The Next Chapter
Ascension, Witnessing, Evangelism
Our lives are made up of a series of transition points. Think about it, there is a transition from being a toddler to being a student and then the transition from Grade School to the increasing freedoms of High School. Heading away to college is a transition. Marriage is a transition. Having children is a transition. When your children move out of the home you face another transition. Retirement is a transition. At each of these points, you begin a new chapter in your life.
As we finish up the book of Luke we reach a time of transition for the early believers. The earthly life of Jesus is completed and the baton is now passed to the disciples to testify to the truth and to build the church. Luke reflects this transition by ending his gospel and starting a new book, the book of Acts. Acts is a record of what happened through the work of the disciples. Luke begins the book of Acts by summarizing the conclusions of his gospel,
3 After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
6 So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:3-8)
Luke tells us Jesus was with the disciples over a period of 40 days. During this time he taught the disciples and they had the chance to ask questions. Jesus told them that His departure would open the door for the Holy Spirit to take up residence in them. Through the Holy Spirit Jesus would now be able to be with them every moment. If any of them had asked “How will we know the Spirit has come?” I’m sure Jesus said, “Don’t worry . . . you’ll know.” As you read Acts 2 you see that the coming of the Holy Spirit was obvious.
Following this summary of the forty days Luke recounts the same event that we read about at the very end of his gospel,
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11)
The Ascension of Jesus was an Ending
This event is called the Ascension of Jesus. In this act Jesus identified a clear transition. He would no longer be with them on earth; He would be in Heaven. Luke writes,
50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
Jesus blessed them. The word for blessing is the Greek word “eulogy”. This doesn’t mean that Jesus told nice stories about the disciples; it means that His blessing was designed to uplift and build up the disciples. When you receive a blessing from the Son of God, that blessing has real power.
They rejoiced. This may seem like an odd response for someone who has just seen their Lord, Savior and friend leave them. You might expect them to be a little depressed. Luke tells us that the dominant emotion was joy. There were several reasons for joy.
- First, they had loved being with Jesus when He was in their midst. Now they understood that Jesus would leave the earth physically but would return and be with them always through the Holy Spirit. They were actually going to be closer to the Lord.
- They knew they had a great and wonderful job to do. This is like a promotion for these guys. No more second string. They were now the starters!
- They were told that Jesus was going to return. Though He was leaving, He would someday return.
- They also surely rejoiced on behalf of Christ. We tend to think of the Ascension as the time when Jesus rose up in the air. However, to ascend also describes one who ascends to the throne or rise to a position of influence or authority. Jesus ascended to the right hand of God! He took His position as Lord of all! The disciples would have rejoiced over this fact.
They worshiped. If you understand who Jesus really is, worship is a natural result. Of course you would praise Him and bow before Him. The disciples knew that any future impact of their ministry would be anchored to their worship. They needed to be in tune with the Lord before they could effectively reach out to others. They recognized that God is the One who brings change. He is the One who changes hearts and circumstances. He is the One who delivers people from life’s bondage. We must wait on the Lord!
The Ascension of Jesus was a Beginning
The Bible tells us that the Ascension of Jesus begins a new ministry for our Lord. Jesus is now involved in some new things. First, He prepares a place for us. Think about these great words of Jesus,
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. [John 14:1-3]
Our Lord assures us that He is making preparation for our arrival into His Kingdom. Think about the comfort in these words: He is preparing a place for us. He is also preparing us as we live this life. Someone has said, “Heaven is a prepared place for a prepared people”. Even now Jesus works on our behalf.
Second, He intercedes for us. In Hebrews 7 we are told,
Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. [Heb 7:25]
We long for the prayer support of our friends because we know that prayer makes a difference. It taps into the power of God. The problem is that we are inconsistent in prayer and sometimes we don’t know how to pray. We don’t see the big picture. We pray for discomfort to go away rather than for the trials of life to do their work in us. The intercession of Jesus is different. He prays for us constantly. He is always interceding for us (even as the Holy Spirit is also praying for us in groans too deep for words). Our Lord prays for us lovingly. He knows what we most need and prays with the wisdom of perspective. He sees the “big picture” we do not.
Third, He equips us for service. Paul writes in Ephesians 4
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Jesus gives us the tools we need to serve Him faithfully! Isn’t it frustrating to be given a job to do for which you don’t have the tools? The Lord not only gives us a job to do, He gives us the resources we need to do that job. He gives us the gifts and abilities which we need to play our unique role in the work of His Kingdom. He enables us to play a part in His divine work.
Notice also that The Ascension also brings about something new in us. Most college students enjoy their years at school. However as the college work nears its completion there is a new excitement and a new anxiety. Everything is changing. The life that they have known will be gone. That creates a measure of apprehension. But it is also exciting to be a “grown up” and get a job, and begin the process of doing what you have spent all this time training to do.
That’s where the disciples are. They have followed Jesus. They have listened to Him teach. They have had their periods of internship under His supervision. Now they were “going live”.
The disciples are commissioned to do several things. First, as we have already seen, they were told to “wait”. Many of us are not particularly patient. Waiting is a discipline to cultivate. It is learning to wait for God’s leading and God’s direction.
Second, they were told to witness. Their job was to pass on what they had seen and heard. It was their job to pass on the truth of God’s plan and heart. When we talk about “witnessing” today it is the same thing. It is not about learning a technique or a sales pitch; it is about passing on what we have seen and become convinced of. The message of the gospel is like a baton that runners carry in a race. Each person in the race takes the same baton and passes it on to the next person. This is our leg of the race. It is our job to communicate the message faithfully and passionately.
Their “target audience” was unrestricted. Jesus said,
you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8)
In this verse you see an outlines of the book of Acts. In the book of Acts we read about the disciples as they preached first in Jerusalem and then they diligently start to reach out first to Jews but then also to the Gentiles. Their work had a ripple like effect on the rest of the world. These men were faithful to do what the Lord has commanded them.
There is a great and a sobering message to you and me. God has also called us to “go into the world and make disciples.” This is also our assignment. Our job is not merely to study the book of Luke, it is to take what we have learned and share it with others. We have been given the job to be a witness to our family, our friends, and as far as it is possible to the world. This is our leg of the race. We need to have the same kind of determination and passion that we see in the disciples. They understood (and so must we) that this is the most important information in the world. It is more important that what we learn in school, more important than the skills we learn for life, and more important than any other work we do.
The late Welsh preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote,
Do men and women need to be told about some kind of program that will give them better conditions? That is not our greatest need. Our greatest need is to know God. If we were all given a fortune, would that solve our problems? Would that solve our moral problem? Would that solve the problem of death? Would that solve the problem of eternity? Of course not. The message of Christianity is not about improving the world, but about changing people in spite of the world, preparing them for the glory that is yet to come.
As we go into the world with the gospel, we actually have some advantages over the disciples. We can travel great distances with ease. We have radio, television and print media available to us. We have hundreds of teachers to learn from. We have the Internet and can use it to proclaim the message of salvation. However, these advantages are also our greatest challenges. People today are on “information overload”. We are bombarded with e-mail, tweets, Facebook updates, text messages, blogs, discussion groups and other teaching material. We are so used to the shallow and superficial that it is hard for us to sit still for or digest the significant and meaty truths of the gospel. But it can be done.
As we saw last week, it isn’t about ability . . . it is about willingness. The disciples, I suppose, could have hunkered down and said the job was too big. They could have been paralyzed by fear. But they chose instead to step out and trust God to open doors and provide for their needs. They did what the Lord told them to do and trusted God with the results. That’s a pretty good principle for us.
The question you and I have to ask is this: Are we willing to serve the Lord? Are we willing to give the time, the money, and make the sacrifices that might be needed to reach the world with the message of the gospel?
To be honest, the whole idea intimidates me. I like my comfort zone. I like being safe and in an environment over which I feel I have some control. The thing is, you can’t be safe and also be faithful. Safe involves trusting in what we feel we can do in our own strength. Faith involves daring to move forward in God’s strength.
So where do we begin? The simple answer is: begin where we are. The disciples started in Jerusalem. We need to take the message of the gospel to our Jerusalem; to our neighbors, our friends, and our co-workers. We need to be faithful in telling our friends about Jesus and not just about the church. Here are some ideas,
- Create opportunities. Look for ways to bring up the things of God with your friends and family. Share something you learned. Talk about a ministry in which you are involved. Ask a question about a person’s “spiritual beliefs”. Host a study group in your home and invite your neighbors to join you.
- Live consistently. The people around us are watching to see if what we profess is real. The thing that impressed people about the disciples is that they were “different” from everyone else.
- Invest wisely. Look for ways to use your money and your time in ways that will lead to the expansion of God’s Kingdom! It is an investment that will always pay dividends and will never decrease in value.
- Think bigger. We need to have a “global vision”.
- Take the gospel into the world of a college campus
- Testify as you go on business trips.
- Be part of a short term mission trip to another land.
- Get involved in youth ministry.
- Share your faith in discussion groups on the Internet
- View a job transfer as a new mission field.
- Give your life to serving some ministry overseas.
- Accept an invitation to share your faith with others.
The opportunities are endless. God will open doors . . . . if we are willing to walk through them. But make sure to read the fine print. Jesus did not say it would be easy. If you follow the story of the disciples in the book of Acts you will see that these men met opposition; some of it fierce. Almost all of them literally died giving their lives to message of the gospel.
That is intimidating. But it is also a reminder that these men truly believed. Christianity was not a club or a hobby in which they maintained a membership. Being a follower of Christ was the passion of their lives. They believed Jesus was the only way to a relationship with God. They believed those who do not receive and follow Christ will spend eternity facing God’s fierce Judgment. (How do we say this without even shedding a tear?) Consequently, they believed that no sacrifice was too great. These men kept their eye on the prize. They refused to be stopped by the obstacles of the world. Do we have that same passion?
We began our walk with Jesus in the gospel of Luke almost two years ago. The gospel of Luke began in the temple where we found Elizabeth, Mary, Zechariah, Anna and Simeon. The book ends the same way. The disciples are in the temple praising God.
This is where our walk with Christ should start and finish. Above all things we should be worshipers. By that I don’t mean we are “church-attenders”. There are many who attend church and never worship. A worshiper is one who adores and loves the Lord every moment of every day. If we have learned the message of Luke and heard the message of the life of Jesus, we should adore the Lord. We should talk to Him throughout the day. We should seek to honor Him more than we seek to honor ourselves or impress our friends. We should follow Him wherever He leads us and praise Him in every circumstance. You see, before we can proclaim Him Lord of All we must first let Him be Lord in OUR hearts and minds.
Transitions are a part of life. We have studied the life of Jesus now we are asked to transition from being observers to being participants; from being merely students to being witnesses (or teachers). This transition takes us from darkness to light; from the values of the world to the values of Heaven; from pursuing our agenda to pursuing His; from living for the moment to living for the King for all eternity. As with other transitions, it may be a little scary. But as we move forward we will discover new joys, new opportunities, and we will find the new life we have been looking for.