Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

The Ascension

The Ascension

In 1 Corinthians, Paul says that the good news of the cross is folly for those who don't believe. In other words, the stories that are so much a part of who we are,just seem silly to unbelievers, almost like fairy tales. The stories that are essential to our faith; the stories that teach us and instruct us about God are pretty unbelievable to those who are not part of the church. Think about the Biblical happenings from an outsiders view point; from someone who didn't grow up with Moses and David and Joshua as part of their basic teachings; who don’t have faith in who God is. We have a guy being swallowed by a fish? How about Elijah riding to heaven in a chariot of fire? We have Jacob wrestling all night with an angel. Doesn’t sound like something that is very real. Yet these preposterous accounts are integral to Christianity. And from a practical, scientific, believability viewpoint, even the life of Jesus is just as absurd; dead people rising from the dead, multiplying food, disease healing. An outsider would just shake their head and say "You believe what?". To someone not grounded in our faith, it just seems like foolishness - just like the Apostle Paul says. But as believers we understand that God’s work is all about miraculous happenings; incidents that are hard to believe. Jesus was born of a virgin. His ministry began with the voice of God calling out from heaven. Jesus spends three years healing people, raising people from the dead - performing miracles. He then gets killed and unbelievably raises from the dead and comes back to life. And today, we celebrate another in the strange but true stories of Jesus - his ascension.

Today is referred to as Ascension Sunday. Today however is not the actual day of the ascension, but the Sunday right after that event. We see our common number 40 as the ascension was 40 days after the resurrection. So actual Ascension Day is always on a Thursday -the Resurrection is always on a Sunday so reason follows that 40 days later is always a Thursday. So last Thursday, just a few days ago, was the day about 2000 years ago, that Jesus ascends into heaven. A miraculous and wondrous event. And of course you need to hear my annual rant about how we as the church should be making a bigger deal about commemorating this important day in the life of Jesus; this important day in helping us understand all what Jesus has done for his people. We make a big deal about his birth; we make a big deal about his death and resurrection; God came to earth in the form of a human named Jesus so that he could take on our sin for us. We make a big deal about his death and resurrection celebrating Easter Sunday where we remember how he suffered and died on the cross to forgive our sin; he rose from the dead to give us eternal life ---- but without the ascension we never make it to live with God. We would remain here on earth just as we have been talking about for the last 40 days. Jesus spent the 40 days after the resurrection on earth. But through his ascension where he rises to sit at the right hand of the Father, we too, get to go and spend eternity with God. The ascension is the completion of the work of Jesus which insures our eternal life in the presence of God - and that is a big deal!!

Let's remember the story of the ascension. Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday - the day we call resurrection Sunday. He spends 40 days with his disciples, teaching and instructing them. Of these stories of Jesus’ time with the disciples, the last account we have of this instructional time was on the beach in Galilee. The disciples had gone fishing, and Jesus met them on the beach. Around the campfire Jesus and the disciples share a meal together and Jesus spends some time making sure the disciple Peter understands that he has been forgiven. Peter is carrying around a lot of guilt over the incident where three times he denied knowing Jesus. Jesus knew that Peter could never fulfill what God was calling him to do in the spreading of the Gospel with all that guilt clinging to him A reminder for us as well that we cannot truly serve God if we are carrying around a lot of guilt and don't, or won't, except our forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Jesus then spends some alone time with Peter helping Peter understand he will have a leadership role in the foundation of the church and that his task will not be easy.

Jesus then leaves the disciples for a while and the next time they hear from him, Jesus is calling the disciples to join him on top of the mountain. Once they get up the mountain, Jesus explains to them what is going to happen. He is going to leave them for good - but this is a good thing Jesus tells them. It is good because once he

goes and is at the right hand of the Father, Jesus will be able to be the advocate for all his people. This is really a simplistic picture, but in essence Jesus sits by God, and when we sin Jesus turns to God and says, "it's OK. They are one of ours." and God ignores our wrong. This is a great deal for us who have faith because we know that not only all of our past sin is forgiven, but our future sin as well – and that is because Jesus is sitting on the right hand of God taking up for us. But there us a cost. The forgiveness is through grace, it is a free gift but God demands a response from us; he expects us to live a life of gratitude where we respond to what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. As Jesus has the disciples on the mountain, Jesus looks at the them, and at us, and says " OK. I'm going and that will be good, but now you have to take over my job here on earth. Now you have to go and do all the things I was doing. Your job is now to teach all the things I taught you." So here's the deal. Through Jesus we get life forever with God, but in the mean time we have to do Jesus' work.

With those words the disciples watch Jesus bodily ascend into the heaven. Another of the wondrous, hard to believe moments in the scriptures. It is hard to explain a man bodily rising up into the sky all on his own. But sometimes I think this directive of Jesus to go out and do his work is sometimes harder to believe than the amazing hard to believe miracles and events; harder to believe that this amazing moment of watching Jesus ascend into heaven.. Sometimes it is easier to believe Moses really parted the Red Sea than to believe Jesus really expects us to do what he did. Maybe we fit in here with the unbelievers the Apostle Paul talks about when he mentions that the stories are folly to unbelievers. It is so hard for us to really think that Jesus wants us to share the Gospel and to teach the good news to the world? Are you thinking “Surely that doesn’t mean me?”
But the answer is, Yes – it does. For we have to grasp the understanding that we here in this congregation are the chosen people of God – chosen not only for Salvation, but chosen to be set apart for the express purpose to be agents of God in this world. That is what this story is truly all about. Reminding us that Jesus’ ascension was not only the completion of his work for our salvation, but the beginning of our work as God’s people. Unbelievable to think he wants
us to do the work of Jesus.
Jesus makes one more statement before he flies into the sky – He said, “This is going to seem like an awesome responsibility. This is going to seem like an overwhelming task. But don’t worry. I’ll be there for you.” And this is what he says to us. Jesus says, “I expect you to do this. To carry my message to the world. – But don’t worry. I will equip you. I will give you what you need. You don’t have to do it on your own.” And so for us the first step is believing that first and foremost we are supposed to do this and secondly – and most important – Jesus really will help you do it.
The secret to being able to fulfill our responsibility is faith in the
living power of Jesus. Jesus may have bodily ascended into heaven but he promised he would give us the power necessary to do what he asked us to do. This is not folly, this is not a fairy tale, this is not just some inspiring speech, this is not for someone else, but real power to do the work of Jesus for each and every one of you – you, the chosen people of God. We cannot just be recipients of salvation; we cannot be spectators as others heed Jesus’ words – this is not an option. It is the will and direction of God for us. Go and teach the world what it means to be a believer in Christ. Believe that and believe in the power Jesus will give you to do it.
Today we celebrate the ascension! We celebrate the ascension as people who have found the stories of the Bible to be true, to be reliable and to reveal to us who God is and who we are. The result of that ascension is our everlasting life with God and the challenge to live as if we really believe we receive everything we need to do God’s work. Christ has ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God!