Sermon Options: May 20, 2012
Taking Care of Last Minute Matters
Whenever we plan a trip, we have to take care of a lot of details. Plans have to be made for someone to take care of the pets, flowers, mail, and other matters. Hours before leaving on the trip, last minute details have to be done.
Jesus had been on earth thirty-three years. He had completed his earthly ministry with his death and resurrection. For forty days he felt he needed to take care of last minute details. We need to know some of what Jesus said and did in the days prior to his ascension.
I. Christ Assures the Reality of His Resurrection (vv. 1-3)
Jesus took time during the forty days prior to his ascension to prove to his disciples the reality of his resurrection. They had seen him die, and they needed to know that he was alive.
Modern disciples need to hear Christ’s assurance about his resurrection. They would know that Jesus has the power over life and death. And, they would know that Christ is present with them today.
II. Christ Teaches About the Priority of His Kingdom (vv. 6-7)
Jesus taught constantly about the meaning of his kingdom. The disciples continued to misunderstand. Jesus wanted his followers to know that the kingdom meant a spiritual rule.
Christians need to keep kingdom priorities constantly before them. What are these priorities? Win the lost, edify the saved, gather in worship, minister to human needs, and live like kingdom people are the priorities of the kingdom.
III. Christ Predicts the Power of God in Individual Lives (vv. 4-5, 8)
As soon as Jesus ascended, his ministry would be given to his disciples. Whatever Jesus had done, they would do; Jesus promised his followers that they would not do his ministry in human strength. They would receive the power of the Holy Spirit.
We are called to serve God, and we have the power. We are called to holy living, and we have the power.
IV. Christ Attests to His Completed Ministry (v. 9)
Jesus would have never left earth if his mission had not been completed. The fact that he ascended back to the Father testified that everything necessary for the human race’s reconciliation was completed.
Believers do not have to work to complete their salvation. They yield to Christ’s completed and continuing work.
V. Christ Promises His Future Return (vv. 10-11)
Soon after Jesus ascended, some messengers came to some watching, stunned, lonely disciples. They told them that Jesus would come again. Who told the messengers? Jesus, of course. He promises his future return.
Christians live in hope for the Lord’s return. No promise of Christ has ever been futile. This promise is not futile. It is certain he will come again.
Jesus thirty-three years on earth were crucial. His three-year public ministry needs pondering. Also, don’t forget to study his last-minute instruction before and after his ascension. (Harold T. Bryson)
Living Between D Day and V Day
The Second World War gave to everyone who went through that era some indelible images. One of those was a word picture that has become a model of the Christian life. It is the distinction in the European conflict between D Day and V Day. When the Allies landed on the beaches of Normandy on D Day the war was not over but its outcome had been basically determined. The ultimate victory and the conclusion of the war in Europe was on the horizon. V Day would soon come.
As one thinks of the coming of Jesus in the flesh (incarnation) and his return in victory (parousia), a similar pattern can be visualized. When we as Christians celebrate Ascension Sunday, we stand between two important events and can look both backward and forward.
On the one hand, we are reminded that the Lord Jesus came to earth and, on the cross, won the “decisive” battle for our salvation. On the other hand, we know that our struggle against sin and evil is not yet complete. The ultimate victory celebration awaits our joining the Lord in his glorious victory procession at the end of time. The text from Ephesians under consideration here reminds us that while we live in this world between D Day and V Day, we can join with the apostle in his great prayer and sense our calling to live with both genuine understanding and vivid expectation.
I. We Live with Understanding
Because the world is not an ideal place, it takes a life of faith and commitment to succeed as a Christian. In this text the apostle clearly recognized the commitment of the early Asian believers (v. 15). But he prayed that in addition to their faith, the God who displayed his power in the resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ would give these Christians a divinely inspired (spiritual) sense of wisdom and of a God-manifested (revelation) knowledge as they lived in the world for Christ (v. 17). A knowledge of who Christ is and what he has done for us is absolutely essential for living the Christian life.
II. We Live with Hope
Beyond such understanding, however, the Christian also needs to live with a sense of destiny! The world is not just an endless cycle of ages as the Greeks thought. For those who know Christ there is both purpose and expectation in the world. Faithful believers (saints) can glimpse with expectant eyes the future hope in their Christian calling. Moreover, they can gain a vision of the wonderful inheritance that will be theirs in Christ (v. 18).
Yet even now they can experience a foretaste of the power of God in their lives—that same power that was evident in the resurrection and ascension of Christ (vv. 19-21). The supreme God has made Christ the Lord of the church so that the Body of Christ (the church) might experience the powerful presence (fullness) of God in their midst.
What Christian, therefore, can not fail to sing, “To God be the glory, great things he has done!” (Gerald L. Borchert)
Listening with an Open Mind
An open mind can be like a garbage can with the lid off —anything in the world may be tossed in! The Scriptures are replete with numerous warnings and admonitions regarding the mind. We are encouraged to “gird up the loins” to avoid “vain philosophy” and to be “continually transformed by the renewing of” our minds. Yet when it comes to appropriation of biblical truth, we must have an open mind.
I. It Is Not Enough to Simply Hear the Word of God
Paul reminds us that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” ( Rom. 10:17 NKJV). But not everyone who hears the sound of a gospel word listens to the voice of the Spirit. In many ways our culture has become gospel-hardened. We have been innoculated with a sufficient dose of the good news to make us immune to authentic Christianity. John 3:16 printed on end-zone placards and bumper stickers is the modern equivalent of carelessly casting away the pearl of gospel truth.
II. The Resurrection Was Not Enough to Open the Disciples Minds
The disciples had been with Jesus from the beginning of his public ministry. They had witnessed the many miracles. Now the resurrected Lord had appeared to them, but that alone could not generate faith. We cannot be argued into faith. We cannot be cajoled into listening to the Spirit.
III. Only the Lord Can Enable Us to Listen with an Open Mind
Luke tells us that the resurrected Lord opened the minds of the disciples as he reminded them of the Hebrew Scriptures that testified about him. How did he do this? We want a method, an approach, a program, or a formula to follow. We are not told. Surely the disciples had heard Jesus expound the Hebrew Scriptures before. Perhaps the difference was in themselves—for once, they appear ready to listen. What Jesus shared with them was not new; they had heard about the Messiah before. It is in the mystery of their encounter with the risen Christ that their minds were opened.
IV. We Have Been Entrusted with a Treasure to Be Both Lived and Shared
Soren Kierkegaard reminds us that a “witness for the truth” is one who is willing to be a martyr for Christ. It is not a title to be claimed glibly. There is more to being a witness than simply mouthing truths. Jesus did not rewind a mental tape player with a canned sales pitch every time he encountered someone seeking the kingdom. He modeled and shared a witness to truth that was personal and appropriate for a variety of situations. No two people are treated in exactly the same way. We must incarnate the truth and share an appropriate word of witness as we are empowered by the Spirit.
Barclay says that this passage stresses the reality of the Resurrection, the urgency of the task, and the secret to their power. Indeed, it does this and more. An open mind to the truth of the gospel is a gift that comes only through an encounter with the risen Christ. (L. Joseph Rosas)