Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder
May 20, 2012, Easter VII – Ascension Sunday
Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53
From The Acts of the Apostles:
“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end
to the earth.”
From the Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians:
The immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe, according to the working of his great might which he accomplished in Christ when he raised him
from the dead and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places.
And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached
in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our
A few weeks ago, I received a Summons for Jury Service from the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. I could be called to serve
as a Juror at any time during a fifteen day period. So, I called the court on Friday evening as instructed and found out that I was not needed for this
coming week, however, I was instructed to call next Friday to find out if I was needed for the following week.
I am sure that all of us have received a similar summons in the mail to serve as a juror. Sometimes we get picked to serve on a court case and other times
we spend the day reading a good book.
About five years ago, I received a summons from this same court and I was picked to serve on the jury. I don’t need to go into the details of the case, but
I would like to talk a little about the process.
The prosecution and defense calls witnesses to the stand. The witness is asked, “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,
so help me God?” And the witness should answer, “I do!” This can be a challenge for a witness to remember all the details, since many cases do not come to
court until several months, if not a year after the alleged crime has been committed.
A witness is somebody who sincerely tells what he has seen and heard. When you are a witness on the witness stand in court, the judge is not interested in
your ideas or opinions; he only wants to hear what you know. So, the jury listens to one witness after another as they testify as to what they know about
the alleged crime. Some witnesses are helpful in getting at the truth, while others may be considered “hostile” and very little information is obtained
from them. Then the jury will deliberate; discuss and sometimes argue as they attempt to piece together the truth of what happened and render a verdict.
As Christians, we are not judges, juries or prosecuting attorneys sent to condemn the world. We are witnesses who point to Jesus Christ and tell lost
sinners how to be saved.
After Jesus’ resurrection, He remained on earth for forty days and ministered to His disciples. We all know the chain of events: Jesus was crucified, dead
and buried and on the third day He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. Today is Ascension Sunday, approximately forty days after Easter. Some of
us may think that when Jesus rose from the dead He immediately went to heaven, but He didn’t. He stayed on earth and ministered to His disciples for forty
days. Why? Because He had more to teach them before they went out and became His witnesses.
Jesus had already opened their minds to understand the Old Testament message about Himself (Luke 24:44-48), but there were other lessons they needed to
learn before they could start their new ministry. After all, the believers were not being sent into the world to share their own personal experiences but
to share the truths of the Word of God. Today we cannot touch and feel the Lord Jesus, nor is it necessary that we do so; but we can rest our faith on the
Word of God (1 John 1:1-5). We need to feed on His Word; read the Bible, seek the truth and call on the power of His Holy Spirit and become effective
witnesses for Jesus Christ. How great it would be if five or ten more people would make the commitment and attend our Bible study!
Jesus not only enabled them to understand the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms, but He also reminded them of what He had taught them, and He explained how
it all fit together. Now they began to understand the necessity for His suffering and death and how the Cross related to the promise of the kingdom.
Jesus appeared and disappeared during those forty days, and the believers never knew when He might show up. It was excellent preparation for the church
because the days were soon coming when He would no longer be on earth to instruct them personally. It’s somewhat similar for us Christians today; we never
know when our Lord will return.
The message of the Gospel rests on the death of Jesus Christ and His resurrection (1 Cor. 15:1-8). The Apostles were sent out as witnesses of His
resurrection (Acts 1:22), and the emphasis in the Book of Acts is on the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This explains why Luke climaxed his book with a report of some of the appearances of Jesus after He had been raised from the dead. He first appeared to
Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18), then to the “other women” (Matt. 28:9-10), and then to the two men on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-22). At some time, He
also appeared to Peter (Luke 24:34) and to His half brother James (1 Cor. 15:7).
One evening, He appeared to the Apostles (Luke 24:36-43), but Thomas was not with them (John 20:19-25). A week later, he appeared to the Apostles again,
especially for the sake of Thomas (John 20:26-31). He appeared to seven of the Apostles when they were fishing at the Sea of Galilee (John 21). He appeared
several times to the Apostles before His ascension, teaching them and preparing them for their ministry (Acts 1:1-12).
The Lord taught His disciples several important lessons during those forty days. To strengthen their faith, He gave them “many infallible proofs,” which
St. Luke did not explain. We know that when Jesus met His disciples, He invited them to touch His body, and He even ate before them (Luke 24:38-43).
Whatever proofs He gave, they were convincing.
Faith in His resurrection was important to the church because their own spiritual power depended on it. If Jesus were dead, the church would be speechless.
Also, the official Jewish position was that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body from the tomb (Matt. 28:11-15), and the believers had to be able to refute
this as they witnessed to the nation.
These believers were chosen to be special witnesses of Christ’s resurrection, and that was the emphasis in their ministry (Acts 1:22). Most of the people
in Jerusalem knew that Jesus of Nazareth had been crucified, but they did not know that He had been raised from the dead. By their words, their walk, and
their mighty works, the believers told the world that Jesus was alive!
When you read the four Gospels, you discover that the Apostles had a strongly political view of the kingdom. Being loyal Jews, they longed for the defeat
of their enemies and the final establishment of the glorious kingdom under the rule of King Messiah. They did not realize that there must first be a
spiritual change in the hearts of the people.
Jesus did not rebuke them when they “kept asking” about the future Jewish kingdom (Acts 1:7). After all, He had opened their minds to understand the
Scriptures (Luke 24:44), so they knew what they were asking. But God has not revealed His timetable to us and it is futile for us to speculate. The
important thing is not to be curious about the future but to be busy in the present, sharing and witnessing the message of God’s spiritual kingdom.
Our Lord’s ascension into heaven was an important part of Jesus’ ministry, for if He had not returned to the Father, He could not have sent the promised
gift of the Holy Spirit (John 16:5-15). Also, in heaven today, the Saviour is our interceding High Priest, giving us the grace that we need for life and
service (Heb. 4:14-16). He is also our Advocate before the Father, forgiving us when we confess our sins (1 John 1:9-2:2). The exalted and glorified Head
of the church is now working with His people on earth and helping them to witness and accomplish His purposes (Mark 16:19-20).
Next Sunday we will be celebrating Pentecost. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the church and empowered them to preach the Word (Acts 2).
After Pentecost, the Spirit continued to fill them with great power.
The power is seen in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament, people measured God’s power by His creation (Isa. 40:12-27) or by His miracle
at the Exodus of Israel from Egypt (Jer. 16:14). But today, we measure God’s power by the miracle of Christ’s resurrection. Much more was involved than
merely raising Him from the dead for Christ also ascended to heaven and sat down in the place of authority at the right hand of God. He is not only
Saviour; He is also Sovereign (Acts 2:25-36), No authority or power, human or in the spirit world, is greater than that of Jesus Christ, the exalted Son of
God. He is “far above all” powers.
How does this apply to us? St. Paul explains that because we are believers, we are in the church, which is Christ’s body – and He is the Head. This means
that there is a living connection between you and Christ. Physically speaking, the head controls the body and keeps the body functioning properly. Injure
certain parts of the brain and you handicap or paralyze corresponding parts of the body. Christ is our spiritual Head. Through the Spirit, we are united to
Him as the members of His body. This means that we share His resurrection, ascension, and exaltation.
Witnessing is not something that we do for the Lord; it is something that He does through us, if we are filled with the Holy Spirit. There is a great
difference between a “sales talk” and a Spirit-empowered witness. “Simon Peter came to Jesus because Andrew went after him with a testimony.” We go forth
in the authority of His name, in the power of His spirit, heralding His Gospel of His grace.
If we are to be witnesses for Christ, we must grow in the knowledge of God. To know God personally is salvation (John 17:3). To know Him increasingly is
sanctification (Phil. 3:10). To know Him perfectly is glorification (1 Cor. 13:9-12). Since we are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-28), the better we
know God, the better we know ourselves and each other. It is not enough to know God only as Saviour. We must get to know Him as Father, Friend, Guide, and
the better we know Him, the more satisfying our spiritual lives will be and the better witnesses we will be.
Court is in session. The jury has been assembled. Will your testimony convince the jury that you are a disciple of Jesus Christ? Your honor, guilty as
Let us pray:
O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send
us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Saviour Christ has gone before. Teach us what we need to know, so that we may be
your witnesses to a lost world and bring glory to you. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives, and reigns with you and the Holy
Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting.