THE ASCENSION OF OUR LORD – celebrated May 28, 2017

SCRIPTURES –Acts 1:1-11; Eph. 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

“It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”  Acts 1

 

Can you imagine how hard it must have been for Jesus’ disciples after He rose from the dead? Now, on the one hand, their joy must have been overwhelming. To see Him alive again; to know and experience His incredible victory over death and the powers of hell itself, as well as over the opposition of the leaders of their people – their joy could barely be contained! But, how disappointed and confused they must have been by His appearing only to His followers. Can you imagine if He had gone to the temple and showed Himself to the people? What if He had gone to see Pontius Pilate, or the High Priest Caiaphas? “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” I’ll bet they urged Jesus to reveal Himself and do so. What an impact He would have made!! But, He didn’t do so. And then, He ascended into heaven and would not be seen on this earth again. How hard this must have been for His disciples!

“It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” We need to hear and take to heart these words of Jesus. For, like His disciples, we, too, can be confused and disappointed by Him. We also must listen, and trust, and follow.

There are times and seasons in life: in your own life; in the life of your church; and, in the life of your country. There are times of growth and decline; of peace and prosperity, and of persecution and suffering. There are times of joy and of sorrow. What is especially troubling and difficult to handle is when you find that you cannot control your times but they control you. Your plans can be derailed by a tiny, mindless germ; or a crazed driver; or a deluded terrorist; or a struggling economy.

Ø  I’m finding it difficult, for instance, to find retired Pastors to lead Services at our congregation in Cheshire, whose Pastor just retired. You see, there are few retired Pastors in CT. Most move away to less expensive states.

 

Why? Why do churches which faithfully proclaim Jesus decline? Why do faithful Christians endure suffering and hardship? “It is not for you to know.”  But we want to know! Above all, we want our God to act.

Take to heart the rest of what Jesus says: “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” God is in control, even when it seems as if He is not. He has His plans and purposes; the crucifixion of Jesus especially proclaims this. What worse tragedy could ever have happened than that? But, it was written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead. It was God’s plan from the beginning. And, the result is that “repentance and forgiveness of sins [are] proclaimed in his name to all nations!” This great work of eternal healing is still going on.

Trust your God! He is your loving Father in Jesus. He has also given His Son to be with you in every time and situation in your life. Remember: Jesus’ ascension doesn’t mean that He is far away. He ascended to God’s right hand, where all things are under his feet and He is “head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Eph. 1) As your head is with your body wherever you go, so Jesus is with you always. He will work out His Father’s plans for you!

So, trust your good Father. He has fixed your times and seasons. And then, speak! “You will be my witnesses,” Jesus says. This is His plan and purpose for your life.

Ooh, witnessing; that’s a hard thing, isn’t it? Well, hard or not, you are a witness. How you live and what you say witnesses to what is important in your life. How do we witness to the new life God has given us in Jesus?

First, witness by your obedient trust. Before He ascended Jesus told His disciples, “I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” He would fill them with His Holy Spirit and strengthen them to witness, but they would have to first be where He would give His Spirit. It is the same for you. God will give you His Holy Spirit and help you to witness to Jesus, but you must receive Him. He is given to you right here as you hear God’s words and receive Jesus in His body and blood. God isn’t a Spirit who is floating around like a cloud, unreachable and untouchable. Christ is a touchable Savior. The Holy Spirit He sends is a touchable Spirit. He is present and offers Himself to you whenever and wherever Jesus is rightly proclaimed. Believe; hear God’s words and obey them; and receive Christ’s forgiveness and the power of His Holy Spirit! Your doing so is a witness.

You also witness by how you bear and endure the times and seasons of this life, especially the difficult ones.

Ø  Today’s epistle reading is from Ephesians. This book of the Bible, which has been a great teaching about Christ and strength for His people for two millennia, was written by the Apostle Paul from prison. A letter from a prison inmate has blessed many millions of lives! Who would have thought?

Ø  Last month was the 75th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid. On April 18, 1942, sixteen B-25 bombers, led by Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, took off from the deck of a U.S. aircraft carrier to bomb Japan. It was a response to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. The crews of two planes crashed in Japan and were captured. They were interrogated and tortured. One of the crewmembers, Jacob DeShazer, was eventually given a Bible. “The Bible says that if we believe in Jesus, we’ll be saved,” he later said. “Boy, when I read that and they were threatening to cut our heads off at any moment, I just felt like I’m free, I’m ready to die to do whatever God wants me to do.”

     DeShazer survived the war, and afterward went to a Bible college. In 1948 he returned to Japan as a Christian missionary. How could he not forgive them and tell them about Jesus? For, Jesus had died for them as well as him. One of those who listened and became a Christian was Mitsuo Fuchida: the pilot who had led the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

You have the same God and Savior with you as did Jacob DeShazer, and He has called you to the same great hope. How you respond in your life to those who mistreat you and say bad things about you, and how you deal with the misfortunes and difficulties that come upon you, is a witness to the hope you have in Jesus.

Your final witness is your prayers. “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers,” wrote Paul from prison to his fellow believers in Ephesus. He wasn’t praying for them because he couldn’t do anything else. Prayer isn’t giving up. It is giving over to God! It is a great work, a great witness to the hope we have in Christ, and so a great blessing.

So, pray; endure trials with hope; trust in your heavenly Father; and speak. This is what your good Father, who holds your times in His hands, has given you to do, until this time is no more and we are taken up into the blessed time of eternity in heaven with Jesus, our Savior! In His holy name. Amen.