Every week millions of Christians profess their faith together in the Apostles’ Creed. Among its central doctrines is a profession that Jesus “ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” Yet many have never considered why this is such an important doctrine. Listen as we examine Luke 24:50-53 and consider the hope and comfort we receive from the Ascension.
A disappearance is powerfully bewildering. Every magician knows this. Disappearance mystifies us. We doubt what we just saw. Was it really there? Was it what we thought it was? Where is it now? What just happened? A disappearance unsecures what was secure, makes us rethink what is real. Calls remembrance into question. Creates suspicion of others. Whether David Copperfield is vanishing the Statue of Liberty or we are missing our car keys, a disappearance raises questions and fuels emotions – frustration, uncertainty and anger.
But if this is true of things that disappear, how much more is it true when people disappear. People disappear from our lives in many ways. Some are taken from us and some choose to leave. Some leave expectedly and some suddenly. Some may return or be found, but others may be gone forever. Some circumstances make it easier to accept, but the disappearance of people from our lives is never easy. Questions become more urgent and unanswerable. And the emotions — grief, loneliness, and fear — become more consuming. The empty chair casts a long shadow.
The Lord Jesus knew his “leaving day” was coming. His departure would be hard for the disciples to understand and even harder to accept. As he celebrated a last Passover with them, he explained the nature and necessity of his return to the Father. They were grief stricken and filled with questions. In John 14-16 we read how Jesus comforted them and answered their questions. Then after he rose from the dead, he remained with them 40 days to prepare them for their part in the story of redemption. After those 40 days, he ascended and returned to the Father with the disciples looking on. Can you imagine their emotion in that moment? Luke records the moment In Acts 1.
as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”Acts 1:9-11
We might have expected the disciples to be dismayed at Jesus disappearance. During the 40 days following his resurrection, Jesus had appeared and disappeared. But this was different. Jesus was gone for good this time. But Jesus had taught them what his Ascension meant. He would send them the Holy Spirit. Far from being alone, now, in the person of the Spirit, Jesus would be more with them than ever. At last he ascended to the throne and begun to rule, as they had long desired. Luke tells us that they returned to Jerusalem with great joy. The enemies who sought their lives were still enemies. The dangers they would face remained. The bodily presence of Jesus that they had followed and loved for three years was gone, never to return in their lifetimes. Yet they have great joy.
The disciples now understood what Jesus’ Ascension meant and what it promised. Do you? Every week millions of Christians profess their faith together in the Apostles’ Creed. Among its central doctrines is a profession that Jesus “ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” Yet many have never considered why this is such an important doctrine. Join us on Facebook Live at 10:30 am this Lord’s Day, May 3, as we examine Luke 24:50-53 and consider the hope and comfort we receive from the Ascension.
Every crisis leaves its marks. Some marks appear as scars, testifying to pain, but also endurance. While other marks take the shape of new or renewed resolve to do things differently. While none of us welcomes a crisis, crises move us forward in many ways — technologically, relationally, and spiritually. The early Church Father, Augustine, once noted that theology is developed most clearly in response to heresy than in the absence of it. Paul points out the same thing in 1 Corinthians 11:18-19
For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.
What marks will your crisis leave? Only scars? Or with the scars, new resolve – a new normal. The controversial mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, once quipped, “Never let a crisis go to waste.” He was paraphrasing from Saul Alinsky, who recycled his own ideas on political activism from the likes of Marx and Machiavelli. Yet, despite Alinsky’s dangerous perspectives, the truth of his sentiment regarding a crisis is important. How will we respond? Will the crisis only wound? Or will it strengthen as well? John Calvin taught that our spiritual response to crisis is not to ask “why” but “what for?”
The last two months have been a crisis of gargantuan proportions. No matter what you believe about the Coronavirus as a pandemic, a plague, a judgement of God, an act of Chinese bioterrorism, or a vast left-wing conspiracy – our response to COVID-19 has left a mark. From cabin fever, to financial ruin, to grief of loss, the impact has been far-reaching. We are all eager to reopen the world and get back to normal. But can we really go back? We will have some scars, but we will also take away some needful things from this crisis –new things we need to keep and lost things we need to recover.
Perhaps the old normal wasn’t so great after all. Perhaps it is true that “it is not good for man to be alone.” Maybe the old normal mediated by technology and not personal relationships was not the panacea it promised. Being confined to virtual relationships for the last two months has left us wanting something more. And while, it has been a good thing for the church to come to grips with new means of gathering and engaging the world, our old apathy for worship and the spread of the gospel needs a “new normal.” But this is not the first time followers of Jesus Christ have been confronted with the challenges of a “new normal.”
As we encounter the Lord’s disciples at the end of the Gospel of Luke, we find them facing a radically new normal. Jesus, their master and teacher, has finished His redemptive work. As He is preparing to return to the Father, He is preparing them to pick up where He left off. Following His resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples during forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God, opening their minds to understand the Scriptures and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
As Jesus meets the disciples on the first Easter night, he comforts their fears, calls them to take their part in the story of redemption, and promises them His ongoing presence in a radically new and powerful way. The end of the gospel is only the end of the beginning. As Luke continues the story in Acts, he writes
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.Acts 1:1-2
This is the new normal. It remains the new normal for the Church today. Just as Jesus comforted the fears of his disciples, called them to step up and step out, and promises His presence in a radically new and powerful way, so He does to us. These things were written for our instruction and encouragement. Their new normal is the best prescription for our own new normal – looking to Christ for comfort, following Christ’s call, and relying on Christ’s presence through the Holy Spirit.
How will you move forward? What will you abandon and what will you recover? What marks will the crisis leave? Only scars? Or with the scars, new resolve – a new normal. Join us on Facebook Live at 10:30 am this Lord’s Day, April 26, as we examine the “End of the Beginning” from Luke 24 and consider the new normal for followers of Jesus Christ.
Camouflage often is more effective than concealment. We see this vividly in an animal’s use of camouflage to avoid predators. Often, the things that are the hardest to see are the things right in front of us. Two common expressions, “missing the forest for the trees” and “hiding in plain sight,” express this truth. Sometimes the most obvious things are the most obscure.
When we think of spy thrillers, we think of master’s of disguise and vast concealment conspiracies. But the legacy of Cold War espionage was one of people and places hidden in plain sight. A recent article in the online journal, The Intercept, details operations in one of the most iconic spy centers in the US, hidden in plain sight.
For many New Yorkers, 33 Thomas Street — known as the “Long Lines Building” — has been a source of mystery for years. It has been labeled one of the city’s weirdest and most iconic skyscrapers, but little information has ever been published about its purpose.
Construction began in 1969, and by 1974, the skyscraper was completed. Today, it can be found in the heart of lower Manhattan at 33 Thomas Street, a vast gray tower of concrete and granite that soars 550 feet into the New York skyline. The brutalist structure, still used by AT&T and, according to the New York Department of Finance, owned by the company, is like no other in the vicinity. Unlike the many neighboring residential and office buildings, it is impossible to get a glimpse inside 33 Thomas Street. True to the designers’ original plans, there are no windows and the building is not illuminated. At night it becomes a giant shadow, blending into the darkness, its large square vents emitting a distinct, dull hum that is frequently drowned out by the sound of passing traffic and wailing sirens.
It is not uncommon to keep the public in the dark about a site containing vital telecommunications equipment. But 33 Thomas Street is different: An investigation by The Intercept indicates that the skyscraper is more than a mere nerve center for long-distance phone calls. It also appears to be one of the most important National Security Agency surveillance sites on U.S. soil — a covert monitoring hub that is used to tap into phone calls, faxes, and internet data.
Hidden in plain sight, 33 Thomas St. is perhaps one of the most notorious venues for international and domestic surveillance. But it was not just places, but also people hiding in plain sight to evade detection as spies. In his book, Talking to Strangers, author Malcolm Gladwell recounts several high-profile Cuban spies embedded in the CIA who evaded detection not through brilliant concealment, but by relying on our human inability to discern a liar. They were hiding in plain sight.
So, perhaps it is not surprising that in Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, His most devoted friends and followers often did not recognize him. Men and women who had been with him continually for over three years inexplicably failed to recognize Him standing right in front of them. To be sure, there was a quality to the resurrection body that was imperishable, undefiled and unfading. Yet, the gospel accounts make it clear that his appearance and his mannerisms were recognizable. Time and time again Jesus’ most intimate friends respond to his appearance with fear, joy, doubt, faith, uncertainty and downright skepticism.
Mary Magdalene mistakes him for the gardener. None of the disciples [on the shore of the lake] dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. The disciples in the Upper Room thought He was a ghost, until he ate some of their food. On the mountain in Galilee, when the Eleven drew close, they worshipped Him, but “some doubted.” And then there is the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. These men spent hours with Jesus and only recognize Him as He blessed and broke the bread at their supper table. If these men, who followed Jesus, ate with Jesus, saw Him day in and day out for three years, struggled to see Him, how will we?
We speak of knowing Jesus, loving Him, and having a personal relationship with Him — expressions which must seem like communal delirium to unbelievers. And though many professing believers never experience Christ’s real presence, they may go along with the narrative, but never see Him. What makes the difference? How is it possible to see Jesus? In a great passage on our “living hope” in the resurrected Jesus, the Apostle Peters writes.
“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:8-9
The story of Jesus on the Emmaus road is remarkable. Included only in the Gospel of Luke, it is a recognition story, instructing and encouraging us in the hope of seeing the Risen Christ. Two disciples have Jesus right in front of them, yet they do not recognize Him for who He is. What makes the difference? What brings them to recognition? They made two journeys that day on the road to Emmaus. The first was journey of unbelief, of disappointment, of “not seeing.” While the second was a journey made in faith, joy and hope.
What about you? What journey are you on? Has your spiritual journey been one of disappointment and “not seeing?” Or have you seen the Risen Christ and had your journey transformed into one of joy? Join us on Facebook Live at 10:30 am this Lord’s Day, April 19, as we examine Luke 24 and consider our how we too can see the Risen Christ.
What is your response to the Resurrection? For the men and women who encountered and empty tomb and a Risen Christ, the Resurrection changed everything. Has it changed everything for you? Has it given hope in grief? Joy in sorrow? Faith in fear? Have you met the Risen Christ, the Living One, who has defeated the last enemy, Death, and holds the keys to death and the grave? Listen to “Not Here” from Luke 24:1-12 as we consider our own response to the Resurrection of Jesus.