Sunday, May 23, 2004

Seventh Sunday in Easter
Acts 16:16-34
Psalm 97
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
John 17:20-26

Or Ascension (actually celebrated May 20)
Acts 1:1-11
Psalm 47 or Psalm 93
Ephesians 1:15-23
Luke 24:44-53

He who testifieth these things saith, Yea: I come quickly. Amen: come, Lord Jesus.

In the passage from Acts for the Ascension of our Lord, we see that Jesus spent forty days with the disciples after His resurrection. “To whom he also showed himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing unto them by the space of forty days, and speaking the things concerning the kingdom of God: and, being assembled together with them, he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, said he, ye heard from me: For John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days hence.”

In last week’s Gospel lesson, Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit, the Counselor that would teach them everything they needed to know and would remind them of all that Jesus had taught. Now, in this passage from Acts, Jesus reminds them that they would not be left alone and that they should not begin the work until they have been baptized with the Spirit.

Later in the passage, Jesus tells them that the power of the Holy Spirit will come upon them so that they can be witnesses in Jerusalem and to all the ends of the earth. This promise is not just for those original disciples, but they are also for those of us who continue the work of the Gospel in this day. After Jesus told them these things, He was taken up into heaven while the disciples were left in awe standing staring into the clouds. “And while they were looking stedfastly into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; who also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye looking into heaven? this Jesus, who was received up from you into heaven shall so come in like manner as ye beheld him going into heaven.”

This was yet another promise, Jesus was not gone forever. A day would come when He would return to rule for all eternity. Until that day, the disciples were called to preach the good news of Christ to all those who would hear. Through the words they would preach, many would come to believe and be saved.

The Epistle lesson for this week comes once again from the Revelation of Jesus Christ as given to John. This is the final words of Christ, the final words of hope. Jesus says, “He who testifieth these things saith, Yea: I come quickly.” And all who hear and believe answer, “Amen: come, Lord Jesus.”

We might have this image of the disciples gaping at the heavens, almost as if they could not fathom what they had just seen. After all, none of them had even been witness to such a phenomenon. People don’t go flying off into the clouds every day, at least not in that time long before there were airplanes. Yet, they had been witness to a great many miraculous things that Jesus did. They saw Him feed thousands, walk on water, heal the sick and cast out demons. He raised the dead – even Himself.

The passage from Luke tells us, “Then opened he their mind, that they might understand the scriptures; and he said unto them, Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer, and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name unto all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” They were witnesses. Having seen all these things, they would take their testimony out into the world. Luke tells us that they did not stand around gaping at the sky for a long time. They worshipped Christ Jesus, knowing that He was not just a man or a teacher or a prophet. He was God in flesh and worthy of their worship.

Then they went to Jerusalem in joy to wait. We know that they are waiting for Pentecost, since that is the day that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to anoint them with power. However, they had no idea how long they would have to wait. They spent the next ten days continually in the temple blessing God.

They may not have spent a long time in Bethany gaping at the clouds, but they did spend some time in awe of God. It may seem odd that even though Jesus is gone, we still celebrate one more Sunday of Easter. It was likely ten days between the Ascension and Pentecost (Pentecost came fifty days after the Passover Sabbath and Jesus was with them forty days.) It was a time of prayer. Matthias was chosen to replace Judas. It is likely they fasted as they waited. It was a time of preparation and great expectation. It was also a time to become more unified as one body in Christ through the shared experience of worshipping God.

The Gospel lesson for the Seventh Sunday in Easter is from the farewell prayer given by Jesus before His arrest. He was praying for the unity of all who will believe – not only in that day but for all of time. There would be many believers over time and space; the number of saints throughout the history of the Christian Church is beyond our ability to count. Jesus greatest desire for His Church was that they would be one, bound together by the love of God. “And the glory which thou hast given me I have given unto them; that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and thou in me, that they may be perfected into one; that the world may know that thou didst send me, and lovedst them, even as thou lovedst me.”

Our testimony of the Gospel, through which Christ is glorified, is manifested in the unity of believers. We share in the glory of God by witnessing together to the remission of sins that is given to all who believe through the blood Jesus shed on the cross. This is our command, our mission. This is what we are called to do. When Jesus says that He is coming to reward all according to each one’s work, what does He mean? Will He feed those who have fed the hungry? Will He clothe those who have clothed the poor? While these are good works through which we might share the love of God, it is not our mission in this world. Jesus will bless those who have taken the forgiveness of sins to those who are dying in their sin. He will share His glory with those who invite the thirsty to partake of the water of life, which is Jesus.

It will be men like Paul and Silas who glorified God in even their roughest moments, like in the first lesson for this week. They were going to a place of prayer and a pesty young slave girl began to follow them around. She kept yelling, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim unto you the way of salvation.” This lasted for days, and Paul became annoyed. The girl was troubled by a spirit of divination and this was used by her owners who made money from her fortune-telling. Finally Paul said, “I charge thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” She was immediately freed from the demon but her owners were upset because their source of income was gone. They had Paul and Silas arrested for disturbing the peace.

Their peace was being disturbed by this slave girl who followed them around yelling her words. In a way it seems odd that Paul would stop her. Wasn’t she paying witness to their work? They were proclaiming the way of salvation. We have to wonder why the demon would even want her to proclaim such a thing. Perhaps her cries were making it difficult for Paul to even speak or maybe her cries were sarcastic and mocking. The term “Most High God” is not one that is used in the New Testament by Christians and Jews. Perhaps the demon is using it as a form of disrespect. Whatever the intention of the demon, Paul cast it out of the girl and destroyed the business of her owners.

Paul and Silas ended up in prison, but did not become downcast about their circumstances. They spent the night singing hymns of praise to God and praying. Others in the prison were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake and the prison was rocked from its foundation. None of the prisoners left, they just kept praising God. The jailer had no idea what happened, but when he saw that the prison doors were open he was certain that the prisoners were all gone. He was about to kill himself, the only honorable thing he could think to do since he would be blamed for the escape. But Paul cried out and told him that they were all still present.

We might have thought that the earthquake was God’s way of setting us free from our prison, but Paul recognized it as an opportunity to witness. Not only did Paul and Silas stay, but all the other prisoners stayed. Paul’s words were impacting their lives. Then when the jailer saw that all were there, he wondered about this message they were giving to the people. “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house.” The jailer and his household listened to Paul speak and they were all baptized. He took care of their wounds and gave them something to eat.

Jesus did not only pray for those who were believers, but He also prayed for those who would become believers because of the witness of His disciples. Paul and Silas lived out that prayer by staying right where they were needed. They did not run out of the prison, but instead waited for the opportunity to witness the Gospel message to the prisoners and the jailer.

I wonder how often we hear a call from Jesus and rush off into the fray without waiting for the right time and opportunity. Sometimes we are very quick to rush off and get started on our work. I can imagine the incredible excitement the disciples must have felt as they saw Jesus taken into heaven. “You will go preach to the nations and take my forgiveness to all who hear.” This command was prefaced with another very important instruction, “Wait until you have been clothed with power from on high.” We, too, should take time to sing songs of praise and pray, to worship together so that we might be built up into the one body of Christ that will manifest the love and mercy of God. Then we can do what He has called us to do, proclaim the saving grace of Jesus to the world and share the hope we have in His coming. Amen: come, Lord Jesus. Thanks be to God.

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