It is forty days since we met here early, early in the morning, or perhaps at 08:30am or at 06:30pm and celebrated Easter 2014. And that was 47 days after we met here on the 5th March on Ash Wednesday. We’ve journeyed through 40 days of Lent, 7 days of Holy Week and 40 days of Easter.
The Ascension is explicitly described only in Luke, but is hinted at in Mark and John, and Matthew draws out its meaning in another way. All of them of course, describe the Resurrection, again each in their own unique way. Just as we can't discuss Resurrection without Good Friday, so too we can't discuss Ascension without Resurrection.
The Resurrection, in short, is presented by the evangelists not as a “happy ending” after an increasingly sad and gloomy tale, but rather as the event that demonstrated that Jesus’ execution really had dealt the death blow to the dark forces that had stood in the way of God’s new world, God’s Kingdom of powerful creative and restorative love, arriving “on Earth as in Heaven.”
The Resurrection declared that the cross was a victory, not a defeat. It therefore announces that God has indeed become King on Earth as in Heaven.
To understand the Ascension requires that we recall what I said a few weeks ago about Israel’s Temple theology. The Temple was the intersection between Heaven and Earth. To meet with God, you went to the Temple.
Now, however, the place where Heaven and Earth meet is a person, Jesus Himself, who is equally at home in either or both of the twin halves of God’s good creation....heaven and earth.
Luke’s Ascension story is that Heaven and Earth are now joined in the person – in the risen body- of Jesus Himself.
The One who sits in Heaven is the One who rules on earth. With the authority of a king, He therefore sends out His followers, equipped by His own Spirit. (On Ascension Sunday we will notice that if Ascension locates a part of “Earth” in “Heaven”, Pentecost sends the breath of Heaven to Earth.) But, as I was saying, the one who sits in heaven sends us out to celebrate His sovereignty over the world and to make it a reality through the founding of communities rescued by His love, renewed by His power and loyal to His Name.
Jesus’ followers, equipped with His Spirit, are to become in themselves, individually and together, little walking temples, rescued ourselves from sin through Jesus’ death, and with the living presence of God going with us and in us.
With His Ascension, Jesus has come to His rightful place, at the right hand of the Father, our Father, claiming the allegiance of every creature in Heaven, on Earth and under the Earth. But He has come to that place and maintains it by, and only by, His humility and self-giving love.
So when the disciples, at the start of Acts, ask Jesus whether this is the time for Him to “restore the Kingdom to Israel” His answer is not, as we might think as we read it, a “no”……it is a “Yes”…but as so often with Jesus and His Kingdom it is a “yes but.”
He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
And that witness, is not a matter of “telling people about your new religious experience” of or informing them that there is now a new possibility of a much better outer-worldly destiny (Heaven) than anything our bleak world has to offer…but you just have to wait until you die before you can get there. No! The “witness” of Jesus’ followers is the message that there is now another King, Jesus (Acts 17:7 "They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.”), and He is the true Temple (John 2:19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”) . He is ruling the world as the one who was crucified. His subjects, servants, followers (in other words, us) are the fuller version of the same thing, so that the dwelling of the living God is now spreading increasingly across and around the world.
In Luke 17:21, Jesus spoke about the Kingdom of God and said people won't say, “Here it is” or “There it is” because the Kingdom of God is within you.
And so at His Ascension the disciples ask, “Are you going to restore the Kingdom” and His answer seems to say no, but it actually says, “Yes, I am……but that Kingdom is now in you. Where you are……there the Kingdom is.” And He says that to you and to me.
This was really nothing new to the disciples, because Jesus had often said to them – when you go somewhere tell people that the Kingdom of God has come near. In Luke 10 when Jesus sent out 72 of the disciples, He said to them if you are welcomed there, eat and drink and teach and heal. But if you are not welcomed, go into the streets and say “even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The Kingdom of God has come near. It will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.”
The disciples (remember there were at least 500 of them) had heard it before, but still on Ascension Day they were hoping for something else.........
Are you going to restore the Kingdom – and Jesus, on his day of Ascension, leaves them and you and me with this answer from the gospels: The Kingdom of God is in you. You will be my witnesses to the presence of this Kingdom, and it will spread from Jerusalem across and around the world. And this Kingdom will spread and grow, not by coercive or violent power, the way of the Caesars/rulers of the world, but by the rule of love, the way of Jesus and his disciples. That was the message of the first Ascension Day....that is the message of this Ascension Day. And just as the disciples discovered that they were the means by which the LORD was restoring the Kingdom that they longed to see restored, so on this Ascension day hopefully we see that we are the means by which the LORD is restoring the Kingdom that we longed to see restored, that we pray for whenever we pray Your kingdom come.
With the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, He has shown us a new way to be human.
The ascended and enthroned Jesus invites/commands us to be fully human as He was, to be the place where Heaven and Earth meet in Alberton (or wherever we are) and therefore to be the place where God’s Kingdom comes and God’s will is done.
Let us pray
This sermon was inspired
by Tom Wright's
How God became King