Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. When I was younger, I enjoyed the TV series “24.” It’s a show that centers around the main character, Jack Bauer, played by Kiefer Sutherland. He’s an agent for the Counter Terrorist Unit, and his job is basically to singlehandedly save the country from a terrorist threat and to discover all sorts of other unknown issues over the course of a 24-hour day (thus the show’s name, “24”). For all that I remember the show for, there’s one thing that always sticks out—it’s cliff-hanger endings. Maybe you’ve seen shows that do the same thing. About 10 or even 5 minutes left in the show, everything is starting to resolve. Things are looking like they’re going to be okay, until
the moment right before the screen goes black for the end of the episode. Right then, something horrible happens—something that causes you to stare at the screen, feeling almost paralyzed. As the screen goes black and the next program begins, you’re left staring and thinking to yourself, “This can’t be how it ends!” Maybe you’ve experienced something similar—maybe it’s a different TV series, maybe it’s a movie, or maybe it’s a book that ends and leaves you thinking, “This can’t be how it ends.” But I suspect each one of us has had one of these moments much more personally. Maybe you were taking in the news and it was political concerns or the violence going on in places like the Middle East that caused you to have that feeling of being paralyzed and helpless thinking, “This can’t be how it ends.” Maybe it’s the loss of a job that’s left you feeling utterly alone. It’s left you wondering what’s next—how you’re going to survive. And so, you’re left staring off into space and thinking, “This can’t be how it ends.” Or maybe it’s the loss or death of a loved one that’s left you feeling paralyzed and helpless. Maybe you have this memory of standing by their bedside and thinking, “This can’t be how it ends.” Regardless of who you are, we all have these moments in life where we’re left feeling paralyzed and helpless, thinking to ourselves, “This can’t be how it ends.”
2. I have to wonder if the disciples felt a little bit like that on that first Ascension Day. I mean, there they stood, just staring into heaven. Jesus was gone. Now what were they going to do? Just forty-some days earlier that had experienced this before on Good Friday. Jesus was taken away from them by his death, and they were all left thinking to themselves, “This can’t be how it ends.” And thank God is wasn’t. Easter morning arrived and Jesus rose from the dead. And he appeared to his disciples over the course of the next 40 days teaching them and opening their hearts to understand the scriptures and the implications of what he had done for them. And now, as Jesus led his disciples onto the Mount of Olives, I have to wonder if they were thinking, “THIS is how it’s going to end! Jesus has already defeated the powers of sin and death, and now he’s going to restore the kingdom in all it’s splendor and glory and make right everything that’s wrong in the world.” So, the disciples have a seemingly logical question to ask Jesus. Luke tells us in verse 6 of our reading: So when they had come together, [the disciples] asked [Jesus], “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom of Israel?” Again, it seems like a perfectly reasonable question. It’s a two part question, really. The disciples are asking about time & the kingdom. First, they want to know about time: WHEN is the end. And secondly, they want to know about the kingdom: Are you going to restore the KINGDOM to Israel. Their question is about time & the kingdom. But in true Jesus fashion, he doesn’t quite give them the answer they were probably hoping for. In verses 7 & 8 we’re told, 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.” Remember, the disciples’ question was about time & the kingdom, and notice how Jesus responds. He doesn’t answer the second part of their question—he doesn’t seem to be concerned about the kingdom in the slightest. He does answer the first part of the question though—well, kind of. It’s really more of a response than an answer. He responds to their question about time by basically saying, “Don’t worry about it! It’s not your business. You don’t need to be concerned about what the Father has determined by his own authority.” And then Jesus redirects his disciples to what they do need to be concerned about. Jesus redirects them to the job that he’s about to give them to do: “BUT you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,” a clear reference to Pentecost, “and you will be my witnesses first here in Jerusalem, then in the broader region of Judea and Samaria, and finally to the very ends of the earth.” Then before the disciples have much of a chance to object or ask follow-up questions, we’re told in verse 9, 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. Just like that, Jesus was gone. And so, the disciples were left staring into the heavens thinking to themselves, “This can’t be how it ends!” And there they stood, perhaps feeling a bit paralyzed and helpless, staring into the sky. But Jesus didn’t leave them that way for too long. We’re told in verses 10 & 11, 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.” Ah, so now we get the second part of the answer to the disciples’ question. Jesus has send these men, these angels, to tell the disciples about the kingdom. They still don’t need to be worried about the timing, but the the angels tell them that Jesus will return in the same way that they saw him go to bring the kingdom to earth. In a word, the message of these angels was this: This is not how it ends. Jesus’ ascension guarantees that he will return.
3. This is an important promise, one that we still cling to today. See, so often life leaves us feeling paralyzed and helpless. Maybe it’s the news—those political concerns or the violence that we see in the world. If that’s what’s left you feeling paralyzed and helpless, I want to invite you to cling to this promise today: The ascended Jesus rules and reigns over all. I know it seems at times like the corrupt politicians of this world are in control. I know it seems at times like darker, cosmic, demonic powers are ultimately in control. But they’re not. Jesus rules and reigns over all. In a few minutes, we’re going to confess the words of the Nicene Creed together, and we’ll say, He ascended into heaven and sits and the right hand of the Father. Because Jesus sits on the throne in heaven and the right hand of the Father, he rules and reigns over all. He is in control of this world, even when it doesn’t seem like it, even when we can’t understand how. But maybe it’s the feeling of loneliness that’s left you feeling paralyzed and helpless. If that’s you, I want to invite you to cling to this promise today: Jesus hasn’t abandoned you until the end. I know it probably seemed like it for the disciples. I mean, they couldn’t see Jesus anymore, just like we can’t see him. But that doesn’t mean they were alone. Remember the words Jesus spoke right before he ascended, You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. Jesus is ascended into heaven, but he hasn’t left us alone. He send his Spirit to be with us and to comfort us in this life. You are not alone. Maybe it’s the loss or death of a loved one that’s left you feeling paralyzed and helpless. If that’s you, I want to invite you to cling to this promise today: Jesus will return. And when he returns, he will bring the kingdom in all its fulness and glory. He will right everything that’s wrong in this world, and most especially, he will bring new life to you and me and to all believers in him. Jesus will return. This is our confidence because Jesus has promised it. Jesus rules and reigns over all. He hasn’t abandoned you to the end. And he will return again. In a word: This is not how it ends.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.