The Day Jesus Went Away (sermon text version)

Have you ever had a good friend who moved away?  Yet you had hope of seeing them again, even if that hope was pretty remote because the distance was significant.  What about when a good friend or a family member dies?  You hope of seeing them again—and it’s a heavenly hope!!  But you’d never expect to see them walking the earth again.   The disciples had seen both, in a sense.  Jesus died and they thought they said final goodbyes before the Crucifixion, but then came the Resurrection and the empty tomb and they didn’t understand.  But then Jesus started His Resurrection appearances and as the Risen Lord, He continued His teachings so they would understand what was hoped for—resurrection–was now being realized.

The Resurrection meant that Jesus was among the disciples.  And just as real as He had been before the Last Supper.  It was like old times.  The disciples—as we continue in our series of Acts—have been experiencing both the strange hope of a friend who went away and came back and one who died but was resurrected.  But now, they’re about to be confused again.  Their friend who died and came back is about to go away and not walk this earth again just like old times.

I want to share with you today about “The Day Jesus Went Away.”

The Day that Jesus Went Away is an actual remembered/celebrated date on the Christian calendar.  Ascension Sunday is normally celebrated on the first Sunday beyond 40 days after Easter Sunday.  Most evangelical and Protestant Churches let it pass by with very little recognition.  Maybe there will be a celebration on the Sunday six weeks after Easter, this year June 1, 2014.  In the early church there was a feast on Ascension Day or Ascension Thursday which is technically 40 days which recalls the date of Jesus’ Ascension.

day jesus went away jpgMany Protestant Churches skip over the Ascension because the Crucifixion and the Resurrection eclipse it.  For certain, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection are important.  Last week I described them as the pivot point of all human history, yet without the 40 days of time post-Resurrection and the Ascension—the rising of Jesus Christ into the clouds before their very eyes—we’d discover that even the Resurrection would be diminished.  We’ll get to that in a moment.

Many people don’t like the Ascension in the Church because to them, it’s kind of strange to go proclaiming that Jesus went away, rising into the clouds and they try to imagine what that must have been like.  Was it:

  • “Beam me up, Scotty!” from Star Trek where He turned into a bunch of sparkles?
  • Or is it like Iron Man with rocket things on Jesus’ feet?
  • Or maybe did He just float up into the clouds like a balloon, getting smaller and smaller until they couldn’t see Him anymore?
  • Or did He disappear like the baseball players in the movie Field of Dreams who walked into the corn field and slowly disappeared?

Scripture doesn’t exactly say, just that He “was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.”  Frankly, it doesn’t really matter how it looked, although I would have liked to have been there to see it.  Curiosity wants to know.  In any case, the Ascension requires a suspension of the natural world’s reliance upon the physical and conversely requires a willingness to believe the supernatural.

If you stop to think about it, why would the day Jesus left be any less miraculous than His arrival as a fertilized egg in the womb of a virgin named Mary?  Doesn’t it follow that the time from conception to baptism to ministry to death to resurrection to ascension would all be a time that the Son of God—Emmanuel (God with Us)—that it would ALL be miraculous?  This walking Miracle walked the very earth He created as God?  If we look at it that way, the Ascension of Christ is actually a fitting close to His Incarnational ministry and completes the proof of His Lordship confirmed anew in His Resurrection.

Together, Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension are considered His exaltation.  The early Church viewed them as two different ends of the same rope, two perspectives on the same event.  As it says in the early church hymn found in

Philippians 2:8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The Resurrection and the Ascension.  Two points on the continuous movement of exaltation.  Remember the scene from outside the empty tomb?

John 20:15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren, and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.'”

Don’t try to hold Me to this earth, Jesus says.  The physical world has no hold on Me.  The NAS Bible uses the word ascended which is from the Greek word  Ἀναβαίνω which means “go up, ascend” and is referred to by our NIV as “returned” only because God the Father was already up there.

Very briefly, then, I’d like to explore 6 reasons why the Ascension—the Day Jesus Went Away—was critically important for the disciples then…and is critically important for us as disciples today.  6 reasons.  I’ve already alluded to the first

1.  It is a fitting closure to the days of the Miraculous walking among us.  The Incarnation and the Ascension form the two bookends of God with Us in the person of Jesus Christ.  He came.  He left.

2.  Second, it was a clear closure, unlike the empty tomb which is “open ended” in a sense.  Frankly the empty tomb could have been explained by a million natural reasons.  Had the Resurrection occurred without 40 days of proving that He was still alive, we’d probably have more questions than answers.  It’d be the difference for a Vietnam Vet between a fellow solider coming home to his family and one who is still Missing in Action.  Alive, perhaps, but not visible and all the questions surrounding where he is. Uncertainty!  If there wasn’t a 40 day period of Jesus walking and teaching, we’d have nothing hard and fast onto which to pin our faith—just an empty tomb and a bunch of theories as to how it happened.  But the post-Resurrection appearances of Christ proved that He was alive again.  That death didn’t have a hold on Him.  The supernatural had superseded the natural.  The post-Resurrection appearances of Christ were a condescension of God so that we’d believe in the supernatural of God.  But, those appearances couldn’t continue if we were to have faith in what we know from His Word and not only in what we see with our eyes.  Those post-Resurrection appearances of Christ had to end and His visible ascension provided the statement “The End” at the end of His earthly ministry as the person of Jesus on earth.  It was clear closure.  Fitting closure.  Clear closure.

3.  Next, the Ascension was important because it ushered in what was new:  the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Remember this?  John 14: 15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever– 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. …25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. 28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.”  Jesus ascended so that the Holy Spirit could come.

Now, let me tell you a little story.  When I was on a mission trip to South Africa in 2005, there were a bunch of doctors and nurses on the trip.  We stayed with a partner church and with members of their congregation.  One morning at breakfast, I made the comment that the Holy Spirit couldn’t come until the Father pronounced the acceptability of Jesus’ sacrifice.  The Holy Spirit couldn’t come to indwell us until the temple of our hearts was clean.  At that point, one of the nurses said, I always thought it was like the 1/3-2/3 rule where 2/3 of God always had to be in heaven and the Holy Spirit couldn’t be here on earth while Jesus was still here because that would have meant that 2/3 of God would be on earth.  We got into a protracted discussion of how God isn’t divisible by 3, that the Godhead is One (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), but suffice it to say for our purposes today that the Ascension was proof of acceptable sacrifice and the reason God would send the Holy Spirit since we were now in a position to be able to receive Him IN us as the indwelling Holy Spirit by faith in Jesus Christ.  A deposit guaranteeing our inheritance as saints.  The Ascension as a point of exaltation ushered in something new!

4.  But the Day Jesus went away is also important because of the preparation work Jesus is doing even now!  From John 14:1 “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.”  When we hear that Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven and is waiting for His enemies to be made His footstool, it’s not like He’s lounging around in the heavenly version of a Lazy-Boy.  He’s actually finished with the work on earth, but He’s busy preparing a place for us.  How?  By interceding for us and by continuing to draw people to Himself!  Romans 8:34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died– more than that, who was raised to life– is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”  The author of the letter to the Hebrews says it this way:  Hebrews 7: 22 …, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. 23 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. 26 Such a high priest meets our need– one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.” 

He’s exalted in heaven and is interceding for you and for me—right now—and in every moment.  I don’t know about you, but I find this hugely comforting as I ponder the fate of the Christians in Iraq and journalists being beheaded and Ferguson, MO, and Gaza and Racine and struggles I face in my own life.  Jesus isn’t taking an extended nap in a Stratolounger!  He’s actively interceding and I don’t know what transpired in the moments before James Foley was beheaded, but I want to believe that Jesus showered His grace upon Mr. Foley and Jesus intervened in an eternally powerful way.  That not even death by beheading could separate James Foley from the love of God because of what Jesus did…preparing, I hope and trust, a place for him.  No one knows the answer to that one but God, but if we believe that Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient to cover our sins, if we have faith that He’s preparing a place for us, He won’t let us down.  That’s what the Day Jesus Went Away proves: His sacrifice was accepted by the Father as being sufficient and nothing we can do could ever add or take away from that work of God since Jesus Himself is preparing the place for us.

Fitting closure.  Clear closure.  Ushering in something new by Jesus’ acceptable sacrifice.  Going to prepare a place for us where Jesus is still lovingly working on our behalf.  But I’m not done. 

5.  There’s more that the Ascension proves:  It also tells us that we’re not through.  Jesus will come back in the same way He left.  In verse 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.” 

Now that doesn’t necessarily mean in a tunic circa 33 AD with OT sandals and looking like those portraits people imagine of the beautifully coiffed wavy light brown hair and blue eyes holding a little lamb and that it will be like a rewind of how Jesus looked leaving.  Like we’re just watching it play backward, but it does mean that in the same miraculous and supernatural way He left, His return will be nothing less than supernatural too.  He told us in John, remember?  John 14:3 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.” 

The Ascension was witnessed history—people saw it, men of Galilee saw it—and it proves that the Day Jesus Went Away is also our guarantee that Jesus will be returning.  People can scoff all they want—and they do, but the truth is that when He returns there will be eternal joy and presence of God for those who believe …and eternal separation from God for those who scoffed at witnessed history.

Yes, all those rocket scientists who made up their own versions of matters of creation, who rejected the supernatural as being nothing but fantasy.  Hell will have its share of people who were “too smart” to believe the supernatural.  When Jesus comes back, Scripture tells us every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.  Yes, EVERY.  That means even those who refused to believe it while it would have done them some eternal good.  But they didn’t take it for truth when they were alive.  Live by the physical world.  Die by the physical world…dust to dust for their bodies, but they ignored that their souls are supernatural and at the point of Jesus’ return, supernaturally separated from God forever.   Yup.  The Day Jesus Returns, supernaturally, we’ll see who the truly smart ones are.

6. There’s one last thing that I want to mention about the Ascension among the many good reasons to be thankful for the Ascension and not ignore it:  We’re supposed to do the work of witness until He returns.  I love what today’s passage says:  Acts 1:9 After he said this, [said what?   Back to verse  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.”]  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.” 

A good principle for walking with God in our daily lives is this: Do the last thing He told you to do until He tells you what the next thing is.

Our entire job now is to witness to who He is, walk with the Holy Spirit, learn about God and His ways through His Word and to teach it to others so that when He returns we’ll be found faithful—working hard at what He told us to do.

So here’s your homework assignment.  Browse through the Gospel of Luke and think about the 6 reasons we identified today that the Ascension is important.  That the Ascension is

(1) a fitting closure—Jesus’ incarnational ministry was miraculous from beginning to end,

(2) that it is clear closure—no missing in action doubts whether it’s true, or expectations that He’s going to pop out periodically from behind the clouds.

(3) ushering in something new because Jesus’  sacrifice was accepted.  The Ascension as a point of exaltation proves that.

(4) changing the scope of Jesus’ work from completed incarnation on earth to ongoing ministry of preparation and intercession in heaven.

(5) proof that He will be returning.  In the same supernatural way He left, He’s a-coming, comin’ for to carry me home.  And not just me, everyone who believes upon the Name of Jesus for forgiveness, for remission of sin, and for our salvation.

(6) transforming our work from disciples just watching and learning …to becoming disciples who are doing as well.  The work of witness, the work of Kingdom growth—this amazing partnership God has privileged us to share is possible because the Holy Spirit is now here.  For the disciples staring into the clouds, they were still waiting for this gift worth waiting for, the Holy Spirit who would lift them out of their ruts and expectations, who would empower them to stand as witnesses!  And the Ascension as one point on the exaltation of Christ proves that He will be returning!  Just as Jesus said Luke 18:7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

The Ascension—The Day Jesus Went Away—is supernatural.  His coming was supernatural.  His return will be no less supernatural.  So the question we’re left with is, Will we believe?  Or as Jesus stated it,

When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?

Let’s pray.


This message was first preached at Plymouth Congregational Church in Racine, WI on August 24, 2014 by Barbara Shafer





Categories Chapel Worship/News | Tags: | Posted on August 27, 2014

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