7th Sunday of Easter (observing the Festival of The Ascension)

May 28, 2017


Witnessing in the Waiting Time

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.

In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) “For it is written in the Book of Psalms,

“‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’;


“‘Let another take his office.’

So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us – one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. (Acts 1:1-26 ESV)

We are in the waiting time – those 10 days in the Church Year between the Ascension and Pentecost. For us, we know it was 10 days. For the disciples, it is waiting – that’s what Jesus told them to do when he ascended – “And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49 ESV). The disciples have long changed from fearful and terrified, wanting to get out of Jerusalem as quickly as possible – away from anyone who might link them to Jesus. Since that first Sunday when the incredulous became the incredible, when Jesus convinced them by his presence and by proving from the Old Testament again and again that this was really God’s plan to rescue humanity and restore us in a right relationship with God, they have come and gone in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was no longer a no-go place for them but was the waiting place, the marshalling place, the getting-ready place for from here they will go out into the world with power to change the world.

It would be an interesting hypothetical exercise to try and imagine the world without Jesus and his followers … I can imagine many in the world scoffing and claiming that the world would be a better place with less religion – and we have to admit that the Christian Church has done wrong at times in this world … but in my altered history, I see the world as a far more dangerous, fearful, terrorising place than it is … with little or none of the social support systems and with little or none of the view regarding the preciousness of each individual life and equality for all under the law that people today simply expect. I imagine that death would reign supreme in a way that I cannot imagine! You see my thesis here is that the disciples of Jesus have changed the world and made it a better place than what it would be like without them. I’m looking at a landscape of nearly 2,000 years. Back then in those days after the resurrection, the disciples were wondering how they would change the world which they thought meant restoring the kingdom to Israel but which Jesus rejected because he pushed the borders back for they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and then to end of the earth.

They would be his witnesses … in word and deed … and as his ambassadors they would be citizens of the Kingdom of God with baptism as their passport – repentance not arrogance as they personal expression – service as their ethic – and no matter what the world threw at them, no matter how much they tripped themselves up or each other receiving daily forgiveness they would have joy and confidence and hope each day. Why? Because Jesus had risen and ascended and thus Jesus had made clear that (a) he has the real power and glory in this world for everything else ends or fades to dust and ash; and (b) he ignores time and space – calendars, longitude and latitude – because he has promised and he is able to do this – be with his people always to the end of the world, the end of the age.

In these 10 days the disciples of Jesus – about 120 I hope you noticed – men and women – didn’t seek to create a church, set up a business, organise religious franchises – but looked to how God set up the people of God in the Old Testament and acted. That’s what disciples always do! Look at what God has said and done and then bear witness to it in word and deed. So back then Matthias replaced Judas as an apostolic witness.

History – not the Bible – tells us that these apostolic witnesses apart from John all died under persecution and torture, witnessing to this faith in Jesus. The Greek word here gives us the English word ‘martyr’. That’s, of course, witnessing with our very lives and I would suggest to you that the Early Church and disciples of Jesus in all tough times witness to the truth that Jesus is here with us in the muck and mess, in the pain and suffering, through water and bread and wine particularly and Jesus sustains them.

One of the historical biggest mistakes that the Christian Church has made over the centuries in various forms is to forget the ascension of Jesus, misunderstand it, and only see it with our eyes and imagination. Ask people to point to where God is and they invariably point up – away. That is the exact opposite point of the ascension! As I’ve said before, if Jesus hadn’t ascended we’d have to go to him in this world – and get into a very long queue. But because of his ascension we only have to go to where he comes to us – hence my continual emphasis – repetition – same ol’ same ol’ – words, water, bread and wine because these are the channels or means that convey, reveal, bring Jesus to us. Used by human witnesses these Means of Grace are Jesus to us – and constant exposure to them nourishes, guides, cleans, challenges, teaches, helps, holds, comforts, forgives and blesses us with Jesus’ life – with Jesus himself. This isn’t magic but relational for Jesus isn’t turning us into robots and programming us but rather relating to us and giving us life so that we can live it together – but it is still us inside our heads, with our emotions, in our circumstances, dealing with our hormones – who lives each day. But now we live with a message – I love you – Don’t be afraid.

Those words – the person who speaks them – shapes us, opens life and possibilities to us each day – precisely because Jesus will never leave us as orphans. What a way to live!


Bible References

  • Acts 1:1 - 26