May 17th, 2020
Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you--that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God. Sermon:
Stairway to heaven
As a young teenager, my family visited Washington DC, with special emphasis on seeing the national monuments and museums, the White House, and the Capitol rotunda. The only thing we missed was the cherry trees in full blossom, since we could not visit in the springtime. The most memorable sights were the memorials dedicated to George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson. Indoors, my favorite was the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, where admission is always free. Today, I would recommend that you see the National Air and Space Museum, opened in 1976. A word to the wise: bring your own snacks; the prices for food and freeze dried ice cream may require securing a home equity loan!
This was 1961, a time before so many Americans were overweight or even clinically obese. We climbed the stairs to the Washington Monument, counting 898 steps to ascend to the very top. Every 3-4 landings had a bench so you could relax and catch your breath before continuing up the stairs. In 1971, officials became concerned about heart attacks or injuries sustained in a fall down the stairs. In 1976, all tours up and down the stairs were permanently suspended. By the way, the Washington Monument is 555’ tall, the tallest building in the world at the time it was built. My mother, Dorothy Wilkins, died on Christmas Day in 2009 after a long battle with lung cancer. We gathered in her bedroom at my brother’s home in Little Rock, singing Christmas carols in four part harmony and joining hands in prayer. Earlier she said, “Get me up!” and we all assumed she needed to use the restroom. “No,” she insisted, “get me up!” When we said the Lord’s Prayer together, Mom chimed in on every few words. When we all said, “Amen,” she exclaimed, “I knew that one!” She opened her eyes wide and scanned the room from corner to corner like a slow motion camera, catching her final glimpse of her family.
Then she closed her eyes and began her ascent up the stairway to heaven. Our scripture reading for this morning is divided into three distinct parts: prophecy fulfilled, final instructions for Jesus’ disciples, and his glorious ascension into heaven. Let’s examine each part separately. For much of Jesus’ life, his true identity was a mystery. Many addressed him as Rabbi or teacher. His followers often called him master. Strangers considered Jesus to be a prophet, because he taught with such authority. Jesus usually referred to himself as the Son of Man with some notable exceptions. The Samaritan woman at the well told Jesus, “I know that Messiah is coming.” Jesus responded, “I who speak to you am he.” Before the high priest after Jesus was arrested, he was asked, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus replied, “I am.” In this first part of the scripture, Jesus confirmed that everything about me, the Coming Messiah, written in the Law of Moses, the Old Testament prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled. Let’s make it simple: Jesus is the Messiah, the Promised Savior and Redeemer, the very Son of God, who came down from heaven. All 330 prophecies about the Coming Messiah are fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Note that Jesus opened their eyes to all that was said about him. Another awesome Sunday school lesson! Part one is complete. In part two, Jesus confirmed that the Messiah was destined to suffer death on the cross, rise from his grave on the third day, and pave the way for repentance and forgiveness of sin to be preached to all nations. There was one big however mentioned. This ministry of repentance could not begin until his disciples were clothed with power from on high. They must wait in Jerusalem to receive God’s Holy Spirit, an event which occurred at Pentecost. Until that day, they were powerless to convert new believers to faith in Christ. At Pentecost, his disciples preached boldly as thousands professed faith in Christ Jesus in a single day. What a difference at day makes!
Part three appears to be a leisurely stroll from Jerusalem out to the nearby village of Bethany. The resurrected Jesus had been in their presence for forty days since that first Easter morning. Jesus spoke with the women at the tomb, his disciples in an upper room, with two men on the road to Emmaus, and to more than five hundred witnesses. His tomb was indeed empty. The Savior was alive and resurrected from his grave. They touched his hands and his side, heard his teaching, enjoyed breakfast together on the seaside, and now received his final blessing. As he was blessing them, he was majestically lifted up into heaven in plain sight. He did not climb up the rocks on the face of a mountain or ascend a staircase into the clouds. He simply was lifted as if he was an angel from heaven. All the crowd could do was worship the Risen Savior as he ascended into heaven. Ironically, Luke did not record any further details in his Gospel account of Jesus’ ascension into heaven. But Luke later wrote the Book of Acts, where we find an additional narrative. I am reading from Acts 1:9-11, “Now when he had spoken these things, while they watched, he was taken up, and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw him go into heaven.” I have flown above fifty thousand feet in all parts of the world, but I have yet to catch a glimpse of heaven. Sometimes, I felt like I could stretch out my hand and touch the face of God. I have never seen a majestic stairway to heaven, but I am convinced that when Jesus returns, we may see him descend from heaven in the same glorious manner in which he ascended. Whenever you’re outside on a sunny day, look up and prepare to be blessed. Jesus is coming soon!