Sunday, June 1, 2014

Sermon -- Ascension; transferred (June 1, 2014)

ACTS 1:1-11
JESUS DIRECTS YOU TO HIS KINGDOM.

Pastor:                          Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Congregation:            He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name + of Jesus.

     Though we know almost nothing about him, Enoch is one of the most envied men in the history of the world.  He and Elijah have this in common: Each was taken up into heaven without enduring a physical, bodily death.  Oh, how we envy them!  Many Evangelical Christians even promise this future as they proclaim that there will be a mass rapture out of this earth so that true Christians will not face a physical death.  It is an alluring thought, but Scripture makes no such promise.  In fact, the promise is quite the opposite: The wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23)  Dust you are, and to dust you will return. (Genesis 3:19)  For reasons known only to God, Enoch and Elijah were exempted from this fate.
     Nonetheless, the thought remains alluring.  We long for a kingdom in which we are spared from the pains, sorrows, and frustrations which are common to all men.  And for you, they are even more common.  For, you have been redeemed and have been set apart for godly living—for loving your neighbor and serving him in his need, for living chaste and decent lives in thought, word, and deed, for avoiding drunkenness, slander, perversion, and revenge, and for being merciful, kind, forgiving, and prayerful.  You know that this is what God has called you to be.  And you know that these are good and right to do at all times and in all places. 
     But there is another part of you that feels such a life is ridiculous.  Why forgive and forget when I can get even?  Why remain chaste when there is so much pressure from my friends and so much of my own desire to gratify my lusts?  Does God really care if I don’t pray to him?  If I don’t care about my neighbor’s needs?  If I would rather party than repent?  Every day, you face such temptations and frustrations.  They are common to every Christian.  Life in the kingdom of God comes with a cross.  Day after day, you bear your cross, deny yourself, and put your sinful flesh to death.  Did you think that the kingdom of God should be more glorious than this?  If so, you are not alone.
     Jesus was moments from ascending into heaven and the apostles asked, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)  The apostles still hoped that the Son of David would restore the kingdom of David.  They had dreamed of a kingdom of dominance and glory, and they hoped that it was imminent.  After all, if Jesus has all authority, if Jesus sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty, if Jesus lives and reigns forever, then everything should be glorious and comfortable and easy, right?  It would seem so.  But it is not so.
     Jesus redirected the apostles’ thoughts from the kingdom they sought and directed their thoughts to the kingdom of God.  He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:7,8) 
     The apostles were not to worry about what kind of glory the nation of Israel would receive.  Kingdoms rise and fall.  Their glory does not last.  Instead, Jesus directed them to his kingdom.  The apostles were to be witnesses to the world, telling anyone and everyone all that Jesus Christ had said and accomplished.  Jesus’ ministry was never about how much money you can make, how many friends you can collect, how easy life can be, or how many people you can control.  Jesus’ ministry was about compassion for the sinner, mercy for the suffering, encouragement for those who are struggling, and hope for those who are dying.
     Jesus directs you to his kingdom by keeping your attention on these things too.  Every week, you hear the eye-witness accounts of Jesus’ words and works.  And every day, you benefit from them.  In your battle to put off sin and to do what is right and holy, you often fail.  But Jesus remains the Savior whose blood atones for your guilt.  You are forgiven.  In your efforts to serve your neighbor and to seek his good, it gets hard because your neighbor often takes advantage of you or does not seem to care.  You find it harder and harder to care yourself.  Jesus remains your loving and caring Savior.  He is pleased with the good you do, and he always seeks your good.  As you take your stand with Jesus and confess his truth, you face a world which mocks you for taking Jesus and his word seriously.  That feels lonely.  But you are never alone.  Jesus remains the Savior who is with you always.  He assures you that you are a child of the Most High God, and he gathers you together with other children of God in the Church where you pray for one another, support one another, and care for one another.
     Jesus directs you to his kingdom.  It is where he soothes your troubled heart, just as he soothed the troubled hearts of his apostles.  He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3)  By proving he was alive, Jesus demonstrated his authority over sin, death, and the grave.  By ascending into heaven and being seated at the right hand of God, Jesus demonstrates his authority over everything.  Do not be grieved by your sins.  Jesus’ word of forgiveness is stronger than your guilt.  Do not be terrified of death.  Jesus’ promises are not undone even by death.  He will raise you up to life everlasting.  Do not be bothered by a world that despises Jesus and mocks his word.  The words of men die with them, but the word of the Lord endures forever.  The world is perishing, but the kingdom of God is eternal.  Jesus lives and reigns.  His kingdom stands no matter what anything thinks, says, or does against it.  Jesus has brought you into that kingdom, and he directs you to keep your attention to his kingdom so that you will live and reign with him.
     Jesus ascended to heaven with a promise: In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:2,3)  There is where you will finally receive all the blessings you long for.  There, you will dwell with Jesus.  There, you will be forever free from sickness and sorrow.  There, you will be forever free from your own jealousy, bitterness, and selfishness.  There, you will be forever free from struggles to do what is right and the shame of falling into your sins again.  Jesus shall bring you into the joys of heaven, granting you permanent residence in the Father’s house.
     Jesus directs you to his kingdom.  Jesus has ascended to the right hand of God the Father almighty where he lives and reigns forever.  There is no higher place.  There is no more powerful king.  There is no greater kingdom.  And there is no stronger word.  You need not envy Elijah or Enoch.  You have not missed out on anything.  You shall be raised from the grave with a glorious and incorruptible body.  You shall ascend to the presence of God.  The Savior who redeemed you by his death and resurrection has marked you as his own.  He will not forget you.  He will return and bring you to dwell with him in splendor.  There is no better kingdom.  And there is no brighter future.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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