Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Luke 24:44-53/Acts 1:1-11 The Ascension’s Task

Star Wars! Everyone remembers Star Wars differently. Some of you think of the classic Star Wars trilogy. Those wonderful films filled with groundbreaking action and adventure. And the rest of you think of the new Star Wars trilogy. Or what I prefer to call, “George Lucas’s big mistake.” But back to the real Star Wars. If you’re a guy, maybe your favorite character is Han Solo. But if you’re a girl, maybe your favorite character is also Han Solo.

Jonathan is currently a Master of Divinity student at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary and wants to become an ordained pastor upon graduation. Till then, this blog is in honor of his Dad, the real Pastor Romig. Please do not preach this sermon, but feel free to quote it using proper attribution (aff link). Check out his other sermons here or on Vimeo.
One of the most dramatic endings to these movies comes at the end of The Empire Strikes Back. This is the second movie of the original series. Han Solo and the other heroes get captured by the Villain Darth Vader. And part of the cliff hanger ending is Han Solo and his relationship to Princess Leia. At the very end of the movie they profess their affection for each other. But Han Solo gets frozen in carbonite and we’re left wondering what will happen.

Just after this the hero Luke Skywalker finds out Darth Vader is his father. Luke escapes but the movie leaves us on a cliff as we wonder what will happen next. Although we’re not reading from a trilogy today we are reading a two-part story. The Physician Luke wrote both the gospel of Luke and the book we call Acts.

Our first passage in the end of Luke sets the cliff hanger. Jesus tells the disciples his last command then ascends to heaven. But we don’t find out how the disciples respond. Our second passage in Acts tells us what happens next. Let’s turn to the first passage in Luke 24:44-53 (Read Luke 24:44-53).

What does Jesus call his disciples to do in the end of Luke? Jesus calls the disciples to preach about him. In verses 44-45 Jesus reveals the Scriptures point to him. Many think Christianity began on Christmas morning 2,012 years ago. But Jesus tells us that Christianity began much further back in the Old Testament. The Old Testament contains three types of literature: the Law, Prophets, and Psalms. Jesus is teaching his disciples that all three sections point to him. But the disciples don’t see this on their own. So Jesus has to open their minds to finding him in the Scripture. He does this by showing how he completes what was promised long ago.

In verses 46-48 Jesus shows how he fulfills the Scriptures in three ways. First, Scripture is fulfilled in Christ’s suffering (v. 46). What was written in the OT is that the Christ would suffer. This goes against the type of Messiah the Jews were expecting. They were expecting a conquering war hero. They were expecting him to set up an earthly kingdom. And they expected to reap the benefits. To rule with him and to be rulers over other nations. They didn’t expect a Messiah who suffered. But Isaiah 53 foretells the Suffering Servant. Jesus did come to conquer but to do so through the cross.

Second, Scripture is fulfilled in Christ’s rising from the grave (v. 46). In the last chapter of Luke, Jesus appears to his disciples in Jerusalem. This is incredible because he was put to death one chapter earlier. So when Jesus talks about rising from the grave after three days. He’s telling them the Old Testament promises are now complete. But he’s also claiming to be the same one who just died. In other words, he was dead, but now he’s alive, and this fulfills the OT.

And third, Scripture is fulfilled in the disciple’s witnessing about Jesus (v. 47-48). Jesus tells them he completes Scripture but they have a role to play. They are to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins thru Jesus Christ. In other words they are to remind people that everyone sins against God. But God offers forgiveness through Jesus Christ. When they witness to these things they are telling people they’re true. And they are to witness “to all nations” beginning in Jerusalem. This word for nations is often used to refer to the Gentiles (the non-Jews). In the Bible’s original language the word for Gentile is the word εθνος (eth-nose), which sounds a lot like our word for “ethnicity.” So the next step Scripture foretells is the disciples preaching to all peoples.

In verse 49, Jesus tells the disciples they are to wait for the Holy Spirit. For some reason I decided to run an 8K (5 miles) when I lived in Washington DC. About three quarters of the way through I made the mistake of getting water. I’d never tried to drink while running before and soon found out I wasn’t good at it. I choked on the water and for the rest of the race tried to get my breath back. The disciples also have to run a race but they don’t have their breath yet. They need the divine breath that is the Holy Spirit.

Like Jesus the Son and God the Father the Holy Spirit is also God. They are each distinct persons of one triune God. And they each have a role to play in God’s mission. The Holy Spirit will work in and through the disciples. He will give them the power and will they need to share Jesus. The disciples need the Holy Spirit more than anything. But the Holy Spirit is a gift from God. They are unable to force the Holy Spirit into their ministry. They receive the Spirit passively without any effort on their own. So they are called to return to Jerusalem and wait. But once they receive the Holy Spirit they will go to work.

Verses 50-53 close with expectation. Jesus leads the disciples to the land of Bethany, blesses them, and rises into heaven. Luke doesn’t tell us much about what happens at Bethany or afterwards. But Luke does tell us what the disciples are to do next. They are to take part in fulfilling Scripture. And they will do this through Jesus’ clear instructions. Jesus wants them to wait for the Holy Spirit. Jesus wants them to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins. Jesus wants them to preach in his name. And Jesus wants them to take this message to the whole world. The disciples know what they are to do next because Jesus told them.

Acts 1:1-11 begins to tell us the rest of the story. Let’s read Acts 1:1-11 (Read Acts 1:1-11).

Jesus reminds the disciples what has and will take place. The beginning of Acts orients us to what just took place in Luke. Star Wars does something similar. They all start with the famous line, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….” And then the film opens with the famous scrolling yellow plot introduction. The director George Lucas is setting the scene for what is about to happen. And in so doing he reminds the audience what took place in the last film. We see Luke also setting the scene in the first few verses of Acts.

In verses 1-2 Luke summarizes Jesus’ life and last commands. Luke opens Acts like he did Luke 1:3 by addressing Theophilus. This man’s name, Θεόφιλε, actually means “lover of God”(the-o-phe-los). Luke reminds Theophilus that Jesus left his disciples with a mission. Jesus gave them some specific commands. Throughout the rest of the book Luke will write about this mission. He will describe it taking place through the power of the Holy Spirit. Because of this we can also call Acts the “Acts of the Spirit.”

In verses 3-5 Jesus remind the disciples what has and will take place. Jesus highlights how he suffered and rose from the grave once again (v. 3). The suffering and resurrection had to take place to fulfill the Scripture. This is why he appeared to them for forty days. We are supposed to remember that God tested Israel in the desert for 40 years. And Jesus too was tempted without sin for 40 days at the start of his ministry. And now after the cross Jesus takes a 40-day victory lap. The disciples will one day join him in this victory celebration.

But remember Jesus told them what they are to do first. They are to wait for the Spirit. They are to preach repentance and forgiveness. And they are to preach in Jesus’ name to all people. But the disciples know it won’t be easy. They will probably be persecuted, tortured, and killed. So how do they respond to Jesus’ command?

The disciples prefer the kingdom over the labor. In verse 6 the disciples ask the wrong question. After all those pretty specific instructions you might think the disciples would ask what time the Holy Spirit will come. But instead they ask, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus literally just told the disciples what they were supposed to do. But the disciples don’t seem to get it. Or perhaps they don’t want to get it. They know Jesus’ plans require sweat and sacrifice. And they would rather have the kingdom the easy way. They want Jesus to give it to them. They want the kingdom of God and they want it now. They want eternal bliss without momentary effort. They want to skip the sacrifice and reap the rewards. They don’t want to roll up their sleeves and get dirty. They want the benefits of the kingdom before they are theirs to have.

I called my mom this week to ask if she had a funny childhood illustration of me wanting something before I should have it. I expected her to give me a cute story of a time I wanted what my older brothers had even though I was younger than them. But instead she reminded me of one of my characteristics. She said that when I was a kid and wanted something done I wanted it done “now!” So I told her that I really haven’t changed much. And she reminded me it’s a good thing I have such a patient fiancée. But aren’t we all just like this? Don’t we all want everything right now? The disciples were the same way.

In verses 7-8 Jesus calls again for the disciples to be his witnesses. The disciples may want to sit back and relax. But Jesus tells them not yet. The kingdom belongs to God and God alone knows when it will come. Instead, they are to wait for the Holy Spirit. And once they receive the Holy Spirit, they are to begin to labor. They are to leave their homeland to teach repentance and forgiveness of sins. They are to begin among their people in Jerusalem. And then they are to take the gospel to the people of Samaria. And finally to all the non-Jewish people scattered all over the ancient world. Acts 1:8 is a simple outline for the rest of the story of Acts. But for the disciples it was an outline of the hard work ahead. They have to take the news about Jesus to the entire world. And this task is going to require a lot of effort.

So what does this mean for us? What can we learn from the disciples’ misplaced priorities? Our witness about Jesus precedes our reward with Jesus. We can fall into the same trap as the disciples. We can seek to live life as if Jesus has already rewarded us. Without any of the hard work of serving Jesus. But this is the same mistake the prosperity gospel makes. It wants us to enjoy the riches of the kingdom before it’s time. And although there’s nothing wrong with possessions. We need to make sure our lives aren’t spent serving them. But that our lives are spent serving Jesus. Because one day our lives will be spent and we will enter eternity. And we will have no more opportunities to live for Jesus.

But for now we live prior to glory. Glory has not happened for any of us yet. I know this because you’re all still breathing, I hope. And if we’re still breathing, we still have a task to do. We do this task not because we have to but because we get too. We serve Jesus because we love him with everything we can offer.

We can rise to Jesus’ call and use our lives to serve him. God won’t require all of us to go and travel the world. But we are called to witness about him faithfully where we are and with what we have. If you’re retired, this means figuring out how to use your new free time for God. If you’re a parent, this means raising your children in the knowledge of Jesus. And to do this kingdom work well but to leave the results up to God. If you’re a teenager, this means making Christianity your own. If you’re in the workplace, it means doing everything as if unto the Lord.  And working hard to verbally share the good news when the time is right. If you’re a student, this means letting the Lord use your desires to further his work. And if you’re a church, this means making sure Christ always overrules comfort.

But what if you’re someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus yet? Does this passage apply to you? Just remember that Jesus suffered for your sins on a cross and rose again three days later. And cares so much about you that he told his disciples multiple times, even when they weren’t listening, that they had to share this good news with everyone.

We can only serve Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the one who brings success and change. He is the one who convicts people of sins and gives them faith. We can come up with new ministries, new budgets, and new programs. We can come up with plenty of things to do and change. But without the Holy Spirit they’ll all fail. This is why we must first soften our hearts to the Spirit. And ask God to give us the strength to do his work.

In verses 9-11, the angels give the disciples hope. The disciples watch Jesus ascend into heaven. And instead of heading back to Jerusalem to wait for the Spirit they just stand there. They don’t understand because they don’t have the Spirit yet. So God sends two angels to get them moving. The angels tell them that they are not to wait there any longer. Jesus has given them a mission and that missions begins in Jerusalem.

But the angels also come with a promise that one day their hopes will be realized. And one day our hopes will be realized as well. One day Jesus will divide the clouds. And all who trust in him will live richly. I know this because we will live with Jesus. This will be our reward and it’s okay to set our hopes on eternity. But first Jesus calls us to use this life for him. He calls us to be his witnesses. He calls us to teach repentance and forgiveness for sins. And he calls us to teach these things in Jesus’ name. Our witness about Jesus precedes our reward with Jesus

Last December this church sent a group of 13 volunteers to France. We went to work and serve at a conference for Christian youth called Mad-In-France. But if I told you we were the only volunteers I would be lying. Because for as long as two years the conference was in the works. People were dreaming and planning and laboring long before we arrived. And when we did arrive we were only 13 of 300 volunteers. But it was all worth it as over a thousand French youth came together to worship Jesus.

Man may have planned the conference but God conducted the event. It was a small but beautiful taste of what eternity will look like. One day people from every nation and tongue will worship Jesus together. But for now we are called to share Jesus till he calls us home. Our witness about Jesus precedes our reward with Jesus.

Photo By: JD Hancock

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