even be you, who struggles with depression, darkness, discouragement. For some its hard not to feel the darkness in their lives, even Christians. Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t keep the darkness out. As Christians, however; the good news is that the light does shine through the darkness. “It’s something God alone can see.”
Let’s consider the actual Ascension Sunday with the disciples. Think about all those who were with Christ Jesus throughout the time he was on earth. The disciples had spent three amazing years listening to Jesus teach them the eternal truths about the love of our Heavenly Father, watching him heal, and doing many amazing things. In shock and horror, they watch him as he was crucified. They watched as his dead body was take down off the cross. I can’t imagine the darkness that filled their hearts that day.
These people had believed in the light of Christ. They had trusted their Heavenly Father had sent the Messiah to save them. In that dark day it must have been difficult to seethe light of God’s plan. Hope was something God alone could see.
For several days darkness and evil seemed to be winning, but then Easter morning came. The light of Christ shined brighter than ever. The followers of Christ could finally sing Alleluias as they discovered their Heavenly Father had kept his promise. He had raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus was alive! Death and evil had been defeated. Something only God could see.
There was doubt among the disciples at first, but that afternoon Jesus appeared in all his glory. He not only appeared but promised to send them the Holy Spirit to be with them. They were to wait for the Holy Spirit. It was promise that they would soon experience.
For forty days the disciples walked with the resurrected Christ as they realized Christ had fulfilled one of the greatest promises of all time. Jesus’ promise was simple, because of the love God Jesus would die for us and if we believed we would be saved. Sin could no longer darken our lives and our world. Evil had lost. The light of the world had come. As Paul wrote, “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” – Romans 10:9
It was the fulfillment of one of the greatest promises that has ever been made. It’s something God alone can see. Regardless of what some say it’s a promise our Heavenly Father never breaks. Think about it. Our Heavenly Father has promised to always love us, and as a result he promised to save us through his son, Jesus Christ. We cannot fully understand this promise, but we can trust this promise will never be broken.
On Ascension Day Jesus ascended, but still another great promise was made. Christ would return. How? It’s something God alone can see. It was still another promise our Heavenly Father will not break. No! No one knows when Christ will come again. Today, we need not stand watching for the coming. The second coming is something God alone can know.
I don’t blame the disciples for asking the question, “Lord, when are you going to restore the Kingdom of Israel?” Won’t you like to know. After all, that will be such a great day. Even in the second coming there is another great promise. We read in the letter of Revelation, “Christ will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more: mourning and crying and pain will be no more for the first things will have passed away.” – Revelation 21:4
Why is Ascension Day so important for us today? Regardless of the troubles of this life Ascension Day reminds us of the great promise at the end of time. The Christian believes in salvation because of the action of Jesus Christ. We believe without a doubt God is in control of the future regardless of the evil, pain, and death we see in the present day. Evil and darkness will not prevail. It’s something God alone can see.
The good news is that our Heavenly Father never breaks his promises. When will it happen? As the song reminds us, it’s “unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.”
Years ago, there was a movement called “Promise Keepers.” Have you ever heard of the Promise Keepers? I remember when they came to Denver for a national meeting. They filled Bronco stadium. The Promise Keepers were Christian men who gathered to pray, study the bible and keep their promise to Christ Jesus to be faithful to him, their families, community, and the nation to be faithful men of God.
We live in a time when home and family are being disrespected and discouraged. More and more people are breaking their promises to family, and God. I can only speak for myself, but I believe too many men don’t live up to their promises, their vows because they don’t have enough faith in God. Young men aren’t encouraged to have faith. Our families are falling apart because we have valued lesser things than God. Too many children grow up without a father who keeps their promise. Yes, I know, mothers can break their promises as well, but there seems to be more men than women abandoning their families.
Think about all the broken promises lying on the floor of life. Should we despair in what seems to be a hopeless season? No! There’s still hope. The Hymn of Promise has this line, “There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.” I believe we still can be instruments of hope because the Holy Spirit was sent to be active in this season. Hope and light, like spring, may seem far away, but God’s promise lives still.
In the name of the Christ, we can reach out to those who need to see His light. We can reach out and encourage men to remember the promises they make to their families. What we mush remember, however; is that we can’t keep promises without the Holy Spirit helping us.
We must also remember our family is much larger than we often think. Early in Jesus’ ministry his mother, brothers and sisters came to him to take him home because they feared for his life. When Jesus was told they had come for him he looked around saying “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” – Mark 3:34-35
To keep our promises, we need to be part of the body of Christ, the church universal, and this church. Many of us are tempted to abandon the church when it seems to have gone astray, but the church actually needs us all the more when it falls short of the glory of God as we fall short of the glory of God. Why? It’s part of being a Christian promise keeper.
Ask yourself, “What can I do to keep my promise of faith to Christ? If you are a father, ask, “What can you do to raise your children as people of faith?” If your children are raised ask, “What can you do to influence them to be promise keepers.” If you are a woman, ask yourself, “What can I do to be a promise keeper? What can I do to encourage the men in my life to be promise keepers?” Ask yourself, “What can I do to keep my promises to the people of faith?” We must keep these promises as we wait for the dawn of Christ coming again! It’s something only God can see!
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Pastor Paul Grossman