Archive for the ‘Ascension Sunday’ Category

Final Instructions.

Saturday, May 12th, 2018

TEXT:  Mark 16:19, 20

  ‘After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.  Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.’

                                               

As the evangelists record, on the day of his ascension Jesus was with his disciples in Jerusalem.  He gave them some final instructions during a meal, then when they’d finished the meal, he led them out to Bethany.  He continued his instructions on the way and repeated his promise to send them the Holy Spirit.  They should go to Jerusalem, he said, to wait for the Spirit to come.  Then he raised his hands in a final act of blessing, and as they watched, he was taken up from them until a cloud hid him from their sight.

Jesus’ ascension is the final act in God’s great drama of salvation.  God the Father received his divine Son back to the glory of his right hand, and in doing this, he gave his stamp of approval to everything Jesus had accomplished here on earth.

In his letter to the Ephesians, St Paul points out that the Jesus who ascended that day is the same person ‘who descended to the … earthly regions’.  The Son of God descended from the glory of heaven to the lowliness of earth as the infant of a young woman.  He descended into the sin, sorrow and suffering of this world, for us.

God had seen us in our need.  He’d seen us trapped in the tragedy of our sin.  He’d seen that, try hard as we would, we could never bridge the gap that we’d created between us and himself by our sin.  The only way we could be spared the punishment that sin brings was for someone to take our place – to keep God’s law perfectly on our behalf, and yet to suffer its punishment in full.

That’s why the eternal Son of God came from heaven to earth, from glory to humility.  That’s why he gave up his life on Calvary.  And God accepted this sacrifice of his Son, and raised him to life again on the third day.

To convince people that the sin of all humanity’s been paid for, Jesus showed himself alive on a number of occasions during the 40 days after his resurrection.  In effect, he was saying to his disciples, and us: ‘I’m alive!  I’ve taken all your guilt on myself … all your weaknesses.  I’ve suffered all your temptations for you.  I’ve been punished most cruelly for you.  But I’m no longer dead!  I’ve conquered death and Satan.  I’ve cancelled out all your sin.  Just believe this and you’ll have life with me and my Father in heaven.’

Jesus’ resurrection proves to us that our sin has been paid for.  But to make us even more sure, our Lord ‘was taken up into heaven’.  Because he was completely satisfied with what Jesus had done, God the Father received him back to his right hand side … restored him to the full exercise of his divine authority and power.

As St Paul says, ‘He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe’.

That’s why Ascension is a festival of joy.  It shows us that God’s saving work for us is complete.  There’s nothing more to be done.  Our sin’s been paid for – all of it!  You are forgiven!  Christ’s work is perfect.  No matter how many times we may still fall into temptation – even though we try hard to fight against it – God’s taken all this into consideration.  Jesus’ death has covered it all.

By faith you can be at peace with God – in spite of your many weaknesses and failings.  By faith you have God’s own assurance of a place in heaven, where your risen Lord’s now gone on ahead of you,  You don’t have to work for it; and you don’t have to have any anxieties about whether or not you’re worthy of it.  In yourself you’re not worthy, and you never can be.  But Christ has removed all your unworthiness so you can now have the certainty of faith to say with St Paul:  ‘I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord’.

Our text tells us that ‘after the Lord had spoken to [the disciples], he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God’.  What this means has been well described by St Paul in his letter to the Ephesians.  ‘[God] raised [Christ] from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms far above all rule and authority, power and domin-ion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age, but in the one to come.  And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body.’

The fact that the ascended Christ is now at God’s right hand doesn’t mean he’s confined somewhere ‘up there’ beyond the stars!  The picture we often have of God the Father sitting on a shining white throne above the clouds is poetic imgagery.  Jesus himself described what’s meant by his sitting ‘at the right hand of God’ when he said: ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me’.  As ascended Lord, the God-Man Jesus Christ now fully shares in the rule of earth and heaven.

In a sense, his ascension was like a coronation, by which he was unmistakably declared almighty ruler over heaven and earth.  Within the eternal trinity of the Godhead, the ascended Christ now controls all things throughout Creation, according to his unlimited wisdom and grace.

Now … what does all this mean for you and me?

Think back for a moment to what St Paul wrote in Ephesians!  ‘[God] seated [Christ] at his right hand in the heavenly realms … and … placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church …’

Jesus Christ, the exalted ‘King of Creation’, who is both ‘Son of God and Mary’s Son’, as we sing in one of our hymns, now rules over all things in this universe.  He controls all the forces in this universe, and directs everything that happens in the interests of his church – and that includes you and me.

The ascended Christ is vitally concerned about his church here on earth, and about you and me who’re members of it.  He’s vitally concerned about his church because God the Father’s given him to the church as its Head.

There’ a wonderful reassurance in this thought for all of us who’re members of Christ’s church through faith.  We can have this very real assurance that our ascended Lord is directing everything that happens – on a global and national level, and in our community and our own personal life – he’s directing it all in our best interests.  We can confidently say with St Paul: ‘In all things God works for the good of those who love him’.

In spite of continuing unrest in various parts of the world, in spite of shootings, in spite of increasing drug use, in spite of road deaths, in spite of AIDS, the ascended Christ is still ruling at the right hand of his Father – channelling our lives in our best interests.

So … if you’re sick or have some disability, don’t despair!  Christ is still in control;  God is working for your good!

If you have financial problems, or you’re out of work, or your income’s taken a dive, don’t lose courage!  God knows!

If your children let you down, or your marriage has broken up or is under stress, don’t throw in the towel!  Christ is on your side, and he’s still in control.

So often when trouble comes we give in to despair.  ‘What’s the use?’ we ask.  ‘Where’s God?  Why doesn’t he help?’

Your heavenly Father is always there, and Christ is at his right hand.  He’s in charge, and he rules everything in this universe in the best interests of those who’re his.  He only has your good in mind in the way he deals with you.  You mightn’t always see it at the time, but you will … with the wisdom of hindsight!

And beyond this life he’s prepared a place for you in the never-ending glory of his Father’s presence.

So …you can face each day confidently, trusting in the almighty rule of your ascended Lord and King.

However, Jesus’ ascension to God’s right hand doesn’t mean he’s left his disciples – ancient or modern – to our own devices, to flounder around by ourselves in a world that by and large is antagonistic to all he stands for.  Shortly before he parted from his disciples he assured them: ‘I am with you always, to the end of the age’.

True, he did withdraw his visible presence from them, but as the ever-present God he continued to be with them, and he continues to be with his disciples of all ages.

As those early disciples went out to preach his gospel in all the world they realised more and more how close the ascended Christ was.  Mark tells us:  ‘The disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by signs that accompanied it.

Those men were very much aware of the presence of their Lord, and of his Spirit, in their lives.  On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came to them, as Jesus promised.  They went out to preach and teach with new boldness … to witness and baptise. And as they did this, the ascended Lord himself worked through them.  He confirmed and strenthened their spoken word with signs – a lame man healed, Saul the persecutor converted to Paul the Apostle, lives changed, faith strengthened, deeds of love and service.  The mass conversion on Pentecost, and the spectacular growth of Christianity in spite of strong opposition – even persecution – all this testifies to the fact that the ascended Christ works mightily in and through his followers.

The same Lord is still close to each one of us today.  He’s put us into this world for a special purpose – just as the apostles had a special purpose.  His purpose for you is not that you should selfishly live just for yourself.  You’ve been called to live under Christ and serve him and witness to his love.  And he wants to work through you as he worked through his chosen 12.

There’s a story that tells of Jesus’ return to heaven.  The angels Michael and Gabriel were there to welcome him.  They congratulated him on his victory over Satan, and for having drawn so many disciples to follow him.  ‘But’, they asked, ‘what’ll happen now that you’ve withdrawn from the world?’

‘I’ve provided for that’. Jesus told them.  ‘I have Peter and John and the other Apostles to go out and preach in my name.’

‘But how will people of later ages come to know what you’ve done for them?’ Gabriel asked.

‘I’ve arranged for that, too.’ Jesus said. ‘ I’ve charged my people throughout history to be my witnesses and tell people about my love for them.’

 ‘But what if they let you down?’ Gabriel asked in awed tones.

‘I have no other way’, Jesus replied.

It’s just a story, but it makes a challenging point.  To each of us the Lord says, ‘Go into all the world, starting with your own home and community.  Go and preach and live my gospel, and witness to my grace.  And don’t be concerned about your weaknesses and inadequacies, because “I am with you …”

As you respond to this call as a member of Christ’s body and of this St Peter’s congregation, you too will see the signs of your Lord’s mighty presence, and of his power at work in and through you and your fellow members: children and adults drawn into the body of Christ through baptism; some friend or relative who comes to new life in Christ; growth in your own faith and in the love that expresses that faith; prayers answered; lives changed.  These are the kind of signs that show the ascended Lord is still mightily active in his church, and in you today.

Rejoice that your salvation has been completed, and that you are a forgiven child of God, with an eternal destiny in heaven!  Rejoice that the ascended Christ rules over all in his powerful, loving way.  Rejoice that he continues to work in and through his church on earth to draw people to himself!  And rejoice that he works also in and through you, in spite of your all-too-human frailties!

Rejoice, the Lord is King!

 Your Lord and King adore!

Jesus, the Savjour reigns,

  The God of truth and love;

His kingdom cannot fail,

  He rules o’er earth and heaven.

He sits at God’s right hand …

  Lift up your heart, lift up your voice!

Rejoice, again I say, Rejoice!

Amen.

Rev Robert J Wiebusch

Ascension power

Sunday, May 21st, 2017

It is a terrible thing to feel powerless. It is terrible thing to feel helpless in the face of something that threatens your happiness and health.

Imagine what it must be like for those parents with children who live in countries where there is continual hostility and fighting. (East Timor springs to mind this week.) Daily parents must fear for the safety of their children. They fear that one day a stray bullet will take the life of one of their children as they are playing or going to school. How powerless and helpless they must feel! They can’t do anything to stop the fighting. They have no where else to go.

On one Friday afternoon a teenage boy was seen walking home carrying all of his school books. Those who saw him said to one another, “What a nerd! He must be going to spend all his weekend studying.” A bunch of kids ran up to him, knocked the books out of his arms and tripped him so he landed in the dirt. He got up with tears in his eyes, picked up his books and went on. It seems he had cleared out his locker at school for a reason. That night he killed himself.

For a young person to do that, he must have been feeling completely helpless and powerless to bring about any change in his life. He could see no reason to continue his existence. How terrible it is to feel useless and powerless!

There are times when we all feel helpless.
We may feel helpless in the face of illness or surgery.
We may feel powerless to change the direction our children are taking.
Or we might feel incapable of changing our lifestyle, or our habits.
Many people admit they need a power beyond their own power to solve such issues. Some turn to astrology, fate, crystals, science, “someone up there” or some universal force to find a greater power than themselves.

The characters in the Star Wars movies refer to a power that holds the universe together. Humans can tap into this universal force when the odds are against them. When faced with the seemingly hopeless task of defeating a far greater enemy, they encourage one another with, “The Force be with you”. TV series and movies explore the possibility of the existence of powers, you might say supernatural powers, that are greater than anything we know – powers that are able to help us in our everyday problems.

Why am I bringing up all of this here this morning? The answer is this – today we heard from God’s Word about a single, continuous, unbroken power. In the brokenness of our world, there is a power that is far greater than all other powers;
a power that is real;
a power that meets us at the point of our need;
a power that is dependable and consistent.

It is the power that God has shown for us in the Lord Jesus Christ.
We see the power of God on the cross when out of love he gave up the life of his Son for our sake. God used his power to load all the sin of all humanity unto the shoulders of the One who died on a cross.
With power, God brought Jesus to life again when he raised him from the grave and then gave him all power and authority when Jesus returned to heaven.

The power that you and I possess, and even the power of the great forces that shape the world, are temporary and in comparison to God are very feeble indeed. God’s power, however, is permanent, and St Paul is at great pains to make sure we know it. He wrote this,
“He raised Christ from death and let him sit at his right side in heaven.
There Christ rules over all forces, authorities, powers, and rulers.
He rules over all beings in this world and will rule the future world as well.
God has put all things under the power of Christ,
and for the good of the church he has made him the head of everything”
(Eph 1:21-22 CEV (1) ).

It is important to note that Paul emphasises God’s power in the context of prayer. The apostle is praying for the people at Ephesus. He is praying that they might receive the Holy Spirit so that they will know the hope that comes from knowing Jesus. He prays that they might know the great and mighty power of God.

And where does Paul turn to see evidence of this power? He doesn’t turn to creation to find proof of God’s power – the power of the sun and stars, of volcanoes and cyclones, of tidal waves and earthquakes, of sunset and sunrise. If you have ever seen those programs on TV that vividly describe the force of any of these, there can be no doubt that these are indeed powerful.

Neither does Paul look for evidence of God’s power in the events of human history. There we find more often than not the corruption and misuse of power to bring misery and fear into people’s lives. You only need to look at a little country like Afghanistan where the power held by the opposing military forces has brought so much fear, death and grief to the people of the country.

God’s power is based on love. Because of his love for us God used his power to “raise Christ from death and seated him at his right side in the heavenly world.” Christ rules there over all other powers and authorities not as a cruel, distant and unfeeling tyrant, but he rules with love. The Lordship of Jesus is total. All things have been put under his feet (control). He rules the world and the church totally and completely. And in contrast to the way humanity has abused power which has resulted in cruelty and suffering, God’s power and God’s love go hand in hand. The apostle Paul sees the greatest sign of God’s power is his love.

When the disciples saw Jesus ascend to heaven until he was hidden from their sight by a cloud, they must have suddenly felt all alone. They had experienced this kind of feeling once before when Jesus was arrested, tortured and then killed on a cross. They felt helpless and weak against the authorities who could have come at any moment and arrested them. But Jesus came alive again and all was well for a while. But now he was gone again. This time they knew that this would be for a lot longer time. But this time their reaction is quite different. This time there is no fleeing, no hiding, no grief, and no remorse. Instead we are told “they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy and spent all their time in the Temple giving thanks to God” (Luke 24:52,53).

Jesus was gone but they rejoiced. They knew that wherever they went and whatever they did; Jesus would be there with them. From that moment on the disciples were never beyond the reach of Jesus. Previously they could be separated from Jesus by a door or wall or a stormy lake. Now there was no barrier that could keep him from them. Now Jesus was always available and present with power to help, strengthen and comfort them when they needed it the most.

Jesus did go up, ascend and leave the disciples that day, but he left this earth so that he could be the ever and always present God. He is Lord of all and wherever we go on this earth, under the sea or out in the depths of space, he is there – he is there with power.

The power of Jesus isn’t like any power that we know on this earth.
His power redefines, changes our lives. It recreates us as his new people through the water of baptism.
His power is stronger than death – it gives eternal life.
His power forgives even our worst sins.
His power gives us new directions – daily it kills everything that is evil and corrupting in our lives and renews us as his chosen people.
His power gives us his body and blood in a piece of bread and a sip of wine.
His power gives us faith through the Word of God.

He is ready to use his power in our lives, our families, and our work places; he is ready to use his power when we are overcome with fear, worry, grief, and pain. Just before Jesus ascended to heaven he said, “I will be with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). That means that Jesus not only has the power to be present in our lives as we come to terms with what is happening, but as Lord of lords and King of kings he has the power to do something about it.
When we learn that we have a serious health problem;
when we hear the news that someone close to us has died;
when we worry about money, our children, our job or lack of it;
when we are upset, hurt, guilty, angry or depressed;
when we have to make difficult decisions about the future;
we are reminded that the ascended Jesus is close by and ready to use his power.

When we pray we are praying to the one who is the “supreme Lord over all things”. We know that he has the power and the knowledge to answer our prayers in the ways that are the best for us. He is waiting to use his power on our problems. He is waiting for us to call on his name. The writer to the Hebrews encourages us, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb 4.16). Because Christ rules with grace and love, we know that he doesn’t treat us the way we deserve to be treated because of our sin, but rather he understands our predicament and gives us divine help and strength.

I can say with confidence that we don’t take seriously the fact that Jesus is Lord.
If we are serious about God’s power in our lives and certain that God uses his power everyday in our lives then we would honour, love and trust him more than we do.
If people are certain about the lordship of Jesus, then this church would be packed with worshippers every Sunday.
If people are sure that Jesus rules with love in the very ordinary affairs of their lives, forgiving their sins, strengthening their faith in times of trouble, then they would respond with praise and worship.
If we seriously believe that Jesus is not some distant deity, but walks this earth with us, then our lives would be real testimonies to the lordship of Jesus as people see in us love, patience, tolerance and understanding and a firm belief that Jesus can handle anything in our lives.
If we seriously believe that we are the children of our loving Lord what an impact this would have on the church. Nothing would stand in our way of serving our Lord with whatever time and talents and money that God has made available to us.

We thank God that Jesus is more than just a powerful king – that kind of absolute power could be too scary. But Jesus is our loving Lord. He knows our weaknesses and lack of commitment to doing what God wants us to do. That’s why he died for us. He is our loving Lord who empowers us to be his people and to make a difference in the church in the world.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

 

Famous Last Words

Monday, May 2nd, 2016

Famous Last Words

Acts 1:8 (236)

 

image001You’re watching an exciting movie on TV, and one of the characters is about to die.  As he lies there on a hospital bed, he whispers some final words to his family.  You quickly turn the volume up, but can’t quite hear what he says.

They may have been words of farewell, words of advice, words offering forgiveness, or maybe words that told the rest of the family where the treasure was buried.

People’s last words can often be significant.  They can have some importance.  They can even be remembered and passed down from one generation to the next.

And that’s the case when it comes to a number of “last words” that some characters in the Bible have spoken.  We’re going to have a look at a few today and see what significance they have for us today.

We’re going to start with Moses.  Towards the end of his life God took Moses up on to a mountain, and while he was there God showed him the land that the Israelites were going to inherit.

Just before he died, Moses pronounced a blessing on his people, and the last words of his blessing were these: Israel, you will live in safety; your enemies will be gone.  The dew will fall from the sky, and you will have plenty of grain and wine.  The Lord has rescued you and given you more blessings than any other nation.  He protects you like a shield and is your majestic sword.  Your enemies will bow in fear, and you will trample on their backs.  (Deuteronomy 33:28,29).

In these last words of Moses, he acknowledged that Israel was very blessed because God was their Lord.  He had led them safely through 40 years wandering in the desert, and was about to give them a country where they could settle down, grow crops and plant vineyards, have victory over their enemies, and live in security.  They could be confident that God would continue to provide for them.  God was in control.

Famous last words from Moses: God was in control!

Another very well known Old Testament character was David, King David.  He had some “famous last words” as well.  We read in 2 Samuel 23:3-5.  Our Mighty Rock, the God of Jacob, told me, ‘A ruler who obeys God and does right is like the sunrise on a cloudless day, or like a rain that sparkles on the grass.’  I have ruled this way, and God will never break his promise to me.  God’s promise is complete and unchanging.  He will always help me and give me what I hope for.

David was chosen by God to carry out a specific task.  He was to make Israel a great nation, and bring honour and glory to God.  David didn’t do this perfectly by any means.  In fact, there are episodes in his life that can only be described as being very questionable.

But at the end of his life he could look back and see that through it all, it was only because of God that he and his kingdom survived.  It was because of God’s covenant, God’s promise that David was able to achieve anything.

Famous last words from David: God was in control!

You might remember three men by the name of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  They were three friends of Daniel, who were thrown into a fiery furnace because they weren’t prepared to bow down and worship anyone but God himself.  They were prepared to die and to remain faithful to God, rather than to obey King Nebuchadnezzar.

As they were about to be killed they cried out to the king: Your majesty, we don’t need to defend ourselves.  The God we worship can save us from you and your flaming furnace.  But even if he doesn’t, we still won’t worship your gods and the gold statue you have set up. (Daniel 3:6-18).

There was no way that they were going to turn their backs on God, because he’d never let them down.  And even though it meant certain death for them, they were confident that God would watch over them

Famous last words from Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego: God was in control!

As it turned out, these weren’t their last words at all, because God rescued them, but they weren’t sure that he was actually going to, so we can still consider them being “famous last words”.

Then there was Simeon, a priest in the temple in Jerusalem.  God had promised him that before he died, he would see with his own eyes, the fulfilment of God’s promise of a Saviour.  Simeon would see Jesus.

So just after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph took him to the temple; Simeon took the baby in his arms and said: Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your Word.  For my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all people; a light to reveal you to the nations, and the glory of your people Israel. (Luke 2:29-32).

Simeon thanked and praised God that he was able to see what God had promised hundreds of years before.  He was prepared to die in peace, knowing that Jesus the Saviour had come. So “famous last words” for Simeon were that God was in control!

Not too many years afterwards a man called Stephen spoke some words too that have been acknowledged as being “famous last words”.

He’d preached a fairly strong sermon, and some people had taken exception to it because they couldn’t accept the fact that he’d said they were partly responsible for Jesus’ death.  They dragged Stephen out of the city and began to stone him to death.

While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed: “Lord, Jesus, receive my spirit.”  Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord do not hold this sin against them.”  When he had said this, he died. (Acts 7:59,60).  Stephen was prepared to face death, confident that God would give him all he needed to remain strong in his faith, confident that God would take him to himself in heaven.

Stephen’s “famous last words” – God was in control even in the face of a difficult and painful death.

And that was very similar to another situation.  When Jesus was hanging on the cross he spoke a number, seven in fact “famous last words”.  And the last of these was: Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.  (Luke 23:46).

The work that he had come to do was completed, and he was giving up his life, so that we could have life after death.  In the face of what seemed like failure and tragedy, Jesus acknowledged that God was in total control.

This was no unlucky and unhappy ending to Jesus’ life and ministry.  It was the beginning of something new and exciting.  There was no misfortune or catastrophe here.  God was in control and everything was going to plan.  Jesus’ resurrection from the dead was just around the corner.

But these weren’t really the last words of Jesus.  Forty days after his resurrection, just before he ascended into heaven he spoke some “famous last words” again.  He had his disciples gathered round him and said: The Holy Spirit will come upon you and give you power.  Then you will tell everyone about me in Jerusalem, in all Judea, in Samaria, and everywhere in the world.  (Acts 1:8).

Jesus was leaving, but the Holy Spirit was coming.  The disciples wouldn’t be alone.  Jesus was going but nothing was going out of control.  God the Father still had, and has, control over the work that Jesus began.  Through his Spirit, this work was going to continue.

And through his Spirit that work continues today in and through God’s spirit-filled people – you and me.  We look around and see what’s happening in our world, and even in God’s church at times, and wonder how we can ever be a positive influence, and what little good we can do.

But God’s still in control – and always will be.  That’s his promise.  That’s his “famous last words” if you like – words that he wants us to hold on to, to trust in, and to look on as being all that we need to continue to serve faithfully.

Have you ever thought what your last words may be?  They may be words of farewell, words of advice, words offering forgiveness, or maybe even words that let your family know where the treasure is buried.

Whatever you last words may be, you can be sure that as you face death, you can be absolutely confident that death is not the end of your existence.  Christ has overcome death, and nothing can ever separate you from his love.

But this assurance is yours not just as you face death – it’s also there for you as you face life, and all the difficulties and challenges that you have before you.

God was, and God is, in control.  Amen.

Bishop Mark Leischke