Sunday, May 16, 2010

C, Ascension - Acts 1:1-11 "Hidden Here"

We don’t know exactly how Jesus went into heaven; all we know is he was hidden by a cloud. Was it a glory cloud similar to that which shrouded Mt Sinai when God spoke, or the cloud which covered the mountain of Transfiguration? We don’t know! What we do know is Jesus was taken into heaven to be at the right hand of the Father in glory, and once this happened the Holy Spirit would come.

Now if it was you or I who had done what Christ had done, wouldn’t we want to stay about and bask in the glory amongst those whom we had helped? A nice little ego massage perhaps! But it was not Jesus’ style nor was it his will to do such a thing.

In fact his whole ministry was one of humility and hidden glory. The spot light was not the motivation for his ministry here on earth, rather this man from Galilee seemed to be much the same as every other ordinary person – maybe even a little weak. His family was in the line of David but they held no priestly office. His dad was a carpenter, a simple man no doubt, and Mary his wife kept the house. As a matter of fact, we know little about Jesus. Only what was needed to be revealed for the sake of our salvation is written about Jesus. The gospel witnesses write specifically about only three years of this man’s life.

In their books, Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John, we hear Jesus commanding those he healed not to tell anyone. We hear Jesus allowing the devil to come into his presence to try and tempt him, when at any moment he could have repelled him with his divinity. He never sought the high place at banquets and gatherings, but rather served. Think of Jesus washing his disciple’s feet or the outcasts of Jewish society amongst whom he dwelt. When he did find himself in the position of honour he was compassionate and humble, as he was when the woman wiped his feet with tears, perfume and her hair. And in the extraordinary events such as the transfiguration, he asked for the disciples not to make what happened know until after he was gone. Most of the things he did were done in humility before only a few witnesses.

In the four gospels we hear of the events of Holy Week; one week leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection. Weakness seems to be the theme. He didn’t strike back when captured but submitted to the Father’s will, even though it appeared that through his death he had lost and it was all over. The disciple were very ordinary men, he chose the weak of this world—the unschooled, the unpopular, and the ordinary—to continue his ministry, even after they had all failed in standing with him as he was condemned to die on the cross.

Under all these things God’s glory was hidden. Under the flesh of this man was an all-powerful or omnipotent God. He suffered death and now has risen from the dead. The disciples witnessed these things, and then Jesus appeared only to a certain number for a certain time before ascending into heaven. He didn’t stay with the disciples to build the church first in Jerusalem and then out in the nations of the world. However, as the disciple stood there and watched Jesus disappear into a cloud, it was still only the beginning. The work was not complete and humanity had not given the glory to Christ nor recognised him for who he is. In fact today the work is still not complete, nor has all humanity recognised Christ as glorious Lord of all.

Ever since Christ has ascended, however, he has become powerful. He had to rise from the earth to be omnipotent, all powerful. His all-knowing, or omniscient, presence once only found with the disciples in Jerusalem and the surrounding districts two-thousand years ago is now present everywhere. Jesus is present everywhere, his infinite knowledge is there for everyone, a gift for all people, to know, as he knew. And the power and glory given to him is available to all people.

The disciple’s looked up into the sky and lost sight of Jesus. Two men in white appeared, just like two appeared with Jesus in glory at the Mountain of Transfiguration. Was Jesus still there standing with the two men shining in glorious white clothes? After all, his ministry had only begun and the kingdom of Israel still had to be restored (Acts1:1,6). He was now hidden, first by a cloud just as God was hidden by a cloud when he spoke, and then by his glorious omnipresence throughout creation. What the disciples saw at transfiguration, what Saul saw on the road to Damascus, and what John saw and recorded in the book of Revelation is the reality which is all around us now. These two men dressed in white, representatives of the unseen realm of God which is all around us, announce Jesus will return. Surely their presence was also a testimony the kingdom of heaven was still near even though the King of heaven was now hidden.

In the Lord’s Prayer we pray your kingdom come. Has not it already come to us in baptism? Hasn’t Christ come to us? In the explanation of the Second Petition in the Small Catechism, Luther asks us, ‘when does God’s kingdom come?’ And then he says: God's kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit, so by his grace we believe his holy Word and live a godly life on earth now and in heaven for ever.

You see Jesus vanished out of sight, but he is still with us, he promised in his word to be with us. He had to become hidden from the physical sight of a few so he could be physically present through the eyes of faith to many. Jesus was not on earth for only thirty-three years and now is absent. He is God with us today and to the very end of the age.

It shouldn’t surprise us he is hidden from the sight of most. Although many saw him two-thousand years ago, they failed to see him as their Saviour and rejected the things he taught them while he was with them. He remains hidden to many today. We do not see him face to face but we do see him. He has sent the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to his hidden presence – in us, in the forgiven sinners we congregate with in church, in the bread, in the wine, and when we hear his word.

It shouldn’t surprise us the church still appears weak to most. But we know it is powerful because the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to the reality that the glory of God is not hidden in a cloud but concealed within the limbs and sinews of you and me. We need not look into the distance to see Jesus, he is here with us right now, and he is faithful to you every day regardless of your recognition of him. Now that is powerful!

Jesus did not stay with the disciples to receive commendation for his work of salvation on the cross. His power, once hidden in him on earth, is passed onto us by the Holy Spirit so we might do what Jesus did and continue to do even greater things because he is now with the Father (Jn 14:12). The power which was hidden in him while he was on earth is now revealed through the Holy Spirit, given to, and hidden in us.

How do we handle his power? We look to Jesus as our guide? The power he gives us is only effective if it brings glory to God. Harnessing and restricting this power just for ourselves is like trying to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow; it never happens. When we seek to use God’s power for our glory it vanishes like a mirage.

Picture God looking at us from the unseen heavenly realm. What does he see? He sees Jesus hidden in multitudes of Christians, witnessing to the ends of the earth. He sees the Holy Spirit encouraging his church to speak the word of God boldly, bringing glory to his holy name. In our weak human frame he sees the ascended Jesus Christ glorified and powerful.

All power and glory to the God the Father, his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.