by Alastair Hayward, Guest Preacher
Who will win?
I guess it depends on the context. Will Bayern win the Champions League this year? Will Liverpool win the Premiership for the first time in thirty years? Will the Cubs win the World Series? Will Donald Trump beat Joe Biden? Will the coronavirus win or will we defeat it in the end? These verses at the beginning of the book of Acts tell us that in the end Jesus wins and is the supreme King of all people.
In the first verses, we see that this is second book that Luke has written for Theophilus, and was probably written in the early 60s AD or about 30 years after the death of Jesus. Together the two books make up about a quarter of the New Testament. Luke was a medical doctor and a very careful historian as he writes at the beginning of his previous book, Luke, that “I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I, too, decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus so that you may know the certainty of the things that you have been taught.”
Luke was writing to encourage Christians to keep on believing, and for others to investigate the truth about Jesus. So if we are already Christians, or are definitely not Christian yet or are not quite sure, this book is for us.
The passage shows us that Jesus wins and so this should be an encouragement to us, especially at the moment when many of us are discouraged as the church in the West is not very strong, and, often, we feel alone as the only Christian in our family or at work or at school.
We often feel like losers.
Also, many of us are discouraged because of the lockdown. I think that we will see parallels in this passage of in-betweenness as we are in-between the lock down, and even though there are rays of hope, we have not yet emerged into the “new normal.” So it was for the disciples. The dark days of the crucifixion and Jesus’ betrayal by Judas are behind them, the resurrection has happened, the Ascension happens in the passage, but the Holy Spirit has not yet come upon them at Pentecost.
So I’d like us to consider three truths that conveniently all begin with G:
- Glorious Ascension
- Global Commission
- Guaranteed Return
“After he said this he was taken up before their very eyes and a cloud hid him from their sight” (v. 9)
Not a grey rain cloud, but Clouds of God’s Glory—like on Mount Sinai when Moses received the 10 Commandments, or in Isaiah 6. Jesus’ ascension was an event that took place in history, and you can see in verse 3 that it took place forty days after his resurrection. It was Jesus returning to Heaven from where he had come, and God gave him dominion and power over everything.
It’s like in 1953. The news of the first climbing of Mount Everest by the New Zealander Edmund Hilary and the Sherpa Tensing Norgay of Nepal reached London on the same day that Queen Elizabeth was crowned so the news of the ascension of Mount Everest and the Coronation Day coincided. But those events are a pale shadow of what happened on the day back in AD 33.
Resurrection Day proclaims that Jesus lives, but Ascension Day proclaims that Jesus reigns forever.
Unfortunately, many have an inaccurate view of Jesus and line him up with Alexander, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mandela. But the Ascension demonstrates that Jesus is completely in a league of his own. Not Jesus the Great, but Jesus the only.
We need to spend more time reflecting on the Glory of God. His Ascension makes sense of his Global Commission, which is my next point.
His Global Commission
In verse 8, immediately before his ascension, we read, “but you will receive power when the Holy spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Further in the passage, we read, “until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs…” (vs. 2-3) The disciples were to be his witnesses and were to wait in Jerusalem to receive power to be witnesses. They were to start in Jerusalem, and then spread out to the ends of the earth.
It’s similar to when you through a stone or a rock into a lake and there is a big splash, and then the ripples spread out to the edges of the pond. Jesus and his kingship are the large rock, and later in the book of Acts we see how the ripples spread out to the ends of the earth.
As we read verse 6, ”Lord are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel,” we notice that the disciples need Jesus’ power. They are weak and confused (like us with the coronavirus). They’re right in understanding that Jesus is the King, but they are also wrong. They are still expecting a physical, territorial kingdom or a political kingdom, but the kingdom of Jesus is not like that. It is not territorial, but spiritual and it is wherever Jesus Christ is acknowledged as Lord.
It is not as a national kingdom tied to Israel. It is it an international kingdom as we see each week in our own congregation. It is also happening around the world. There are now more Christians in China than there are members of the Communist Party—that would have be unbelievable 50 years ago. Do you know the country where the church is growing fastest at the moment? Unbelievable as it may seem, that country is Iran where it is estimated that the church is growing at more than 5% per year. In fact, there are up to half a million believers in the country.
The Kingdom is international, as our church demonstrates this well, and the Kingdom is growing.
The disciples are expecting an immediate kingdom, but that’s not what it is. No, it is a gradual kingdom brought in by truth, and not force but by truth, not by war but by love.
God acts through us. Will we carry on where they and others left off?
There’s an Apocryphal story about Jesus and Gabriel.
After Jesus ascended to heaven, the angel Gabriel approached Him and said, “Master, you must have suffered terribly for men down there.”
“I did,” He said.
“And,” continued Gabriel, “do they know all about how you loved them and what you did for them?”
“Oh, no,” said Jesus, “not yet. Right now only a handful of people in Palestine know.”
Gabriel was perplexed. “Then what have you done, to let everyone know about your love for them?”
Jesus said, “I’ve asked Peter, James, John, and a few more friends to tell other people about Me. Those who are told will in turn tell still other people about Me, and My story will be spread to the farthest reaches of the globe. Ultimately, all of mankind will have heard about My life and what I have done.”
Gabriel frowned and looked rather skeptical. He knew well what poor stuff men were made of. “But what if Peter and James and John grow weary? What if the people who come after them forget? What if way down in the twentieth century, people just don’t tell others about you? Haven’t you made any other plans?”
And Jesus answered, “I haven’t made any other plans. I’m counting on them.”
We are God’s plan, and there is no other plan. Jesus has told us what do and expects us to do it. Look around—we are God’s plan! Jesus wants us to play our part in getting the message to the ends of the earth. It might be by going out ourselves or supporting others who go, or at least telling those around us. There is a saying “Bloom where you are planted,” and we should be doing that.
We are God’s plan and his plan will succeed whether through us or through other Christians.
So back to the question, Am on the winning side? If Jesus will win then are we on the winning side? Does it matter? It really matters. The Ascension of Jesus guarantees the return of Jesus. One day everybody will see that Jesus wins.
The most relevant fact is the return of Christ. The next thing that Jesus is going to do is to come back, as we say regularly in the Creed, “He will come again to judge the living and the dead.”
And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:10-11).
The angels testify that Jesus will come back in the same way that he ascended. Ascension guarantees Jesus’ return. We don’t know when, but we need to be ready for we know that it will happen. The right way to be ready and trusting in our Savior. Everybody will know that Jesus wins so we need to trust our Savior and bow to our King.
There is an old cowboy story from the Wild West in America. A young boy was being pulled by a cart drawn by horses. Suddenly, the horses bolted, tearing ahead on the wild open prairie. A young man on his horse, came galloping alongside the cart, jumped into it, pulled in the reigns, and stopped the horses.
Many years later, that young boy became an outlaw like Jesse James. In time, he got arrested and was brought before the judge—and both the judge and the outlaw recognized each other. The judge was the young man who had saved the boy in the runaway cart! The outlaw quickly relied on the fact that the judge knew him, and would let him off. But the judge said that he didn’t work like that. “Then I was your savior, but today I am your judge and I must sentence you to hang.”
If you are not a Christian today, I encourage you to investigate the claims of Jesus, because through the facts Luke presented to Theophilus, “to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us…having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you…” (Luke 1:1-3), we know Jesus is still alive. If you are not yet a believer, these claims can be scientifically or factually examined so investigate them, I encourage you to do so.
If you are a Christian, you can have confidence that you, as a Christian, are on the winning side. You can have confidence at home, work or school—confidence to keep going and to keep witnessing to your friends and colleagues.
We are called to be Jesus’ witness to the ends of the earth. This Jesus who was taken up will come back in the same way that he was taken up in front of his apostles.
This Jesus wins!