“Ascension” etching by Jan Luyken. Phillip Medhurst Collection of Bible Illusrations

God's Word on Sunday: God’s work for us is on Earth

  • May 17, 2020

Ascension of the Lord, May 24 (Year A) Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:17-23; Matthew 28:16-20

What did Jesus tell the disciples during the 40 days He was with them after the Resurrection? We can only imagine and speculate, and some in the early Church did just that.

There are several second- and third-century accounts of the “hidden teachings” that Jesus gave them. They have little if anything to do with the historical Jesus. It appears that His followers were not listening carefully, for there was one thing on their minds: When was Jesus going to restore the kingdom of Israel?

Jesus did not answer their anxious question. In fact, He kind of put them in their place. It was really none of their business; God would decide if and when. Rather than meeting Jesus in Galilee as in Mark and Matthew, they were to hang around Jerusalem for a momentous event. That event was the descent of the Spirit on the community.

This gift of the Spirit was for a mission that the Lord had for them: to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the Earth. In other words, the whole world.

This was far more important than re-establishing an earthly kingdom, for this was about the kingdom of God. Human and divine plans seldom coincide. Only then did Jesus decide to depart for His return to the Father.

He appeared to humans to be rising in the sky, although the realm of the Spirit is not spatial. The reaction of the disciples was typical — they gawked and wondered. The two angelic figures spoke to them in words intended for all believers in every age. Why are you looking up to Heaven? The work God has for you is here on Earth, in this life.

We will know when the Lord returns; it will be abundantly clear to all. In the meantime, we must use the precious time wisely and spiritually. Our concern while on Earth should not be obtaining a ticket to Heaven but being the presence of the Lord in the world and accomplishing God’s will.

The prayer of Ephesians on our behalf is for the gift of the spirit of wisdom and revelation. This will enable us to know and experience the hope, richness and power of what God has in store for us.

The Spirit of God raised Jesus from the dead and exalted Him to the right hand of God. This same Spirit will not only raise us one day but will empower us during our earthly sojourn if we walk in God’s ways. The Spirit is given so that we might continue the work of God.

The four Gospels report the final commission and departure of Jesus in different ways. They each reflect the understanding of Jesus of the particular community writing the Gospel. Matthew’s Jesus assures His followers that He has been given all authority in Heaven and on Earth. There is no reason to fear.

Up until this point, the proclamation of Jesus was only for the house of Israel. With His ascension imminent, everything changed. They were to go out into the world, making disciples of all nations.

Unfortunately, that became a mixed blessing. Over the centuries, a good number of those going out into the world to convert the nations were not good disciples. Often the intentions of those carrying the Gospel were contaminated with imperialism, power, cultural arrogance and greed.

Indigenous peoples were sometimes oppressed and even enslaved. Little respect was shown for the customs, cultures and beliefs of others, resulting in destruction of traditional cultures and ways of life. Christianity for many was a dubious blessing.

To proclaim the Gospel, it is essential that we first carry it within our own hearts and minds. Moral authority, once squandered, must be earned again.

We need to be filled with God’s Spirit, practising compassion, selflessness and respect for others in our own lives. There must be respect for those to whom it is