************ Sermon on Acts 1:1-11 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 12, 2013
"He was Taken Up"
A couple of weeks ago Ruth and I took a vacation to Zion National Park. Before we left we gave instructions to the newspaper to stop delivery, to the alarm company to contact David, to our neighbors to keep their eyes open, to our credit card company on our location, to our email server to send out an automated message.
It was more complex when our sons were still at home. Then, before we left, we had to also give instructions about things like school, homework, bedtime, sports, memory work, chores, video games, and so on.
In our passage we see that Jesus is leaving. But before He leaves He gives instructions on what to do while He is gone. The disciples were told to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4). The disciples were told to be witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). "After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight" (Acts 1:9).
I The Ascension Itself
A What sort of image comes to mind as you think of Christ's ascension? Do you imagine Jesus lifting off like the space shuttle, becoming smaller and smaller as He travels higher and higher and faster and faster into the sky? Do you imagine Jesus extending His arms and taking off like Superman? The Bible does not provide us with a detailed description. Luke 24:50-51 reports that Jesus "lifted up his hands and blessed them. While He was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven." Our reading from Acts 1 doesn't add much; it simply says, "he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight" (Acts 1:9).
I looked at various paintings to see how artists pictured the ascension. Most depict Jesus floating upward in flowing robes. One painting of the ascension shows only Jesus' pierced feet and the hem of His robes at the top of the canvas while beneath we see the apostles. As for the apostles, in the paintings they either look upward in curiosity and amazement or they cover their eyes in fear and anguish.
Think about the ascension. Isn't it a miracle? Doesn't it show the miraculous? Just like that the law of gravity is suspended and upended. Just like that a human body leaves the ground and goes upward like a rocket. I love how the apostle Paul puts this:
(1Tim 3:16) Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.It's a miracle, says Paul. It is mysterious and wonderful and majestic. He includes the ascension in this.
There are some who deny a literal ascension because it is unscientific. But this overlooks the fact that in the resurrection body of Jesus higher laws are in operation.
Think of an airplane on a runway. Its many tons keep it on the ground. Before the Wright brothers showed otherwise you would say it cannot possibly fly. But turn on the jet engines, allow the laws of aerodynamics to come into play, and it can overcome the force of gravity pinning it to the runway.So it is with the Lord Jesus Christ. Just as death and the grave could not hold Him when His Father raised Him from the dead, so the forces of nature cannot hold Him to the earth when the time came for Him to return to the Father.
B "He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight" (Acts 1:9). I want to observe that the verbs describing the ascension are all passive. He "was taken." A cloud "hid him." In other words, it is not something Jesus does but, rather, it is something done to Jesus. As I have said before, we call this the divine passive because it is something done by God the Father. God the Father took Jesus up. God the Father hid Him from the disciples' sight. God the Father elevated Jesus and exalted Jesus and seated Jesus at His right hand. It was all done by the Father. It was all done to Jesus.
Why did the Father do this to the Son? It was the reward for a job well done. It was the reward for Christ's earthly life of humiliation. It was the reward that followed after Jesus made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness, and becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross (as we see in the Lord's Supper this morning). Therefore God lifted Him and seated Him and exalted Him (cf Phil 2:6-11).
C Luke was careful to take note of and write historical details that others might have missed. So, for instance, he recorded the historical details of Christ's birth: in the days of Caesar Augustus, while Quirinius was governor of Syria, in the time of Herod king of Judea. He continues that same preciseness at the end of our Lord's earthly ministry by reciting both the place and date of the ascension. It happened at Bethany (Lk 24:50). It happened forty days after Easter (Acts 1:3). Why is this important? The point is that the ascension was a real historical event. It actually happened. Jesus' resurrected, human body actually rose into heaven. A Jesus with our flesh and blood is in heaven.
The historicity of the ascension is emphasized by the fact that it was a public event with witnesses. Jesus was taken up "before their very eyes." A cloud hid Him "from their sight." Luke is talking about the apostles Jesus had chosen (Acts 1:2). They witnessed the ascension.
I want you to notice that none of the crucial events of Christ's life happened in secret. His birth was acclaimed by angels and shepherds. His baptism was done when all the people were being baptized. His transfiguration was witnessed by Peter, James, and John. His crucifixion was done in public. Scripture records twelve resurrection appearances of the Lord to witnesses. Likewise, His ascension was done in public.
The point: there are witnesses to all that was done to and by Christ for our salvation. Doctor Luke, who wrote the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, emphasizes at the start of his gospel that these are all reliable witnesses. He says he carefully investigated everything from the beginning so he can write an orderly account. Therefore, we can trust and be certain about what he has written – about Christ's birth, death, resurrection, and ascension too (Lk 1:3-4).
D Why did God wait forty days after Easter? What took so long for Jesus to go back to heaven? At the start of His earthly ministry Jesus endured the temptation of the Devil for forty days. And, at the end of His earthly ministry, there is another forty days. But now the tables are turned. This time it is the Devil who suffers as the resurrected Jesus triumphantly parades His victory over death and the forces of darkness. For forty days Jesus displayed His supremacy over Satan – to His disciples and followers. This morning, in the Lord's Supper, we are privileged to celebrate this victory of Christ over Satan.
E One last important detail: when Jesus was taken up before their very eyes, "a cloud hid him from their sight" (Acts 1:9). We are to picture Jesus going up into a cloud.
Where else do we see a cloud? In the Old Testament, when the people of Israel were wandering in the wilderness, the Lord led them with a "cloud by day" and a "pillar of fire by night" (Ex 13:21-22). When Israel finished building the tabernacle, the Lord descended upon His tabernacle in a cloud (Ex 40:34-38). The Lord did the same when Solomon finished building the temple – the cloud of His presence filled the temple (1 Kings 8:10-11). At Jesus' transfiguration a bright cloud enveloped Jesus and Moses and Elijah (Mt 17:5). Do you hear what the cloud represents? The cloud represents the presence of God. Thus, at Jesus' ascension, He was hid from the disciples' sight when He entered into the very presence of the immortal, invisible, most blessed, most glorious God.
F "He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight" (Acts 1:9). The disciples did not leave the scene broken-hearted. At the end of his gospel, Luke tells us "they returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God" (Lk 24:52-53).
Jesus left them and they rejoiced and praised God. Doesn't this seem strange? Aren't we usually saddened when someone we love leaves us? Yet, this was not the reaction of the disciples. They rejoiced and praised God. Why? Because Jesus promised them a new beginning. Because Jesus promised them the coming and power of the Spirit. Because Jesus promised that He would be with them in a new, different, and more powerful way (Acts 1:8).
G "He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight" (Acts 1:9). Jesus' ascension has implications for our celebration of the Lord's Supper this morning. As you may know, the Roman Catholics focus on the bread and wine as the actual body and blood of Jesus. But Jesus is in heaven. His body and blood no longer are on earth. So, as we celebrate the Lord's Supper, we lift up our hearts and our eyes to heaven where Christ is seated at the right hand of God the Father.
II Crowned as King
A Jesus "was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight" (Acts 1:9). The story doesn't end there. There is more to the story.
We are told in Scripture that when Jesus ascended into heaven He was exalted to the right hand of God (Acts 2:33; Eph 1:20, et al). It was a glorious homecoming! At that time the crown of thorns was exchanged for a crown of glory! We have ticker-tape parades for our heroes – for instance, the Super Bowl champions or World Series winners or NHL victors. But that's nothing compared to the welcome and glory given to the ascended Jesus.
Do you remember our two openings songs this morning? They were both based on Psalm 24. Psalm 24 is a psalm that looks forward to the ascension. As the conqueror nears the celestial city, the heavenly heralds cry out:
(Ps 24:7) Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.The proclamation prompts an inquiry: "Who is this King of glory?" (Ps 24:8). The reply can only have Christ Jesus in mind: "The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle" (Ps 24:9). Yes, Jesus has triumphed over sin and death and Satan. Yes, Jesus is strong and mighty. Yes, Jesus is mighty in battle. So there is great celebration as He returns in triumph to heaven.
Ascension Day was Coronation Day for Jesus. Now, let me ask: do you acknowledge Him as your Lord and King? Or, as the Lord's Supper form says, we need to examine our consciences to be sure that we resolve to live in faith and obedience before our Lord.
Have you knelt before King Jesus in glad allegiance? Do you serve Him in all of life? Is it your desire to live for Him and before Him a godly life?
B Ascension Day was Coronation Day for Jesus. But that is not the only thing that happened behind the scenes. Listen to these words from Paul to the Ephesian Christians:
(Eph 2:6) And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ JesusJesus is not the only One taken into the presence of God. Those who are saved by grace through faith have also been taken into the presence of God.
In this life and on this earth we experience change and decay. We move from one place to another. We endure disease and violence. We live with the pain of suffering and death. We make mistakes and commit sins. But through it all we know our inner being is safe and secure in the very presence of God.
III Christ's Return
The disciples were looking intently into the sky as Jesus was going, when suddenly two angelic beings stood beside them.
(Acts 1:11) "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."
Do you hear what the angels are saying? Jesus will come back. He will come back in person. He will come back physically. He will come back in the cloud of God's presence. He will come back the same way He went into heaven.
The angels are not saying the Lord's second coming will be like a film of the ascension played backwards, to return to the same spot, wearing the same clothes. There will be some significant differences. For instance, only the disciples saw Him taken up but every eye will see Him return (Rev 1:7). He ascended alone but will return in the company of millions of the redeemed from all ages (1 Thess 4:14).
Like the Lord's Supper, the ascension is a testimony to the fact that someday Jesus will come back. Neither we nor the disciples know when this will happen. In fact, Jesus says it is not for us to know the when (Acts 1:7; cf Mt 24:36). But the certainty is there. God is working His purposes out for His whole creation. When the time is ready, our Lord will return just as surely as He ascended.
The all-important, practical call of the ascension is that we are to be ready for His return. We are to be ready at any time. Because He Who ascended higher than all the heavens will someday descend again (cf Eph 4:10).
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