May 24, 2020
Pastor Gunnar Ledermann
1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 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. 4 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. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 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.”
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “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.”Acts 1:1-11
Excuse me while I put on my glasses this morning so that I can see better. What, don’t you believe me that I need these pink, heart shaped, lensless glasses to see better? Maybe these won’t help me read better, but I do wear them at home with my daughter. She isn’t old enough to know they are fake glasses and can’t help me see better, she just thinks it’s funny when her dad wears these glasses. Glasses like these are for pretending; they allow someone to get lost in a different reality to have fun. Putting on a silly pair of glasses is a great way to have fun, but they are not for real life situations. Unfortunately, you and I often see life through pretend glasses. I don’t mean you wake up each morning and decide to put on an actual pair of pretend glasses. I mean that you and I do not often see life for how it really is. And, if we cannot see life for what it really is, then we will fail to see where we are going. Failing to see where you are going means hurting yourself and others.
This Memorial Day weekend gives us a great example of the importance of seeing the world clearly. This weekend, we remember those who have died in service to our country. It is a time to remember war is a reality in this broken, sinful world. There are times when evil takes a physical stand and must be met with physical retaliation. We are grateful for those who are willing to serve us in government who take the heavy task of determining when and where to send men and women into war. We are very grateful for those who listen to those orders to go to war, even when it means they will not see their family, friends or homeland again. At the same time, those who have served us with their lives fought so that we might have the freedom to cook hotdogs and hamburgers in a backyard with green grass and a pool with a blow-up unicorn floaty on a Monday off from work. There is a balance we all strive for this weekend as we both honor those who have given their lives to protect and defend us, while also enjoying the freedoms they died to protect.
As Christians, we are called to see clearly as we balance our gratefulness this Memorial Day weekend. As Christians, we are thankful for those who have died to give us freedom in this country and for Jesus’ sacrifice to free us from sin allowing us to call heaven our homeland. We can easily hurt ourselves and others though by not balancing our gratefulness for each of these freedoms. Being grateful for Jesus’ sacrifice to forgive us and open heaven to us at the expense of downplaying or disregarding the sacrifice of those who died for this country is not loving, kind or considerate of fallen soldiers and their families. Nor is our pride for this country and those who defend her an excuse to party recklessly, abandoning good judgment and faith or to believe God loves and defends the United States more than other countries. There is a need this weekend as with the many other aspects of our lives to see the world clearly.
In our reading from Acts 1, Jesus’ disciples needed their vision corrected as they watched Jesus ascend into heaven. The disciples did not see what was really happening the day Jesus ascended into heaven. Luke tells us in Acts 1, 10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “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.” As far as the disciples could see, Jesus had done everything he needed to for the world to be saved. He had lived, died and rose. Now they expected him to restore the earthly kingdom of Israel, which was a vision of their own creation that Jesus had spoken against before. As they watched him go into heaven, God sent messengers to remind them again that the true promised land was not here in this world, but in heaven. Jesus was returning to heaven where he rules all things, and he will return to judge the world sending unbelievers to hell and bringing believers with him back to heaven.
You need to see clearly what Jesus’ ascension means for you as well. Jesus went to heaven because his work on earth to save was finished. Jesus was the only one who could have saved you. He was born a perfect human being, meaning he lived every day of his life just as God wanted him to because he was the Son of God. He was a true blessing to all those around him, whether they saw him that way or not. Jesus was the one human being who could fight in the unseen war for your soul. He allowed the enemy to capture him, put him on trial and sentence him to death for no good reason other than they were evil and hated him. Jesus died for you, and now the enemy of all that is good has been defeated proof of which was Jesus’ resurrection. Death was the weapon of the devil, but Jesus came back to life revealing his power of life is stronger than Satan’s sting. Jesus’ resurrection finished his work to save you, so he went back to heaven in what we appropriately call his ascension. Now, you can be confident that Jesus is your Savior because he did all of that to forgive your sins and you have great comfort knowing this broken life is going to be a faint memory when you go to live with Jesus in heaven for all eternity.
There is a reason you often forget to see the world as Jesus wants you to see it. Like the disciples, you have not seen heaven. You have been called by God to keep one eye on earthly things and one eye on heavenly things, but your two eyes have only seen this world. So, stop trying to see heaven from a worldly point of view and see heaven as it really is. See heaven as Jesus wants you to see heaven, with the eyes of faith.
God has called you as a believer to see two things at once. It sounds strange, but it’s like God giving you two eyes. Your two eyes work together to give you a true perspective of the world as each eye sees a slightly different angle, and together they give you a full picture of what is in front of you. As the disciples watched Jesus ascending into heaven, they needed a reminder to stop staring up at the sky and look back to what needs to be done on earth. You and I also need daily reminders to refocus on the world as Jesus’ disciples.
From Heaven, the ascended Jesus is gathering his kingdom until he returns. And he is using you to gather people. Through the Scriptures and by the power of the Holy Spirit, God has opened your eyes to see Jesus as your Savior. These same Scriptures are what Jesus opened the minds of the disciples to believe and they are your tool to encourage your brothers and sisters in the faith, and to bring others to faith in Jesus. We have every reason to believe opening people’s eyes to the Scriptures will grow God’s kingdom and fill more rooms in heaven from these words from Luke 24, 44 He [Jesus] said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” Jesus fulfilled the Scriptures and he has the power to open minds to believe. This is the vision Jesus wants you to see every time you see another living, breathing human being whether in person or through the internet, whether friend, family, stranger or even enemy. This has always been God’s vision for his people, for you. God gave this same vision to Isaiah 2,700 years ago in Isaiah 43, 10 “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. 11 I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior. 12 I have revealed and saved and proclaimed— I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “that I am God.” To be a witness of the one true God and the Savior Jesus, you did not need to be standing there with the disciples watching him perform miracles, die, rise and ascend into heaven. Your eyes do not see clearly by your own power, but by the power of the Holy Spirit because you are chosen by God. The glasses you put on each day are not pretend or dominated by sin. The eyes through which you see the world are washed clean so that you see a world in need of a Savior.
You are a unique member of God’s kingdom. God has given you gifts that he has plans to use. You may have the gift of music to praise God, to comfort others, to express joy or to motivate. You may have the gift of listening to hear through the lies of selfishness and deceit, to recognize someone calling out for help, to sit quietly as someone shares their sorrows helping carry away some of their burden or to hear the good idea of someone ignored by others. And there are so many other gifts, and with all of them you are called to be God’s witnesses. Paul in Ephesians 1 expresses God’s calling to believers like this, 18 “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” With the eyes of your heart, you have been called to see heaven is yours and God will bring you there.
With those same eyes, you have been called to see the need for God’s Word to be shared in this world. Just before Jesus ascended into heaven before the eyes of his disciples, Acts 1:7 “He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 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.’” God had a plan for the message of Jesus to spread. He began with the disciples who saw Scripture fulfilled. They spread the message in Jerusalem, then Judea and Samaria. It further spread through Paul and the other disciples. And, now it spreads through you. God has called you to have one eye on earth and one on heaven. To have a proper perspective on the world through the eyes of faith. You know heaven is your true home, but God has not told you when you will be taken there. You know Jesus saved everyone around you, but some have not yet heard.
Putting on these pink, heart shaped, lensless glasses does not help me see better. I put them on when I am playing pretend with my daughter at home. God has opened your eyes to see the world and heaven for what they truly are. There is no time for pretending like you have not seen what Jesus has done, which Luke recorded in Acts 1, 3 “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.” You see the kingdom of God clearly. It is all who believe in Jesus, who is ruling all things from heaven and will return to gather his people soon. Do not get caught up trying to see who is going to be in heaven. Spend your time showing people Jesus is the way to heaven. God gave you sight for a reason, to see Jesus as your Savior and to open the eyes of others to see him too. Amen.