Monday, May 9, 2016

​The Kingdom is Restored (A sermon based on Acts 1:1-11)

The kingdom of God is restored! It's restored to us by Jesus work which is complete. How do we know? He wouldn't have left if there were still work for him to do. It is finished! Our salvation is won! But... he's left work for us to do -- not to earn his forgiveness, but to thank him for it -- we're eager to be his witnesses and expand the kingdom as we share the message of his grace. Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on Acts 1:1-11 and rejoice in Jesus' ascension and be Jesus' witness! 

Rise and Witness!
The Kingdom is Restored
A sermon based on Acts 1:1-11
Sunday, May 8, 2016 – Ascension Sunday C

Chuck's mom wasn't doing well. It honestly didn't look she had much time left on this earth. While her body was shutting down, her mind was still sharp. And she could still speak clearly. So she gathered her children around her hospital bed. She wanted to leave them all with some parting words—one last piece of advice for her children to heed before she could no longer advise them. And as you can imagine, those words were chosen carefully. They carried great weight to Chuck and to his siblings. They wouldn't forget what mom said. She ended her speech, "Love God. Stay in his Word. Love each other." And with those final words spoken, Chuck's mom passed away that night.
It's a similar setting before us this morning. Jesus was going away. Not to his death. He'd already been there and back. He already gave his last will and testament in the upper room the night before he died. But now he had been back from the grave and had been teaching his disciples what his life, death, and resurrection all meant. But he wouldn't stay long. After forty days he was going to leave them again. He was going to ascend back into the heaven from which he came. But before he did, he left his disciples with some parting words, with one last piece of advice, with words that carry weight still to each one of us.
And Jesus spoke about his Kingdom and how it was restored. The kingdom of God was restored by Jesus' work for his disciples. Jesus' ascension was one more proof that that work was all done. There was nothing left for them to do but learn those truths. And they would at Pentecost. But still, Jesus also had work for them to do. To help others learn those truths.
And both of those lessons are important for us to learn today: First, that God's kingdom is restored by Jesus' ascension. Then, that God's kingdom is restored by Jesus' witnesses, that is, by you and me. Our text for this morning is taken from Acts 1:1-11…

In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."
6 So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"
7 He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."

As Jesus was about to leave his disciples, they wanted to know about the restoration of the kingdom. Now, they clearly had a mistaken concept of the Kingdom of God in their minds. They were thinking of a physical kingdom with borders and a political kingdom where they could have utopia on earth.
But, nevertheless, Jesus did answer them. In a sense he told them how the Kingdom of God was restored. It was restored through his work for them, his death and resurrection. And they would understand that better once the Holy Spirit enlightened them to those truths and helped them to understand that God's Kingdom wasn't about politics or borders, but God ruling in people's hearts through faith in Jesus.
But Jesus also told his disciples how they would be a part of the kingdom's restoration as he gave them his parting word to them and told them they would become powerful witnesses. As they spread the message of Jesus' work, the kingdom would expand. And with that, he ascended into heaven…

I.              By Jesus' Ascension

John didn't know much about plumbing, so when the pipe under the counter sprung a leak, he wrapped it in duct tape and called the plumber. The plumber came and did the work. He stopped the leak and gave John the bill. John paid and thanked him for the work.
But then, to John's surprise, the plumber didn't leave. He sat down on the couch and asked John, "So, how long have you lived here? What do you do for fun?" John was confused. He asked the plumber If he used some sort of epoxy or glue? Was he waiting around for it to dry? Was the job not really done?"
"Oh, no. It's done. You're good to go. I just don't have plans tonight."

How odd it would be if someone finished the job they came to do, but then didn't leave. You might rightly wonder, like John did, "Is the job really done?"
Well, people have often wondered, "Why did Jesus have to ascend into heaven? Why not just stay here on earth until Judgment Day?" Well, one of the answers is that he completed his work. It's done. He didn't need to stick around because the job he came to do is finished. His ascension is proof of that.
And there are many other convincing proofs that Jesus has accomplished what he came to do. Those were the convincing proofs that Jesus showed to his disciples to prove that he was alive in order to prove that his mission was accomplished in order to prove that the Father accepted the work that Jesus did.
And so in his parting words to his disciples he told them to stay there for a bit that they might better learn from the Holy Spirit about the Kingdom of God.
"Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."
In just ten more days they would learn that Jesus was not a political Savior, but a Savior from sin, that the Kingdom was won by his perfect life and innocent death in our place, that the resurrection was the proof, that they had seen the proof, that the kingdom already had been won, torn away from satan, and restored by God as sinners were restored to God.

You too now the truth about the Kingdom of God—that God rules in your hearts, not through politics, that his kingdom is of heaven, not of this earth. You know that he already restored us to God by his perfect life in our place doing all the good we've left undone, by his innocent death in our place paying for the times we've been too selfish or apathetic to share the Gospel with others. You know that his resurrection is the proof that Jesus' payment for us is acceptable to the Father. We are restored to God and the kingdom is restored to him.
And Jesus' ascension is the final proof. The job is done. His work is complete. All he set out to do is finished. So he could go back home.
Now, don't just cling to those truths for yourself and rejoice that God's kingdom has come to you in your heart. Also go share these truths that God's kingdom might expand!

II.            By Jesus' Witnesses

The judge called for the next witness. The attorney called for Aurora who took the stand. She didn't look nervous at all. When asked, "Where were you the night that this incident took place?" she readily admitted, "I was right there the whole time."
"So, you saw everything that took place that night?"
"Yes, that's correct."
"Well, would you please tell us what happened?"
"Um… No."
"'Um… No?'?! What do you mean,  "No'?!"
"I don't really want to tell you. I don't like being in the witness stand. And I'm kind of bored. I won't tell you what I saw. I'm just going to go home now."

How odd it would be if someone saw an incident take place and had information to share that could preserve someone's freedom or preserve someone's life, but simply refused to share what they saw. A witness is one who sees something and "witnessed" the event. But it's also someone who tells what they see and gives their testimony.
And so in his parting words to his disciples Jesus told them not just to stay put in Jerusalem to learn the truths of his kingdom, but then to go, get out and tell those truths that would advance his kingdom.

He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
People have often wondered, "Why did Jesus have to ascend into heaven? Why not just stay here on earth until Judgment Day?" Well, one of the answers is that he completed his work. But another answer is so that the word could get out.
Just imagine if Jesus were still physically present here on earth, teaching in some synagogue somewhere, would any of you want to come here to listen to me? Of course not! You'd get much better sermons from Jesus! But how many people could you pack into one synagogue? And how often do you think you'd make it to church in Israel?
So Jesus left and ascended into heaven so people wouldn't focus on his physical person and think of him as the only truly capable pastor. But instead through missionaries, through pastors, through teachers, through parents, through you, people can focus on Jesus' message (instead of his person) and see him as their Savior (not just the best pastor).

You know Luke begins this book as he did his Gospel, with a dedication to Theophilus. Did you know that there's a certain debate as to who this man was. Some believe he was a governor and "Most Excellent Theophilus" was his name and title. Others suggest that he may have been Luke's patron, a wealthy man who funded his travels and paid for the publication of Luke's writings. But still others suggest that Theophilus wasn't an actual historical figure at all because the name, "Theophilus," when translated, means, "Friend of God," "Loved by God," or "One Who Loves God."
If it's not a personal name, but ought to be translated, then Luke didn't write his books to a single individual, but to every believer who loves God because he or she is loved by God and is friends with him. In other words, it's written to you and to me.
But either way, the message is still meant for you and me. We, who love God because he first loved us… We who love God for all he's done to restore the kingdom of God to us by faith in our hearts, are eager to be his witnesses.
Right now I'm reading a book called Evangelism for the Rest of Us. I'm loosely basing our Wednesday night Bible Class on the book. (You should come this Wednesday night if you can!) But in that book the author correctly says…
"There's something inside many of us that says God's feeling toward us is dependent on whether or not we share our faith. But to keep our theology straight, we need to separate (1) God's unconditional love for us and (2) doing his work… God wants us to intentionally, in the way he designed us, move people closer to him. But that's not the basis for his love for us." 
We know that the basis for his love for us is Jesus and his finished work for us. And because of Jesus' work for us, we know that we will always have God's unconditional love. So we witness, not so that we might have his love, but because his love is so great for us, that we can't help but talk about it to others.

If someone has an infection, you know what they do to help it. They stick a needle into that person. They inject antibiotics into that person. But then they don't leave the needle in. They pull it out and let the blood stream circulate the antibiotics through the whole body.
In a sense, this is how God works to restore his kingdom. When the world was sick with sin, God sent his Son into the world as the cure. But he didn't stay in the world. He left again. But he left his church to do the work circulate that Gospel cure throughout the whole world.
That's our job. We are his witnesses. That's the job we're glad to do in thanks to him. For his kingdom is restored by his work. That's demonstrated by Christ's ascension. He wouldn't have left if there were still work to do. But his kingdom is also restored by his witnesses—by us—as we get the word out.

Christ high-ascended, now in glory seated,
Throned and exalted, victory completed,
Death's dread dominion finally defeated
We are his witnesses.

In Jesus' name, dear friends, let's go get the word out! Amen!

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611
(907) 690-1660

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