Sermon Options: Ascension Sunday 2023 (Option 1)

April 1st, 2020


ACTS 1:1-11

If, as some legends have it, Theophilus was a lawyer and the book of Acts is Luke's defense brief concerning the value of the apostles, then surely Theophilus noted the changes in these men. And no doubt he had more facts in that first half century of faith than we know. So he contrasted Peter's denials with the boldness of Pentecost; the scattering of the eleven from the cross and their gathering at Pentecost; the doubting of Thomas with the legends of his martyr's death in India; the craven attitude of Peter with his desire to be crucified upside down.

We, too, see the changes in these men and we are inclined to say it happened because of Pentecost. But Pentecost has foundations. All of us want the power and the surety and presence of Pentecost in our own lives, but we cannot have Pentecost unless we have its foundations. The foundations of Pentecost are seen in the account of the days between the resurrection and Pentecost. And what happened in those days can still happen in these days in our lives.

I. They Became Convinced of His Continued Presence
They were assured in their own minds and hearts that Jesus had overcome death. He appeared to groups of his followers—upon one occasion to more than five hundred at one time—at least ten times following his death and burial. They were convinced that Jesus lived, that Jesus was in their midst. Luke, in closing his Gospel, says that after the ascension of Jesus the disciples returned to Jerusalem filled with an abiding joy. These disciples would never understand our concrete signs saying that Jesus is coming soon—he never left them! Our witness to how Jesus was here and is to return soon may be a skewed emphasis; surely we need to sandwich in between these emphases the truth that he is presently in our midst. For this is one key to their boldness.

II. They Became Convinced That Jesus Was Not Through with Them
In the interim between the resurrection and Pentecost the disciples assumed a stance of growth. There was a green edge to their life as they immersed their fellowship in prayer, in thinking through the priority of their experience of having walked with Jesus and having been witnesses to his conquest of death. He had promised power upon them, and they realized that they were only at the beginning of this adventure with Jesus.

III. They Were Strengthened by One Another
Jesus commanded the gathered band of disciples (v. 4) to wait together for what God was about to do. The circle of fellowship formed by human companionship in the three years of their following Jesus was nothing compared to the bond forged by the Spirit as they waited in Jerusalem and prayed and pondered the events of these days. They felt led to replace Judas, to choose another to "occupy his place." And so the core of the church to come was being formed.

IV. They Were Willing to Wait
Ours is not a waiting society; we put the emphasis on busyness and activity. But the Bible is insistent that it is in waiting that we will most clearly understand who we are and what God can do with us. Waiting time is not wasted time. Jesus waited for thirty years before beginning his ministry. And remember, the disciples were not waiting for God to get ready; they were waiting for God to get them ready! And as they waited, they spent time in prayer and study and fellowship.

V. Be Open for Pentecost to Happen to You
If Pentecostal power is to rock my church and my life, I must lay the foundations for such an event. I must be open to the Holy Spirit in a greater way than ever before. I must realize that, like the disciples, I may not have all my spiritual questions answered, for what I need is not more knowledge but more commitment to whatever Jesus wants to do in my life. If Pentecost is to happen in my life, I must realize that regardless of how checkered my past has been, God is not yet through with me as one of his disciples. If Pentecost is to happen in my life, I must be committed to the circle of believers where God has placed me. (Earl C. Davis)



John Maxwell relates a story in his book, Be All You Can Be, about a Stanford University psychologist who did an experiment on productive attitudes. His thesis was that we live for productive results or fruit. The researcher hired a professional logger from a logging camp. The psychologist informed him that he would pay double what he got in the logging camp if he would take the blunt end of an ax and just beat a log all day. The logger was told he would never have to cut one piece of wood.

The man thought it sounded like easy money and accepted the offer. For half a day the man swung the blunt end of the ax, doing nothing to the wood. He then quit. The psychologist quizzed him as to why he quit early. The logger replied, "Because every time I move an ax, I have to see the chips fly. If I don't see the chips fly, it's no fun."

Maxwell commented, "I'm convinced that there are many Christians who are using the wrong ends of the axes, and there are no chips flying. In other words, they are producing no fruit, and their joy is gone. Joy has been replaced by a sense of futility, uselessness, immobility" (Victory Books, 1987, p. 21).

Successful people like to see the chips fly! But how do people let the chips fly to live a successful life?

I. By Living a Life of Faith in a Dynamic God (v. 15)
Successful living must start and end living in faith with an all-powerful, all-present, all-knowing, all-wise God. When we grasp for God to serve, we don't have to waiver in our living. God doesn't move—we do. As long as we keep close to God, our faith will keep warm.

In a previous pastorate I had an office by the front entrance to the church. The front wall of the office was glass. During Chicago's harsh winters, whenever the front door opened, I would get cold! The designer of the church put the boiler room at the opposite end of the building. Monday through Friday my secretary and I would shiver from the cold. Often we found our way down to the end of the building where the heat was high.

One of the keys to spiritual success is keeping close to the heater—Jesus. Our faith in him must not be moved!

II. By Living a Life in the Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation (v. 17)
A spiritually successful life results from comprehending and applying to life all God's grace through the awesome power of the Holy Spirit. Paul wanted the Ephesians to experience all dimensions of God. When they did they were sustained during all phases of life's circumstances—the good and the bad. For the disciple to be successful means a deeper, keener, and stronger experience with the living God as he reveals himself daily through his Spirit. As the Spirit takes control the things of God become more evident and keen.

III. By Living in Hope of a Real Inheritance (v. 18)
A small town in Maine was destined to become a large lake for which the Corps of Engineers had built a sizable dam. A man who was being interviewed said that the most painful part of that experience besides the relocation process was observing his hometown die. All improvements and repairs stopped. Why worry about building repair when it would soon be covered by water? Why fix the potholes? Why pick up the garbage? Why paint over the graffiti on the walls? He said for weeks the whole town was in a state of depression prior to the flooding.

He made this insightful comment, "When there is no hope in the future, there is no power in the present."

I am convinced that for the Christian whose hope is in the resurrection and eternal inheritance, his or her feet will be on the ground with a power for the present! We must not be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly value. Let the chips fly and live life to its fullest—now! (Derl G. Keefer)


LUKE 24:44-53

The disciples, like almost all of their countrymen, had grown up with great expectations of the coming Messiah. Then, as adults, they had staked their hopes on Jesus, the young prophet from Nazareth. In the beginning everything seemed so right—then everything had gone so wrong. The crucifixion definitely did not fit their plans. They were devastated. But then he was alive again! And here he was saying, "Touch me . . . talk to me . . . eat with me." "Why?" they wondered, "Why had it all turned out this way?"

"Everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled" (Luke 24:44 b). Must? Jesus' theology is showing. Events had unfolded as they had because they had been fore-written, and they had been fore-written because there is a God who "calls things that are not as though they were" (Rom. 4:17 b NIV). "Heaven rules," Daniel teaches (Dan. 4:26) . God planned his plan long ago (usually, in the New Testament, "before the world began"). Now, in time, his plan is being unrolled on the table of human events. God will not be thwarted. History will arrive at God's milestones. It cannot be otherwise.

I. Christ Is the Fulfillment of Prophecy
Fulfilled? It has been in vogue for some time now to downplay or deny altogether the possibility of predictive prophecy. As long as the Scriptures are passed through a filter of skepticism it will never be possible that human beings could actually and accurately foretell the future. To be sure, predictive prophecy was quantitatively rare in comparison to the volume of teaching or exhortational preaching of the prophets. But how else shall we hear Jesus who said of Moses, "he wrote about me" ( John 5:46 b)? Predictive prophecy calls Christians to suspend unbelief and believe. Imagine that!

Jesus speaks of the Hebrew scriptures as a threefold canon: the Law, the Prophets, the Psalms. Because the Psalms are the largest component of the Writings (Kethub段m), by metonymy Jesus names the part for the whole. This ancient classification is still reflected in the modern Jewish Bible, which is called Tanakh, being a vocalization of the initial consonants of Torah, Nebi段m and Kethub段m.

In the Law, Deuteronomy 18:18 was understood as prophetic of the Messiah even before Jesus began his ministry. "Are you the prophet?" the people questioned John the Baptist, their query driven by this passage ( John 1:21) . In the Prophets, Isaiah 53 was the text from which Philip began as he preached Jesus to the eunuch (Acts 8:32-35). From the Psalms, Paul was bold to declare, "What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled . . . by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: 'You are my Son; today I have become your Father' " (Acts 13:32-33 NIV).

"He opened their minds to understand the scriptures" (Luke 24:45 a). There are two ways the "opening" has been understood. One is that Jesus directly by divine intervention removed, as it were, scales from their eyes (Acts 9:18) and veils from their hearts (2 Cor. 3:14-16). The other is that the "opening" was effected by the explanations and expositions Jesus went on to give. Perhaps it was their zealous expectations that so tinted their vision and muffled their ears that "though seeing, they saw not; though hearing, they heard not." They thought they had seen an imperial Messiah sketched in Scripture; somehow the Suffering Servant never registered.

Seeing Christ as we want him to be, rather than as he is, has been a problem for more than first-century disciples. Artists have long painted Jesus in their own image. We should pray, with the theme song to Godspell, "to see Thee more clearly."

II. Christ Is the Prophet of Fulfillment
Between verses 46 and 47 is a subtle transition from that which had been prophesied and already fulfilled, to that which Jesus now prophesies and will be fulfilled. It is a transition from past to future events. It represents the transition between volume 1 and volume 2 of Luke's two-part opus, "Luke-Acts" (as we call them). In the Gospel, the evangelist has told the story of the passion and resurrection. In Acts, he will narrate the spread of the faith from Jerusalem to "all nations."

Luke structures the conclusion of his Gospel as a sort of chiasm with his beginning of Acts. Here in Luke (C) the prediction of the preaching of repentance and forgiveness of sins beginning at Jerusalem and then to all nations; (B) the promise of Holy Spirit sent with power; and (A) the ascension narrative, correspond in Acts to (A) the ascension narrative; (B) the advent of the Holy Spirit with power; and (C) the preaching of repentance and the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38) beginning at Jerusalem and then to all nations.

Jesus could thus accurately call the future because he is The Prophet. As he sits upon the throne of his ascension, heaven still rules. May he reign in the heart of each of us as well. (Barry K. Sanford)

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