Acts 1: 9: “And after He (Jesus) had said these things, He was lifted up while they were watching, and a cloud took Him up, out of their sight.”
Hello Boys and Girls, I am Sheen from Home of Christ in Newark and today we will be talking about Jesus’s ascension in Acts chapter 1. Have you ever had to be away from home and your family? Maybe you went to camp. Maybe you went to a friend’s house. Whatever it is, it’s possible you have felt lonely and homesick before. I remember going away to a friend’s house for a week once when I was in the fourth grade. This was in Washington state, and it was a place I had never been to before. You know, it was fun for a while but then I missed being with my family, it was a new place, and it seemed like a very long week, and when I finally saw my family I was so glad. I want you to think about a time when maybe you felt lonely before, and this will help you understand what the disciples might have felt in Acts 1. Acts 1 marks the beginning of a very interesting story, in fact there is nothing quite like Acts in the entire Bible. At the beginning of Acts, we catch the tail end of what Jesus did after he was resurrected and continued teaching the disciples for 40 days. Luke, the writer of Acts, tells us this. “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. So, the Bible tells us that on that 40th day, perhaps on a day with weather just like today, they were eating together, perhaps picnic style outdoors. Jesus tells his disciples that they need to remain in Jerusalem where they were, until they received a mysterious gift that God promised. Have you ever been promised a prize or a gift by your teacher or your parent? What was this gift that Jesus said his disciples would receive? Luke goes on to tell us that Jesus says, “For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” At this time Israel was not its own nation any longer, it had changed rulers many times and was at that time under the control of the Roman Empire. Israelites did not like being under the control of another empire, so what they desperately looked for in the Messiah was someone who would free them from the Romans. So, the disciples ask Jesus whether he is going to overthrow the Roman Empire to free Israel. But Jesus did not come to free Israel from Rome, in fact he didn’t come to free anyone in the political arena. Perhaps they didn’t understand what Jesus was saying, and Jesus explained to them, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Jesus tells his disciples that they are going to be baptized with the Holy Spirit, they are going to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Instead of promising that they would be free from the government’s rule, he promised that they would have power, not military power but defined power to do God’s mission by telling people about Jesus where they lived, to their region, to the region next to them, to all over the world. After the promise and commands is given, something sudden, surprising, and probably frightening happened. Luke says, “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” So Jesus is taken up to heaven right before their eyes. Was that startling to you? Wouldn’t it be, if your teacher or your parent, someone you trusted, got taken up into the sky all of a sudden? You know, it was very abrupt and I am sure the disciples were very shocked. Their teacher, their friend, and their savior, was taken up to heaven right before their eyes, without much of a warning. I think I would be shocked too. But perhaps they forgot one thing in their surprise, that Jesus was God, and Jesus always told them he would be going away, but would come back. But remember I told you, this is an amazing saga, a story like none other in the Bible? That is because even though Jesus himself goes back to heaven; he is still right here with us. That makes no sense right, Jesus left. If your parent went on a business trip, well, you wouldn’t see them next to you, and even though they can video call you, you clearly know they’re not with you in person. Before Jesus went to heaven, he reminded his disciples that he was sending the Holy Spirit, whom we also refer to as Jesus’ Spirit, to empower his disciples. In some sense, Jesus was leaving in order to empower his followers. The book of Acts is all about what the disciples do as the early church, and how Jesus’ Spirit worked through them to do amazing things. Boys and Girls, it might seem really odd since none of us here have seen Jesus in person before, and it might seem like well, the Holy Spirit being with us is all we have, but the Holy Spirit is God. It’s Jesus’ spirit, and the Bible tells us very clearly that if we believe in Jesus, as his followers he gives us his Spirit to dwell in us, and empowers us to follow him and tell people about him. Have you ever been lonely? Do you think the disciples felt lonely after Jesus left? I am sure they just stared at each other for a while, speechless, thinking what just happened? The series of events that unfolds when the Holy Spirit is given to Jesus’ followers, is simply breathtaking and so fascinating, and you will learn about all those things in the weeks and months to come. But guess what, it starts with the promise from Jesus, that as his followers we get this amazing gift so we never have to feel lonely or ignored. God himself has made his dwelling in believers. That is so amazing. As the disciples stood there in disbelief at what just had happened, two men, most likely angels, gives them an encouragement. You don’t have to stare into the sky any more, Jesus is coming right back in the exact same way. Perhaps that’s while we are outdoors on a picnic. Perhaps it is while you are in class, or reading a book, maybe sleeping. Just as suddenly as Jesus left, he is coming right back. If you believe in Jesus, remember that you never have to feel alone, because Jesus’ spirit lives in you. As Deuteronomy 31:6 tells us, Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Jesus will never leave us nor forsake us, in fact he is empowering us to courageously tell people about him, to be his witnesses. As this book of Acts unfolds, you will be inspired and moved by how Jesus works through his bride, his church, and you and I, we are part of that today. We are still that same church, doing what God asked us to do, remember, it starts with a promise from Jesus himself. He is coming back for us, any time now. When that happens, we will be so glad. Can I pray for you?