Serving Christ and sharing the Gospel

Eyewitnesses to the Ascension (Acts 1:9-14)

I wonder if you know about the famous mystery of Lord Lucan? Lord Lucan was a British aristocrat who disappeared in suspicious circumstances on 8th November 1974, following the murder of his children’s nanny in London the previous night. Since that day Lucan’s body has not been found nor have there been any confirmed sightings to prove his whereabouts. To this day, no one really knows if Lord Lucan is dead or alive. Whether he is in the grave or living in luxury overseas.

Fortunately, we Christians do not have the same uncertainty about whether Jesus is alive today or about where he is. In the book of Acts we are given us reliable answers to these important questions. Answers that the author Luke has carefully researched and recorded for us. Answers which should strengthen our faith and help us share it with others.

Luke wants us to be certain that the risen Christ:

  • appeared to his disciples,
  • ascended to Heaven;
  • and now reigns at his Father’s side.

We’ll be looking at both those claims this morning, and thinking about what they mean for us today.

  1. Jesus…Appeared to his disciples

To begin with, Luke assures us that Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection, proving to them that he was fully alive and had really defeated death. As we have seen in recent weeks, the risen Jesus showed his hands and feet to his disciples, spoke to them, invited them to touch him, and even ate some fish before their very eyes. He was no ghost or apparition, nor a mass hallucination.

Jesus also pointed his disciples to the Old Testament predictions of his life, death and resurrection. Predictions written hundreds of years earlier, yet amazingly fulfilled in him. Predictions that warmed the hearts of his disciples when they heard them explained.

In our passage today, Jesus gives one final proof to his disciples that he is really alive. In the vicinity of Bethany, on the Mount of Olives, Jesus ascends to Heaven before their very eyes.

A ghost or hallucination can just fade away, but a physical resurrected body has to go somewhere. After 40 days of appearances, the risen Jesus wanted his disciples to see him depart and be sure of where he had gone to.

So where had he gone? And what had Jesus gone to do? The answer is that Jesus had ascended to Heaven, to reign at his Father’s side.

  1. Jesus…Ascended to Heaven

During his ministry, Jesus had told his disciples many times that he would one day return to his Father in Heaven. As the eternal Son of God, Jesus had told his disciples that he would one day re-assume all the heavenly glory and power that he had held before he became man.

On Ascension Day the disciples were given the privilege of seeing Jesus’ return to God take place. Luke tells us in verse 9 today that the disciples saw Jesus “taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.”

If we saw this happen today, we might think Jesus was about to become an astronaut or some kind of skydiver. But that’s not what Jesus had in mind at his ascension.

When Jesus was lifted up it was a sign for his disciples, a visual aid for them. It was a sign of Jesus’ exaltation and glorification, a sign that Jesus was being honoured and empowered, like at the Coronation of a King. Jesus’ lifting up was a moment of triumph, like when the Arsenal team lifted up the FA Cup at Wembley one week ago!

The fact that Jesus was taken up into a cloud would also have been highly significant to his Jewish disciples. Because throughout the history of Israel, God had repeatedly shown his presence among his people in the form of a cloud. For example:

  • God had led his people out of Egypt in a pillar of Cloud.
  • He had descended onto Mount Sinai in a cloud when he gave the Ten Commandments; and
  • God had symbolised his presence in the Jerusalem Temple by filling it with a glorious cloud.
  • Even in Jesus’ own lifetime, at the Transfiguration, his disciples had seen Jesus enveloped in cloud at the top of a mountain and heard God’s voice declare, “this is my Son!”

So when the same disciples saw Jesus rise up and enter a cloud once more, it was a sign for them that Jesus was returning to God – he was returning to the presence of his Father in Heaven.

  1. Jesus … At his Father’s right hand

When Jesus entered the cloud that was the last his disciples saw of him. But elsewhere in the New Testament we are told what happened next. The book of Hebrews, for example, tells us that Jesus then sat down at God’s right hand in Heaven.

You and I sit down to take a rest, to recover our strength and recuperate after a busy day. We might find a comfy sofa or our favourite armchair and put our feet up. But when Jesus sat down, it was a sign that his work of redemption and rescue was complete. By his crucifixion and resurrection he had done everything necessary for our salvation. By sitting down in Heaven, he showed his rescue mission was complete.

And once Jesus had sat down, he didn’t start to rest but began to rule. He sat down not on an armchair but on a throne. Jesus sat down at God’s side like a chief executive alongside a chairman, or a prime minister alongside a president. He sat down to assume a position of awesome authority, a position of power over all Creation.

Any new ruler or government has a manifesto, a policy agenda that they want to pursue. A programme of action that they wish to implement with the power they have been given. The New Testament tells us of at least three things that King Jesus is doing with the position he now holds. Three things on his agenda for action. Three things which conveniently begin with a ‘P’!

Firstly, the ascended Jesus is constantly praying for us in the presence of his Father (Rom 8:34). When my wife and I bought our flat in south London a few years ago, it was great to have a solicitor acting on our behalf. Someone who knew legal language and could represent our interests as the property transaction went through.

In a similar way, Jesus is every Christian’s advocate in Heaven. Jesus intercedes for us before God, a right to be heard both because he is God’s Son and because he is the sinless, spotless Lamb of God who fully paid the penalty for our sins. So Christ can perfectly represent our interests in the throne-room of Heaven. He is our sole sufficient mediator between us and God, our Great High Priest, our perfect prayer-partner.

Secondly, Jesus is pouring out his Spirit upon the world. In verse 8 of Acts 1, just before our reading today, Jesus promised his disciples that they would “receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you”. And of course Christ fulfilled this promise on the first Pentecost Sunday, when with tongues of fire and a strong wind, he poured out his Spirit on these first disciples.

Ever since the first Pentecost, from his throne above, Christ has been constantly sending the Holy Spirit into people’s hearts and lives:

  • He is pouring the Spirit upon people to convict them of their sin and help them recognise and respond to the Gospel message.
  • He is pouring his Spirit upon new Christians, transforming their hearts and minds so they know and love God.
  • And he’s pouring out his Spirit upon his whole Church, empowering and equipping us for our mission to the world.

The ascended Jesus may be physically absent from us, but his Spirit is with us everywhere and always.

Thirdly and finally, Jesus is at his Father’s side, preparing to return. As we heard last week, Jesus is the king of God’s Kingdom. But that kingdom is currently invisible. If we are Christians we are citizens of Christ’s kingdom, but the wider world can’ see it. But one day Christ will return from Heaven to set things right. He will return to rid the world of evil and renew all things.

That’s what the angels promise the disciples in verse 11 today. They say “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”. It’s a promise we too should believe, trust and eagerly anticipate today.

Conclusion: Witness and worship

So if anyone asks you tomorrow “Where is Jesus now?” and “What is he doing?” we know what to tell them. We can tell them that Jesus is in Heaven at the right hand of God, praying for his people, pouring out his Spirit and preparing to return.

But, as I finish, one final question remains. How should we respond to the ascension and rule of Christ? The first disciples give us a fine example. An example of witness and worship. Because after the ascension they became witnesses to Jesus. The disciples told people everywhere about Jesus and all that he had done. We can do the same today, by sharing our faith in Christ with our colleagues, neighbours and friends. By taking the good news to all in Gidea Park.

As well as witnessing to Jesus together, in verse 14 we are told that the disciples met to worship together. As contemporary believers in the Risen Christ, let’s also prioritise church on Sundays to praise and pray together. Why not try our midweek meetings too, like our new prayer meeting or the Discipleship Explored course? They are a great opportunity to grow in faith together.

So let’s start as we mean to go on, and pray together now to our risen and ascended Lord: Lord Jesus, we praise you as our risen Saviour and our ascended King. Thank you that you are enthroned on high to pray for us and pour out your Spirit upon us. Help us to worship and witness to you, until the day we see you return in glory. Amen.