Ascension Day, May 10th, 2018

Ascension Day, May 10th, 2018

Ascension Day,

May 10th 2018.

Main passage Acts 1:1-11 but also Luke 24:44-end,

Jesus ascends into heaven (stained glass window)


And so they stood there. The Lord had gone, ascended. The angels had told them he would return – as he had left physically, visibly, he would physically visibly return in a time unknown. He had left relatively privately but when he would return he would be seen by millions and billions. Yet the Lord gave teachings and a promise among his commands.

After Ascension, they are told to go into the world – but first called to wait. It is like they are told to run the race, they line up, they are now told to wait…

Later they are to go, he says. But Jesus said they were to wait in Jerusalem. When he would ascend, he would be exalted to the right hand of God, and he would receive from the Father the Spirit and he would pour the Spirit upon them, (cf Acts 2:33). He would baptise them with the Holy Spirit. The word baptise means drenched, immerses, submerged.

Many people in Amersfoort come from great countries with mighty cities with significant claims of artists, politicians, generals, achievements. My capital in N.Ireland is Belfast one of the reasons people come to Belfast – to hear about a ship we built that sunk. Titanic. If a Greek wrote about Titanic in the days of Jesus, he would have said Titanic by baptised by the water, submerged, overcome.

”Untergang der Titanic”, as conceived by Willy Stöwer, 1912

Jesus uses in Luke 24 another image. They are to be clothed with power from him, until the person of the Holy Spirit would come to each of them. In a manner of speaking, he was suggesting, they were spiritually naked, until they were clothed, or perhaps you could say they were in rags until they were clothed in riches?  What you are clothed with matters – UK has a royal wedding in 2 weeks, Megan Markle and Prince Harry. An article said, about her clothing, that certain items she wore just, hours later were sold out, from the companies across the world, or there were 10 fold visits to the company websites to know what she wore and how to get it. Good BBC article. What we wear – that suggests – matters. What Megan wears matters. What you are clothed with, Jesus tells his followers, before he ascends, matters.

So what could they have understand from the promise of the Spirit to them. Who are they to be drenched with, clothed with?

The first idea may have been Creation.

”In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:1).

The Spirit was involved in creation. What we read in the rest of Genesis 1, we see his powerful creative work.  The Spirit who brings life out of nothing. Nothing situations, where nothing is going on, the Spirit can bring life…

The disciples may also have known of the conversation with Nicodemus (John 3) – it was clearly shared at some point to be included John’s Gospel – and there Jesus says:

”Truly I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  The wind blows where it wishes and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3).

The Spirit brings new life. Born again needs the Spirit’s work. New Life. Paul later calls this – ”if anyone is in Christ they are a new creation” (2 Cor 5:17). The Spirit who brings creation, he brings new creation in people, the One who brings eternal life from spiritual darkness. The One needed for that to happen.

The Spirit who brings life out of nothing. This thought is further developed by Paul later I’d say. Galatians 5:22-23.

”The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control.”

There is a wonderful promise. Paul talks about the fruit the Spirit desires to grow in us. Promise of what he will grow. But also that he will grow. He doesn’t say – for some of you, love joy. No, the fruit of the Spirit for all.  It means hope. That for those whom life has been harmful, they have been damaged, broken, abused, where their emotions and brains have been rewired by events or words. There is hope that the Spirit can grow love there, joy there, gentleness there… it may be soon, in a dramatic moment, or it may take a long time. The healing promise of the Spirit.

Spirit poured out, whom they would be clothed with, creation, new creation, re-creation, healing, new life in all sorts of ways.

The apostles that day were well aware of the varied of ways the Spirit worked and suggests how he would or could work when he is poured out on them.

For leadership. Gideon, as a judge, and David as a king, for leadership. David is often seen as the men of men. The man you’d expect. But Gideon, a man hiding in a winepress for fear of his enemies, who asks a number of times, not just for the fleece, to be sure. A man lacking great confidence. Not the war time leader you’d expect. Yet the Spirit is given to him.

Spirit given for strength – Samson – perhaps we could say that did not happen. Yet when we read later of Paul and what he went through, or the apostles in the first months after Pentecost when there is a mix of great things happening and threats from religious leadership. Was that strength to carry on, to keep on, despite the demands and pressures.

Bezalel (Exodus 31), is given the Spirit to help make the religious items needed for the tabernacle. Artistic, creative ability.

Finally, prophets like Isaiah who say the Spirit of the Lord is upon him. Maybe the closest of the maybe what the Lord was asking of his apostles – to preach good news, to proclaim the Lord’s favour.

The Spirit poured out, even if people lacked confidence, strength for the tasks asked of them, the skills needed for what the Lord called upon them, the spiritual tools and help to do what the Lord had commanded.

But it was particular people, that man or woman in that time, for that task. Here before ascension, as Jesus had said at other times, you will be baptised, you be drenched. Who is you. All of them. They are all told to wait. Not, the 11. Not the three – Peter, James, John. Not the one, – Peter, the rock on whom the Lord would build his church. All are to wait, all are to be clothed all are to be drenched. And all did wait, those 10 days, men and women, in prayer – the apostles, Mary Jesus mother, his previously unbelieving siblings, and it is suggested 120 in total, waited. All to be clothed. All to be drenched.

Over the years ahead, from writings and from what we see in Acts, they model to us and teach us more about what the Spirit does and who He is, the one they waited for and received.

The Spirit makes them more effective in witness and ministry. To make effective their proclamation of the Gospel so disciples are made of the nations. Gives power for victory over sin in their lives. power for victory over Satan and demons. Gifts are given – natural and supernatural – for ministry. Power is given to work miracles – for the word used by Jesus for ”power” – is also the word later used to describe miracles that are done by them in Jesus name.

The disciples asked. Outside the city. Lord at this time will your restore the kingdom. Jesus says it is not for them to know. This time is about waiting for and receiving the Spirit, all of them to receive. Their role and ours at this time – we live in the end times since Pentecost – to be Spirit empowered witnesses, awaiting the visible public return of the Lord, at a time unknown to us but as sure as the sunrise.

Between now and Pentecost, I suggest we pray, in these 10 days before Pentecost,for a fresh awareness and confidence in the Lord’s promised return, we pray for a fresh outpouring, soaking, clothing, upon us of his Spirit.

Let us pray.

Risen, ascended Lord,
as we rejoice at your triumph,
fill us and  your Church across this land with power and compassion,
that all who are estranged and wounded by sin
may find forgiveness, healing and know your peace,
to the glory of God the Father. Amen.