Sermon Text: Luke 24:44-53
Date: May 27 & 28, 2017
The Ascension of our Lord, Year B
Luke 24:44–53 (EHV)
44He said to them, “These are my words, which I spoke to you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms.”
45Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. 46He said to them, “This is what is written and so it must be: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49Look, I am sending you what my Father promised. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
50He led them out as far as the vicinity of Bethany. He lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51And while he was blessing them, he parted from them and was taken up into heaven. 52So they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53They were continually in the temple courts, praising and blessing God. Amen.
You Are Jesus’ Witnesses
1. You’ve seen what he’s done
2. You share what he’s done
Being a witness comes with a fair about of responsibility. If you’re an eyewitness to a crime, you’ll likely have to make a statement to the police and maybe even testify in court. If you are a witness for a wedding, you’ll have a sign a document indicating that you were there and saw the commitment pledged between two people. If you’re a witness for a baptism, you might need to assure someone that they were, in fact, baptized, even if they were too young to remember it.
Witnesses don’t do much good if they keep what they’ve seen to themselves. The whole point of being a witness is to share and spread what someone has heard or seen. So, too, it is for people who have been witnesses of Jesus’ work. The disciples were eyewitnesses of what Jesus had done and we, along with them, have witnessed that work through the eyes of faith. Therefore, as Jesus’ witnesses, because we’ve seen what he’s done for the world we will want to share what he’s done with the world.
Our lesson before us are the closing words of Luke’s Gospel. This is the very end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. We’ve been tracing it since December. Jesus was born into the world amid the humbleness of a stable and yet with angelic fanfare, and worship from shepherds and wise men alike. He grew to a man who endured the constant temptation of the Devil and the world around him to sin, yet he was perfect. His obedience to his heavenly Father wasn’t just really good; it was flawless.
As he accomplished that perfect obedience to God’s law, he was also teaching his disciples. This group of men went from part-time to full-time. They were with Jesus nearly every moment of every day. They saw his miracles. They heard his preaching. And some of them even got to see Jesus’ glory on the Mount of Transfiguration. They knew who Jesus was—the promised Savior. They weren’t always so sure, though, on what exactly he was going to do or how he was going to do it.
Put yourself back in the disciples’ shoes, assuming that Jesus is the promised King and Champion that is going to rescue his people. What is going through your head on Maundy Thursday evening when Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested? What is going through your head on Good Friday as a mob entices the weak-willed Roman governor to condemn a man that he himself admitted was innocent? What is going through your head as the one you thought was going to fix everything ends up crucified, dead, and buried?
And that’s to say nothing of the emotional whiplash they got on the first Easter Sunday morning. At a moment when they might have just been starting to process that their dear friend and teacher was gone, suddenly the tomb is empty? Angels are bringing messages? Jesus himself is appearing in front of them in a locked room!
And so, for 40 days, Jesus has spent time with his disciples assuring them that their fears can be put at ease, that he is no longer dead, but alive. He’s also been making it clear just why all of these things had to happen. It wasn’t to restore the prominence of the nation of Israel and get out from under the thumb of the Roman Empire. It wasn’t to show everyone how to live a morally good life and thus make God happy with you. Jesus summed up his post-Easter teaching well just before his ascension in our Gospel: “This is what is written and so it must be: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” Jesus accomplished all of that work, accomplished all of those things so that repentance and assurance of the forgiveness of sins could be proclaimed in his name.
Jesus is clear that there’s nothing left to accomplish. There’s nothing that needs to be done by anyone on this earth to make up for or remove sin. In Jesus’ name that sin is gone. Nothing that anyone can do can pay for sin and no one has to. His death and resurrection destroyed death and brought eternal life to the world!
Jesus’ disciples were witnesses of these things. Even if they didn’t fully process and understand what was going on at the time, they saw them. And now, as Jesus open[s] their minds to understand the Scriptures, they understand the full implications of what Jesus has accomplished in his time on earth. The Holy Spirit, that Gift the Father promised, will come and he will help them with what’s ahead.
That’s the same thing he’s done for you and me. On our own, we don’t understand anything to do with God or eternal life. We couldn’t come up with nor can we even comprehend that Jesus died and rose to pay for our sins. We want to make ourselves the authors of our salvation. We want to have at least some part, if not every part, in our forgiveness. We want to earn eternal life.
And Jesus comes to us and says, “No. That won’t work.” He opens our minds to understand the Scriptures and we see our dreadful, powerless state in our sin. The Holy Spirit comes to us as well in his Word and creates faith in or hearts to trust what Jesus did—that he did it all. We believe and know that he is the only and complete Savior from sin and through him we have eternal life.
And then, even though we might not have ever set foot in Jerusalem, even though we certainly didn’t live during Pontius Pilate’s reign in Judea, and while we’ve never been able to meet any of the disciples, we have become just as much witnesses of these things as they were. We have seen them with the eyes of faith. We have seen them played out in the pages of Scripture. We know they are real even though we never ate breakfast on the beach with Jesus or put our hand into the spear wound in his side. Jesus died and rose for us and for our salvation. We know it for certain!
Because they were witnesses, the disciples were going to have work to do. Jesus had said, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49Look, I am sending you what my Father promised. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” What do witnesses have to do again? They have to share what they’ve seen. Who was going to do this preaching of repentance and forgiveness of sins? The witnesses of Jesus’ work, his own disciples.
We’ll see that start next weekend as we celebrate the festival of Pentecost. These witnesses will witness. This timid group of men who were almost scared of their own shadows will boldly confess Jesus and proclaim forgiveness in him alone. Like the shepherds before them on that first Christmas evening, they will tell the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been promised. The Savior had come and now everyone needed to know!
So that brings it back to us, doesn’t it? By Jesus’ own direction the work seems to be done. The gospel indeed started in Jerusalem and by our day has surely been preached in all nations. But there’s still work to be done. There’s still preaching to be done. There’s still witnessing to be done. How do we know that for sure? You heard the angels in our First Lesson. Jesus is going to come back in the same way that he left—with the clouds. It may be today. It may be tomorrow. It may be 2000 years from now. We don’t know. But we do know that as long as he hasn’t come back, as long as we are still here, that means that we have work to do.
We have work to do right here in Northern California. We have work to do throughout our nation. We have work to do around the world. In all of these places—in every place—we have to bring what we have witnessed in God’s Word to all people. There are people that don’t know their Savior. There are people who have forgotten their Savior. There are people that think they know their Savior but are very wrong about who he is or what he’s done. They all need to hear. And you and I are the ones to bring it to them.
So what do we do? We support our church body so that we may work together to send missionaries to places here and around the world where you and I cannot go. We support our called workers here in our congregation so that your teachers and pastor may reach people right here in our neighborhoods that you might not have otherwise had contact with. But we also have the job of sharing this message with others. It doesn’t have to be difficult; it doesn’t have to be scary. Just tell what you’ve seen and heard. Be a witness of what you know is true. And invite people to see for themselves. Invite them to worship or Bible Class. Invite them to study God’s Word with you. Invite them to bring you questions and work together to find the answers.
You, my brothers and sisters, are Jesus’ witnesses. You’ve seen and heard what Jesus has done, that by his death and resurrection he gives his salvation so that now it belongs to you. Now you have the privilege, as his witness, to share what you seen and heard. Enjoy it! Cherish it! It is a delight to be our risen Savior’s witnesses! Amen.