George Methodist church
Thursday 13th May 2021
With Peter Veysie
Acts 1:1-11 (NIV) In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach  until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.  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.  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.  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
 So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.  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.”
 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.  “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.”
Luke who wrote The book of Acts, narrates the ascension without stopping to explain its theological significance, but there are at least four claims here that are worth looking at:
1. The ascension for Luke confirms the Lordship of Jesus .The first is that the ascension is the narrative portrayal of Luke’s pervasive claim that Jesus is Lord. This point becomes more explicit later in Acts. In 2:33, Jesus’ ascension is the reason that he can send the Holy Spirit. In Acts 5:31 it is because of his ascension that Jesus can give repentance and forgiveness.
2. The cloud shows his partnership in God’s presence.The cloud in our text is not a heavenly elevator; it is, as often in the Bible, a sign of God’s presence (consider the pillar of cloud in Exodus, or the cloud that comes at Jesus’ transfiguration in Luke 9). If we ask “Where did Jesus go?” perhaps the only adequate answer is that Jesus went to the Father — not to a place “up there” somewhere — but to be with the Father in love and in power. The ascension into the cloud is Jesus’ welcome into the Father’s presence. This is not, however, simply a return to the way things were before. The world has changed, because now Jesus is its enthroned Lord. That means that Caesar is not, nor are any of the powers, pursuits, or promises that vie for control of our lives.
3. The heavenly witnesses at the tomb, the mount of Transfiguration and now at his ascension confirms His Spirit nature.In the accounts of both the ascension and the empty tomb, we hear about two men in dazzling white robes, asking “Why are you looking…?” The writer of Luke-Acts ties the two events together, because the ascension clarifies what the resurrection means.
4. It confirms that there is life after death.It isn’t even a promise that we’ll go to heaven when we die. To proclaim Jesus’ resurrection is to claim that God has exalted him — the same Jesus who welcomed the sinners, who suffered and died in shame and rejection by this world — as Lord and Messiah (2:36). Jesus is God’s promise and plan for the whole world, and neither death nor any of its minions are able to stop that.
5. The giving of the Spirit. Jesus’ going to the Father means that the Spirit will be poured out on God’s people (see, again, Acts 2:33). For now, the disciples must wait to receive “power when the Holy Spirit has come upon” them (verse 8). The language here is reminiscent of Gabriel’s words to Mary in Luke 1. Both the Gospel and the book of Acts thus begin with God’s Spirit moving in the world to bring something new: in Luke 1, the birth of the Messiah, and in Acts 1, the birth of the church and its witness.For such things, we must wait and trust in God’s promise. Perhaps, as is so often the case with us, the disciples see no need to wait. They ask if “now” is the time to restore the kingdom to Israel. Luke’s Gospel, particularly the joyous outbursts by Mary, Zechariah, and Simeon in the first two chapters, makes it clear that what happens in Jesus will truly be the fulfillment of God’s promises.
6. Finally, this text is about the absence of Jesus (see 3:19-21). So, how do we live as Jesus’ followers without his visible, physical presence? The disciples have to be called away from staring up, in expectation and wonder, at where they last saw Jesus. They aren’t looking for the wrong thing (or, rather, the wrong person), but simply in the wrong place. “All that Jesus began to do and to teach” (verse 1; not clearly translated by NRSV, but see NIV or NET) doesn’t end with the ascension. The church continues to proclaim, to teach, to love, and to serve in Jesus’ name.
In the work of the Spirit (“the Spirit of Jesus”, 16:7) we encounter Jesus and what he continues to do. We aren’t left staring at where Jesus used to be (whether in history, or in our own life experiences, or in our supposedly settled opinions and interpretations). Not just although, but because he ascended, we continue to encounter Jesus through the preaching of the Word and the Sacraments, through the fellowship of the church, and through ministry with the poor and the oppressed. And because Jesus has ascended as our risen Lord, none of the other departures we experience (departures of relationships, of health, or of life itself) can harm us or rob us of God’s good promise. For that, we can and should celebrate The Ascension with praise and thanks.