Sunday, May 28, 2017

A Sermon for the Sunday After Ascension

For Morning Prayer this Sunday after Ascension, I, as Lay Reader, delivered the following sermon.  I don’t think I committed any major heresies; I will leave it to you whether I committed any minor ones.  Enjoy and be edified.


“God’s Ways Are Not Our Ways”

This Sunday, we are in the short season of Ascension.  It began Thursday and will end with Pentecost next Sunday.  And – I don’t know about you – but I find it a slightly awkward season.  During this season, we celebrate that Jesus is no longer physically with us.  That’s a rather odd thing to celebrate! No wonder that churches tend not to emphasize Ascension season that much.

Now, of course, the Ascension of our Lord is something to celebrate.  For Jesus, having departed after winning the victory over Satan, sin and death for us, is now at the right hand of the Father in glory.  And there he ever intercedes for us.  Further, Jesus’ departure prepared the way for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Now I could attempt to go into these glorious aspects of the Ascension.  But Father Ben is better at that than I am, so I will leave it to him to do that next year as he has in years past.

What I do want us briefly to focus on this morning is the reason behind why we may find Ascension season slightly awkward as I do.  And that reason is that God’s ways are not our ways.

Isaiah 55, beginning with verse 6 reads:

           Seek the LORD while he may be found;
                  call upon him while he is near;
7          let the wicked forsake his way,
                  and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
            let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him,
                  and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
8          For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
                  neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
9          For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
                  so are my ways higher than your ways
                  and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Note the context in which God, through Isaiah, says His ways are not our ways.  The context is the proclamation of God’s salvation and forgiveness. 

Isaiah exhorts us to turn “to our God for he will abundantly pardon.”  Why will he abundantly pardon? Because God is so impressed with our agendas?  No, just the opposite.  The reason God pardons and the manner in which he pardons follows in the very next verse: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.”  God pardons because His love and grace and power far exceeds that of man and is far different from man’s.  And it follows that God’s agendas and methods are far different as well.  That is certainly the case in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ – and, yes, in His ascension as well.

Jesus’ agenda was certainly very different than man’s.  When Jesus fed the 5000, the people just fed were about to try to make him king by force.  But Jesus would have none of that. His kingdom was to be far different than what the excited people had in mind.  He withdrew to a mountain by himself.

On the other hand, pious Jews were not expecting their Messiah to be God Himself.  They were looking for a Messiah King, not Christ the Lord. So when Jesus said He was God, when he said, “I and the Father are One” and “Before Abraham was, I AM” they sought to kill him.

And, certainly, zealous Jews were hoping in a victorious Messiah that would free them from the yoke of the Roman Empire.  And these were surely among the throng that cheered Jesus as he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

So when, later that week, many of that same throng saw Jesus whipped, bloodied, and by all appearances completely defeated by the Romans, the crowd turned on Him.  That was not the Messiah they were looking for.  A humiliated Jesus did not fit their agenda at all.  “Crucify Him!”

Now we may look with disdain at those in the crowd who called for the crucifixion of Jesus.  But have we ever been upset with God, even angry with God when His agenda turns out to be different than ours?  I have.

God’s ways are not our ways.  And that can be perplexing at times.

Jesus’ followers wrestled with the ways of the Lord, even right up until His Ascension.  Just before the Ascension, as recorded in the Acts 1, some of them asked, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”  Understandably, they wanted Jesus not to ascend but to stick around and establish His kingdom right then and there in Israel.  Even after the Resurrection and being taught by the risen Christ, they still didn’t get it that His kingdom was to be far far bigger and better than a sovereign Israel free from Rome.  And that kingdom was to be ignited by the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Jesus therefore answered, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the end of the earth.”  And then he ascended.

The disciples once again found out God’s ways are not our ways.  And, in a way, that was disappointing.  They wished Israel would be a free and sovereign kingdom again.  They surely wished Jesus would stay and become king.  But they soon discovered the kingdom God had in mind was so much better.

And isn’t that way with us.  We hope God will provide us with . . . fill in the blank.  And God at times says, No.  And we may be disappointed.  But then God goes on to say, “I have something even better for you.”  In the Bible again and again and again, God tells us He has something better for us far beyond what we can even imagine.

The Ascension is very much a part of that.  For one thing, Jesus is right now interceding for us before the Father.  We ask friends to intercede for us, to pray for us, and that’s good.  How much better it is that Jesus intercedes for us!

Further, Jesus told the Twelve of His good purposes for us behind the Ascension when he said:

“In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” (John 14:2,3)

In the Ascension, Jesus bodily departed for a time so that the reunion when he returns will be that much better, including better for us.  Jesus’ prayer in John 17 when he prayed - “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me.” – that prayer will be perfectly fulfilled.

I could say more of the glory God and His gracious ways have in store for us, but I did promise a brief sermon, didn’t I.

God’s ways are not our ways.  Did any man - except perhaps the prophets, and even they saw only in part – did any man conceive of the Messiah suffering, dying a criminal’s death, but then defeating sin and death, rising from the dead, ascending to the Father and then one day coming again to reign and to be with His people forever?

Did any man even conceive of that?  No.  God’s ways are not our ways.  And thank God for that!

Let us pray.

O God, the King of glory, who hast exalted thine only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph unto thy kingdom in heaven; We beseech thee, leave us not comfortless; but send to us thy Holy Ghost to comfort us, and exalt us unto the same place whither our Saviour Christ is gone before, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Holy Ghost, one God, world without end.  Amen.

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