Sermon for Sunday Evening, February 28th, 2021 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
[Act 1:6-11 ESV] 6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
What are the last words of Jesus while on earth?
You might think they are “It is finished” (John 19:30) or “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46) or even “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
But this is to forget Jesus’s resurrection.
He spoke to many during his post-resurrection appearances.
And here in the book of Acts we have Jesus’s last words before ascending into heaven.
“It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
This passage is known as the Ascension of Jesus Christ. Here he ascends into heaven. And after he has ascended, two men in white robes — presumably angels — speak of Jesus’s return.
So I want to talk about these two events and also what is happening in between them. So we have the Ascension, the Session, and the Return of Christ.
There is a brief mention of the Ascension in Luke’s Gospel. In the very last verses it says this:
[Luk 24:50-53 ESV] 50 And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.
Now, in the book of Acts (Luke’s 2nd book), he provides a bit more information saying this:
[Act 1:6-9 ESV] 6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
This morning, I preached on “Reason to Believe.” And among these reasons is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The tomb was empty. Never was Jesus body found which, when presented, would have ended the claims of the Christians that Jesus Is Risen.
Jesus then returned, in the flesh, ALIVE.
And he did not die again.
We see the importance of the Ascension. Jesus ascended into heaven. The tomb is still empty. The Jews and the Romans cannot end the Christian movement. For Jesus died, He is Risen, was seen by numerous people numerous times, and He has ascended.
This truth is so important that it is contained in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. Even though these creeds are quite brief, the ascension is mentioned
In the Apostles’ Creed it says:
He ascended into heaven
And in the Nice Creed also, the same langue:
He ascended into heaven
But this isn’t the end for Jesus. In one sense, it is a beginning. Because only when he ascends does he then sit on the throne as King at the right hand of God the Father.
This is called his “session.”
Session is an archaic word for sitting. It is archaic, but that doesn’t stop us from using the word. Each month here, we have a session meeting. The elders and your pastor SIT. We sit in chairs. But we also sit in our roles as officers of this church.
So too our Lord Jesus Christ sits at the right hand of God and rules in his office as King of all.
He is Risen, and He is seated.
After a long day of work, juggling children and/or bills, car repair, phone calls, etc. what do you do? You finally sit down. And its almost impossible to get back up! Isn’t it.
Well Jesus is sitting not because he’s tired, but because he has accomplished his task; all that he was to do in his first coming. And its not yet time for his 2nd coming. So he is seated, reigning over all.
This is clear in Ephesians 1:16-21. Paul says:
[Eph 1:16-21 ESV] 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.
The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews also says:
[Heb 10:12-13 ESV] 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.
An important point in all of this is that the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ accomplished the salvation of His people. Jesus does not need to be re-sacrificed each week.
And Jesus is not physically present in the Lord’s Supper, for He is in heaven.
Contrary to the belief of the Roman Catholics and the Lutherans, Jesus does not physically, bodily return until his “2nd coming.”
If Jesus were physically present in the Lord’s supper, then he’d have returned every Sunday, and we wouldn’t be looking for the 2nd coming of Christ, but something like the 100,000th coming of Christ. (2021 AD – 33 AD all times 52) I did the math.
But while Christ is in heaven, the Holy Spirit is in the world. And it is the Holy Spirit that is present in Holy Communion. As the Spirit is sent by Jesus (as well as the Father), the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. And so Christ is present in that the Holy Spirit is present. But the resurrected body and human soul of Christ remains in heaven.
Our passage not only speaks of the Ascension of Christ but also of his return.
10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
We find that the apostles were impatient, looking to the sudden restoration of the kingdom of Israel.
Jesus told them that “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.”
They are not to be speculating about the end, and when it might occur, but rather there job is to “be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the Earth.”
Jesus will return. The angels confirmed this.
And his return will be physical, bodily, and visible, just as he departed.
But when Jesus will return; that is not for anyone to know.
The apostles also were immature in their understanding, as they were continuing to look for some earthly kingdom to be restored.
They ask about “restoring the kingdom to Israel”
But Jesus had told them multiple times to proclaim the Kingdom of God.
While there are many premillennialists and postmillennialists in Reformed and Presbyterian Churches, it seems clear to me that we are not to proclaim ANY earthly kingdom, whether it is established BEFORE Christ returns or AFTER Christ returns. Rather, we are to proclaim the Kingdom of God, the spiritual Kingdom of Heaven where Jesus reigns as king seated at the right hand of the Father.
And we are not to set out hopes on some millennial kingdom; some renewal of Israel and rebuilding the temple, or anything silly like this. Our hopes are not to be set on things in this world, but in the next.
Luke records Jesus often speaking of the Kingdom of God.
The Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God would come, and he said (Luke 17:20) “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”
Yet, both here in Acts and in Luke, the disciples continued to mistake Jesus’ meaning.
They seem to focus on an earthly kingdom, soon to be established. In Luke 19:11 it says that the disciples mistakenly “supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately.”
But Jesus is speaking of a spiritual heavenly kingdom, which he has already established, and over which he reigns; his 2nd coming to be at an unknown time.
When Paul writes to Titus about “our blessed hope” he is not referring to some millennium, he is not referring to an earthly kingdom, but explicitly to the return of Christ. “Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2:13)
Now one thing I want to mention as we end. It is something I maybe should have mentioned in the beginning. Let’s consider the setting of this passage.
They are on the Mount of Olives. (Acts 1:12) This is no coincidence, that they are at the Mount of Olives and speaking of the return of Christ. This is the place where the coming of the messiah, the second coming, is prophesied. Zechariah 14:4.
[Zec 14:4 ESV] 4 On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward.
And so, I was told by my tour guide in Jerusalem, that this is where the Jews have put great cemeteries to the east of the temple looking towards the Mount of Olives, so they could be first upon the resurrection to see the messiah. They may be shocked to see that it is Jesus.
But we look forward to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. While he comes in judgment, there is no condemnation for those who are in Jesus Christ. The enemies of Christ will be condemned, but we who are his friends will find eternal life.
Sin will be no more. Death will be no more.
I mentioned before that the Ascension of Christ is in the Creeds.
But actually, all three points of this sermon are there.
The Ascension, the Session, and the Return of Christ. These are in both the Apostles’ and Nicene Creed.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
And ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father; and he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the living and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
These are great truths that we confess.
And we do indeed confess that:
Jesus Christ died, he rose from the dead, he ascended into heaven, and He will return again.