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Can you think of a time when you experienced something you wished would never end? Maybe a vacation on the beach? Maybe a great concert or sporting event? Whatever it was, it was so much fun, or so relaxing, or so exciting, you didn’t want it to come to an end. It seems that the disciples might have felt that way as their time with Jesus was about to come to an end. They were hopeful that he would answer their question if it was at this time that he was going to restore the kingdom to Israel with a resounding yes. And who could blame them. What could be better than to have Jesus living and ruling on earth with them where they could continue to hear him speak God’s word to them and use his power to heal every sickness and disease and defeat any enemy. Who wouldn’t want a heaven on earth like that? But Jesus answer was no. It was not the time for him to restore the kingdom to Israel. He had not come to establish an earthly kingdom. The time of his physical presence with them had come to an end, but, when the Father gave the command, they would see him again.
When family or friends drive away after a nice visit you probably go out and watch the car go down the road until you can’t see it anymore. As Jesus rose into the sky the disciples watched until they couldn’t see him anymore. In fact, they kept staring into the sky, their hearts and minds filled with all kinds of emotions and questions. How would they go forward without Jesus being right there with them? What would they do? Where would they start?
Jesus had answered those questions for them. He would send them another comforter, the Holy Spirit. He would guide them. And he told them what to do and where to start. They were to be his witnesses, to tell everyone they met about the things that they had seen and heard; tell them that Jesus is the promised Messiah, the savior of the world. They were to start at home, in Jerusalem, and then take the good news about Jesus to all Judea and even to Samaria and they weren’t to stop until they reached everyone on earth.
It was a lot to take in. Just witnessing Jesus float up into the air until he disappeared in a cloud was enough to make you stare off in amazement. But then, thinking about the job of witnessing about Jesus to every person on earth, that might make your feet feel like cement too. The disciples needed something to break their trance and bring them back to reality. God sent two angels to accomplish that. Their appearance got their attention and their message was clear. Jesus is coming back, just as he said. When the Father says the time is right, He will come visibly, in the clouds of heaven, and then the world as we know it will come to an end. Then the time for witnessing will be over. Then everyone will appear before him for judgment. So, get to work. Get busy doing what he has told you to do.
Sometimes we have an experience we wish would never end. But there are probably a lot more times when we wish things would end. When we hear about yet another terror attack in which innocent people are killed, or when we are having one of those days when nothing seems to be going right, we wish those things would come to an end. Those things remind us that we are sinful people living in a sinful world. Those things remind us that this world will come to an end someday. When the Father gives the order, Jesus will appear in the clouds of heaven. He will return to earth, visibly, just as the disciples saw him leave visibly. And when he does, the time of grace he has granted the world will come to an end. Just as it was when God shut the door of the ark, there will be no more opportunity for us to be his witnesses and share the good news of salvation in Jesus and there will be no more opportunity for repentance.
Like the disciples, we often need something to break our trance and bring us back to reality; to get us to stop staring at our screens and notice how many people around us don’t know what Jesus has done for them and that he’s coming back soon. We need a reminder that we are the ones who have received the Holy Spirit through the word and sacraments and we are therefore his witnesses. We are called to witness to what we have seen and heard, to share the message of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus in our Jerusalem, our home town, and then to our Judea and Samaria, to witness to people we don’t know and maybe we don’t even like; and to keep witnessing until we have reached everyone on earth.
As overwhelming and scary as that task might seem, remember what Jesus told his disciples when they saw him in Galilee. I am with you always, to the very end of the age. Jesus is with us every step of the way. It’s like eating an elephant, one bite at a time. Focus on reaching one person at a time. And yet, think about how God can multiply that. Think about that one person you reached reaching one more. Or think about how a witness to one person on social media can spread to millions around the world. As the angels told the disciples, don’t just stand there in a trance, get to work, witnessing about Jesus in everything you do, and you will be amazed at how God uses it.
We also need the reminder not to procrastinate. There is no better or more important thing we can do each day. Jesus is coming back. We don’t know when, but Scripture makes it clear that we are to live each day as if he were coming back today. Have a sense of urgency about being Jesus’ witness and sharing the good news of the gospel.
Most importantly, as you see each day that you have not been the kind of witness God wants, that you have made other things more important, that you have procrastinated thinking you will get to it later, confess those sins to God. And then, make sure that you hear the good news yourself; that you hear Jesus tell you through his word and sacrament that he has paid for your failures at witnessing, and all of your sins. As you rejoice in your forgiveness you will be motivated and enabled to witness more faithfully and urgently to the glory of God.
Jesus is coming back in the same way the disciples saw him go into heaven. He is coming back to judge the living and the dead. He has made us his witnesses. Let’s be busy doing what he has called us to do.
Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Don’t worry. That’s easier said than done, right? There are lots of things to worry about in this life.
If you have children you worry about their future. You worry about keeping them safe, helping them avoid making mistakes. You worry about who they might marry, will they be a Christian? You worry about what kind of job they might have and if they will be able to pay their bills.
If you watch the news you worry about all the terrible things that people do to each other, about the economy and how it might affect your job and whether or not you will have health care. You worry about the weather and how it will affect your crops, or the price you pay at the grocery store.
There are a lot of things to worry about in this life. The ones I’ve mentioned are just the tip of the iceberg. So, how can Jesus say “don’t worry?” He tells his disciples and us that the antidote to worry is trust. Believe in God. Believe also in me. Trust me.
What is it about him that we are to trust? His promises. The Bible reminds us that every one of God’s promises are yes and amen in Jesus. God made hundreds of promises about who the Messiah would be and what he would do, and every single one of them was fulfilled perfectly in Jesus. Not
a single one of God’s promises has ever failed. He has proven himself trust-worthy.
And, Jesus reminded the disciples that he was trustworthy too. Everything he had told them would happen did happen. In the Ascension account in Luke’s gospel Jesus says, “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.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.
We see that Jesus is trustworthy because we know that the things Jesus said would happen in the future did happen. He did send the disciples the Holy Spirit. They did preach repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations. The fact that we are here tonight is evidence of that fact.
Don’t worry. Believe in God. Believe in Jesus. Trust the promises the Holy Spirit has caused to be recorded for us in Scripture. God has said, never will I leave you, never will I forsake you. He has promised that he is working in all things for your good. When Jesus ascended into heaven the Father placed all things under his feet so that he is ruling everything that exists for the church.
But there are deeper worries than children, politics and the weather. You may not feel them all the time, but they come out, perhaps when you are sick, or when you attend a funeral. When you are forced to face the fact that you are mortal, that you are not going to live forever. Then your conscience reminds you that you are sinful, that you have not always trusted in God, that you have not loved God above all things or your neighbor as yourself. You worry about what will happen when you die. That’s when Jesus says, trust me.
Trust that because I am risen from the dead and ascended to the right had of the Father I am making intercession on your behalf. Paul says, Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Your salvation doesn’t depend on what you do, but on what Jesus has done and is doing for you.
Trust that, not only am I with you always, but I am preparing a place for you, an eternal dwelling place, a place of rest. I’m preparing many such places, enough for all who trust in me. And, when the Father gives the command, I will come and take you to be with me in that place where there is never any reason to worry, because there is nothing evil there, no terrorists, no criminals, no greed, no bad weather, no sickness or disease; everything is perfect, the way it was for Adam and Eve before they sinned.
But, we say with Thomas, how can we be in this wonderful place you describe and are preparing for us if we have no idea how to get there? We don’t have the power to float up to heaven! And Jesus says to us, Don’t worry. Don’t let your heart be troubled about that. You know me and what I have done for you, so you do know how to get to the place I am preparing. I am the way, the truth, and the life. Trust me. Trust my promise that I will come and get you. You won’t get lost. You won’t be left behind. I will come and take you to the place I am preparing for you.
There are lots of things we could worry about in this world, but trusting in Jesus as the way, the truth and the life removes every single one of those worries.