Joyful Departure

Luke 24:44-53

44 He said to them, “This is what I told 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.”

45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

The Ascension of Jesus

50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.



There is a lot going on this morning as we observe Mother’s Day as well as recognizing our High School seniors who will be graduating in the weeks to come.  As we honor our moms we take time to give thanks to God for the blessings which our moms are to each of us.  As we congratulate our seniors, we again turn to God to give thanks for the blessings He has already bestowed on them and we pray that He would continue to go with them into their future endeavors.  This and the days to come are great days and so we rejoice, we celebrate.

But not everyone may be celebrating.  As great as our moms are to us, as great as it is to finally make it to graduation day … there is a different kind of sentimental and emotional side to these kind of days.  These different kinds of emotions rising up within us do so in different ways because of a form of departure which has already happened or because of a departure which is going to happen.

This morning, as we honor our moms, as we recognize our Seniors, we do so in the light of the gospel reading of Jesus’ departure, of Jesus’ ascension into heaven and what that means for us.

But before we dive into the reading, you know as well as I do, departures are not something which most people look forward to as a general rule.  Oh sure, there are those moments you can’t wait for something to end so you can get out of there.  One typically can’t wait to get out of work after a rough day and go home and relax.  One typically can’t wait to get out of an awkward situation and return to the safety of normalcy.  Along with you Seniors, students of all ages are excited about departing from school and spending the summer by the pool.  Those of you who are graduating, you anxiously wait for and look forward to getting done with school, getting out from under mom and dad’s roof and rule as you cry out with Mel Gibson from the movie Braveheart,FREEDOM!!!!.”  And while some of you will be getting out of the house and living on your own and having that freedom, some of you will stay home.  Whether you leave or whether you stay, the departure of your friends going off to different schools can be an emotional thing to process as they have now left you all alone.

For those of you who leave … your departure will affect your parents.  At first they may have to restrain their celebration that you are going to be out of the house, that they may not have to do your laundry anymore, and that they will be saving a ton of money on the amount of food they will not have to buy anymore … but deep down, your departure will sadden them.  As much as they may joke about the freedom they will have, deep down, especially if you are the last one in your family to graduate high school and move off to college leaving your parents as empty-nesters, they will be saddened by your departure.

As we honor our moms, for some of you … you don’t have a mom you can call today and say, “Happy Mother’s Day”.  You can no longer give her flowers or tell her “I love you Mom.”  It doesn’t matter if it was recently or a while ago, the departure of a mom is a really hard thing to process.  But the departure of mom is not the only hard thing to overcome, the departure of any loved one never comes easy.  Even when you and I are confident in our hearts that our loved one is resting in the arms of Jesus in heaven, we selfishly don’t want to let them go … and so we grieve.

The departure of a loved one who is deploying overseas isn’t easy.  Especially if they are going to a combat infested area because we never know if they are going to come back home.  We pray that they do, but not knowing makes their departure extremely hard.

Departures are not easy.  In all these departures of loved ones, hearts are saddened and tears are typically shed.  So when it comes to the final departure of Jesus from his disciples, I would expect for them to shed some tears.  They know what it is like to lose him as they lost him once already in his death on the cross.  And even though Jesus said that He would come back to life, come back to them after three days, they didn’t get it.  So when they watched Jesus die, they were cut to the heart and shed numerous tears.

But this departure is different.  Luke tells us, “While {Jesus} was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.  Then they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (24:51-52).  Jesus left them.  Jesus had told them that the time of His return is unknown to Him and is only known by His Father in heaven.  So they have no clue when Jesus is coming back.  But instead of tears of sadness at Jesus’ departure, the disciples are filled with great joy.  It seems like the disciples are celebrating the absence of Jesus, that they are celebrating His departure.  This is the total opposite of what we would expect, so what gives?

Well, in order to understand the joy which the disciples have at the departure of Jesus, we need to understand what the Ascension of Jesus is all about.  The point of Luke’s portrayal of the Ascension which we have this morning is to tell you and me that Jesus did not leave.  “Wait, what?  Pastor, the Bible says that Jesus was taken up into heaven, that means he left them.”  Well, yes, and no.  Yes, Jesus in bodily form was taken up to heaven and He is seated at the right hand of the Father.  But at the same time, Jesus did not leave … his presence only changed.  We do not ever celebrate the absence of Jesus.  To celebrate the total absence of Jesus would be like celebrating in hell.  That isn’t happening.  We don’t celebrate and worship a God who is distant but instead we celebrate the real presence of the living Jesus who promises to never take His presence from us.

If we go through the book of Acts, we see what it is that the disciples did after Jesus ascended into heaven.  After Jesus physically leaves, they begin to heal the lame, cast out demons, raise the dead, get persecuted by the religious rulers and die saying “forgive them” and “into your hands I commend my spirit.”  Sound familiar?  Sounds a lot like the things Jesus did and said, doesn’t it?  That’s because Jesus has not left, but his face is now seen in the faces of his disciples.  Jesus’ hands are still healing through their hands, Jesus’ love is still expressed, his voice still rings out.  Jesus is alive and well inside the disciples.

Of course, that means that we have to see our own words and deeds a little differently, doesn’t it?  1 Corinthians 6:19 says, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own.” You are not your own.  You are no longer yourself, we are no longer ourselves but instead we are God’s temple.  This means that we are also Jesus’ people, you and I are the instruments through which Jesus speaks, acts, and through which His kingdom comes to this time and place as well as each place where you and I inhabit.

The thing is … we don’t always think like this do we?  When in the midst of gossiping about someone, when in the midst of looking at someone lustfully, when in the midst of looking at pornography, when in the midst of stealing, slandering, hurting others, coveting … when in the midst of those sinful times we find ourselves in … we aren’t looking like or acting like Jesus are we?  In the midst of trials and temptations, it is easy to think “Oh Jesus is in heaven, he is far away from me so he’ll never know what it is that I am doing in secret.

But that’s not the case at all.  Being the all-knowing, always-present God, Jesus knows all our sins.  He knows them all too well, he knows them better than we do as he bore, he felt every last one of them in his very own body.  Through his destructive departure from this life into death, Jesus took all those sins we think he doesn’t see and has paid the price for them.  His departure into death was a devastating one filled with grief and heartache, not only for the disciples but also for God the Father as well as He forsook, as He abandoned His very own Son whom He loved.  God departed from Jesus so that through Jesus’ departure from life to death, the price of your sins, the price of your life and the life all who believe would be paid for.

It is only through the departure of Jesus from life to death and then rising back to life that we get to celebrate the Ascension, the departure of Jesus back into heaven this morning.  We celebrate this joyful departure because it means that Jesus’ plan of salvation has been finished.  Jesus has conquered sin, he has conquered Satan, and when he returns again, he will once and for all conquer death.  With great joy we like the disciples anticipate the awesome return of Jesus in bodily form because it is on that day in which we and all believers will be raised from our graves, made perfect, and will get to live with Jesus in the new heavens and the new earth.

But until then, until that great and glorious day … we celebrate our moms, we celebrate the graduation and departure of you Seniors into the next chapter of your life, we celebrate our daily lives knowing that even though Jesus is not physically standing here with us … he still goes with us wherever we go, each and every day.  Jesus is in you, in you Seniors, in each and every one of you.  Grapping hold of that promise with the faith he gives us … we joyfully depart to spread the message of God’s unfailing love found only in the eternal presence of Jesus and to live our lives as the voice, the hands, and the feet of Jesus to those around us, always to God’s glory and honor.  Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever.  Amen.