This past Thursday was Ascension Day, and today Ascension Sunday. I have never done a sermon on the Ascension, so I don’t know what images that conjures up in your mind, but I know for some it conjures up pictures of the Amish and Mennonite communities gathering at Greenwood Furnace or other such parks for a day of picnicing. During the Reformation, Ascension Day was celebrated as a feast day in the church and it seems the Amish and Mennonite are still keeping that tradition. Ascension Day is the celebration of the ascension of our Lord, Jesus Christ, from earth into the heaven. Luke gives an account of the ascension in both his books. It is the bridge between the books of Luke and Acts.
Have you ever had to leave someone for a period of time, to go on a trip perhaps? Or maybe you remember sending your child off to their first day of school? Or maybe a loved one knew they were dieing … It’s at those times people say the things that matter most. They are preparing the other for departure or a time of separation.
Jesus knows he is leaving. He has 40 days with his disciples. And he now comes to the last. What are his last words? What does he want the disciples to remember? What are the most important things for them to know?
Jesus says three things to his disciples:
- Jesus points to the OT scriptures that are fulfilled in his suffering, death and resurrection, bringing forgiveness of sins and this, to all the nations.
- The disciples are witnesses of these things. They are to tell others what they have witnessed.
- But not until the receive "power from on high" or as Acts makes clear, they are empowered by the Holy Spirit.
It is the second of these which we will look at today.
Be witnesses to all nations beginning in Jerusalem (Lk 24)
Be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1) (ever-widening circle.)
Witness – the disciples are eye-witnesses. They lived with Jesus; they witnessed the miracles, they witnessed his dying and death, some placed him in the tomb, they witnessed the empty tomb, and now for 40 days they witnessed Christ among them. Jesus revealed from the Scriptures that this was foretold, he explained why it happened this way. And now they are commissioned to tell what they have witnessed, not just to those who are like them or those who are in their city or those who are in their nation or people group, they are to witness to all nations, all peoples.
As this community of believers is commissioned to this work, so are we, as the community of the faithful. We are called to witness to our neighbors next door and our neighbors across the world. And there is still a work to be done. I find it phenomenal that what was witnessed in Jerusalem has now circled the globe. It is amazing that you can go to BibleGateway.com and the Bible is in about 25 different languages, and in some languages it appears in different versions. But we still have work to do.
The Lausanne Committee for World Evangelism was formed in 1974 to bring an awareness to the need and work toward world evangelism. During that time 2/3 of all humanity was estimated unevangelized. A commentary writer estimates that only 30,000 full-time Christian workers are at work among the 1.8 billion members of the twelve thousand unreached groups.
A UM News article, recently stated that the UM is now seeking to send more missionaries, after they ceased in 2002 because of a shortage of money (investment income.) If we really believe this is what the church is about, that was a terrible a mistake. The UM is looking to send at least 20 new missionaries. There are currently 229, including 50 within the US. I believe if we really are going to take Jesus’ last words to heart, we must do better.
A commentary writer states, "He is not mentioning an optional ministry activity for individuals with crosscultural interests and churches with surplus funds. The Great Commission is the primary task the Lord left his church. The church must always be a missionary church; the Christian must always be a world Christian."
On May 10, Bishop Janice Riggle Huie of the Houston Area became president of the Council of Bishops. In her acceptance remarks, Huie spoke of her yearning to return to the time when Methodism was seen as a movement instead of an institution.
As a movement, we reach out beyond our borders, beyond our comfort zone. We will have a concern for all peoples. Our Wesleyan roots point us to cross other seas. Wesley himself came to the colonies as a missionary. Methodism is in the US today, because of missionaries from England.
Mission that cares for the physical
The disciples asked one last time in Acts 1.6, “now are you going to restore the kingdom of Israel?” The disciples understood that restoration to be spiritual, political and social. Our Wesleyan heritage also points us to care for the whole person.
World Vision Summer 2006 issue states:
In developing countries, 6 million children die each year, mostly from hunger-related causes.
In 2002, an estimated 608 million people were caught in disasters—almost one in 10 of the world’s population.
What are the main causes world hunger? *Armed conflict is now the leading cause. Fighting uproot families from their homes and farms, leaving them hungry and without access to their own food sources. *Natural disasters. *HIV/AIDS. *Finally, poverty and hunger lock people into a vicious cycle: the poor are hungry, and hunger traps them in poverty.
The United Nations established Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which would reduce extreme poverty in half by 2015 and eliminate it altogether by 2025. Less than 1% of US federal international humanitarian assistance. 2% of charitable donations and 2% of Protestant denominations giving goes to foreign missions.
$40-$70 billion a year is needed to achieve the MDGs, but we spend $20 billion a year on ice cream; $26 billion on jewelry. It would cost each American 50 cents a day to reach this goal.
Good News in Mission
Equip (a John Maxwell ministry) indicates
*In China, 35,000 people per day are giving their hearts to Christ.
*In Iraq, four churches in Baghdad run over 1000 each in weekly attendance
*In Iran, more people have given their hearts to Jesus than in the previous 1500 years! Over 2000 house churches have been started there by university students who are new followers of Christ.
*Therefore the need for the Million Leaders Mandate. (which is being established in China as we speak.)
A call for worship: Luke closes with the disciples worshiping, filled with great joy, praising God in the temple. They have witnessed a great thing. They celebrate the reign and rule of Jesus Christ as he returns to his throne. Ascension Day is a day of celebration!
A sending forth: This introductory section of Acts ends with angels appearing and asking, "why do you stand here looking into the sky?" Ascension Day is day of sending, we are to go forth in the power of the Holy Spirit to be witnesses, to continue the work that Jesus began, to continue the work the first disciples began.