After Easter — The Ascension and The Holy Spirit

Title: After Easter – The Ascension and The Holy Spirit

Text: Acts 1:6-11

Time: May 8th, 2011

Last week I spoke on the Ascension and the Purpose of the Church, but this week I’d like to speak on the Ascension and the Holy Spirit. After the resurrection, the Lord Jesus appeared, disappeared and reappeared over a length of forty days. Finally, he gathered his disciples together and explained to them some final, important things. We looked at some of those important things last week with the Great Commission. It’s the mission of the church, every church, and our church. We are commissioned by Christ to make disciples, which means helping people convert to salvation through the gospel, then help people grow up in the Christian faith through discipleship. The purpose of the church isn’t to grow or grow big, although by the grace of God we pray that will happen. The purpose of the church is to make solid Christian disciples, people who will bear witness faithfully to the glory and reality of God on earth, and then afterwards spend eternity with God in heaven. But there’s some more last minute directions that Jesus gave his disciples not mentioned in Matthew 28 that we find in Acts 1:6-11, “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 witness 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.’”  So here we have a second description of Jesus’ ascension. Christ’s ascension sometimes gets overlooked in the church’s teachings because it comes after Easter, after the resurrection. We remember the suffering and death of Christ on Good Friday, and we remember the triumphant resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday, but sometimes we forget about the dramatic ascension of Jesus forty days later. How did he exit this earth? How did he leave? Picture Jesus standing, teaching his disciples, giving them final instructions – and then he slowly began to drift upward, away from them like a balloon would after you released it. Onward and upward Jesus moved until he became so high that he faded into the passing clouds out of sight. What an awesome sight that must have been. But even before they could gather their thoughts, two angels quietly appeared besides them and added that Christ would return the same way – that is, from the sky, from the clouds – when he came a second time in the end of days. They were encouraged by the angels to carry out Christ’s instructions, not just stand there looking into the sky. What were these extra instructions of Jesus to the disciples? How do these instructions relate to Christians today? That’s what I’d like to talk about this morning.

First, Jesus instructs his disciples then and now to get the right agenda.  Acts 1:6-8, “So when they met together, they asked him, ‘Lord are you at this time going to restore the kingdom of Israel?’ He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you. . .” Now what are the disciples asking, and how does Jesus answer them? As good Jews, these disciples were still waiting for the day when Israel would once again rule itself as in the days of King David, when the Jews controlled their own land with no outside occupation of the Promised Land. At the time of Jesus, as we all know, the Romans controlled the land of Israel and most of the civilized world. So the Jews were still waiting for the liberation of their people from the Romans, or in other words, they wanted political independence. Who can fault them in that desire? We are grateful that we aren’t under the control of a foreign power. Every nation seeks liberation from outside control. So what was wrong with their question to Jesus? Wasn’t it that they were still thinking too small? Jesus came as Lord and Messiah to free people from sin and judgment and to give them eternal life; vastly more important issues than winning some temporary political victory. The disciples were still thinking small-time instead of in the grand, sweeping, cosmic way of God. Jesus’ answer pulls them away from the earthly, worldly, temporal concerns of national political liberation to the more important spiritual agenda he had for them and all Christian disciples. They were to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit in order to carry out their distinctively spiritual mission. The Christian faith is more importantly about spiritual liberation from sin, judgment, evil and hell. It’s about finding ultimate fulfillment with God. We are still tempted to over-emphasize the political and temporal issues of life instead of prioritize the spiritual Kingdom of God Christ teaches us to pursue. For example, it’s almost impossible to watch the evening news on television, or listen to the news on radio or read the news in the paper without getting interested, excited or hyped about some issue being debated. In fact, it’s easy to get carried away and get preoccupied and obsessed with politics today. Why? Because that’s all we hear about 24/7 on the news, especially as government expands and becomes more and more dominant in society and in our own personal lives, it’s easy to become overly political with our lives, thinking that every issue must be fought for and won. But Jesus reminds us here to get our priorities right. Most of the political issues will be forgotten over time, but God’s Kingdom will live on forever. Are you spending too much time worrying, talking about, concerning yourself with politics? Learn the lesson here from Jesus Christ and get yourself pointed in the spiritual direction. Don’t forget about the news of the day, just don’t preoccupy yourself with it. God’s got a spiritual agenda with the Kingdom of God. This is what we’ve got to be ordering our lives by, not the world’s agenda of politics.

Second, Jesus instructs his disciples then and now to get the power of the Holy Spirit before they attempt to fulfill their mission. Acts 1:8, “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.” I remember this verse because my Grandmother Short used to quote it in the old King James Version, which is a little confusing when it says, “You will receive power, after that the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” For a little while I thought as a young Christian that we got the power first, and then after that the Holy Spirit comes upon us, but I was wrong because I was misunderstanding the KJV. What the verse says and means is that we’ll receive supernatural power for Christian living and witnessing when the Holy Spirit comes upon us. Let me ask you an important question this morning – do you have the power of the Holy Spirit? The problem today is that when you ask somebody that question they start to get nervous because they’ve heard about people going wild and getting fanatical and going crazy by doing all kinds of strange things like falling backwards or getting the shakes or speaking in tongues (not that there is anything wrong with that, I mean the real speaking in tongues), or some other unusual public activity. The Holy Spirit has been given credit for all kinds of bizarre behaviors, most of which have nothing to do with the real Holy Spirit, but mostly to do with people who are out of control. But then again, there is an aspect to the Holy Spirit that is mysterious and unknown, so you can’t really box God into customary behavior when the Spirit moves. But like Paul says elsewhere, everything in the church must be done decently and in order; no bizarre or crazy stuff normally. But let’s not get distracted by the bizarre and crazy stuff, because that’s what the Devil would like us to do. Let’s get back to the purpose for the power which is to bear witness to the reality of God on earth and to fulfill our Great Commission calling. In order to do what Jesus told his disciples to do in Matthew 28, that is, to make disciples of all people, inasmuch as they can be made into disciples, we need supernatural power. Have you yet noticed that most people don’t want to convert to Christianity? The Bible teaches that we are sinful and selfish by nature, so we naturally don’t want to surrender our lives to Christ, even though he loves us and died for our sins on the cross, we still want to run things our own way. So when we hear the gospel, we normally reject it at first because it threatens our own control in life. Conversion to Christ is literally a supernatural miracle. If you’ve been truly converted, as distinct from a false conversion, which is only a psychological head game, you’ve gone through a supernatural process. We need that same supernatural power to live the Christian life properly, to resist temptation and sin, to share the gospel boldly, to pray and read the bible daily, to do ministry, to be a part of a church community. We need power to defeat the devil and obey Christ. In short, we need power. Do you have the Spirit’s power in your life? Why not ask God for it today?

Third, Jesus instructs his disciples then and now to not only study, reflect, discuss and talk about God but also to do the things we’re called to do. Acts 1:9-11, “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.’” I think the point of the two angels is this – don’t just stand there, do something. In other words, it isn’t enough in the Christian life to pray and read the Bible. It isn’t enough to study and learn the Word of God without application and living out the truths in life. There are a lot of people who attend church each week with Bible in hand. They listen carefully to the sermon and even underline and write in the margins of their Bibles during each message. But they don’t apply and live out the truths they learn, so then everything they learn is just theoretical. The angels were reminding the disciples, them and us today, to don’t just stare and ponder these truths, carry out Christ’s command to live them and spread the Word to others. But the point is we can’t do the work of God, building the Kingdom of God, if we don’t have the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s why it’s easier to simply learn the Bible and learn truths about God without actually doing anything or living them out in the real world, because that takes power not just knowledge. How do you resist the Devil? How do you say “no” to temptation when it comes your way? It takes power, the power of the Holy Spirit working in you to defeat Satan and turn away from sin. How can a Christian couple stay married? I just had the opportunity to watch clips from the Royal Wedding and I thought to myself, “I wonder if this marriage will last?” Well, frankly it won’t unless they have the power of the Holy Spirit working in their lives to resist the urge to sin and selfishness. The statistical odds are against their’s or any marriage from working. The odds are it will fail, humanly speaking. But God’s power can hold a marriage together with supernatural power. Without power we’ll get discouraged in the Christian life because our society doesn’t encourage us very much to live for God. Instead, our world says, “Live for yourself, enjoy yourself, do what you want to do, live any way you want.” But that’s not the way of God. It take power to live the way God designed us to live from the beginning. Do you have the power of the Holy Spirit in your life working? Do you have the ability to resist sin?

Even simple devotional things like reading the Bible daily takes power, because there are so many extra distractions in our world today that lead us away from a relationship with God. Plus, our own sinful nature and our own power of rationalization – how we can lie to ourselves and believe our own lies – we can talk ourselves out of reading the Bible and into reading the newspaper or some other material. Then, we get too tired to read anything, so we just turn on the television and waste hour after hour. How does God accomplish anything worthwhile in our lives if we are wasting our time mostly in worldly activities? Now there is nothing wrong with TV per se, but only after we’ve done our priority things in life. I read a book a while back written by a pastor in New York, David Wilkerson, who by the way just passed away a few days ago, who claims that Senior Citizens used to pray more for the world, the nation, for the church, for their families and loved ones, but now mostly just watch television in their free time. That’s sad. Do you have a prayer time every day? Again, it takes power to have the discipline and desire to pray every day, but that’s what a real Christian disciple does because it’s the way to stay in touch with the Lord of Life. If you don’t have the power of the Spirit you probably won’t read your Bible much, you probably won’t pray much, you probably won’t share the gospel to many of your friends and family members. Now if you aren’t living the powerful Christian life, if you realize that now, there’s hope because the Holy Spirit is available today to enter into your life and change you. You may say, “Pastor, I know I’m not living by the power of the Holy Spirit, but what can I do?” Here’s what you do – pray for the Spirit to fill you and then wait for it to happen. Now here’s how things work. When you confess your sins, repent and commit your life to Christ the Holy Spirit comes into your spirit and lives in you from that moment on. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are filled with the Holy Spirit because the filling is something we have to pray for and continue to cultivate in our lives on a daily basis. You have to ask yourself whether you want to be filled with the Holy Spirit, because it’s definitely an invitation for God to take over every area of your life every moment. Many Christians, maybe even most, aren’t filled with the Spirit because they don’t want to yield everything to God at every moment. Maybe they like their false idols they cling to, such as excessive television, or some hobby that consumes them, or their temper or anger, or over indulging in things, for example. But Christ is calling us to total and full obedience to his Kingdom calling, and that requires the power of the Holy Spirit to say “no” to sin, the world, the flesh and the Devil. Are you filled with the Holy Spirit? Would you like to be? Let’s pray.

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