Glencairn Methodist Church
Upwards and Onwards
"Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven." [Acts 1:11 (NIV)]
Last month I considered the theme of "Images of Easter" and suggested that "the word pictures" recounting the personal experiences of the resurrected Christ were much more valuable to us than any number of digital photographs of the events. Of particular value to us are the stories of Thomas, who, at first, doubted the resurrection but came to believe, and of Peter, who denied Jesus but was forgiven and restored. Many of us from time to time have doubted the existence of God or the truth of the resurrection. Many of us in a multitude of ways have denied the Lordship of Jesus in our lives. But yet, by Grace, God forgives and restores his children.
Jesus only stayed on Earth for a short time after the Resurrection, only long enough to convince his closest followers that he is alive for evermore, to give them further teaching and to instruct them to get on with the job of continuing his work of advancing and proclaiming the Kingdom of God. You may well ask why Jesus just didn't stick around for longer, perhaps for ever. Couldn't he have done a better job than the disciples? Wouldn't he do a better job today than we, his church, are doing?
But no! Jesus had completed the work he came to do - to die on the cross for our redemption. And now he was returning to heaven. On his last night on earth he prayed, "Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began." [John 17: 1, 4, 5 (NIV)]
So Jesus ascended so that we might take his place. Are we up to the job? Of course not - not by ourselves! At best Christians are simply recovering sinners. We are not God and we do get things wrong. And even with the presence if the Holy Spirit in our lives - the Spirit of God promised by Jesus, who came on the church at Pentecost - we are still human and we fall to human sin. Nevertheless, there are great signs to encourage us and to keep us going. Philip Yancy makes three observations. First of all the church brings light as well as darkness. It does see Christ in the downtrodden of society and does minister to them. Secondly we must remember that we have been chosen by Christ for this work. He told his disciples, "You did not choose me, but I chose you." [John 15: 16 (NIV)], and he did this on the very night that they all left him and denied him. On "rocks" like Peter, he did indeed build his church, and he still does when we begin to display rocklike characteristics. Thirdly, an unholy collection of recovering sinners can indeed be the Body of Christ just as one repentant sinner can be a Child of God. So when you look at the church and say, "What a bunch of losers", remember that we are human. Don't expect to see Superman and Superwoman all the time.
While Jesus has gone "upwards" back to heaven, his church goes "onwards" in the power of the Spirit. At least some of the time!
7 May - 2010
This message has been inspired in part by Philip Yancy's book, "The Jesus I never knew", particularly Ch. 12.
7 May - 2010
NOTE - Previous "Monthly Messages" are archived at http://glencairn.connor.anglican.org/previousmessages.htm