Ascension of the Lord
After attending a convention led by Billy Graham a woman wrote to him. “Dear Sir, I feel that God is calling me to preach the gospel. But the trouble is that I have twelve children. What shall I do?” The televangelist replied: “Dear Madam, I am delighted to hear that God has called you to preach the Gospel. I am even more delighted to hear that He has provided you with a congregation.”
Dear friends! The Gospels contain many parables of a master who sets out on a long journey and gives his servants charge of his estate until his return. In the feast of the Ascension of the Lord parable becomes reality. Jesus departs to his heavenly Father and leaves his disciples in charge of the affairs of his kingdom till his return in glory. Each of the Gospels we have ends with a scene in which Jesus finally takes leave of his disciples. These farewell scenes focus not on describing the event in detail but on the last words that Jesus leaves with his disciples.
In fact, the very fact of a bodily ascension of Jesus into heaven is described only by Luke. It is Luke who wrote the Acts of the Apostles from which we got our first reading today. A later ending of Mark also includes the Ascension. There are important similarities and differences between Luke and Acts on the one hand, and Matthew and Mark on the other, regarding the details of this farewell scene.
For example, in Luke-Acts the Ascension takes place in Jerusalem, whereas in Matthew and Mark it takes place in Galilee. Both traditions, however, agree that it took place on a mountain. In Luke-Acts the Ascension happens forty days after the Resurrection during which period Jesus appears repeatedly to his followers. In Matthew and Mark there is no indication of this time period between the Resurrection and the Ascension, rather the first appearance of Jesus to his disciples after the resurrection is also the last.
The gospel writers apparently were not aiming at accuracy in historical details; they were more concerned with transmitting a message. So what is the message, the charge that Jesus gives his disciples as he takes physical leave of them? The message is phrased differently in the Acts and in the Gospels:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8)
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, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)
Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation… (Mark 16:15-18)
These are the last words of Jesus as recorded differently in the Acts and in Matthew and Mark. All of them are in agreement that (a) Jesus gave his disciples a mission, a task to engage them till he returns in glory, and (b) he assured them of divine assistance in the carrying out of this mission.
Jesus has given you and me the greatest mission to be a witness for Him. But we often fail to carry out the mission. I have heard figures that say 95% of all Christians never win a single soul to Christ in their entire lifetime. If that is true, why is it true? Probably because they never even tried to win someone to Christ! I think there are probably many things in life that we could do if we would only try!
What we lack is commitment. You have perhaps heard the old story told about a pig and a chicken walking down the road together. As they walked along they read a sign advertising a breakfast to benefit the poor. The chicken said to the pig, “You and I should donate a ham and egg breakfast.” The pig replied, “Not so fast, for you it would just be a contribution, but for me it would be a total commitment.”
Total commitment is lacking today in many areas of life and especially, when it comes to the Lord Jesus and His church. Let us not just listen to the message of Jesus today and forget all about it. Let us make every effort to be a witness to Jesus’ love and compassion through our words and deeds. Let others know that we are Christians in our love…Amen