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You don’t have to look too far to see that there’s a lot of hopelessness and therefore, sadness in this old world today! Rather than me reciting hundreds of articles and newsfeeds, allow me to show you a few quotes I found:
‘Sometimes all you can do is lie in bed and hope to fall asleep before you fall apart.’
‘To live without hope is to cease to live.’
‘Due to recent cutbacks and until further notice,
the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off.’
Hopelessness is not unique to the 21st century. The 1st century had its fair share . . . even with the disciples of Jesus; especially with the disciples of Jesus.
Ever since they had first met Jesus, they had been living in the midst of a most extraordinary time of hope and joy. They witnessed Jesus calm the sea, rebuke a storm, feed thousands, accomplish many healings, and even the raising of people from dead. They were surfing the ultimate wave! When Jesus triumphantly entered the capital city, they watched as the adoring crowds called for God’s blessings on their leader.
But five days later, after they saw Jesus nailed to a Roman cross, all bets were off . . . all hopes were dashed; their great joy turned to overwhelming sadness. Two of His disciples on the Road to Emmaus spoke for them all, “We had hoped He was the guy.” We ‘had hoped’ . . . past tense. They were on their way home . . . back to the way it was before Christ . . . sadness . . . despair . . . hopelessness.
But then everything changed dramatically! Jesus was alive again!!
They could have written the song we opened with this morning:
‘Now that You’re near, everything is different, everything is different, Lord.
I know I’m not the same, my life You’ve changed,
I want to be with You, I want to be with You.’
And to be sure, Luke tells us He was with them for 40 days before He ascended into heaven. And even though there was a certain amount of melancholy in watching Him go, the resurrection and ascension of Jesus filled them with a renewed sense of hope and joy. That’s what I want us to consider today; the significance of the ascension on their lives and ours.
The first reason their hearts were filled with hope and overflowed with joy was because they saw Jesus alive again after they saw Him die.
During the forty days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God (Acts 1:3).
Not only do they rejoice that Jesus is alive, they also realize that along with Jesus they were going to live after they died. They had previously heard Him say, ‘Because I live, you also will live’ (John 14:19). Perhaps they questioned that when He first said it, but now here He is in the flesh again. I doubt that Jesus did, but if it would have been me, I would have said, “Told ya.”
For many centuries, the men and women of Europe looked out upon the western sea, what we call the Atlantic Ocean, and they wondered if there was anything beyond. And they concluded that you could sail off the edge of the world; there was nothing out there at all. In fact, inscribed on Spain’s coat of arms was its national motto, ‘Ne Plus Ultra,’ meaning, “There is nothing beyond.” One day, Christopher Columbus journeyed into the setting sun. After he sailed, most people were sure he would never return. However, after a long time, his sails reappeared and he said, “There is a paradise beyond your greatest expectations!” and the people shouted with joy. As an eventual result of Columbus’ announcement, the king of Spain changed the motto of that land to ‘Plus Ultra,’ meaning, “There is more beyond.”
For many centuries, innumerable people have stood beside the black hole we call the grave and watched the remains of their loved ones lowered into the earth, and they wondered: is there anything beyond the darkness of death? Then one day, another young explorer journeyed into the setting sun and sailed off the edge of the world. People, even His followers, were sure He would never return. Then suddenly, unexpectedly, as the sun arose in the east three days later, the Son of God stepped forth from a grave and declared, “There is something beyond. There is a paradise beyond your greatest expectations.”
When, for whatever reason, we get down in the dumps, we too can rejoice and pin all our hopes on the resurrection of Christ . . . that He is the first of many who will rise from the dead as Paul writes the Corinthians (I Corinthians 15:20).
The second reason they were filled with renewed hope and joy was although Jesus ascended to heaven, they were assured He was going to return again.
As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!” (Acts 1:10-11).
The Ascension testifies to the fact of our Lord’s return, “He will return.”
Thursday evening, our Disciple class was studying The Revelation and naturally, this subject came up. Of course, the 64 dollar question is “When?” And the answer is: we don’t know for sure. To be sure, Christians throughout the ages have attempted to predict His coming based upon current events that they tried to tie to various prophetic predictions from a few of the OT prophets, the Book of Revelation, and even words spoken by Jesus. Back in the mid-60’s, several popular authors released books stating that the second coming of Christ was at hand. Even Billy Graham wrote that it would happen before the decade of the 80’s had concluded.
And today, books continue to be written on the subject warning that the time is near. Perhaps it is. But we must not forget that when Jesus’ disciples asked Him when this momentous occasion was going to take place He told them that not even He knew the day or the hour (Mark 13:22).
But the certainty that He will is there. And that certainty gives us, as it did His original disciples the joyous assurance that God is working out His purposes on earth. And when He is good and ready our Lord will return just as surely as He ascended.
In the meantime, all we can do is to be sure that we and others are ready for it to occur. For it is a certainty that one of two things are going to occur at some point: Either Jesus is going to return to take us home or we are going to go home.
Thirdly, those early disciples of Jesus were filled with hope and joy because they came to realize that they were still going to play a major role in bringing God’s Kingdom to earth as it is in heaven.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).
And, oh how they played that role! Armed with the sure knowledge that one way or another they were going to see Jesus again, filled with great hope and joy, they took the world by storm. Acts 17:6 says, they were turning the world upside down. I love how that great preacher, Dr. Ellsworth Kallas, comments that “in reality, they were turning the world right-side up!”
How? By spreading the word about Jesus and the resurrection! In the sermons recorded in the Book of Acts, there are 24 references to Jesus and the resurrection, Jesus and the resurrection! In Acts 4, Peter and John are speaking to the people when they are confronted by some of the Jewish religious leaders.
These leaders were very disturbed that Peter and John were teaching the people that through Jesus there is a resurrection of the dead. (Acts 4:2).
They wanted their listeners to know ‘that through Jesus there is a resurrection of the dead for all who turn to Christ!’
As Christians today, that’s our purpose too . . . to point people to Christ! There’s no higher calling on earth because there’s no greater honor than to offer hope where there is hopelessness! And the wonderful thing is, when you offer hope to others, you yourself are filled with hope.
God is working out His purpose for the salvation of the world through us. It’s true . . . we do have lots of temporary, earthly purposes: to earn a living, to be a good son or daughter, to be a good mother or father; these are all good purposes. But there’s something more because it is something that impacts eternity and therefore fills us with hope and joy.
Whenever we need a reminder, all we need do is look up to the ascending Christ and hear Him say “You will be My witnesses.”
Our witness is two-fold. First, we model the love of Christ by serving others. We do this individually, as well as collectively as a church.
And secondly, we speak. Witnesses also speak. Last Friday, I was at the Roadside Inn with a friend of mine, Dave Parker. He asked me a question about the church that led to me showing him the difference between religion and Christianity. (Religion being characterized by the word, ‘do;’ in contrast to Christianity which is characterized by the word, ‘Done.’) When I was finished, Dave said, “That looks good to me.” I said, “That’s why they call it good news.”
So having said all this, if you’re looking for a renewed sense of hope and joy, keep looking up!
I love the story of the Lou Little, football coach at Georgetown U, who was visited by the President of that institution who asked him if he knew a particular student. “Sure I know him, he’s been on the team 4 years, but I’ve never played him. He has the skills, but he just doesn’t seem to be motivated.”
“We just got word his father died . . . could you break the news to him?”
Coach Little called the boy to his office, expressed his sorrow and encouraged the boy to take a week off. Four days later the coach was surprised to see the boy suiting up for practice. “What are you doing back already?”
“Well coach, my father’s funeral was yesterday and I wanted to get back in time to play in the big game tomorrow.”
The coach said, “Son, you’ve never played in a game yet.”
“Please start me tomorrow coach; I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.”
So the coach softened a little and told him he’d put him in on the kick-off. The next day, the coach watched this kid come tearing down the field like a tornado to make the tackle. So he left him in and that kid went on to play the entire game on both sides of the ball. He blocked and tackled like he was possessed and pretty much won the game for Georgetown. In the locker room after the game, the coach asked the boy what had inspired him. “Coach you never met my father, so you didn’t know he was blind and today was the first time he ever saw me play.”
We have a heavenly Father who is sitting in the stands next to His Son cheering us to play the game possessed by the Spirit.
‘Now that He’s near . . . everything is different . . . everything is different Lord
I know I’m not the same, my life You’ve changed
I want to live for You, I want to live for You.’
One of my favorites commentaries is Ivor Powell’s titled, Luke’s Thrilling Gospel. He closes it with these inspiring words:
Their Lord was alive! They worshipped Him. They witnessed for Him. They worked for Him. They would wait for Him until He returned. They watched as He ascended into the sky, and then hurried back to the city to share their news with others. It was natural for them to congregate in the Temple, for it was there that they had often listened to Him during those momentous days prior to the cross. They looked into each other’s faces, they gripped each other’s hands; their testimonies stirred the souls of all who listened. Everything had changed; their Lord was alive. Yes, everything had changed. And what had already happened was but the first episode in a great drama; future chapters promised excitement; thrills, triumphs, blessing. When they thought about it, they praised the Lord. Life was just beginning. 1
‘Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.’
1 Powell, Ivor. Luke’s Thrilling Gospel. [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Krieger Publications, © 1965] page 502-503.