In the "Fountain Room" or gathering room at First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City hangs an original oil painting by a member of the congregation, Gene Stewart, that depicts the Ascension. It is an amazing work of art. For the next two weeks it will join me on the platform as a focal point of the messages.
The first account of Jesus' Ascension we will look at is found in the first eleven verses of the Book of Acts. It paints the picture of Jesus' last moments on earth and the birth of the church. From the invitation at the Galilean lakeside to this moment, the disciples’ every move has been defined by their walk with Jesus. The Ascension changes everything. The disciples will be forced to become the carriers of the faith. They face this moment with fear and trembling, excitement and trepidation. I appreciate the diverse responses because the Ascension is a story that brings together the presence of the Father, the love of the Son, and the promise of power of the Holy Spirit. The disciples are witnesses of when heaven and earth touched and when the power of God moved in their midst. Their story becomes our story.
We begin with the first three verses. In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2 until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. Luke’s account stands against those that said that Jesus’ resurrection was spiritual not physical, or was a grand imagery scheme of his followers. Before Luke tackles Jesus’ ascension, he places the Jesus story in the midst of forty full days of post-resurrection encounters. The babe in the manger, the wandering teacher and healer, the man on the cross, the empty tomb, the resurrected Jesus – this is the story that lays the foundation for the church…..for our faith.
Luke begins a dramatic shift, the Jesus story prepares to become the Church story, but it requires an act of Father. Hear verse 4. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. "This," he said, "is what you have heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."
“Get ready”, Luke reports, “Something is about to happen that will change every.” Jesus tells his disciples, hang on – while they knew that John had baptized people with water, the Father was about to do something. This image of baptism is not accidental. John did not dip or sprinkle people. He immersed them – plunged them – totally submersed them. Jesus wanted them to know that when the Father baptized them with the Holy Spirit they would be plunged into the very nature – the very presence – the very power of God. The act of the Father would change them and history forever.
The disciples were so predictable. Gene you captures them well. Jesus was talking to them about the coming baptism of the Holy Spirit and they immediate changed the topic. 6 So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" 7 He replied, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. Can you believe that they had listened to the teaching of Jesus, had witnessed the crucifixion, had experienced the miracle of the resurrection – and still we asking “so when are you going to become the kind of messiah we want?”
One more time Jesus draws them close and redirects them. God’s kingdom on earth will be up to you. It is you – you – that will become the living witnesses of God. It is you - you – who will carry the good new of God’s love to the ends of the earth. It is you – you – who will do the impossible through the power of Spirit. 8 But 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 ends of the earth." Before we dash to the Great Commission, we need to pause on the first half of the verse. It reads, But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. You have probably heard preachers tell you before that the word of power Luke selects is “dunamin.” “which is the same as the root word for dynamite. But the word carries even more strength than that. It is best defined as “power, strength, authority. Possibly ‘authority”, but more likely divine strength to complete a divine task, here being ‘witnesses.’ The Holy Spirit is the facilitator of this power.”
The power of the Spirit is that we are given the divine strength to accomplish the divine task – that God moves in and through us in such as way that the kingdom of God on earth comes through us. I believe that our temptation is that think we are dipped or sprinkled with the Spirit – with the presence and power of God – because if we embrace divine strength to accomplish the divine task – there can be no excuse for stepping out on faith to do what is required to accomplish the commission that God has given us. Our problem is that fear is not from God. If we are immersed in the power and the presence of God then faith not fear beckons us. You are the carriers of the faith – the hands and feet of God’s kingdom on earth. It is a divine task and you are promised the divine power to do it.
Now the moment, when Jesus would claim his rightful place in heaven and for the disciples to take their place as living witnessed of the Gospel. Hear verses 9. When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. Even now the disciples still weren't sure. The first half of verse ten captures them in much the same posture as the painting. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven. There they were waiting – waiting for Jesus to return – waiting – waiting- and then suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." The two men in white is the same description Luke had used to describe the angels at the empty tomb. If you will allow the Tom Ogburn contemporary translation, “And two angels appears among them and said, boys, if you had been paying attention, I think he gave you something to do and the power to do it – so he’ll come back in due time- get on with your task!” The temptation is to become so caught in our heavenly gaze that we fail to meaningfully engage in the earthly task we have been given I think their words to us might be similar, “enjoy your heaven gazing – now its your turn- get on with it!” There are so many broken hearts and broken spirits that await a word of hope, some many lives that long for forgiveness. Hear that God stands ready to move in and through us. .
How does the Ascension story touch our lives today? Can we be content and let the painting hang on the wall and the story lie flat in scripture, or does it speak to us today?
· It is a Jesus story because it begins with Jesus and carries to the moment he is lifted from sight.
· It is the Father’s story because it promises us that the Father will give us what we need to do all that he calls us to do.
· It is the Spirit’s story because the promised baptism of the Spirit has come and God’s power and promise lives among us.
· It is our story because it paints the picture of the birth of the church and our commission to transform the world.
 The Ascension," Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources. Available online at http://www.textweek.com/mkjnacts/acts1a.htm on May 30, 2008.
May the the presence of the Father, the power of the Spirit, and the heart of the Son fill you and overflow from you today and forever.
Grace and Peace, Tom