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Ascension Day

Grace, mercy, and peace be yours from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!  In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, the portion of God’s Word on which we will focus our attention this evening is on the whole Ascension account, but I’ll read the account from the Gospel of Luke once again.  (read text).

I need reminders.  I NEED reminders.  I love those little colored sticky notes to write little messages on, I love my little planner/calendar to remember meetings or events, I usually need companies to send me a bill in the mail in advance to remind me that I need to pay it, and I really enjoy websites that will send me a reminder about an upcoming birthday or anniversary of a family member.  I need reminders.  Reminders are nice.

But why do we need reminders?  Why can’t we perfectly remember everything that we’ve been told?  Why can’t we perfectly recall all the information that we need to on our own?  Why do we need reminders?  Because we aren’t perfect, in fact, the very fact that we often fail to remember things is a consequence of sin.  If we were perfect, then we’d always remember who we are and we’d act like it, we’d always remember what our purpose on earth is and we’d do it, we’d always remember what God wants us to be doing and we do it, we’d always remember to love our neighbor and we would.  But we aren’t perfect, we’re sinful.

And sin has done a lot of damage to our memories, hasn’t it?  We easily forget all about the very many blessings God has given us.  At the same time we seem to remember with incredible clarity all the challenges we face day to day.  We seem to easily be able to forget the sins that we commit against someone else- especially when they don’t seem too “serious” to us.  And we seem to remember very clearly the sins someone else committed against us!  Sin has really made a mess of our memories!

God understands the sinful human memory.  So what does He do?  He finds ways to remind us in many ways of His blessings, His love, His faithfulness, His promises.  Think about the OT Israelites.  God set up their lives in order that they’d be constantly reminded of Him.  Every day they were to offer a morning and evening sacrifice as a reminder that a sacrifice needed to be made for sinful human beings.  They had a lamp in the tabernacle/temple that was to remain lit at all times to remind them of God’s continued presence.  They had the yearly Passover festival to remind them of God’s deliverance in the past and God’s deliverance in the future through the promised Savior.  The Israelites needed reminders, so God graciously gave them reminders!

The disciples didn’t know it at the time, but they, too, would need reminders.  Their lives were going to get very challenging after Jesus left them.  The same religious leaders who had hated Jesus and crucified Him would set their sights next on Jesus’ followers.  Jesus’ disciples would be arrested, beaten, accused, condemned to death for the “crime” of telling people about…Jesus!  The disciples would feel the whip, be imprisoned, and even die martyrs’ deaths.  Tradition has it that almost all the disciples died in some gruesome, horrific way; from being beheaded to being crucified upside down.  So, do you think that when they were facing all this stuff that it’d be easy for them to forget God’s blessings and His faithfulness?  I’m thinking so!  So God gave them a powerful reminder.

On Ascension Day Jesus gave them such a reminder.  Remember that Jesus ascending into heaven would be the last sight the disciples would see of Jesus.  This would have been a powerful image burned into their brains because we humans tend to remember someone by the way that we last saw them.  So what’s that last sight of Jesus that they saw?

First, Jesus took them up on the Mount of Olives (the city of Bethany was located on this mount).  From this point one can look down and see an incredible view of the city of Jerusalem.  In fact, you can see many of the likely spots of the events of Holy Week.  So they would have been able to see the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus willingly went into the hands of those who came to arrest Him.  They would have seen the area of the courtyard where Peter denied Jesus and Jesus willingly stood on trial.  They would have seen Calvary where Jesus died on the cross.  They also probably could have seen the empty tomb.  All those important places would have been visible up there!

Then Jesus lifted up His hands to bless them.  What would they have noticed on His hands?  The nail marks!  The very proof that Jesus had paid for their sins.  Then Jesus was powerfully lifted up into the sky- right in front of them!  Then we notice that Jesus went up in the sky and He didn’t just go up and up and get smaller and smaller, rather a cloud hid Him from their sight- in other words, He hadn’t really left, they just couldn’t see Him anymore.

Think of how this would have helped the disciples.  If their consciences were bothering them because of some sin, or if they had doubts or were wondering if Jesus really loved them, they could remember those nail marks on Jesus’ hands, remember the sight of Gethsemane, of the courtyard and that crazy trial, of the cross and the empty tomb.  If Jesus was willing to be arrested, willing to stand on trial, willing to die on a cross, could they be sure of His love?  Absolutely!

If the disciples were discouraged and down and distressed, how valuable it would have been to remember Jesus’ hands up in blessing them – and one cool note- we’re never told Jesus took His hands down, they’re still up in blessing!  When the disciples were feeling weak and frail, how valuable to remember Jesus powerfully ascending into the sky!  When the disciples were feeling afraid and alone, how valuable to remember that Jesus never really left them, they just couldn’t see Him with their eyes!

Those same reminders which were valuable to the disciples are also valuable for you and me.  Feel like you are alone?  See that cloud cover Jesus- He hasn’t left you, He’s still with you, you just can’t see Him with your physical eyes.  Feeling weak?  See Jesus powerfully ascend up into the sky!  Feeling horrible about some sin that you committed?  See the nail marks in Jesus hands, see the place where he suffered and died and rose and be assured that your sins are forgiven in full and completely!  Feeling frustrated about how things are happening in your life or turning out?  See Jesus’ hands still up in blessing today, remember that Jesus still rules all things for your benefit!

You know what?  Those are reminders I NEED…and I WANT!  Amen.