Friday, May 26, 2017

Ascension Day Homily

Ascension Day 2017
Where is Jesus?

He was taken up.  But where did He go?  He went up to the clouds to be seated at the right hand of the Father.  This seems a very strange thing to do.  Luke tells us that He ascended after giving the disciples commandments.  They did not quite get it either.  They are left gazing into the sky with puzzled looks on their faces.

Jesus came into Jerusalem heralded as a king. And not just any king. The disciples and even the people thought He was the promised King to sit on David’s royal throne. They thought He was fulfilling the prophecy that a King of David’s line shall sit on the throne forever. He was crucified with the charge that He was a usurper, the king of the Jews.  But it was not Jesus who was the usurper. It was not properly even the Romans who were usurpers, but, rather, the rebellious Jewish leaders, themselves, who declared their loyalties with their own tongues.  No king but Caesar!

Caesar was the authority in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and seemingly
to the utter ends of the earth.  But Jesus gave commands to the disciples after His resurrection. At the Ascension He promised the sending of the Holy Spirit to guarantee the successful outcome of these commands. Namely, to disciple the nations and baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, because they all belong to Jesus.

Matt.  28:16-20- The Great Commission
         Before the Ascension- But they had already been given their marching orders. It was right for them to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Matt. 28:18-20 All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

Some even doubted after they worshipped Him.  They still did not get His universal reign.  They were still looking for a provincial king, one to take back the Holy city.  But Jesus expands their vision.  He could not rule from Jerusalem, because it was too small a city.  He must rule from the New Jerusalem, the heavenly Jerusalem, come down from heaven, because this rule is over all the earth.
Jesus rose from the dead and spent 40 days with the disciples. It is no wonder that they ask the question about Him restoring the Kingdom to Israel. Jesus had ridden into Jerusalem as a conquering King, been arrested, convicted unjustly, condemned, tortured and crucified. He had risen from the dead and appeared to His disciples in various ways, strengthening and encouraging them. They were probably more convinced than ever that now Jesus could not be defeated or even killed again as He had risen above death.
It should not surprise us that the Ascension surprised them. It may have been worse for them than the crucifixion. Just when their hopes were raised a second time, Jesus dashes them again. But when the Spirit comes, they understand.
Jesus prepares them by telling them to wait for the Holy Spirit.  His rule will be wherever the Spirit is present.  Wherever the Spirit is present, there is the Church.  And wherever the Church is, His kingdom is established and His rule is made known.  But they still did not understand.
This is one reason why Easter is not complete without the Ascension and Pentecost.  Jesus was raised from the dead but His rule must be universal, the Ascension, and governed by Him through His mighty power, Pentecost.  So, these great events must all go together.  We have the life of Christ in the resurrection but it must go with His rule. 
We are not made alive to go sit on a cloud, or to stand gazing up into Heaven. We are made alive to take dominion on Earth as His dominion is absolute in Heaven. We do this in the strength of the Lord and by the power of Jesus with us now, His Holy Spirit.  If we understand this rightly, we see that there is no power in Heaven, on Earth, or under the Earth that can withstand the power of God.  The Lord Jesus is enthroned and will rule to the utter east.
The promise of the Father is that the covenant will be established with all flesh.  The unbelieving Jews did not see this at all.  But even the believing Jews did not see much of it.  The covenant must be made new.  It was not the covenant of shadows and types, the Levitical covenant.  But a new and better one. 
The covenant was to be established after the order of Melchizedek.  There needed to be a new high priest, without beginning or end, one that would rule world without end, one of whose government there shall be no end.  This was more than the Jews could comprehend but is fully realized in the Lord Jesus.  He is the perpetual priest after the order of Melchizedek.  This new covenant is based upon better promises.  It is expanded far beyond what the disciples could have imagined.

6 When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?
         This was a very reasonable question.   They did see that Jesus was a king.
         Jesus offered them hope. Jesus gives them the answer but they do not see it very clearly until the day of Pentecost.

7 And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.  8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
         Jesus’s answer is often misunderstood by the modern church.  We are Gnostics and want a heavenly kingdom without a body, without stuff. We want a spiritual church without an earthly church.  But we fail to emphasize what Jesus was pushing at, that the kingdom starts here with the power of Pentecost but it extends from here to the ends of the Earth. The kingdom is a spiritual kingdom but it is not only in Heaven; it is also on the Earth as it is in Heaven.
         Jesus was inaugurating His Church.  The Holy Spirit did not just give Jesus authority and power.  He gave that authority and power to His Church.  Jesus is the head of His Church and as the head of the Church, He is to rule until all of His enemies are subdued.  At the end of the ages, Jesus will receive His Church with all the kingdoms of the earth that have brought their glory into her. 
         He says to the disciples that it is they who will receive power. It is they who will be witnesses of His kingdom. It is they who will proclaim His continuing kingship in Jerusalem.  It is they who will declare that He rules in all Judaea.  It is they who will declare His Lordship over Samaria.  It is they who will take the gospel to all nations and subdue every rebellious king.

9 And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.
         After he explained these great truths to them, he was taken up into heaven.  We know from other passages of Scripture that he was seated at the right hand of power.  Once the Holy Spirit comes, the Church is included in His universal reign.
         They are left staring into heaven in some confusion but they do what He says.  They wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit comes.  And when He does come, the Church immediately explodes and takes Jerusalem by storm.  Thousands are converted and begin to understand that the kingdom is far larger than anything that they had previously imagined. And then it spread through all Judea and Samaria and Paul took the gospel to the known world and we are sitting here under the feet of Jesus at the ends of the Earth. It all belongs to Him.

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