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May 6, 2018

Sermon Acts 1:9  . . .“Bible places:  Olivet”

“Bible places:  Olivet”

Acts 1:9

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

On the east coast of Africa, just north of Madagascar, two countries sit on the edge of the Arabian Sea.  One is Kenya; the other is Tanzania.  It’s the home of nearly a million people called the Maasai, one of the largest tribes in all of Africa.

They live in one or two-room huts, protected by a fence or bushes with sharp thorns.  They speak three languages--English, Maa, and Swahili.  Their wealth is measured by how many children they have and cattle they own.

And while some still believe in a Red god, who’s vengeful, and a Black god, who’s kind, some 250,000 of them have come to Christ.  

And each time they gather to worship, they speak the words of the Maasai Creed.  This is what they say:  “We believe in the one high God, who out of love created the beautiful world and everything good in it.  He created Man and wanted Man to be happy in the world.  God loves the world and every nation and tribe on the Earth.  We have known this High God in darkness, and now we know Him in the light.  God promised in the book of His Word, the Bible, that He would save the world and all the nations and tribes.

“We believe that God made good His promise by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, a man in the flesh, as Jew by tribe, born poor in a little village, who left His home and was always on safari doing good, curing people by the power of God, teaching about God and man, showing the meaning of religion is love.  He was rejected by His people, tortured and nailed hands and feet to a cross, and died.  He lay buried in the grave, but the hyenas did not touch Him, and on the third day, He rose from the grave.  He ascended to the skies.  He is the Lord.  

“We believe that all our sins are forgiven through Him.  All who have faith in Him must be sorry for their sins, be baptized in the Holy Spirit of God, live the rules of love and share the bread together in love, to announce the Good News to others until Jesus comes again.  We are waiting for Him.  He is alive.  He lives.  This we believe.  Amen”

And each Sunday, as we gather for worship, we too confess the words of our creed:  “I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord…On the third day He rose again; He ascended into heaven…”

Notice those words—“He ascended into heaven.”

It’s been said that Christ’s ascension holds a funny place in our spiritual lives.  Our creeds speak of it, and we, of course, believe it.  And while we celebrate His birth, death, and resurrection in so many good and important ways, we’re not quite sure what to do with His ascension.

Still, the Bible is perfectly clear, especially here in the book of Acts.  Please turn with me to 1156 as I read the words of our text, Acts chapter 1, starting at verse 1.  

Luke writes:  “In the first book, Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up, after He had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom He had chosen.  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.  And while staying with them He ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, He said, ‘You heard from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’”

To put it another way, Luke wrote, “In my first book, dear man of God, I spoke of all that Christ had done, of Joseph and Mary, of shepherds and angels, of His birth in Bethlehem.  I spoke of Simeon who took Him up in his arms and blessed Him, and of a prophetess named Anna who rejoiced at the redemption of Jerusalem.  

“I told of John who prepared His way, baptizing in the wilderness.  And in His wisdom and grace, He even called men to follow Him--Simon, a zealot, Matthew, a tax collector, and Peter, Andrew, James and John, all fishermen.

“By the power of God, He cleansed lepers, made the lame walk, the deaf hear, and the blind see.  He preached to thousands, ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven” and ‘Blessed are you who weep, for you shall laugh.’  And He said, ‘When you pray, say, ‘Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Your name…’

“High priests accused Him, soldiers mocked Him, and Pilate condemned Him to the cross.  And there He cried, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’  When He died, two men, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, laid Him in a new-cut tomb.  Yet on the third day, He rose again.”

And now that forty days have passed, He met with His disciples once again.  Look at verse 6:  “So when they had come together, they asked Him, ‘Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’  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.’  And when He had said these things, as they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him out of their sight.  And while they were gazing into heaven as He went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?  This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.’”

“When they had come together,” it said in verse 6.  Who’s “they”?

It’s Jesus and His disciples.  He told them to stay in Jerusalem, so they stayed, waiting for the promise to come.

Or maybe, there were more.  Acts chapter 1, verse 15, says “In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120)…”

Or maybe, there were more.  For later, Paul would write to the Corinthians:  “Then He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.”

But however many there were, there they stood as Jesus told them, at a place called “Olivet.”

So why Olivet?  Why not Jerusalem?  After all, He could have ascended from the Temple Mount in splendor, while thousands of pilgrims watched in wonder.  Or He could have gone up from Capernaum where He spent three years of ministry, or Nazareth, where He lived the early years of His life.  Or why not Bethlehem, the very place of His birth?

Why Olivet?

Maybe it’s because it’s a place to which He often went, with His disciples, for solitude and prayer.  It’s where He was arrested and betrayed, and where He prayed, on Maundy Thursday night, “Father, let this cup pass from Me.  Yet not My will, but Thine be done.”

But more than that, maybe it’s because while so many had rejected Him, this was the one place some accepted Him.  For it was there, that two sisters and a brother--Mary, Martha, and Lazarus--had opened their hearts and their home.

So there, in that place called “Olivet,” He gathered His disciples together.  And as He looked on them and blessed them, a cloud took Him from their sight.

It’s amazing if you think about it.  The story of Jesus began in heaven when He left and came to earth.  Now it ends when He leaves earth to return to heaven.  It began with His condescension; it ends with His ascension.  It began with His incarnation; it ends with His exaltation.  It began with a promise; it ends with fulfillment of that promise.

And it began with angels and ends with angels, with their song of wonder, glory, and praise.  

And as He left them, He said, “You will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  And He said:  “As you go, baptize them and teach them to obey all the things that I’ve commanded You.  And surely, I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.”

So what does Christ’s ascension mean?

For Jesus, His ascension meant vindication.  Though the world had despised and rejected Him, heaven would now receive Him.  And there He would sit at God’s right hand.

For Satan, it meant damnation, for now He holds the keys to death and hell.

And for us, it meant confirmation, for Christ now reigns in heaven.  The One who loved us and gave Himself for us, now lives and waits to claim us as His own.

As Paul wrote to Timothy:  “Great indeed is the mystery of godliness:  He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, and taken up in glory.”

The story is told that just after Jesus ascended into heaven, He was welcomed by all His holy angels.  And it was the angel Gabriel who asked, “You suffered much, Jesus, dying for the sins of mankind.  Does everyone on earth know it?”

“No,” replied the Savior, “just a handful of folks in Jerusalem and Galilee know what it is that I have done.”

“So Master,” continued Gabriel, “what is Your plan for everyone to know of Your great love?”

The Master answered, “I asked all My apostles to carry the message to all the world.  I told them to tell others, who will in turn tell others, until the last person in the farthest corner of the world has heard the good news.”

Gabriel’s face clouded as he spoke once more.  “What if, after a while, Peter goes back to fishing in Galilee, with Andrew, James and John?  Suppose Matthew returns to his tax collection booth in Capernaum and all the rest lose their zeal to tell others.  What then?”

After a pause came the calm voice of Jesus.  He said, “I have no other plan.”

“You will be My witnesses,” Jesus said, “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

In the words of a hymn:  “Let none hear you idly saying, ‘There is nothing I can do,’ while the multitudes are dying and the Master calls for you.  Take the task He gives you gladly, let His work your pleasure be; answer quickly when He calleth, ‘Here am I, send me, send me!’”

 

Dear Lord Jesus, You came to earth to seek and to save the lost.  Give us a heart that yearns for the lost, and strengthen us with the promise that You will soon come again.  This we ask in Your name.  Amen

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