SUDDENLY TWO MEN DRESSED IN WHITE STOOD BESIDE THEM. “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.” (Acts 1: 10-11)
WELCOME TO OUR ASCENSION-SUNDAY WORSHIP.
OPENING HYMN (CH-32) – IMMORTAL, INVISIBLE, GOD ONLY WISE, in light inaccessible hid from our eyes, most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days, Almighty, victorious, Thy great name we praise.
Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light, nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might; Thy justice like mountains high soaring above Thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love.
To all, life Thou givest – to both great and small; in all life Thou livest, the true life of all; we blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree, and wither and perish – but naught changeth Thee.
Great Father of Glory, pure Father of Light, Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight; all laud we would render: O help us to see ‘Tis only the splendour of light hideth Thee.
LET US PRAY:
LORD JESUS CHRIST, we worship You today as the Lord of lords and King of kings. We bring You our praise this morning, and we dedicate our lives faithfully to Your service. We acknowledge You as sovereign over life, the Lord of Creation, through whom all things were made, and in whom we live and move and have our being. We acknowledge You as sovereign over death, the Risen Lord who triumphed over the grave, the resurrection and the life. We acknowledge You as sovereign overall, Lord of space and time, ruler of the ends of the earth, enthroned in splendour at the right hand of the Father. Blessing and honour and glory and might are Yours, O Lord, this day and for evermore! AMEN.
OLD TESTAMENT READING: – DANIEL 7: 9-10, 13-14, 22.
AS I LOOKED, THRONES WERE SET IN PLACE, AND THE ANCIENT OF DAYS TOOK HIS SEAT. HIS CLOTHING WAS AS WHITE AS SNOW; THE HAIR OF HIS HEAD WAS WHITE LIKE WOOL. HIS THRONE WAS FLAMING WITH FIRE, AND ITS WHEELS WERE ALL ABLAZE. A RIVER OF FIRE WAS FLOWING, COMING OUT FROM BEFORE HIM. THOUSANDS UPON THOUSANDS ATTENDED HIM; TEN THOUSAND TIMES TEN THOUSAND STOOD BEFORE HIM. THE COURT WAS SEATED, AND THE BOOKS WERE OPENED … IN MY VISION AT NIGHT I LOOKED, AND THERE BEFORE ME WAS ONE LIKE A SON OF MAN, COMING WITH THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN. HE APPROACHED THE ANCIENT OF DAYS AND WAS LED INTO HIS PRESENCE. HE WAS GIVEN AUTHORITY, GLORY AND SOVEREIGN POWER; ALL PEOPLES, NATIONS AND MEN OF EVERY LANGUAGE WORSHIPPED HIM. HIS DOMINION IS AN EVERLASTING DOMINION THAT WILL NOT PASS AWAY, AND HIS KINGDOM IS ONE THAT WILL NEVER BE DESTROYED … UNTIL THE ANCIENT OF DAYS CAME AND PRONOUNCED JUDGMENT IN FAVOUR OF THE SAINTS OF THE MOST HIGH, AND THE TIME CAME WHEN THEY POSSESSED THE KINGDOM.
NEW TESTAMENT READING: – LUKE 24: 50-53.
WHEN HE (JESUS) HAD LED THEM OUT TO THE VICINITY OF BETHANY, HE LIFTED UP HIS HANDS AND BLESSED THEM. WHILE HE WAS BLESSING THEM, HE LEFT THEM AND WAS TAKEN UP INTO HEAVEN. THEN THEY WORSHIPED HIM AND RETURNED TO JERUSALEM WITH GREAT JOY. AND THEY STAYED CONTINUALLY AT THE TEMPLE, PRAISING GOD.
The Resurrection brought a radical change into Jesus’ relationship with His disciples. After all the fear and disappointment caused by the Crucifixion of their beloved Master the disciples became totally devoted to their call as they met the Risen Lord. Jesus used the following forty days to finalize their preparedness for the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them … (Matthew 28: 19-20). The number forty is a very important biblical number if we think of the 40 years of the Exodus from Egypt, or Jesus’ testing in the desert for 40 days. Combined with the 40 days following Jesus’ Resurrection, this number reveals a biblical time of preparation, testing, trial or probation in the life of God’s people. After the significant 40 days, the Risen Christ was taken up before their very eyes (Acts 1: 9) into Heaven, and leaving His people with a firm promise, that surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28: 20) and you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses … (Acts 1: 8). From its early times, the Christian Church needed a concise statement on the importance of Ascension Day, as it wasn’t observed with the same veneration as Christmas, Easter or Pentecost. In fact, through Jesus’ Ascension, these three are being interconnected as God’s Act of Salvation through Jesus Christ.
HOW DOES CHRIST’S ASCENSION BENEFIT US? A Protestant church-doctrine from Reformation-times firmly states: – First, He is our Advocate in heaven before His Father. Second, we have our flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that He, our head, will also take us, His members, up to Himself. Third, He sends us His Spirit as a counter pledge, by whose power we seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God, and not the things that are on earth. (Heidelberg Catechism, Q.49.- 1563). Regarded as a separate church-doctrine the Ascension of Christ is significant for several reasons. It represents the culmination of the earthly ministry of Jesus. His death and Resurrection could not have their full effect until he ascended to the presence of the Father, to whom He presented His finished work of Atonement (Hebrews 4: 14-15). This is the moment when the manhood of Jesus is taken up to God and glorified, as the final assurance of our eternal salvation. The human body of Christ is now no longer present within a time and space framework but belongs to the Son of God in eternity. It can be interpreted also as the glorification of man through the Resurrection of Christ. Jesus’ entry into His kingly office at God’s right hand is a reminder that His work on our behalf continues in the present. Jesus’ victorious triumph assures us of His mediation, and is particularly important for our understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit. The heavenly session reminds us that Christ’s work is at once efficacious and complete, since the One who now sits on the Throne of God is the Lamb who was slain on the Cross of Calvary. (Book of Revelation 22: 1-3). Finally, in Jesus Christ’s mission there had to be a moment when returned back to the Glory that was His. Nowadays we do not regard HEAVEN as some place beyond the sky, but as a state of timeless blessedness where God is. He is waiting there until His enemies are subdued, and will return in a final act into the world to establish God’s Kingdom as He promised (1 Corinthians 15:24-26). (According to the New Dictionary of Theology, 1988, page 47.)
ASCENSION IS A STRONG REMINDER OF JESUS’ RESURRECTION. Resurrection is the theological key to the understanding of the LOVE, GRACE and POWER OF GOD. If God can do that, then God can do anything. For the earliest followers, the fact that Jesus was risen from the dead was all the reality and proof they needed to validate the Power of God. Jesus reminded His followers that when the SPIRIT OF GOD will be upon them, they will bear witness to the whole world about Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Saviour. In the closing verses of his Gospel Luke says: – While He (Jesus) was blessing them, He left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshipped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. What a change! Despite His Ascension, or maybe because of it, the disciples were quite sure that Jesus had not gone away from among them but remained with them forever. The essential teaching of Christianity is that History is not a mass of chance-events which are going nowhere. God has a reason for everything, and for every activity under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3: 1). We are bound to believe that there is some divine far-off event to which the whole creation moves and that, when fulfilment comes, Jesus Christ will be Judge and Lord of all. According to His teaching, Jesus’ Second Coming is not a matter for speculation and satisfying of human curiosity, but a call to be ready in all circumstances as Christlike People for that day, whenever it comes. This is how we need to deal with all the mysteries of the Bible, hidden to us like Jesus’ Ascension; Heaven being where God is, above His Creation.
THE ANCIENT OF DAYS. The Ancient of Days is the most mysterious description of God in the Bible. It occurs only three times, and all three are found in Chapter 7 of the Book of Daniel, as he had a dream and visions of God “passed through his mind”. I hope that I do not confuse you more with the biblical references about Heaven where Jesus ascended to be with God after forty days from His Resurrection. Every Christian has, at least once, had an imaginary picture of what God looks like, of where God is, and to where Jesus was ascended. 1. – Ancient of Days first appears in Daniel 7: 9. There an Ancient, or venerable Person sits on a flaming throne with wheels of fire, His hair and clothing white as snow. The flaming throne is symbolic of judgement, while the white hair and the title Ancient indicate that God existed before time began. We read in Genesis 1 that God created time, days and nights, so God existed before the beginning of time. He is from everlasting to everlasting (Psalm 90: 2), and the first and the last (Isaiah 44: 6, and Revelation 1: 17). As for the thousands of beings standing before God the Father, this image is repeated in the vision of John (Revelation 5: 11). 2. – In Daniel 7: 13-14 the being like the Son of Man is Jesus Christ, and the Ancient of Days is once again God the Father. The Son of Man, Jesus, appears before God the Father to present to Him an Everlasting Dominion. Paul spoke of this future act when he wrote, – Then the end will come, when He hands over the kingdom to God the father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power (1 Corinthians 15: 24). The Everlasting Dominion is the Church. 3. – Some assume that the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7: 21-22 must be a reference to Jesus Christ, since Jesus is prophesied to return to earth to establish the Kingdom of God (Matthew 24: 30). Christ most definitely will return to earth for this purpose, but we must also remember that only God the Father will determine the day and hour for Jesus’ return to the earth as the “authorised representative” of God the Father (Mark 13: 32). The Holy Spirit – the Power of God – will be with Christ when He – will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him (Hebrews 9: 28). Recognizing Christ as the Representative of God, we can see that the Ancient of Days is God the Father, who has supreme authority and power, both in heaven and earth, for ever and ever.
Ascension Day gives certainty in the future for those who believe in Jesus Christ, through the Bible that explains itself. AMEN.
LET US PRAY:
GRACIOUS LORD, we remember today how Your apostles stood gazing into heaven, troubled and confused, struggling to make sense of their experience. Instead of worshipping You as King of kings and Lord of lords, and putting You in the context of the whole Salvation, their horizons were too narrow, their sight set too low, and their expectations too limited. Forgive us that all too often we make the same mistake as the apostles – we expect You to fit in with our own expectations, we assume we know all there is to know about You, we settle for a comfortable picture of You that offers much and asks little; and when that way of thinking is challenged or threatened, we are puzzled, suddenly overcome by a multitude of questions and doubts. Help us to glimpse the wonder of Your Ascension and the untold possibilities of all You can do, and to be captured by a new vision of Your almighty Kingdom. Ancient of Days, we thank You for showing us that Jesus was greater than we had begun to imagine – not bound by space and time, nor tied down to one particular place, nor restricted to one particular people, but ascended to Your side and One with You for all eternity. We thank You that no one is outside Your love, whoever they may be and whatever they may have done; You value all, and respond to all. We pray for Her Majesty our Queen, the Royal family, the Government of our land. Guide them in their decisions and give them a proper sense of the responsibility entrusted to them. Be with all the leaders of the nations in these hard times of Coronavirus Pandemic, bless those who work to contain the virus. We pray for all who are not well: heal those who are sick, protect the vulnerable, and comfort those who mourn. Bless Your Christian Church Universal in all its branches, our Church of Scotland’s presbyteries and parishes, and especially bless the forthcoming General Assembly in its decision-making. Be with our congregation, with all our sisters and brothers in this Island, and hear our quiet prayers for our loved-ones and all whom we name in our hearts …through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.
THE LORD’S PRAYER: – OUR FATHER, WHO ART IN HEAVEN …
CLOSING HYMN (CH-305) – SING WE TRIUMPHANT HYMNS OF PRAISE, new hymns to heaven exulting raise: Christ, by a road before untrod, ascendeth to the throne of God.
O grant that we may thither tend, and with unwearied hearts ascend toward Thy kingdom’s throne, where Thou, our great high priest, art seated now.
Be Thou our joy and strong defence, who art our future recompense: so shall the light that springs from Thee be ours through all eternity.
O Risen Christ, ascended Lord, all praise to Thee let earth accord, who art, while endless ages run, with Father and with Spirit One. Amen.
TO THE ETERNAL, IMMORTAL, INVISIBLE, THE ONLY GOD, BE HONOUR AND GLORY FOR EVER AND EVER! AMEN.
(1 Timothy 1: 17)