Reading Ramblings – May 24, 2020

Reading Ramblings

Date: Seventh Sunday after Easter/Ascension Observed – May 24, 2020 – COVID-19

Texts: Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

Context: Jesus ascended to heaven 40 days after his resurrection (Acts 1:3). As such, this event never falls on a Sunday for proper observance, but rather midweek. While some congregations (ours included) offer special Ascension services, this year that won’t be happening because of the Coronavirus. I’ve opted to use the readings assigned for Ascension Day instead of the readings assigned for the Seventh Sunday of Easter. It’s easy to focus on Easter and not realize things continue to happen after Easter in regards to the resurrected Christ. A certain level of resolution is necessary to avoid errors. Jesus is not still wandering the earth physically. He left. He did so bodily, which leads us to conclude that the incarnation was not just a temporary thing but perhaps eternal. He left with a promise to return, reiterated by the angels who direct the disciples after his ascension. Theology aims to try and speak truthfully and accurately about what our Lord has told us, even if popular culture is more amenable to fuzzy generalities or statements that are less than technically accurate. Keeping our eye on the Word of God should guide us in how we talk about God and his Word and our hope as his people.

I’m also rearranging the order we move through these readings slightly, as I think Luke and then Acts work best when read in close proximity, just as they were originally circulated.

Psalm 47 – The psalm praises God as King. Not just one of many kings, but the King, the King over all the earth – a feat many kings have sought but never accomplished. He holds this power in respect to the fact He did not take or assume his rule from any other, but rules as the Creator of all things. God’s people first demanded a king in 1 Samuel 8, a path the Lord made clear through the prophet Samuel would not end well. A human king has human limits. God offered his people when He brought them out of Egypt to be not simply their king but their God. Further, God’s intention from the start of all things was to provide his people a king who was human but more than human, a king above all kings, Jesus the Christ. Mankind has always striven to provide for themselves what God originally was to humanity and will always be – King. God’s people are true to their created nature when we praise and acknowledge God the Son as King over all creation and alone worthy of the praise and glory we so easily give to others or that is commanded from us by others.

Ephesians 1:15-23 – Since I’m using the readings for Ascension Day rather than the seventh Sunday of Easter, the Epistle is not from 1 Peter but the first chapter of Ephesians. Paul rightly understands not only the reality but the symbolism of Jesus’ ascension. Just as in many coronation rights the rank is emphasized by a physical elevation over everyone else – often through a dais or a platform or stage of some sort – so Jesus’ ascension is the ultimate coronation, the ultimate declaration of power. What other potentate can hope to ascend – literally – so high as Jesus? Higher than thrones, palaces, skyscrapers, international space stations – beyond the merely physical realm completely. Jesus’ ascension not only answers the question of what happened to Jesus and where is He now after his resurrection, it demonstrates what He earned through his obedience even to death and burial. He truly is the one to rightly be acknowledged as King of Kings over all other powers. We acknowledge this in the awe that He rules in majesty and glory but also in mercy and love, desiring all of creation to be brought back into proper relationship with him through the forgiveness of God the Father. The very power that raised Jesus from the dead is the power, the God who works continually on the behalf of all creation, but most especially on behalf of all those in faith in Jesus Christ, the King of Kings.

Luke 24:44-53 – It’s unclear how closely to link Jesus’ words in 44-49 with the day of his ascension. These words could easily be associated with his initial words to them Easter evening, which is what vs. 36-43 describe. Regardless, the disciples are instructed that they are to wait further marching orders. Since this corresponds with Jesus’ words as Luke records them in Acts 1, it might be reasonable to peg these verses with the Ascension recorded in Luke. Luke and Acts are two parts of a single writing from Luke. The first details the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah. The Ascension is the natural conclusion to this portion of Luke’s writing, and bookends the Gospel with the extensive birth narrative Luke provides in Luke 1-2. So we have how Jesus arrived on the scene in fulfillment of Scripture, and we have Jesus’ departure from the scene. Both his arrival and departure are unusual – virgin birth and ascension – but both are eminently physical. Early Church heresies that sought to portray Jesus as just an illusion – a spiritual reality pretending to have a physical body. But Luke is clear from start to finish that Jesus is very, very physical (note v.42). Our savior is real, not an illusion, and so our hope and faith is grounded in reality rather than fantasy or imagination.

Acts 1:1-11 – Although titled The Book of the Acts of the Apostles, Luke indicates the topic is not so much the apostles but Jesus, still. The Gospel of Luke tells the story up through Jesus’ bodily ascension, and implies this second part remains concerned with the work of Jesus now through the Holy Spirit. It is good to note the language in Acts 1:2. Jesus remains passively obedient throughout – even his ascension is something He is obedient to. He does not ascend on his own will, but rather is taken up. His disciples are concerned with whether Israel will be restored to glory, a common understanding of the messiah’s purpose (even after three years following Jesus!). Jesus corrects their focus. They needn’t worry about the restoration of Israel – God the Father’s timeline is His business, not theirs.

Their role is to receive power (passive again, just like Jesus. Obedient, just like Jesus.). Then they are to give witness to Jesus as the one raised from the dead in vindication of his identity and work as the Messiah and the Son of God. When that should result in the restoration of Israel’s glory is not their concern. They simply share what they saw and heard and experienced during their time with Jesus. This is not a universal evangelism mandate, though it could easily be seen as that. The apostles are in a unique position to give witness to their experiences of and with Jesus. They were with him throughout his ministry more consistently than anyone else. What they could preach and teach about him is of primary importance, guided and enlightened by the Holy Spirit, something already begun by Jesus during his resurrection (Luke 24:45). Nobody else could function as witnesses the same way the apostles could.

They witnessed to crowds (Acts 2), Jewish authorities (Acts 4), to the Gentiles (Acts 10, etc.) and to secular authorities (Acts 22-28). Their witness continues to you and I 2000 years later in the words they recorded of their witness, the Gospels. While you and I may have the opportunity to give witness to our experience with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, our testimony will be considerably different in nature and scope than the apostles’!

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