Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we were considering how a chain consists of many links... and how each link is important. Our sermon from the day can be found here. This Sunday we'll be taking a look at Jesus prayer for unity in John's gospel (John 17:20-26.) But before we reach Sunday, there is Ascension Day.
Ascension Day in the 2019 Church Calendar is Thursday, May 30. The liturgical readings for the day draw attention to the Scriptures account (Luke 24:44-53) of Jesus being carried up to heaven, after giving last instructions to the disciples regarding their continuance of His work.
We read in verses 46 - 48 "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
This short passage offer us a blueprint of the churches mission throughout the ages.
It firstly talks of the essential gospel message. “The Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day.” In essence we are to proclaim Jesus as the anointed one of God, foretold by the saints and prophets of the Old Testament, who entered fully into all that makes us human, died upon Calvary, and was raised by God to demonstrate the eternal victory of God's love. The Cross and the Resurrection are lifted up as the two great pillars of Christian teaching.
Secondly, it talks of how we can respond to and receive the gospel message. “Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in His name.” “Repentance” is all about turning from our own way of working things out and trying to do things God's way. It is not simply saying, “Oh, I'm very sorry for my past mistakes” but agreeing with God that God's way is a much better way to travel.
The message of Paul throughout his letters, is that through what Jesus has done for us, through the Cross and Resurrection, we are forgiven. Our past cannot hold us back because God is calling us to be embraced by new beginnings and the possibility of what yet can be.
We are thirdly employed as witnesses to all people of all places to the amazing thing that God has done, in and through the life of Jesus. The dimensions of our calling are stated in Jesus words that we are to witness to “All nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” We can read in the book of Acts how that mission captured the hearts of the earliest disciples, spreading the faith from Jerusalem into Samaria and eventually throughout the whole world.
Being a witness is a big responsibility. It is a responsibility that Jesus invites every believer in Him to take on board. We continue to live in a world that is desperate for Good News. The gospel message still has the power to turn peoples lives around and bring the presence of God to bear in situations where we thought there was no hope.
It is the responsibility of disciples to demonstrate the gospels truth. To live in a way that demonstrates Christ's unconditional love. To be people whose bread and butter is to worship and serve their Lord. That's a high calling. But then, that is partly what the Ascension was all about! May God help us to set our sights high and be faithful witnesses to His glory!
For some music, a much loved song I recall from numerous youth retreats... “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High”. This version is by the Christian band “Mercy Me.”
The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.