Ascension Sunday 2019: Prayer, Power, and Proclamation
In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven after giving his chosen apostles further instructions through the Holy Spirit. During the forty days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God.
Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”
He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!” (Acts 1:1-11)
• • •
Many years ago, my faith in Christ was reawakened during a season of revival.
In high school, I became part of a youth group where Christ was obviously present and actively in charge. We were young people from both Christian and unchurched backgrounds. But in that fellowship, we experienced a fresh wind of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We started drinking in the teachings of the Bible. Our prayer meetings were rich—marked by simple faith and wholehearted rejoicing when we saw our requests answered. We shared our faith with enthusiasm. Of course, given our ages, there was a lot of immaturity and misplaced zeal too. Nevertheless we experienced the presence and power of God in our lives in real and tangible ways. Christ was obviously present and actively in charge of what was going on.
Many in that youth group went on to further Christian studies, and a number ended up in full-time vocational ministry. Our experience of revival led us into service for Christ. I once returned to that church many years later and spoke with several adults who had witnessed that revival. They told me they had never seen anything like that since in their church or youth group. It had been a remarkable season of God’s revival blessing.
We just read the opening to the Book of Acts. Acts shows what happened in the early church after Jesus ascended to heaven. It portrays a similar time of revival and renewal. It also shows that this revival led to a worldwide missionary movement. Now that Jesus had gone to the Father’s right hand, his people went into all the world telling his good news.
As we see from verse 1, Acts is part two of the story that the author of the Gospel of Luke wrote. He says here that Luke was about “everything Jesus began to do and teach until he was taken up to heaven.”
The Book of Acts is about what Jesus continued to do after he ascended through his people, the church.
Today is Ascension Sunday. On this day we remember, as the Creed says, that Jesus ascended into heaven and is seated at the Father’s right hand. Jesus has been enthroned as King over all creation. Next week is Pentecost Sunday. On that day we remember that Jesus, from his throne in heaven, poured out the Holy Spirit upon the church so that we — you and I and everyone who calls him Lord — may be empowered to be his ambassadors and to represent him throughout the world.
When he was here among us, the Gospel of Luke says, Jesus announced that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed.
As he ascended to heaven, this passage in Acts says, Jesus told us, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
That’s exactly what we see happen in the Book of Acts. Jesus ascends to his throne. His followers gather in Jerusalem and wait. Then, on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit comes upon them and they are filled with new life, new energy, new purpose. They begin to love one another and take care of each other in remarkable ways. They begin to see their neighbors in a new light, and to show them love with a renewed spirit of generosity and hospitality. Through their lives, their words, and their actions, they point others to Jesus and encourage them to trust him too.
It reminds of that youth group I was a part of so long ago — a time of revival, a time of renewal, a time when a refreshing wind from heaven blew upon the church. From Jesus on the throne, the Holy Spirit came to people who were waiting for him, and it changed everything.
I love this season of the year for that reason. Easter and Ascension and Pentecost not only remind us of what happened back in the days of Jesus and the early church, they remind us of what the church can be in any given moment of history. They remind us that a fresh wind from God can blow through our lives at any time. That Jesus is still on the throne. That he still gives the Holy Spirit to those who wait for him. That our lives can still be revived, renewed, and transformed. That we can make a real, meaningful difference in our neighborhoods and communities by continuing the work Jesus began as his Spirit-filled ambassadors in the world.
There is an interesting pattern in the Books of Luke and Acts that I’d like to leave you with this morning that I think shows us how we might go forward with these ideas.
The author of Luke and Acts does something very interesting in the way he tells the stories about Jesus and about the church. Luke designed his accounts of Jesus (Gospel of Luke) and the church (Acts) in such a way as to show that their mission and methods PARALLEL one another. When you read the story of Jesus, you find out not only what he came to do you also find out how he did it. Then, when you read the church’s story in Acts, you find that the early church did the same things Jesus did, and that they did them in the same way.
Let me give a few examples, and let’s start with Jesus. More than any other Gospel, Luke shows Jesus at prayer. So, for example, at his baptism, when the other Gospels just talk about Jesus going down into the water and coming up, Luke says that Jesus was praying while being baptized. And as he was praying, the Holy Spirit came upon him, and from that moment on Jesus began to preach and teach.
Or, in Luke 6, when Jesus called his disciples, it tells us that Jesus went up on a mountain to pray. There he calls his disciples, and then they go down the mountain, Jesus is filled with power and he heals and helps people who had come from far and near to see him.
Another example: Luke is the only Gospel that tells us when Jesus went up on the Mount of Transfiguration that he went up there to pray. As he was praying, he was transfigured before the disciples and they saw his glory. Then, they went down the mountain, having been filled with this amazing vision, and Jesus healed a young man bound by a very serious disease. The text says, “Awe gripped the people as they saw this majestic display of God’s power.”
So here’s the pattern. First, Jesus prayed. Second, Jesus was filled with power. Third, Jesus proclaimed the good news and shared God’s love and healing power with others.
Now, if we go to the Book of Acts, you will find that the author shows the same pattern, but this time it’s not Jesus, it’s the church who follows Jesus.
So, in Acts 1, right after the passage we read this morning, after Jesus ascends into heaven, the disciples gather in Jerusalem and the text says “They all met together and were constantly united in prayer.” A few days later, the Holy Spirit is poured out upon them. Peter preaches his Pentecost sermon, 3000 people come to faith in Christ, and the church begins taking care of all these new friends, gathering together, eating together, sharing their possessions, rejoicing in the newness of life that they are experiencing together.
Another example: in Acts 4, after Peter and John get in some trouble for their preaching, the church gathers together to pray. Then, listen to what the text says: “After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness.”
Do you see it? The very same pattern Luke described in Jesus’ life and ministry is now replicated in the early church. It starts with prayer. Then God pours out his power. And with that power, the good news is proclaimed and lived out in daily life.
Prayer, power, and proclamation. That’s how Jesus fulfilled his ministry while here among us. Prayer, power, and proclamation. And that is the same exact way that we, his people, will fulfill our ministry of being ambassadors of the King who is now enthroned in heaven.
In this light, I would like to encourage us all to make this week between Ascension Sunday and Pentecost Sunday a special week of prayer. Let us do what the early believers did when Jesus left them to go to the Father’s right hand. They devoted themselves to prayer during that waiting period.
I have prepared some prayers for you, with associated scriptures, to use this Monday through Friday. I hope you will use them daily, and that God will fill us with his Spirit in new and fresh ways, leading us to be renewed ambassadors of his good news to our neighbors.
Jesus himself promised us: “So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” (Luke 11:13)
Prayer: Heavenly Father, you are good and give good gifts to your children. The best gift of all is your presence, love, and power in our lives. As you instructed your disciples to wait for the Spirit, to watch and pray, I pray that you would teach each one of us the patience of praying and waiting. Fill our lives as you filled theirs, and bless your church with power from on high. Come, Holy Spirit! In the name of Jesus, our risen and ascended King we pray, Amen.