TRANSFER OF RESPONSIBILITY
Today's messages is about responsibility. That is, the responsibility we have to carry on with the work that Christ had begun. The disciples found themselves in a difficult transition when Jesus left them to carry on his work without him.
Despite his teachings and his presence with them as the risen Christ, the disciples still had a rather narrow view that God's Reign meant the restoration of Israel as a nation. We know that eventually they discovered the radical inclusion of all people of the earth within God's purposes of redemption.
As he was ascending into heaven, Jesus renewed his promise about the coming of the Holy Spirit who would empower them to be witnesses for Christ to the ends of the earth. Then he was taken from their sight by a cloud to return to the right hand of God the father.
The interesting aspect of the story for us today is what happened after Jesus was gone. The words of the angel are a reminder to all of us that we have work to do here on earth. The church today needs people to respond to the challenge of the angels, "Why are you standing here looking up at the sky?"
The Kingdom that Jesus had spoken about all his life was a society on earth where God's will would be as perfectly done as it is in heaven. It is a Kingdom founded on love and not on military power. The Holy Spirit would guide them to make them Christ's witnesses in all the world.
We sometimes hear people say, "I witnessed to my friends today", and other similar phrases. What do we mean when we say that? Aren't we supposed to be witnesses of Jesus Christ at all time -- and if necessary use words?!
COMMUNICATING WITH BODY LANGUAGE. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great preacher, was sharing with a class of ministerial students about the importance of making the facial expression harmonize with the sermon. "When you speak of heaven," he said, "let your face light up, let it be irradiated with a heavenly gleam, let your eyes shine with reflected glory. But when you speak of hell well, then your ordinary face will do!"
A witness is a person who speaks with conviction about an experience in his or her life. If we claim to be followers of Jesus Christ we must speak with conviction about the things that Christ has done in our lives.
Maybe you've heard the story of Clare Booth Luce who was visiting Rome and had obtained a private audience with the Pope. After an appropriate time alone with the Pope, the Papal assistant rejoined the Pope and Mrs. Luce to bring the interview to an end. And he found the Pope sort of trapped in a corner pleading, "Please Mrs. Luce, I am already a Catholic!"
Being a witness also means to bring a very specific bias into a situation, A BIAS THAT SHOWS -- A little boy returned home after his first Sunday School class. His mother asked, "How did it go? Who was your teacher?'' And the little boy answered, "I don't remember her name, but she must have been Jesus' grandmother because she didn't talk about anyone else."
Does our conversation reflect our love of Jesus? Would our words give away our relationship with him? Does our bias show through when we're talking to others, as well as in our actions?
A witness for Christ is a person whose actions speak louder than words. When H. M. Stanley had discovered David Livingstone in Central Africa, and when he had spent some time with him, he said: "If I would have been with him any longer I would have been compelled to be a Christian and he never spoke to me about it at all."
Do people who see us and interact with us experience the same compelling pull towards our Savior and Lord?
I found something else that's really interesting: did you know that the greek word for witness is the same as the greek word for martyr (martus)? A witness has to be ready to become a martyr at any time. To be a witness means to be loyal to Christ regardless of the cost.
Jesus left his disciples and returned to the Father as the Glorified Christ. That means that his disciples were left behind to carry on his work. But Jesus didn't just drop the keys to his filing cabinet in their lap and said, "Ok fellows, it's your baby now."
When Christ was lifted up into heaven he renewed his promise to them: Acts 1:8 you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses. Jesus didn't just leave us in vacuum, saying, "Go tell a friend and lets see waht happens". Christ left us his Spirit. The Spirit of Joy and conviction that Christ is the only way and hope for the world. He left us with the assurance of his presence to carry on his work. Jesus never promised us an easy road, but he promised to be with us, and he prayed for us.
In John 17 we find the prayer that Jesus spoke for you and me just before he returned to the Father. He prayed that God would not take us out of this world, but that God would be with us in the world. That God would give us the strength and wisdom to be His witnesses.
We have the assurance that, when the going gets tough... when there is persecution in our lives... when our witness falls on deaf ears... when our testimony for Christ is responded to with mockery... when people we care for deny and reject the grace and love of God... Christ is with us. He is praying to God on our behalf.
The angels at the foot of the hill challenge us to be faithful to our calling as Christians. Christ laid the responsibility of passing on the Word of God to others on you and me. When Christ ascended into heaven he left us with a great responsibility as well as an adventure of an opportunity.
On Thursday night we heard the testimonies of our baptismal candidates. The walk of faith is something that we enter into with a sense of excitement. It is a mountain top experience for many people, when they first become followers of Christ. But at the same time we know, that our testimony will not allways fall on friendly ground. We know that we will be rejected by friends and family because of Christ. We know that we are going to be like outcast trying to convince people that Jesus Christ is the answer for the world.
And as we take our responsibility as disciples of Christ seriously we do it with a sense of accountability. We do it with a deep conviction of who we are. We are co-creators with God, working toward a new humanity. We are the people of God, bringing love and forgiveness into a world full of anger, fear and hopelessness. We are a light shining in the darkness.
Therefore it is important that we remind ourselves and each other about who we are. We are God's chosen people. We are God's children. We are friends of the Saviour. We are ambassadors of Christ in a dark world.
Jesus promised that he would return. Jesus left us only for a little while. We believe that some day he will return to take us to be with Him. We have His promise in John 14:3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going."
6. Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us. Now its up to you and me to find the people to fill all those mansions. We believe that Christ will return the same way in which he went up to heaven. He will return in the clouds. And when he does, there will be trumpet sounds. He will be calling us by name and saying, "you faithful servant, come and celbrate with me."
Then he will also say to the others who did not respond in faith to his charge, "you unfaithful servant, go away from me. You have no fellowship with me."
How does it look with you and me, when it comes to responding to Christ's commission?
"I know, I know, you don't need to remind me... We fail so often to do what we know Christ would have us do. We engage in off-color jokes, gossip, harmful relationships with other people, and so on. We have our shortcomings, and they are many. Sometimes we even wonder how Jesus could have considered entrusting such a sacred charge to us.
And that is just the wonder of God's amazing grace. God sent us his Son when we were lost in sin. As his redeemed children, God now invites us to intervene alongside with him in the lives of other people. He inspires us to share the Good News of his Law, his love and forgiveness with others. As it were, we are inspired by the Creator of the universe to be co-workers with him.
Here is a story that illustrates the point. Leonardo da Vinci had started work on a large canvas in his studio. For awhile he worked at it -- choosing the subject, planning the perspective, sketching the outline, applying the colors, with his own inimitable genius. Then suddenly he ceased, the painting still unfinished, and, summoning one of his students, invited him to complete the work. The student protested that he was alike unworthy and unable to complete the great painting which his master had begun. But da Vinci silenced him, "Will not what I have done inspire you to do your best?" Our Master began two thousand years ago -- by what he said, by what he did, and supremely by what he suffered. He illustrated his message and he has left us to finish the picture.
Jesus left us with a great responsibility to tell the world that God has a plan of salvation from sin. At the same time Jesus left us with an opportunity of a lifetime to influence people for him.
Let us be a zealous as Luce, who would make sure that even the Pope is on fire for the Lord. Let us be as Biased as the Sunday School Teacher, who would speak of no-one else but Jesus, and therefore could have passed as Christ's grandmother. Let's make sure that our actions endorse the message of our words. And most of all let us be inspired by the Master himself, that we may be found faithful in completing the work He has started. May the Spirit of the Living Christ rule our words and our deeds.
And, one more thing:
"Hold on to your hats! This will be a wild ride."