Ascension 2022 (observed)
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
May 29, 2022
Acts 1:1-11, Ephesians 1:15-23, Luke 24:44-53


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            If you are called as a witness in court you will go up to the witness stand and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God.  So, as a witness in court you tell the truth.  That is what the 8th Commandment makes clear.  Do not bear false testimony against your neighbor.

            When you think about being a witness, a courtroom comes to mind, but that is not the only place we find witnesses.  In our readings today we find Jesus leaving witnesses standing atop the Mount of Olives near Bethany above Jerusalem as He ascends into heaven. 

            The eleven apostles are there with Jesus.  They have seen Jesus perform many miracles of healing, feeding, cleansing, driving out demons, calming storms, walking on water, raising the dead.  They witnessed all that Jesus did.  They were with Jesus on that Thursday night when He washed their feet and transformed the Passover meal into Holy Communion.  They were there when Jesus was arrested and then watched from a distance as He is tried by the Jewish leaders and taken to the Roman governor in the morning. They saw Jesus paraded through the streets with His cross and marched up to the place of the skull to be crucified. John was at the foot of the cross and the others likely watched from a distance as the life drained out of Jesus until He hung dead on the cross and the Romans pierced Him with a spear to make sure.  They saw it all.  They saw Jesus’ dead body buried in a borrowed tomb and then they hid behind locked doors for fear that the Jews would be coming after them next.  The eleven apostles knew very well what happened to Jesus.  And then came Sunday morning and the news that Jesus rose from the dead started to spread among the apostles.  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

            Jesus then appeared to these disciples.  Acts 1:3 (ESV) 3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.”  

These eleven and others with them know for certain that Jesus rose from the dead. They know that Jesus rose from the dead and, as Jesus commands them to do, they spend the rest of their lives witnessing to the truth of Jesus’ resurrection.  They spend the rest of their lives proclaiming repentance and the forgiveness of sins to all nations beginning from Jerusalem.  Jesus prepares the disciples during His three years of ministry.  He further readies them during the 40 days from His resurrection to His ascension. He promises to send the Holy Spirit who will come in 10 days on Pentecost.  Some of the last words that Jesus speaks to the disciples confirm the written word of the Old Testament.  Luke 24:44–45 (ESV) 44 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 and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,” 

            The eleven are eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry and His death and resurrection.  The eleven have the Old Testament; Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.  Jesus opens their minds to understand the Scriptures. The eleven will receive the Holy Spirit fully on Pentecost.  They have the tools they need to accomplish what God wants them to accomplish. 

How amazing it must have been to be there at Jesus’ ascension; to hear Jesus’ last words on earth and watch Him ascend and disappear into a cloud.  How incredible to have Jesus equip you with all you need to be sent out with the Gospel to all the world.

            It is easy to think, “If only I was equipped like those eleven apostles, then I could really do some good for the Kingdom of God. You know, those eleven were eyewitnesses.  They had Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms, their minds were opened to understand the scriptures.  They had the Holy Spirit.  If only I had what they had.”

            But you do.  You have virtually the same tools as Peter, Andrew, James, John, Matthew, Thomas, Philip and the others.  You are well equipped.  Now, you are not an eyewitness, but you have the eyewitness testimony written down by Matthew, Mark, John, Paul and Peter.  You have additional eyewitness testimony compiled by Luke.  Along with this you have Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms. You have the Holy Spirit.  Your mind has been opened by God to understand and believe the Holy Scriptures.  You are well equipped.  So, be ready when opportunities arise.    1 Peter 3:15 (ESV)  15 …in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,”  Be ready to give the reason for the hope that you have, yet do it with gentleness and respect.  In this contentious world with so many opportunities for division and conflict, you are called to interact with gentleness and respect.

            As a well-equipped witness for Jesus you bring the message of repentance and forgiveness of sins to a world that does not understand.  You speak the truth in love with gentleness and respect into a world full of darkness and evil. 

            Witness to the truth about Jesus with gentleness and respect because that is how Jesus treats you.  When you mess up and offend God with your sin He does not treat you with angry contempt and dismissiveness.  God solves your problem with sin.  He tells you the truth that your sins are forgiven.  In great love for you the Father sends His Son to die on the cross to pay for your sins.  He sacrificially offers Himself for you.  He gives you abundant hope and He does it with gentleness and respect. 

            As a well-equipped witness for Jesus you bring the message of repentance and forgiveness of sins to a world that does not understand.  You speak the truth in love with gentleness and respect into a world full of darkness and evil. 

            And there is great evil in the world.  We see that evil in big ways in unjust wars and in evil people who heartlessly kill children in a classroom or shoppers at a store. This is incomprehensible evil. Evil simmers around you constantly in regular street violence.  On a recent weekend in Chicago 24 people were shot, six fatally.  And no one seems to care too much.  It is just a regular thing.  A murder in Fairfield Township is huge news, two people murdered in Cincinnati is just business as usual.  Evil can become commonplace.  You have great hope because Jesus died and rose for you and yet you mourn the evil in this world.  You do not want to get used to the evil and give up hope; rather you fight back against it. As well-equipped witnesses to the truth you battle evil and darkness in the world. 

            You battle evil in the world using the tools that you have been given.  You battle the darkness using the light of the world.  The love and forgiveness of Jesus flow out from you into the world and this diminishes evil around you.  You shine light in the darkness.  You love when others hate.  When someone attacks you, turn the other cheek.  You befuddle your enemies by returning love for evil.  You are a sponge for evil and not a mirror.  You are a sponge for evil, absorbing it and eliminating it, not reflecting it back and causing it to grow.  Around you evil shrinks and love grows.

            Live in the hope of Jesus and when people notice that you continue to have hope when others have only despair, be ready to the give the reason for the hope that you have.  Declare that you are a baptized child of God and He has made great promises to you in the blood of Jesus.  Declare to anyone and everyone that Jesus died for them because it is true.  Declare, “Even though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death you need fear no evil for the Good Shepherd is with you.  There is great evil in the world and it can seem like evil is winning, but, in the end, evil will be destroyed forever.  Jesus has overcome the world.” 

            You can talk about how frustrating it is that there is evil in the world.  Why does God even allow evil?  Why am I infected by original sin?  What can one person do about all the evil in the world?  Then you can share the truth that one person can make a difference.  In your interactions, you make a difference. You push back evil in the world.  You, indeed, can have great impact on those around you using the tools that Jesus has given you.  You shine the light and the light spreads.  Be salt and light in a world full of decay and darkness.  You have eyewitness testimony to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Your mind has been opened to the words of scripture.  You have the Holy Spirit.  You know the message of repentance and forgiveness.  You are equipped to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  Let Jesus’ light shine.

            Put it under a bushel?  No!  I’m going to let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.  Amen.