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Now What?

May 21, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation this evening is from our second reading, where Luke records, “And when [Jesus] 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.’” Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …

Enamored. Awestruck. The disciples were all following Jesus with their eyes. They had heard of His crucifixion and His death – only one or two had actually seen it happen. They’d kept hidden on that fateful Sabbath, fearing that the same fate that befell their rabbi would come for them as well. They had heard the fantastical message from a few of their female companions – how this Jesus, once dead, was now alive again! Such incredible and wonderful news was verified when they themselves saw Him in the flesh, literally! Not merely “alive,” as though He’d been the first (and only) person in the history of the world to survive crucifixion. No, He was (and is) risen from the dead! Unlike most things that seem too good to be true, this truly was true AND good, truly!

Now, 40 days and numerous appearances of the risen Christ later, the disciples receive His blessing and the promise of a helper to them whom the Father would send. Then suddenly, in the same body that rose from the dead 40 days prior, Jesus rose up from the earth. Without the assistance of anything, Jesus literally wholly rose into the air, rising higher and higher until “a cloud took Him out of their sight.”

We can’t blame the disciples for really gawking after Jesus as He ascended and left their sight. It had to be a fantastic thing to see. However, this gazing was cut short by the sudden appearance of “two men … in white robes.” We know who and what they are: angels, ἄγγελοι! Messengers from the Father who had just received back His Son to His rightful place! And these messengers bore this message: “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.”

Translation: Yes, it’s amazing and wonderful that the Lord of all creation, who was once in your midst, has now returned to His rightful place at the Father’s right hand, where He will remain until He comes back – and He WILL come back! Now, given that you don’t know just WHEN that’s going to be, it might be a good idea for you to be about the business that He gave for you to do, so go back to Jerusalem, wait for the promised Helper and what He will give you, and follow where Christ leads!

It’s a message that the disciples really take to heart, as they do return to Jerusalem. They do stay there until the Feast of Pentecost ten days later, when the promised Helper was given, as they start to boldly proclaim the Gospel message to all who would hear it! With their hearts and minds opened to the truth of the Scriptures, to the truth of who this Jesus of Nazareth really is, they no longer had anything to fear! Men could do nothing to them; like Paul told the Philippians, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Satan could not do anything to them, since Jesus Himself gave the promise, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.” Their own sinful flesh couldn’t deny the promises; they knew they were sinners, but they trusted the Word that God had given to them – a word of promise like the one found in 1st John: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

They were set. Salvation was assured. They needn’t any longer worry about earning their way to God’s presence. Now … they could focus on the work that they had been given to do. That was what they were called to do: to spread the Gospel far and wide to every nation, every tongue, every tribe, until Christ the Lord would return – even if He didn’t return in their lifetime.

Sound familiar? It should, because that is the charge that is given to all Christians: to continue this good work that God has prepared in advance for us to do, to spread the seed of His Word to every corner of the earth, to every tribe of people. It’s not something that we do to merit more grace, to curry God’s favor, or get a closer seat to Him in heaven. No, my friends. We spread this Gospel message for the same reason that we feed the poor and help the needy: people need it.

They need the message of the Gospel, just like we do. They may not like it, they may not want it, but they need to hear it, and time is running short. The angels told the gazing disciples, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” From the moment that Jesus was taken out of the sight of the disciples gathered in that place and time, His return has always been only a breath away. He could return literally at any moment – perhaps even before I even finish this sentence! That would be wonderful. Our time to tell others is short, so by the Helper’s promptings, we want the seed of God’s Word to be spread as far and wide as possible. We want all to have the opportunity to hear the Good News: that their sins are forgiven on account of Jesus’s sacrifice, and that eternal life is promised to them who believe.

It’s what we’re called to do, and no, we know that we don’t always do it for a bevy of many lame excuses and reasons. But the good news is, in spite of our weakness, we take comfort in knowing that God can and does use us, nevertheless, as His vessels of His message. We know that our failures to proclaim Christ, and Him crucified and resurrected, are also forgiven through the all-atoning sacrifice that Jesus did make for all people. While we hope and pray that more would come to saving faith, we do also rightly pray that the blessed day of Jesus’s return on the clouds of heaven would come, and that it would come quickly. Grant this, O Lord, unto us all.

+ In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. + Amen.

Tags: Acts 1:1-11