Worship Service – May 24, 2020

Dear Family & Friends,

Our Scripture this week comes from Acts 1:1-11

1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days, you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 6 So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. 10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”



One of the most obvious things about the night sky is the moon, especially the full moon. The full moon transforms not only the sky, but the earth, creating a dimmer, second kind of day, casting long shadows, and providing some guidance to those who find themselves outdoors. Certainly, it is one of the things that children first notice about the sky. They can point to the moon, ask what it is, stare at it in wonder. And then, a few days later, the child can wonder – where did it go?

The sun, after all, travels in a more orderly fashion. The sun rises and the sun sets. It begins and ends the day. It is not day without the sun. But it can be night without the moon. Sometimes it’s the most obvious thing in the night sky and sometimes it’s not there at all.

That is part of what Luke intends to address in this passage – Jesus is the most important person to ever live. He has turned the world upside down, fulfilled the scriptures, and changed the way we look at things. More than that, he had died and risen back to life. The risen Jesus is Lord of the church. So where is Jesus? Where did He go? How can there be a church without a visible Jesus? These are the essential questions that Luke has for new converts, and especially for someone named Theophilus.


Is this “THE NEW NORMAL “?

While no one is quite sure if Theophilus was a single person, or was a fictional person designed to represent all Christians, Luke opens the Acts of the Apostles with what sounds like the standard dedication of his time. Remember that one did not publish a book the same way then as now. Luke did not submit sample chapters of a manuscript to a publisher who might have sent him a cash advance, so he’d finish it, then publish it and send him royalties. Writing required a patron who supported the working artist until the work was completed.

It seems likely that Theophilus – whose name means “the one who loves God” – was a wealthy convert, a Christian who supported Luke while he worked on his two-part history of Jesus and the action of the Holy Spirit. That first part of the work – the Gospel of Luke – told what Jesus did during his earthly ministry and ended with the Ascension. The Acts of the Apostles, however, had no one central character. Neither Peter nor James nor Paul nor anyone else seems to be the hero of the story.

Actually, Luke was writing a history of the Holy Spirit, not of any one person, and that Holy Spirit is active among many different people, and the Holy Spirit is the one constant throughout the book.

So where is Jesus? Where did he go?

How can there be a church without a visible Jesus?

How can we return to normal?

Most of us know the answer to the first question. So where is Jesus? As I thought about that, I thought that maybe the disciples were like “little children “who did not understand and wanted to be with Him.

I Remember a children’s sermon, my wife Bonne, shared one Sunday at East Ararat, where I was pastoring .She asked the children. If I sold my house and my car, had a big garage sale and gave all my money to the church, would that get me into Heaven?” “NO!” the children all answered. “If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the yard, and kept everything neat and tidy, would that get me into Heaven? “Again, the answer was, “NO!”

“Well, then, if I was kind to animals and gave candy to all the children and loved my husband, would that get me into Heaven?” Again, they all answered, “NO!” “Well,” She continued, “then how can I get into Heaven?” And one of the kids shouted out, “YOU GOTTA BE DEAD.”

As stated earlier, Luke has essential questions to answer for Theophilus and other new converts. If Jesus was raised from the dead, “where did he go”? Why is he not still among us?

In the gospel, Luke presents the resurrection appearances of Jesus as real events and intends to do the same with the ascension of Jesus, which occurs at the end of the gospel and is reviewed at the beginning of Acts.

Jesus returns to life not as some vague sort of spirit, or a good feeling shared by the surviving disciples. Luke is at pains to demonstrate that the risen Jesus could eat and drink with the disciples! He wants us to accept it as something extraordinary that happened in the ordinary world.

Jesus leaves the disciples with a task that they are to share – to spread the good news about the kingdom of God: “… you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This is in response to their desire to know when God’s kingdom would be inaugurated. Like us, they wanted to be spectators. But Jesus wants them and us to be participants in spreading the gospel.

Jesus inaugurated that good news when he opened the Isaiah scroll in His hometown and read aloud these words: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).

Jesus promises the disciples they will receive that same Spirit to go about the same task. It is not a task that any one of us can accomplish by ourselves, but together we are expected to go about it anyway!

Perhaps that is the greatest reason Jesus ascended into heaven. Had he remained on earth, the disciples would have continued to crowd around him – and who can blame them? If we had access to the risen Lord, physically and in the flesh, wouldn’t we be tempted to try to stand by his side?

But it is not allowed, not in this life anyway. We get glimpses, the Spirit sends us greetings, we feel the presence of God very strongly at times – and certainly God is always present wherever we go – but we’re also sent out to work in the trenches, to do the difficult work of the kingdom, to get up and go even though we’d rather stay put.

The power and authority of Jesus is passed on to the disciples, even though not one of us measures up to Jesus. That doesn’t matter. Elisha was no Elijah, but he saw his master ascend into heaven and the prophetic mantle fell on him.

In the same way Jesus ascended, calls to mind the way He will descend someday. Luke uses language in verse 11, that deliberately calls to mind the prophet Daniel – “I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him” (Daniel 7:13 KJV).

This is the same Jesus who will return, the apostles are assured. So, it is again promised in Revelation: “Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So, it is to be. Amen” (Revelation 1:7).

What would we have seen had we been there, at the ascension? I haven’t a clue. My brother Toby was an illusionist, for many years of his life and I witnessed many illusions where his assistant, would disappear, then later reappear. No matter how many times I would watch the same illusion, I would never have a clue. Jesus appeared to ascend into heaven, but what does that mean? I don’t know if there are any scientific instruments that could have measured or weighed what happened. But it happened. And the apostles stared into heaven, believers who had just seen the unbelievable, as I would do during one of my brother’s illusions.

When good friends and family leave us we sometimes stare after them long after they are gone, long after the car has gone around the bend, or the plane has disappeared into the clouds, or the train has become a speck on the horizon. Had we been standing there with the apostles we might have continued to stare as well.

But it’s not allowed. Two men in white came to them and scolded them with words of hope – if the combination is possible: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). In other words – this is “THE NEW NORMAL “- get to work – but don’t forget that Jesus is coming back. We have essential business to conduct.

Our trust in the imminent return of Jesus is an essential belief. But we are not to stand slack jawed on the hillside staring at the sky waiting for his return. Nor are we to spend our time circling dates on the calendar, when we can get back to normal ,or predicting his return in the face of his assurance that none of us could possibly know the date.

No, as Christians we know we are to be found at our post, sharing the cup of cold water, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, kneeling to wash a brother’s or sister’s feet. When Jesus returns, our eyes may be turned to the ground, but we’ll feel the light of the ages at our back, and with slow but solid satisfaction we will turn to face He who we have always trusted and known.

There are two mistakes we could make in the wake of the ascension. One is to continue to stare into heaven, to be so focused on the return of Jesus, which is a central element of our faith, that we neglect the work of the kingdom. The other is to be a spectator. We are expected to embrace “THE NEW NORMAL ,“and get to work with our “essential business.”

In this first chapter of Acts, the apostles suffer two losses. Jesus is irreplaceable, although in a sense, Jesus will always be with them. But Judas is gone, too. The apostles have to close ranks and move on, but one senses they won’t forget him, either. All churches deal with the loss of members who leave in glorious circumstances, but there are also those who leave under difficult circumstances, and at which time we’re not always sure what to say or do.

We never really replace those who leave us, whether for good reason or bad. But we are expected to continue. Losing a key member is not an excuse to stop discipling. It is an invitation for us all to try even harder.

After the ascension, Jesus is no longer accessible in the same way as during his earthly ministry, but Luke tells us Jesus is very present. This ascension into heaven shapes the way we look at the world. It causes us to look back to the ministry of Jesus so we may find a pattern for our own, but it also encourages us to look forward to the perfect kingdom God will institute. It opens the door for the Holy Spirit to enter the world more fully, to become the center of our lives, invisible, yet always moving among us, never seen, often felt, always known.

Thanks to the ascension we, like the disciples, must move away from our comfortable home territory and take that good news to the ends of the earth, stopping along the way to help , those people who we might think of as our enemies, but who are really our partners in God’s work.

Remember that the inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judea were distrustful of the Samaritans, who were actually very much like them. I’m sure the average Roman citizen couldn’t tell one of God’s people from a Samaritan. Our work begins with those who we feel uncomfortable with and goes on from there.

Most of all, Luke reminds us that Jesus will return, and while we are not to stare into space while waiting for Him, we should embrace “THE NEW NORMAL “in everything we do, the way we look at the world, the way we treat others.

This passage is a transitional period. Jesus is gone and the Holy Spirit has not yet arrived. The apostles seem content to return to and remain in Jerusalem, remembering their irreplaceable leader and serving each other in the upper room.

But we are not without the Holy Spirit! One thing is certain. The church without the Holy Spirit is not about to spread the gospel throughout the world. The apostles gathered in Jerusalem, but they did not proceed to embrace the new church, the new normal. They waited for Pentecost. They didn’t have to wait very long. We on the other hand ,have the Holy Spirit indwelling in each of us who believe. Let us make it our “NEW NORMAL “ to let others know the church will continue without a visible Jesus, because he is present with us in the Holy Spirit.

So where is Jesus? He is with us in the form of the Holy Spirit.

Where did He go? He went to prepare a place for us.

How can there be a church without a visible Jesus? We are the church. And we will continue with the Holy Spirit as our guide, until His visible return!

THE “NEW NORMAL “should be the OUR NORMAL .

In His Service,

Pastor Joe

Dear God, I confess that I am a sinner. Please forgive all my sins; the ones I can remember and the ones I cannot remember. Thank You, Jesus, that You lived a sinless life and took the punishment for my sins. I receive You as my Savior and the free gift of eternal life that you give me. I want to live for You to serve You and to honor You. I receive Your Holy Spirit and I will follow You. Amen.

Listen to Audio Sermon 20200524


Comments are closed.