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Sunday 8 May 2016, Easter 7 – Ascension Sunday

Readings: John 17:20-26; Luke 24:44-53

Message:

ascension

I love this cartoon. It shows up every year somewhere.

You’ll only really appreciate it fully if you’ve had a child with ADD grow up in your house.

I suspect the whole church may have Ascension Deficit Disorder.

  • We’re often missing it.
  • Missing the point.
  • Not seeing clearly how significant the Ascension is.

Thursday – Ascension Day – came and went – I mistakenly thought someone might pop in at church to pray sometime through the morning.

We miss the point of Jesus being Messiah King.

We had our Messy Church evening on Friday and looked at the 10 commandments. And we tried to get the kids tell us what mom’s ten big rules were, and what dad’s were. You know the drill for mom – make your bed, clean your teeth, go to the toilet before you go to bed. And dad’s rules – which include switch off that TV and less computer time please.

I suggested that the most important rule for dads to teach their kids is simply this: LOVE YOUR MOM. And of course God’s ten big rules include HONOUR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.

Jesus’ big rule is actually this – I AM MESSIAH KING. He is the “I am”. Look to me!

The whole of the Bible – all of life – everything that we do that has any meaning at all – has to be seen through that lens.

It’s like going to Specsavers. When you get these glasses on – it all makes total sense.

In Luke 24 (and I think you should  read the whole of this chapter) – in all the engagements with the disciples after the resurrection – especially the Emmaus walk – there is an attention deficit problem. That’s why he says to them in verse 25:

“How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Luk 24:26  Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” Luk 24:27  And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (It’s quite direct – and not very pastoral!).

Note that he speaks about himself here as the Christ – the Messiah – which means the King.

Here he says that the whole Bible is really about him.

  • When you start at creation – you have to recognise John 1 – that nothing was made that was not made through Jesus.
  • If you look at Moses – you have to see that Jesus is the perfect law giver.
  • If you look at any of the prophets – Jesus surpasses them all in clarity of message as he speaks God’s word – because he is the Word of God supreme.
  • If you look at any of the Old Testament characters – they are pointing to Jesus. Joshua shares his name but Jesus really brings us to the promised land. Joseph forgives his brothers – but Jesus forgives us all.

In fact, John Calvin’s most profound and moving writing has to be what he pens about “Christ in All the Scriptures, Christ for All Our Needs” in a preface to a translation of the New Testament in 1535. He puts it like this:

For, this is eternal life; to know one, only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent, whom he has established as the beginning, the middle, and the end of our salvation.

He [Christ] is Isaac, the beloved Son of the Father who was offered as a sacrifice, but nevertheless did not succumb to the power of death.

He is Jacob the watchful shepherd, who has such great care for the sheep which he guards.

He is the good and compassionate brother Joseph, who in his glory was not ashamed to acknowledge his brothers, however lowly and abject their condition.

He is the great sacrificer and bishop Melchizedek, who has offered an eternal sacrifice once for all.

He is the sovereign lawgiver Moses, writing his law on the tables of our hearts by his Spirit.

He is the faithful captain and guide Joshua, to lead us to the Promised Land.

He is the victorious and noble king David, bringing by his hand all rebellious power to subjection.

He is the magnificent and triumphant king Solomon, governing his kingdom in peace and prosperity.

He is the strong and powerful Samson, who by his death has overwhelmed all his enemies.

He goes on to say:

If follows that every good thing we could think or desire is to be found in this same Jesus Christ alone. For, he was sold, to buy us back; captive, to deliver us; condemned, to absolve us; he was made a curse for our blessing, sin offering for our righteousness; marred that we may be made fair; he died for Our life; so that by him fury is made gentle, wrath appeased, darkness turned into light, fear reassured, despisal despised, debt cancelled, labour lightened, sadness made merry, misfortune made fortunate, difficulty easy, disorder ordered, division united, ignominy ennobled, rebellion subjected, intimidation intimidated, ambush uncovered, assaults assailed, force forced back, combat combated, war warred against, vengeance avenged, torment tormented, damnation damned, the abyss sunk into the abyss, hell transfixed, death dead, mortality made immortal.

Isn’t that  brilliant!

You have to begin to see the victorious Christ – the Messiah King – at His ascension.

When you see the ascension – you see the resurrection. You see the resurrection – you see the cross. You see the cross – and you see human sin. You see human sin and you see the fall of man. You see that and you understand the mess of the world and the need for hope. See that – and you see the need for a Saviour – one who can rescue us. Then you end up back at Christmas – with the birth of Jeshua – meaning “God saves”. You see that and you see people in relationship with God. You see that – and you see the point of life. You see the relationship people can have with God – and you see a better world where people get on and love like Jesus did.

And when you see that – you give thanks to God and worship the risen ascended Jesus – and not something else. All glory goes to Jesus! Not unto us! And it puts the ten commandments into perspective too – One God only, no idols, keeping His name holy – and keeping His day – this is all for Jesus too.

It’s all about Messiah – King Jesus.

He’s done all this – and he is the One who has to be at the centre of our lives.

Tim Keller – an American preacher in New York – talks about the deficit we have in our thinking about Christ the King in this way.

He tells the story of a British preacher John Guest who ends up living in American and visits Philadelphia and a revolutionary war museum – where he sees a sign that made him realise he really was in a different country.

It was from the time of the American revolution and on the wall in a pub or tavern. And it said this: “We serve no sovereign here”.

Keller goes on to say that democracy – and American democracy has got to be the most fascinating type in the world – has been described by C S Lewis as medicine and not food.

In Britain and Europe – and indeed the dominions like New Zealand where we are, Australia – and Canada – people still understand what it means to serve to a sovereign. In Asia people would see the benefit of respecting authority.

But not in America. America has sold us the idea of individual freedom more than any other power or philosophy. We all believe we have the right to veto everything.

If democracy is medicine and not food – what really feeds us?

Jesus hints at what really satisfies: John 4:34 – “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.

C S Lewis suggests that we were made to be ruled. And if we don’t acknowledge Jesus as King (as Tim Keller puts it) we will serve somebody. Or something. Human nature is such that If it doesn’t get food it will gobble poison. Keller suggests simply:

  • Obey him – treat Him as King.
  • Trust him – faith means trust at a basic level.
  • Rely on Him – prayer if anything is talking to him about our need of his help and support and purpose. Don’t say you believe in Him and depend on your career – or your family – or your stuff – to give you worth and meaning in life.
  • Treat him as a king in prayer; expect much – John Newton has a hymn that captures this well: Thou art coming to a King, Large petitions with thee bring; For His grace and power are such, None can ever ask too much; None can ever ask too much.

In the light of this, Jesus’ departing words make sense. Listen again:

Luk 24:44  Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you–that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Luk 24:45  Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, Luk 24:46  and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, Luk 24:47  and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  

The whole Bible story – salvation history as we know it since the story of Adam and Eve where God is a missional God looking for Adam – is about Jesus the Messiah King. It all points to him and focusses on Him. And it will end with Him too when he comes again.

And the disciples clearly had their work cut out for them –  telling this story. So Jesus says:

Luk 24:48  You are witnesses of these things. Luk 24:49  And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Luk 24:50  Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. Luk 24:51  While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. Luk 24:52  And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; Luk 24:53  and they were continually in the temple blessing God.  

The story of Luke goes on in volume 2 – what we know as the book of Acts. They are to wait those long ten days for the promised Holy Spirit. We’ll be here Tuesday and next Sunday to consider that.

But for today – take this home. The gospel ends with them worshipping Him – bowing to a Sovereign King. And this King who is so reliable and worth serving and obeying – is doing what He always does – we see him in verse 50 and 51 – blessing them.

Let Him bless you as you take Him anew as Messiah King.

Amen.

Thursday 29 May – Ascension Day – the eyes of your heart

Readings:   Ephesians 1: 15– 23; Luke 24: 44– 53; Acts 1: 1– 11

THE EYES OF YOUR HEART

There’s a great song we used to sing – open the eyes of my heart Lord, I want to see you.

We’ve shared about the hear in the last two weeks.

  • About where we hang our hearts – the God we trust in and have faith in.
  • About setting apart or sanctifying Christ as Lord in our hearts – out of which comes this ability to give a reason for the hope that we have

Paul’s prayer in the Ephesians reading is this:

  • He prays that we may know Jesus better
  • And he prays  this – Eph 1:18  I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,  Eph 1:19  and his incomparably greatpower for us who believe

If the eyes of our hearts to be enlightened – then Paul prays these things will be real:

  •  the hope we’ve been called to – is the transformation of ourselves and our lives in Christ – becoming a new creation and participating in a new creation
  • our inheritance as the saints (the list is long – but when we get it we understand that we are the adopted sons of God with Jesus as our elder brother – the right to call God Father and be his children – the experience of forgiveness and eternal life – and all the privileges of his children seen as an example in the prodigal son and his brother – the younger prodigal is taken back – the older brother reminded that it was all his for the taking anyway.

What a wonderful inheritance. Co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17)

  • his incomparably great power for us who believe.

What’s the power like, asks Paul?

It’s the same as this – he says:

That power is like the working of his mighty strength,

Eph 1:20  which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms,

Eph 1:21  far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 

This power conquers death – raises Jesus to a place of great authority seated at the right hand of God.

The resurrection and ascension are one major event here for Paul. The one is the natural extension of the other.

And his prayer is that we may have the eyes of our hearts opened to know this power too.

We need that power!

Simon Ponsonby – an amazing vicar and Bible teacher puts it like this when talking about the surpassing greatness of his power – he asks:

Is there power in your life?

Power that breaks curses – turns back time and history – power to be a better man (like many who wish they could turn back time) 

Power of God – needed to control thoughts and speech – set you free from patterns of addiction –

There is something amazing about the power of God that rests on us and transforms us

Paul prays for more for the church!

As we come to the 10 days between Ascension and Pentecost in the church’s calendar – this is a reminder that we too need this power.

The Holy Spirit came in power – the logical extension of Jesus’ promise not to leave them as orphans, but to be with them always.

In Philippians 3:10 Paul says:

Php 3:10  I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.

Actually it’s the only way to know him.

Ascension marks the beginning of this new time when the resurrection power becomes a reality for us.

We look to Jesus differently now:

He is no longer the man from Galilee.

He is the exalted Christ who is the giver of life.

He is the one to be worshipped every moment of our lives.

The Ephesians passage ends here:

Eph 1:22  And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church,

Eph 1:23  which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

HE is the one!

And we are the extension of Him! The body – the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

It’s no wonder the Reformers made much of this day – Ascension Day.

Christ is Head of the church.

The church is the extension of his fullness!

It’s through his power that it’s possible for us to be Christ in the world!

  • I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,  Eph 1:19  and his incomparably greatpower for us who believe

How tragic that many don’t actually appropriate the power at all!

May that not be so for us.

Amen.

Sunday sermon 25 May 2014 – The reason for the hope that you have

Readings:  Acts 17:22-31; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21

Message

Fifty years in church.

50 sermons a year.

A possible 2500 sermons.

What possible difference will this one make today?

That’s a fair question. It will make no difference to those who’re not here. It will make little difference to those who are asleep in the sermon slot.

It will make little difference to those who have pre-read the text and get frustrated because I don’t say the things they think I should say.

Well I’ve said this before. You don’t remember every meal you’ve had, but the food did keep you going somehow. God does use preaching as a way of reaching people with the Gospel.

Trouble is the people who need to hear the Gospel are not here either.

They’re out there in the community.

I love the passage from Acts set for today. The verse before (verse 21) says this:

Act 17:21  All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.

It’s a lovely comment. The point is Paul was there – and after walking around he speaks into their situation like this:

Act 17:23  For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

And off he goes with his sermon.

I suppose the culture and context allowed that. Today the same thing happens when people are actually on the lookout for opportunities to engage the society we live in.

It’s in the pubs and clubs that the conversations take place. For some of you it’s in the dining halls of your retirement home – or in the supermarkets.

For some more IT savvy it’s on the internet on web pages and chat forums.

Paul talks to them of course about an altar to an UNKOWN GOD.

Now we could have a great theological debate about that today. We could talk about “other gods” and other faiths – whether there are really other gods- or just skewed views of them.

MIssiologists do this. They study Mission and how the gospel connects with other people’s faiths and world views.

We talked about Missional church too – and debated it in leadership – about how the church would reach this generation.

The truth is more than two years of debate about how relevant the church is to younger people has actually worn me out. So much blame was thrown around that what I offered here on Sundays was not relevant or modern enough.

Hours and hours I spent on power points which for some of you were merely a distraction.

Lucky for you I’m on the 40 hour famine of food and technology this weekend.

So you just get my voice today.

My point is this – in all this time how many people have we actually led to Christ?

How many people have we actually witnessed to?

Some of you are good witnesses – keep going. Well done!

But most of us are pretty average or less than average.

In the readings today Paul preached a great sermon. The gospel went out. It matters not how they responded. Some believed – others tried to kill the messenger on his preaching trips. Some said they wanted to talk to him again about the message he brought.

Paul’s missionary journeys were full of adventure risk and pain. In a discussion in 2 Corinthians he writes this:

2Co 11:24  Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.

2Co 11:25  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,

2Co 11:26  I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.

2Co 11:27  I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.

Last week we read of the martyrdom of Stephen. His was such a bad sermon that they stoned him. Perhaps you’ll want to throw something at me today. Go right ahead.

God used the people who were scattered after the persecution that followed Stephen’s death to plant one of the most important churches – the one in Antioch. If you came to Tuesday church this month you would have heard that message.

God honours his Word.

Stephen never saw the fruit of his labours. He saw rocks fall on his head. Then he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God! Standing note! Not sitting. Chances are Jesus was putting in a word for this faithful spirit-filled deacon who also was a teaching elder.

SO WHAT ABOUT US?

A couple of essential things about our mission and witness jump out of the readings today. The first one does more than jump out. It screams at us.

1Pe 3:15  But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,

1Pe 3:16  keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

This only works if the first part applies.

Remember what we talked about last week? Where are you hanging yourheart? Remember my story of the hat and coat stand it took me two hours to assemble?

Your God is where your heart hangs – said Luther.

Peter says: But in your heart set apart Christ as Lord.(v 15)

Αγιασατεis the word. Honour Christ in your heart. Sanctify him as Lord. Set apart comes from the word for holy – which does not mean perfect but “set apart” or even dedicated.

If you haven’t done that – the rest won’t happen.

Here’s the outflow of this:

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

Listen to it again!

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

Well do you have hope?

Does it ooze from your lips and shine out of your eyes and roll of your tongue – hope – hope – hopeful –hopeful – hopefulness and more hopefulness!

Does it?

Are people saying to you? WHY WHY WHY can you be so positive when things are so bad! It’s soooooooooo bad after all. I’m soooooooo blue.

The church – the economy – my marriage – my spouse, you may say – if only you knew how blue it all makes me!

No – says Peter (writing to a persecuted church – I hasten to add).

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

AND OF COURSE:

But do this with gentleness and respect,

1Pe 3:16  keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

There’s no need to be arrogant. Or rough with people with different views. In fact we should respect them.

All we should do is be is:

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

Challenging isn’t it?

And if Jesus were speaking to us this morning – once Peter has unnerved us with his reminder of how we should be a witness to Christ – who is the reason for our hope, is He not?

Jesus would say – as He did in John 14:

Joh 14:15  “If you love me, you will obey what I command.

That creates a few problems does it not? No – it’s not another attempt to make us wither away in shame.

John 14 is the most amazing passage.

It started with “Do not let your hearts be troubled”.

And here it speaks words of such power and encouragement again:

Joh 14:16  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever—

Joh 14:17  the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

Joh 14:18  I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

It’s this last verse that gets to me.

It’s this last verse that gets to me. I was lying in bed the other night with tears in my eyes as I thought of children I know who have lost both parents – and the kids without parents because of AIDS and war – and so many other horrible things that happen – and this scripture was in my head:

Joh 14:18  I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

Jesus’ promise to us that we will have the spirit of truth in us and with us is profound.

There’s no need to pray for God to be with us. He is!

We’re just not always with it. Our eyes and hearts are not always open.

Even in witnessing – especially in witnessing – He promises to lead us. Did Jesus not say in Luke 12:

Luk 12:11  “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say,

Luk 12:12  for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”

As we are nearing the end of the Easter Season – the finality of Jesus’ departure becomes more pressing.

We’ll be here on Ascension Day on Thursday night – a very special day in our calendar – because Jesus leaves them to be the exalted King of kings and Lord of Lords.

That in itself speaks volumes about where we hang out hearts.

But of course the waiting follows – and His promise not to leave them as orphans is fulfilled at Pentecost.

Here’s the key. It’s the presence and power and person of the Holy Spirit working in us.

When He has his way – then there is no fretting “O dear I am not a good witness”. Rather there is a natural (supernatural) boldness in us.

Then we will need more than two services if people come in here seeking what we have – that which gives us hope.

I’m not sure that we actually believe it to be possible. It’s called revival.

If requires faith to walk down that road. And even Jesus was hamstrung by people in places where they had no faith.

So the challenge remains for us. When we come alive to these things by His Spirit – then the world is somehow changed as we walk out of the door! Not that people become victims of potential bible bashing.

But that the people of hope begin to shine – and these portable light houses cause a commotion as others say –“tell me why you’re so different?”

Amen.