************ Sermon on Luke 24:50-53 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 26, 2019
The earthly life of Jesus began with the Incarnation and ends with the Ascension. The story that began when Jesus left heaven and came to earth ends when he leaves earth to return to heaven. It began with promise and ends with fulfilment.
The Ascension of Jesus does not get the press it deserves. Everyone celebrates Christmas with parties, programs, gifts, musical programs, and so on. Hardly anyone takes note of Ascension. We celebrate the birth of Jesus even though He has not yet done anything. We overlook Ascension even though the results of His earthly ministry are clear to all. Maybe we are celebrating the wrong day?!
We go back a few verses and we see Jesus preparing His disciples for His Ascension. We are told Jesus "opened their minds to understand the Scriptures" (Lk 24:45). Or, as we read about the disciples on the road of Emmaus:
(Lk 24:27) And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.Jesus explained the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings to His disciples. He opened their minds to understand that the Old Testament teaches His suffering, death, and resurrection. He opened their minds to see God's eternal plan for our salvation. He opened their minds to comprehend the beauty and grace of the cross and the grave. Their minds were opened to realize Jesus is the fulfilment of the Old Testament promises. Jesus, you need to realize, was not going to leave until they understood the Scriptures, the Gospel, and the Old Testament Gospel promises.
Do you remember how troubled the disciples were when Jesus first told them He was leaving (Jn 14:1)? Do you remember how startled and frightened the disciples were the first time Jesus appeared to them (Lk 24:37-38)? Jesus was not going to leave until He removed all their doubts and fears and questions. Jesus was not going to leave until He prepared them for His leaving.
I The Miracle of the Ascension
A I wish the Spirit told us more about the Ascension. How did it happen? What did God do to make it happen? How fast did Jesus go up? How far did Jesus go up? Did God use wind as He did with Elijah? Was there an invisible chariot? Were angels in attendance? None of this is answered. Why? To emphasize the Ascension is an amazing, wonderful miracle that it is beyond human comprehension, beyond words, beyond understanding. To leave us in awe.
B Our Bible reading begins with a trip from Jerusalem to the small, humble village of Bethany. Bethany is on the east side of the Mount of Olives while Jerusalem is on the west side. A couple miles walk. Why Bethany? Why didn't Jesus ascend from Jerusalem? Or Bethlehem? Or Emmaus? Because Bethany was a small but familiar village. It was there that Jesus stayed with His friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. It was there that Jesus did His greatest miracle -- raising Lazarus from the grave. It was there that Jesus underwent His final preparations before entering Jerusalem to die (Lk 19:28ff). It was there that a woman prepared Jesus for burial by pouring a very expensive perfume on His head while He was reclining at the table of Simon the Leper (Mt 26:6-13). Bethany figures prominently in the Gospel story. Bethany shows us, remind us, what Jesus is all about: who He is, what He does, why He came.
C Jesus led the disciples to the vicinity of Bethany. Then what? "He lifted up his hands and blessed them" (Lk 24:50). I dare say most here don't even think twice about these two actions and what they mean.
"He lifted up his hands." His hands were pointing upwards, towards heaven, towards the place of blessing, because "every good and perfect gift is from above" (James 1:17), because God is good and the overflowing source of all good.
He "blessed them." Don't make light of this. Don't read over this too quickly. This is not some mystical, symbolic gesture. "He blessed them." Something real and tangible happened. They are blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph 1:3). What blessings? Grace, peace, mercy, salvation, comfort, care, love.
"While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven." "While He was blessing them." Jesus can now leave. Jesus can now leave because He has given them all they need to live and minister while they are on earth and He is in heaven. They know and understand the Scriptures, who Jesus is, why He died and arose from the dead. They have blessing after blessing. All their questions have been answered. All their doubts have been removed. All their fears have disappeared. Jesus has made them ready for Him to leave.
The Bible makes clear that the disciples watch the Ascension of Jesus. They are witnesses to the Ascension. In the book of Acts we are told "he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight" (Acts 1:9). Acts tells us "they were looking intently up into the sky as he was going" (Acts 1:10). That's why the angels ask, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky?" (Acts 1:11). They watch until they can't see Him anymore. They watch Him go up in the same way as we have watched the Space Shuttle go up. The disciples watch. They see. They witness.
II The Response to the Ascension
A We aren't told that the disciples are astonished or shocked by the Ascension even though this is not an everyday, normal occurrence. How many times have you seen someone levitated into heaven? Wouldn't you be shocked and amazed and astonished? "While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven." Jesus went to heaven without dying. He is like Elijah and Enoch who both went to heaven without dying (2 Kings 2; Gen 5). Apart from these two men, in this life and on this earth the normal way for people to get to heaven is by death.
The disciples are not astonished or shocked because for forty days Jesus has demonstrated His ability to transport Himself wherever He wishes. He was breaking bread with the disciples from Emmaus "and he disappeared from their sight" (Lk 24:31). Jesus suddenly appeared in the midst of the disciples on Easter Sunday (Lk 24:36). Walls and tombs do not contain Him or stop Him. So it is no great matter for Him to be raised into heaven.
The disciples watch intently, they look into the sky, they watch and keep on watching until a cloud hides Him. We aren't even told they look with longing, looking like they lost someone. That's our reaction when a dear one dies and leaves this earth.
B So, what is the disciples' response to the Ascension? Here is the first reaction: "Then they worshiped him." Throughout the gospels, this is the normal response to the mighty acts of the Lord Jesus. This is why the Magi came looking for Jesus (Mt 2:2,11). This is what Satan wanted Jesus to do (Mt 4:9). This is what the women at the tomb did on Easter Sunday (Mt 28:9). This is the response of the disciples when Jesus walked on water and stopped the storm (Mt 14:33). This is also their response on Easter Sunday when Jesus appeared to them (Mt 28:17).
"Then they worshiped him." I want you to think of pure, unadulterated worship. Spontaneous worship. Heart-felt worship. Informed worship. Adoration and praise. Right then and there they explode into worship.
Realize how remarkable this is. After all, the disciples all are Jews. Jews who live under the Law. Jews who live under the command to worship only God. Jews who are told to love the Lord their God with all their heart and soul and mind and strength. Jews who are told to have no other gods. Yet here they are worshiping Jesus. Confirming something, something important: confirming they know that Jesus is God, that Jesus is divine, that Jesus is worthy to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise! (Rev 5:12). Confirming they know who Jesus is and why He came. Confirming they understand the Scriptures. Confirming all their doubts and fears and questions have been removed. Confirming faith and belief in Jesus.
C And then the second response: "they returned to Jerusalem with great joy."
I think we all understand their joy. Yes, Jesus has left them. Yes, they no longer have Him in the flesh. Yes, they will miss His voice, His looks, His teachings, His miracles, His mighty displays of power, His compassion, His friendship. But thanks to their new found understanding of the Scriptures they know, they know, Jesus is in heaven as the triumphant Lord. They know the words of Psalm 2 are now fulfilled:
(Ps 2:4,6-9) The One enthroned in heaven ... [says] (6) "I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill." (7) ... "You are my Son; today I have become your Father. (8) Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. (9) You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery."They know Jesus is the King who rules from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth (Ps 72:8). They know, to quote from a hymn of the early church, that
(Phil 2:9-11) ... God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, (10) that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, (11) and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.They know. They understand. They believe. They rejoice.
They return to Jerusalem. With joy. No more sorrow in that Upper Room. No more grief that Jesus is leaving and now is gone. No more pain at being separated from Him. No more mourning and crying. All of this has been replaced with joy!
D The third response is more of the first response: "And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God." We know temple worship was meant to be temporary. Up to this point, as Jesus told the woman at the well, the Samaritans worship at Mount Gerizim and the Jews worship in Jerusalem. But a time is coming when the Father will be worshiped neither on Gerizim nor in Jerusalem. Instead, He will be worshiped in spirit and in truth (cf Jn 4:20-24).
"And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God." Which means they sang the songs of ascents: Psalms 120-134. They probably sang Old Hundredth, "Praise God from whom all blessings flow." They prayed.
Notice the word "continually." Always. Constantly. I'm not going to say they were in the temple 24-7 but they were there everyday. They couldn't get enough of God and His praise and worship.
"And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God." This was their response to the Ascension of Jesus. This is our response as well as we praise God in song and in prayer.
III The Meaning of the Ascension
A I want to end with the theological meaning of the Ascension. One way to do this is by taking note of our Ascension Day songs:
Our God Reigns
Jesus Shall Reign
Alleluia! Sing to Jesus
Rejoice, the Lord is King
He is Lord
Do you hear the common refrain? Do you hear what the church concentrates upon? That Jesus is king.
I said earlier that Jesus has fulfilled the words of God in Psalm 2:6 -- namely, "I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill." Ascension Day marks the coronation of King Jesus. Yes, Jesus experienced this same glory before He took to Himself a truly human nature. What is different now is that He sits on the throne as a man.
Why? Why does God crown the human nature of Christ with power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise? Because Jesus has completed His work as Savior; because His atoning sacrifice has been completed once for all time and all persons (Jn 17:4).
B He is Lord. Every knee shall bow. Every tongue confess. Does that include you? He is Lord. Do you serve Him? Do you worship Him? Are you a willing and loyal subject? He is Lord.
(Lk 6:46) "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?If Jesus is Lord, then we do what He says. Starting with the Ten Commandments. If Jesus is Lord, then we love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. If Jesus is Lord, then we love our neighbor as ourself. If Jesus is Lord, then we bring our children to Jesus to bless them. If Jesus is Lord, then we pursue sound doctrine. If Jesus is Lord, then we work to keep the church pure and holy. If Jesus is Lord, we love the lost and pursue them with the Gospel.
We celebrate Christmas. But we are not so good at celebrating Ascension. Now that we know who He is and what He has done let us worship Him as Lord and be filled with joy.
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