44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” 50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
Good evening to all of you! I am privileged to be here to join you in the worship. I am sure you came here with a purpose: to commemorate our Lord’s ascension! This is the day when we gather together to contemplate how Jesus had his last words with disciples, issued his commission of evangelism, took the disciples out to Bethany, lifted up his hands, blessed them, and departed into heaven. I could imagine the whole scenario was filled with a sense of awesomeness and the atmosphere was charged with a mixture of emotions among disciples.
From the Gospel we read just now, although Luke did not portray on the disciples’ reactions when they witnessed how our Lord rise in the air, and soon disappear into heaven. It goes without saying that this is a defining moment for Jesus’ followers. Words could not describe the heaviness of their heart when they had to wave their hands and say good bye to their beloved Lord. Today, as human being, we often experience separations and partings with our loved ones. I am curious to know how you handle it? At times it proves our frailty in emotions and more often than not we are overcome by it and eventually broke into tears.
I can still remember many years back, when God sent me to teach in a government school, something unexpected happened to me. As I was about to leave the school to begin a new career in newspaper office, I struggled myself very much to face the separation with my students. When they came to know my departure, most of them were heavy hearted to say good bye. During a farewell lunch organized by the Board of Directors, they presented me a song entitled The Red River Valley, the lyrics and tune made me feel like crying. These students were very affectionate and passionate, even after my farewell with them they wrote many letters to me for two consecutive years. It took me quite some time to read and reply, the letters carried weight and were piling all over my desk.
I am not a professional teacher, yet I received so much affection from my students. What more our Lord Jesus who had been a divine teacher for three and half years in the lives of disciples. Surely, Peter and his companions would have controlled their emotions during the separation with their beloved Lord! However, according to the record given by Luke, it says that the disciples worshipped Jesus and returned to Jerusalem with a great joy (V 52). It shows that the outcome of disciples’ parting with their Lord ended with a cheerful note. No tears, no crying, and no sadness at all! Why such a response and reactions?
As you could see from the Gospel, Jesus’ disciples underwent spiritual transformation, their faith had been restored and their minds were opened by our Lord. We must take note before Jesus’ ascension, He had spent 40 days with disciples explaining to them the necessity for his suffering and death, and how the Cross and resurrection were relevant to the Old Testament Scriptures. Just as Luke quoted Jesus as saying “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (V44). From here we can gather our Lord not only enabled his disciples understand the Old Testament Scriptures, but explained further how the promises and prophesies all fit together in his Messiah’s mission on earth.
Dear friends, what a privilege it was for the disciples to listen to Jesus expound the Word, from there they discovered the mystery of Messiahship. Before this encounter, they used to trust Jesus in a flesh and blood manner, but now their spiritual eyes were opened and believed whole-heartedly the resurrected Lord who is above and independent of space and time. Now they began to understand they had a Master from whom nothing could separate them anymore. That was why they were filled with eternal bliss and joy, and they did not leave Bethany heart-broken, instead they departed with gladness, high-spirited, and rejoicing in the Lord!
Dear friends, do you wish to experience great joy just as Jesus’ disciples did? I am sure you do. As Christians, we know very well our joy is entirely different from the worldly happiness. While happiness in the world is elusive and momentary, our joy in the Lord gives us peace, assurance and eternal security. From disciples’ experience, the foundation of their joy is the Word of God. I believe how our Lord opened their mind before his ascension, the Holy Spirit does the same in our life today. Have you ever wondered how to understand a difficult Bible passage? Of course, you could grasp it through inductive study, consulting reference works, and getting guidance from our clergy. Of all these efforts taken, we must not neglect the role of the Holy Spirit, for only He can open our mind, giving us the needed insight to practice God’s Word in our personal life. May the Holy Spirit come, help us, guide us and teach us!
Jesus did not confine the heavenly joy to his circle of disciples, he commanded them to share the joy of salvation to the world. In fact, our Lord took his last appearance with them as the occasion to issue a commission of evangelism, as written by Luke, it mentions repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things (V 47 - 48). Yes, they were given a great entrustment by their Lord, to be witnesses of all that he had said and done. The message was focused on repentance and forgiveness of sins, proclaiming to the world Jesus came not to condemn sinners, but showing them the way to salvation, experiencing the real joy in their personal lives.
Thanks be to God! The disciples did a wonderful work in proclaiming Good News to their community. Through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, they preached the Gospel with conviction, courage and assurance, hundreds and thousands of people came to know Christ! When we take a quick look at Acts Chapter 2, we would witness how Peter himself was transformed from a coward during Jesus’ suffering to a preacher with audacity before an immense crowd at Pentecost. All this took place after Jesus’ ascension. Today, we are also the disciples of Jesus Christ, receiving the same entrustment as disciples in the first century. The only difference is that they testified to what they saw personally during Jesus’ ministry on earth, whereas we bear witness to their testimonies, and to our own experiences of the resurrected Jesus. Though the nature of witnessing might differ slightly, the rewards we receive in heaven are the same. May the Lord use us mightily in the areas of our services to Him in this wicked and perverse generation.
This evening, I could see you came here with a sincere heart, participating in our Ascension service. In some churches today, our Lord’s ascension is not given the prominence it used to be. Nevertheless, you made yourselves available this evening! I can say the time you spent here would not be wasted, and your presence here would be remembered by our Lord. Amen! As for me, Ascension is as important as Easter: celebration of Easter without Jesus’ Ascension is incomplete! This is the day we are reminded how our Lord returns to heaven and sit on the throne of glory! His ascension is the proof that He has conquered every enemy and He reigns supremely far above all. It is my prayer that God will speak to us through the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit, how he touched the lives of his disciples through his Ascension message, in the same way our lives would be touched, renewed and transformed. May God bless all of you, let us pray.