I know it’s been quite a few years ago, but do any of you remember the song: “Up, Up and Away in my Beautiful Balloon?” It’s not that important if you remember but it helps to explain the sermon title: “Up, Up, but NOT away…” Although the balloon flew away – Jesus ascended so that He might be with us forever!
As I’m asking if you remember: do you remember the name of the first man in space? It was over 53 years ago!—back in April 1961, when Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was sent into space. The next month, the American Astronaut Alan Shephard also went into space; John Glenn (1962) might also come to mind; and Neil Armstrong who walked on the moon (July 1969). You could possibly name many more men and women, but actually it is a trick question because it is not really about cosmonauts or astronauts. The question, “What is the name of the first man in space?,” was originally asked by a soldier in an army barracks one evening as the discussion turned to outer space. After the soldier let his buddies recall a number of names, he got out his Bible and read Acts 1:9 “After Jesus said this, He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight.” The soldier used this creative way to witness to his buddies about his faith in his crucified, risen and ascended Savior, Jesus.
Now, Jesus’ ascension was much different. Jesus did not get “thrust into space” with some rocket boosters; He did not wear a protective space suit; and “mission control” was not in Houston or Cape Canaveral. The benefits and results of Jesus’ ascension are also so much greater than any space program ever was or ever will be! God’s Word tells us, and we confess, that through Jesus’ ascension, His Kingdom continues to grow, as a) we learn the truth about the Kingdom of God; b) as we are empowered to be witnesses in that Kingdom; and c) as we look forward to Jesus’ “return,” His second coming to take us to the home He has prepared for us in heaven!
During the 40 days between Easter and the Ascension, Jesus “showed Himself to (His followers) and gave many convincing proofs that He was alive… and spoke about the Kingdom of God.” (v.3) Jesus’ physical presence was very comforting and assuring to His followers that He really DID rise from the dead. But as long as Jesus was physically present, His followers would not understand the truth about “the Kingdom of God.” They were still hoping for THEIR idea of an earthly kingdom. This is quite apparent when they asked Jesus, “‘Lord, are You at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ (Jesus) said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority. 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 theearth.'” (Acts 1:6-8)
In spite of the many hours of instruction Jesus had spent with His disciples, they were still thinking in earthly terms concerning the Kingdom of God even though Jesus had clearly taught, “The Kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the Kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21)
By Jesus’ bodily ascension into heaven in the sight of His followers, Jesus helped them (and us) to see that His Kingdom is within us and comes into existence as, through His forgiveness, He frees us from our sins and the guilt of sin; through His Word and His rich blessings of the Sacraments: Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, He empowers us to live under Him in His Kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness.
Just before His ascension, Jesus promised, “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.” (v.8) I would guess that this would have “caught” some of the disciples by surprise:
- not the part that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit would be given – Jesus had been saying that for some time already. (Although the disciples showed they didn’t understand!)
- not that they would be witnesses in Jerusalem (at home) and in all Judea (their neighborhoods and culture) – that was “home” and amongst family and friends to them.
- BUT in Samaria??? and to the ends of the earth??? Didn’t Jesus know that the Samaritans and the Jews didn’t get along together! (Of course He did–that was the “hook” in Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan when the lawyer wanted to “justify himself.”) The Jews and Samaritans DIDN’T AGREE! In fact, they went out of their way to AVOID each other!
- Jesus says we WILL be His witnesses also to those who we don’t think will agree with us! Yes, and “witnesses” to other cultures, other languages; to the ends of the earth!
A pastor was visiting with a factory worker when the pastor asked, “Are you a Christian?” “Yes,” the man replied, “I consider myself to be a Christian.” “Are you bringing others to Christ and His Church?” the pastor continued to ask. “No, sir, I am not,” came the reply, “that is not my business, it’s yours. You are called to preach.” The pastor opened his Bible to Acts 8:4 and invited, “Will you please read what God’s Word says?” The factory worker read, “Those who had been scattered preached the Word wherever they went.” “Yes, but those were the apostles,” the man objected. “Please also read the first verse,” the pastor invited. The Christian factory worker read, “all except the apostles were scattered.”
Jesus’ ascension reminds us that our reason for life on this earth is: “As we go, make disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching them…” (Matthew 28:19) Not everyone is called to be a pastor, but ALL in the Kingdom of God receive power to be Christ’s witnesses, first (and foremost!) to our families, then to our friends and neighbors, also to those who don’t agree with us; and through our mission offerings and prayers, our witness reaches throughout Kansas and into the whole world.
And just like the cosmonauts and astronauts, as well as the rockets and satellites that we send up into space come “back down,” so also, as Jesus’ followers “were looking intently up into the sky as (Jesus) was going… suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand there 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.'” (v. 10-11)
Jesus hasn’t taken us to our heavenly home (yet) – He still has some “witness work” for us to do. Again today He assures us: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you” (as God “empowers” us through His Word and Sacraments) and you WILL be My witnesses…” not “pastors” but “witnesses” sharing God’s Word personally, supporting mission opportunities like those on the mission trip to Zacapa, Guatemala this week – this Summer and all year – as we are His witnesses through the ministry of our Lutheran school.
One day soon, all of us with true faith in Jesus will be “taken up” to join Jesus in the “heavenly kingdom.” But for now, we have important work – “witness work” – in our homes (“Jerusalem”), to our neighbors and friends (“Judea”), to those who don’t agree with us (“Samaria”), and through prayers and mission offerings, “to the ends of the earth.” Yes, Jesus went “Up, Up but NOT away!” As Jesus taught us, we regularly pray: THY KINGDOM COME in me, O Jesus, THY KINGDOM COME through me, O Risen and Ascended Lord!
See you in church this weekend!