Don’t You Have Work to Do?
Don't You Have Work to Do?
by William Klock
This evening we’ve read the Ascension Gospel and we’ve just extinguished the Paschal Candle – the candle that symbolizes the light of the risen Christ here on earth – here with us. What does it mean?
It means that the Gospel story that started in Advent with the proclamation that the Messiah was coming and that God’s kingdom was soon to be at hand, doesn’t end with Christmas. And it doesn’t end with him hanging on the cross or buried in the tomb on Good Friday. It doesn’t even end with his resurrection on Easter. Often times that’s as far as we take the story. He came, he died in our place bringing victory over sin and death, and he rose to new life and takes us with him in that victory. And that’s often as far as we go with the Gospel story. But that’s not where it ends. Maybe we talk about Pentecost, but without the Ascension, Pentecost doesn’t happen. Between the Resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit sits the Ascension. It’s as much a part of the Gospel as the Death and Resurrection of Jesus.
Think of it this way. Jesus spent his earthly ministry talking about God’s Kingdom. St. Matthew tells us that when his ministry began, he preached saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). The purpose of his coming was to establish his kingdom.
His kingdom is about life and about restored fellowship with God, but he came to a people dead in their sins and separated from God. And so he came as one of us, he lived like one of us with the one exception that he did what none of us can ever do – he perfectly upheld God’s holy standard – he never sinned. Where the first Adam failed, Jesus, the second Adam, was victorious in his obedience to God. Being guiltless he died the death that we deserve that he might remove the penalty of our sin. In his death he opened the way back to fellowship with the Father. He rose from the dead so that those who are united to him in faith might rise to new life too. He took a people who were enemies of God and turned their hearts away from sin, he changed their allegiance. Where they were once people who had pledged their allegiance to the World, Jesus made a people who pledged their allegiance to God. He created a kingdom people for himself. And now as we remember and celebrate his Ascension, we celebrate his taking his throne – his coronation as King. We celebrate the establishing of his Kingdom. No longer is it merely “at hand.” His kingdom is here, his kingdom is now, his kingdom is wherever men and women bought with his blood proclaim him as Saviour and Lord.
In the lesson from Acts appointed for this evening’s Epistle we read St. Luke’s account of the Ascension. The disciples had come together with Jesus. Here he was, risen, perfected, amazing, and regal. And yet the disciples still weren’t quite getting it. They asked him, “Lord, now that you’ve conquered death and now that you’ve risen from the dead, now are you going to restore Israel? Now are you going to finally give the Romans what-for?”
They still didn’t get the whole “the kingdom is within you” thing. And Jesus gives them a gentle reminder: “Friends, that’s not your worry. God has his own timing for dealing with the powers of this world and that timing isn’t for you to know. But here is what’s important for you: I’m going leave you, but when I leave you, I’m going to send my Holy Spirit and he’s going to empower you with my power. He’s going to equip you to be my witnesses to Jerusalem, to all of Judea, and, believe it or not, to Samaria and eventually to all the world!”
It was the same message he’d been telling them: “I can’t stay with you. I have to go back to my Father, but I’m not going to leave you. I may be going, but my Spirit will remain and will take up residence in you and empower you to do all the things I’ve told you to do.”
And with that, St. Luke says, Jesus was lifted up. Up he went until he was out of sight in the clouds. And the disciples stood there watching as he ascended. The text doesn’t say what they were thinking. I have to think that it was a combination of awe and sorrow. On the one hand, if they’d ever seen anything more amazing than that it could only have been seeing their Lord risen from the dead. And yet I think this was even more amazing. If there was any doubt before, here was evidence that he truly was God Incarnate. But I have to think they were sorrowful too. Think back to how despondent they were at his death and how happy they were to have him back. Now he’d left again. And so they stood there, staring up into the sky – in amazed awe, but probably a little shell-shocked too.
I gather from the text that they stood there dazedly looking for quite a while. But then Luke tells us that there were two men who appeared and stood there with them. They all stood there for a minute and then one of those angels said, “Hey, guys!” And I can see those dazed disciple sorting glancing over to see who spoke, but being so awed by what had just happened that they didn’t quite realize who was speaking to them. And the angel said again, “Hey guys – yeah, you guys from Galilee.” And now the angel had their attention and he asked, “What are you doing? Are you just gonna keep staring into the sky all day? You do realize, don’t you, that just as Jesus went up, he’s going to come back?”
St. Luke doesn’t report Jesus’ commissioning of his disciples, but St. Matthew does. At the end of his Gospel Jesus gives the disciples those familiar words:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)
The angels back in St. Luke’s account are saying, “Guys, don’t stand there staring into space. Yes, Jesus is gone, but he’s going to come back. In the meantime, didn’t he give you something important to do? Don’t just stand there looking stupid: Get to work!
Now, in between the Ascension and their getting to work came Pentecost. Jesus had to give the gift of the Spirit to enable his kingdom people to fulfil that kingdom mission – and we’ll look at that aspect of it in about a week-and-a-half. But we – you and I – live on this side of Pentecost. Each of us has been united to Christ by his indwelling Spirit – and that means that each of us has been equipped and specifically gifted to go out and do that kingdom work.
The Ascension is our commissioning. Jesus calls us to go and out and to get busy about his work. The question we need to ask ourselves is whether or not we’re doing it. Sometimes we’re just like those disciples. We’re standing around dumbly staring off into space. Sometimes we get busy, but we get busy doing the work of this world instead of the kingdom. Sometimes that worldly work even disguises itself. How often do we get bogged down doing “church work” that isn’t really true work for the Church – for the kingdom, but just “busy work.”
The angel’s call to the disciples is a call to us too. Jesus has said: “Go out and share the Good News. Go out baptizing and making disciples!” And now the angels stand next to us: “Hey! Men (and women) of the Comox Valley! Why are you standing around looking up into heaven? This Jesus who was taken up from you, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven. In the meantime, don’t you have work to do?”
He’s called us and by his Spirit he’s equipped and gifted us. Remember the Parable of the Talents. The man who took his money and buried it in the ground – who did nothing with it – remember that the master condemned him as wicked and slothful. Sadly that’s going to be the condemnation of many Christians on the day that Jesus comes back. But if we hear the angel’s call and if we live out Jesus commission, using the gifts, and proclaiming the message, we can take comfort in the words of the master to the servants who made good use the gifts he had entrusted to them: “Well, done, good and faithful servant.”
John the Baptist preached that the Kingdom of God is at hand. Jesus came and proclaimed the same message as he announced that the Kingdom of God is a present reality. He came and ushered it in. In his death and resurrection he broke the power of Satan. He kicked in the door of Satan’s house, bound him, and robbed him of everything he had. Jesus crushed the enemy and has presented the Kingdom to his Father.
But in all that, through is death and resurrection, Jesus makes us Kingdom people. As his people he gives us authority to oppose the forces of Satan and to usher in the kingdom of God, and to show to the world the kingdom principles of righteousness, justice, love, mercy, and peace. He calls us to proclaim boldly the kingdom message of the remission of sins and the gift of eternal life through the blood of Jesus Christ, and to declare that Jesus has authority over everything in heaven and on earth. He’s left, but he’s coming back. In the meantime, we have work to do, so let’s get to it!
Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, you sent your Son to die and pay the penalty for our sins, then you put your Spirit in us to turn our hearts toward him that we might find the salvation he offers. You have made us citizens of your kingdom. We ask for the grace to live as the people you have made us. Father, let us be faithful ambassadors for your Kingdom to all those around us until that day when we will reign with him before your heavenly throne. We ask this through Jesus Christ. Amen.