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Witnesses to the World

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2008-05-04pm Acts 1:1-11 Witnesses to the World

            The ascension of Jesus into heaven has been described as one of the most important events in history.  Some say it is even more important than Christmas or Easter.  Of course they realise that without Christmas or Easter, there would be no Ascension Day.

          What they are trying to say is this, the ascension of our Christ is important.  Even though we’re not celebrating the ascension on the actual Thursday, it is worth our time to study it.

          The ascension tells us two things.  It informs us about Jesus and it relates a promise to us.

          First, let us look at what the ascension tells us about Jesus.  After Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared to his disciples, indeed to over 500 people during a period of forty days.  Now, at this point, the disciples were wondering what’s going on.  Jesus is here, but what’s next?

          By now, they’ve all recognised Jesus, and at various times he’s proven that he’s real.  No, really this is important.  Jesus’ appearance, which was both expected and unexpected, was amazing.  He could do things after His resurrection that He couldn’t do before.  He could appear and disappear at will.  He could enter locked buildings.

          He could do things that were the same as before his death and resurrection.  He could eat and drink.  He could touch and be touched.  He was real, He was no ghost.  In this, he sure was different from Moses and Elijah at His transfiguration.

          But what else happened during those 40 days?  Well, we know that he told the disciples to stay in Jerusalem.  We know he told them to expect the arrival of the Holy Spirit, an event that we’ll celebrate next Sunday morning.  He also instructed them to find someone to replace Judas.

          But what else happened?  What was Jesus up to, before going up?

          Most scholars believe that Jesus spent those forty days teaching the disciples about the kingdom of heaven.  In other words, Jesus taught them how to evangelise.  He taught them how to preach, how to teach.  He taught them how to tell the truth about Jesus and His ministry, which they’d seen with their own eyes!

          Now, naturally the disciples would have been excited.  They remembered the times Jesus sent them out, (once just the 12, another time seventy disciples went out) with huge success, they were able to do the same things Jesus was doing.  They cast out demons, they healed people!  They called the people to repentance and faith.  Don’t you think they were excited to do those same things?  And now they had a greater story to tell!  They had to tell people about Jesus’ death and resurrection.

          Now, we know that the healings were a big part of Jesus’ ministry.  But they were not the main point of his ministry.  We tend to focus on that because, well, we don’t see that kind of stuff anymore, or we’re so accustomed to the success of pharmaceutical healing that we don’t give those healings much thought anymore.  But the main focus of Jesus’ ministry was preaching.  Jesus at almost every opportunity was preaching and teaching, even in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was teaching his disciples.

          Now, Jesus wants them to be clear about their ministry.  Their ministry was to preach the good news!  Oh, healing and miracles still happened, make no mistake.  We know that Peter and John healed a crippled man.  We know that Paul raised a young lad from the dead.  Other miracles happened as well, but those accounts serve to show the apostle’s authority.  Those miracles, just like Jesus’ miracles served to demonstrate who they were, who Jesus was, that their authority came from Christ.

          But the main point of their ministry, the very thing that Jesus spent 40 days on earth before ascending to heaven was to teach His disciples how to share the good news.  Can you imagine learning evangelism from Jesus!  Well we do, but we’ll get there in a bit.

          So, having ascended into heaven, we must ask also, how did that help?  Jesus pronounces, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”  So, if he has all power and authority, why is he going away?  Why isn’t he taking over?  Where’s the angelic army?  They helped out Elisha, delivering the Aramean army right into the king’s hands, so where are they now?  Why aren’t they surrounding Jerusalem?  Don’t you think the disciples would have been ready to do some marching around Jerusalem, a la Joshua?

          Come on, now is the time to kick out the Romans!  Jesus, you just said that you have all power and authority!  Let’s get cracking!  Hey Peter, don’t you still have that sword you used on Malchus?

          But Jesus took that time to make them ready for reality.  There will be a second coming.  His time is not now.  Yes, he does have all power and authority, but the time is not yet arrived for His final conquest. 

          But there’s more to Jesus’ ascension.  Yes, we’re still looking at how the ascension informs us about Jesus.  Jesus’ ascension shows that His death and resurrection was pleasing in God’s eyes.  God was glorified in it.  God the Father accepted Jesus’ sacrifice.  And the sacrifice was sufficient to save all whom the Father has given to the Son. 

          Therefore, we have confidence in Christ!  We know that His faithfulness, His obedience, His love was perfect.  His sacrifice has brought life to all who repent, believe and receive!

          We also know where Jesus is.  He has ascended, He is sitting at the right hand of God the Father.  But did you notice the significance of Jesus physical ascension?  The disciples were able to see him ascend up, and up until a cloud covered him from their sight.  Jesus ascended with his body.  The same body he was born with, but also at the same time a new body.  Jesus body was changed, it was made new in the resurrection, it was, as I’ve already mentioned, able to do things that our physical bodies are unable to do.

          Jesus physically ascended and, it says, he is sitting at God’s right hand.  This is very good news.

          This means that we too will be resurrected.  We too will be with Jesus, and our physical bodies as well!  Our bodies will be changed, purified, cleansed, made holy and perfect.  And, as we’ve seen already in Ephesians, we’ll be sitting with Jesus in heaven, in fact, the apostle Paul says that we’re already sitting with Him!

          This is great news!  All these things not only inform us about Jesus, but they impact us, our lives.

          And now we get to our second point.  Jesus’ promise to us.  Well, the promise is on different levels.  We have the promise that Jesus will send us the Holy Spirit.  The reason that Jesus didn’t want the disciples to take off and start doing the ministry he commanded them to do, is because they were not perfectly prepared.

          You see, while Jesus was on earth, he was with his disciples.  They could do things, even when Jesus sent them out on their own; they could do things because Jesus was with them.  But now, having ascended to heaven, he is not with them in the same way.  But in ten days, he will be with them again, in a more powerful way.

          They needed to stay in Jerusalem for Pentecost.  There are two reasons for this.    First.  Did Jesus need them to all be in one room in order to give them His Spirit?  No, of course not, if that were the case, then we’d all have to travel to Jerusalem still in order to get the Spirit.

          But suppose a terrible thing happened to Oilers fans in Edson.  Suppose all the power went out during game seven, ten minutes to go in the third period.  It’s Oilers versus the Leafs for the cup.  Power’s out, and if that weren’t bad enough all radio, cell phone, every communication line is down too!  No one can get the game.  No one knows what the score is.

          Now imagine that someone from outside the community, someone who knows the score, comes along and starts telling people the result.  One by one, he takes people aside and tells them the score. 

          Or imagine instead, that this one individual comes into town, spreads the news that he knows who won, but everyone has to meet at the Curling Rink in order to find out who the winner is.  So, everyone, just about everyone in the whole town meets this guy out there.  He has to climb a ladder in order for everyone to see him.  No one knows the score yet.  This guy, if he’d been a poker player, he could have cleaned house.  Nothing about his expression gives any indication of the winner.

          Finally, he addresses the crowd: Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention?  Like he needed to ask!  This is the final score.  The Leafs 5.  Everyone groans, for before the power went out, the game was tied at 4-4.  He waits for the groans to die down.  Then he says, Oilers 6!  The roof is nearly ripped off the building from the shouts of exultation!

          So it was in the upper room!  The disciples were all there!  They all saw the same thing!  They all received the Holy Spirit!  They all had the power of Christ coursing through their bodies!

          So what do they immediately do?  Filled with the power of God, they begin to preach.  They teach the crowd all about Jesus, whom those people had crucified.  They encourage them to repent.  And 3000 people gave their lives to Christ that first Christian Pentecost!

          What is the main purpose of the Ascension?  It was so that Christ could send the Holy Spirit.  And the Spirit came so that Jesus disciples would be witnesses to the whole world.

          Already in Jerusalem, there were people from every nation around.  Jews and God fearing Gentile were there to celebrate Pentecost.  On that day, they didn’t have to go out to the whole world, for people of the whole world were there already.  They didn’t have to whisper the good news.  They proclaimed the good news, and that good news is even greater than seeing the Oilers win the Stanley Cup again.  No, they had the audience right there!  They fulfilled the great commission immediately.

          But the great commission wasn’t just for them.  Did you know that for a long time people thought evangelism was something that only those first apostles did?  Yep, it wasn’t until William Carey, the father of modern missions persuaded the church that mission work was for every generation, not just those in the early church.

          Now, we support our missionary, Gary and Galya Timmerman.  We support Barry and Angela Smith.  Some of us have already signed up to support Doug and Benita.  As a church, we’ll be taking a collection for them on July 20th.  They’ll be making a presentation on July 6th.

          We partner with Classis Alberta to support missionaries in Cuba.  We partner with our Denomination to support world missions, home missions.  We have members who have gone on short term missions, DRS, Honduras Water projects, Serve.  All those efforts are spreading the gospel.

          Can we do more?  Absolutely.  We might even be able to partner with a couple of churches.  There might be an opportunity to plant a church in High Prairie.  There’s a church in Salt Lake City Utah that could use our financial, spiritual and physical help.  That church, a Cambodian congregation, recently started building a new worship structure, but some kids fooling around in it, burned it to the ground.  There might be an opportunity for us, through Classis Alberta North, to help them out.

          There are ways to minister here in Edson too!  I’m hoping we’ll run the Alpha program this fall.  Really run it, invite friends and neighbours.  Have the meals, watch the videos on our great big screen.  Have small group lessons with people from our neighbourhoods!  Lots of people came through this building for the Rotary Arts Festival.  It will be familiar territory for a lot of them! 

          We can do this!  We have Christ with us!  His promise is true!  Behold, I am with you always!  Jesus is as close to us now, as He was with the disciples at Pentecost!  We have the resources, the strong faith, the solid doctrinal truth; we have the desire to share the good news.  All we have to do is exercise the courage to get out there and preach and teach!

          We have Christ!  Let’s do this!  Let’s encourage one another!  Really!  Let’s hold one another accountable, in a loving and friendly way!  Ask me how I’m doing!  Challenge me!  It is soooo outside my comfort zone, believe me!  But so what!  The payoff is so worth it!  The pleasure, the joy of seeing someone come to know Jesus, is waaay better than any sports team winning any tin can.  No, that doesn’t even compare!  We’re talking eternal life!

          The Holy Spirit is here.  The harvest is ready.  Come on, farmers, what do you do when the sun’s shining and the fields are perfectly ripe?  You get out there and bring in the bounty!  What are we waiting for? 

          In Christ, we’re able to do far more than we can ever imagine.  We have faith, let’s exercise it a bit.  Let’s build on the steps we’ve taken already.  Alpha is totally doable!  Are you willing?  Then stay tuned!  In the meantime, start praying about the people you’ll invite.  It’ll happen in the fall at the earliest.  Let’s start praying now!  Amen!

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