Acts 1:6-11; Matthew 28:16-20
Sunday after Ascension
St Barbara’s; 13.05.18
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Are we nearly there yet?
I wonder how many times you have heard that question over the years.
Why is it taking so long? Surely we must be there by now?
I remember walking the Dorset coastal path as a teenager. It was a surprisingly hilly walk. Our youth leader whenever we began to ask how much further would always reply “just over the next hill”.
Jesus’ friends, the disciples, must have asked themselves many times “are we nearly there yet?” Not so much, are we going to arrive at our destination, but when is the kingdom of Israel going to be restored, when is life going to get better, when will the Romans be thrown out and Israel become a great nation again.
Even before they met Jesus, they may have hoped that something would happen soon. Then they met Jesus. At first they may have thought him an impressive teacher, worth listening to and following. Then they came to gradually believe that maybe, just maybe, he was Israel’s lost king, the returning Messiah, the one who would put the kingdom of Israel back where it rightly belonged – as top dog, as Lord of the all nations, as the supreme kingdom in the world. Surely we are nearly there? Surely not long to wait/ not far to go?
And then, just as they were becoming more and more convinced that Jesus really was the hoped-for king, he died and all their hopes went pop like a pinpricked balloon.
So when Jesus rose from the dead, astounding everyone, leaving the disciples awe-struck and open-mouthed, maybe this meant that the kingdom was almost here after all. Surely if death could not hold him, what chance had the powers of the Roman Empire against him. Jesus was invincible. Surely the kingdom was about to start. Surely we’re nearly there!
So that’s why they ask: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom of Israel?”
But then Jesus leaves them, taken up in a cloud before their very eyes. That was not part of the deal. How could Jesus be a king if he was not present?
But then as the disciples begin to think about it, they realise that Jesus is a very different king, and a king far greater than anything they had ever imagined.
Jesus going into heaven was a sign that he was king not just of a mighty, renewed, Israel. He was not just king of the whole earth, even. He was king of the universe, of every aspect of life. He is king in heaven as well as on earth, worshipped by the angels.
The Bible talks of the heavens, the spiritual realms, as the dimension of life where God is seen and angels fall down in worship. And Jesus is as much Lord and King there as he is on earth.
This is how awesome, holy, wonderful Jesus is. They were right to believe in him as king, just a king far more amazing than they had ever imagined.
But if the disciples were beginning to get a glimpse of the kind of king Jesus was, the next question was, what kind of kingdom?
Imagine you are told you are going to see the art works of a professional water-colour artist. You’re excited. But when you arrive the artist is there in person. She shows some pictures she has done earlier but then she takes you to a picture that she has started but hasn’t finished. “I want you to help me with this. I’m not just an artist. I am an expert teacher. Let us work together. Don’t be worried about mistakes. Whatever you do I will make sure fits in with the rest of the picture. Together, we will create a master-piece.”
How would you feel? Scared of messing up? A little overawed? But as you begin to put brush to paper, your confidence grows. You realise that your brush strokes are taken by the artist and incorporated into the bigger picture. That things you thought you have messed up are merged in with other shapes and colours to form something beautiful. In fact, you begin to realise that the more you do, the more freedom it gives the artist to develop and expand the painting. She is waiting for your next paint-stroke. When you step back, you are amazed. Something beautiful has been created.
As it began to dawn on the disciples the kind of king Jesus was to be, their next question must have been to wonder, what kind of kingdom he would bring in and what would it be like to follow him.
Well Jesus gives them some of the answer just before he ascends to heaven.
Just like the artist, he wants them to help him to create something beautiful. He wants them to get involved in helping him in his work.
He tells them to do three things/ to pick up the paint brush and start making three strokes:
Firstly, go and make disciples of all nations – in other words be witnesses, tell people about him. Sometimes we may be worried that we may say the wrong thing or feel we lack the confidence to talk about what Jesus means to us, but like the artist, Jesus promises to take our words and use them to produce something beautiful.
Secondly, baptise people in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – baptism is the sign of welcome and acceptance in to God’s family. We are to be welcomers, as Dan encouraged us to be last week.
And thirdly, teach people to do everything Jesus commanded. And that doesn’t just mean words. In fact the best teachers are those who live it by example. I have learned far more about love and hospitality by those who have lived it out, than by any number of sermons. I have learnt more about justice and the courage to stand for what is right, by seeing people do it in action, than by any number of powerful words. We are called to live out God’s kingdom in our own lives.