He Ascended into Heaven… – June 21, 2017
II Kings 2:1-12, Acts 1:1-11
May 21, 2017
The disciples didn’t get what they expected that day! But Elisha did! That may be the big difference between these two stories. He didn’t like it very much, but Elisha knew his master was leaving him. In his story, there was only this business of whether or not he would see his master as he was taken up into heaven.
As I said, Jesus’ disciples didn’t get what they expected. Because they were expecting more earthly time, more “earthly adventures,” with their master. Instead, he left them – unexpectedly! He rose into the air, and disappeared into the clouds.
I don’t think we get the full impact of that. Artists have tried over the years to capture that moment, but I’m dubious as to whether they actually ever did it justice! I’ve never seen a picture or a painting that really captures this moment! But these men got the full impact that day, as they stood gazing into heaven!
I want us to think about these two stories today. They are related, in that they are both “ascension stories.” But there’s more. And the “more” of it has a lot to do with us, and how God works in our lives.
So think about it. Elisha knew was being called that day to carry on the work and “ministry” of his master, Elijah. And if you remember, Elijah was one of – if not the greatest – prophet in the history of Israel. And Elisha was thinking that day that he was not up to the job! His only hope, as he saw it, was that he would somehow “inherit” a “double portion” of Elijah’s spirit. He felt like he needed the spirit of God with him in a big way, if he were going to follow in the footsteps of Elijah!
Now, I think you’ll agree that the disciples also had some pretty big “shoes to fill!” I’m sure they were thinking they couldn’t begin to carry on the ministry of Jesus without him! The only difference is that they didn’t realize what was about to happen! And they didn’t realize it at the time, that it would take a certain portion of the spirit of Jesus’ to do what they were being called to do! But that’s what he promised them here. At the beginning of this first chapter of Acts, the author, Luke, reminded his reader that Jesus had told them to “wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the promise… the time when they would be baptized by the Spirit.”
I never considered this before, but do you think were thinking about this story from II Kings that day? I think they were! They knew this story. They knew of Elijah ascending to heaven in this dramatic way. But, I also wonder if they thought about Elisha “inheriting Elijah’s spirit? And I wonder if they thought about that when Jesus told them they were to “wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the spirit.” I’m thinking now that they did!
So, these are two stories of Ascensions. Elijah was taken up to heaven in whirlwind of fire. Jesus was lifted up into the air before his disciples and disappeared into the clouds. But they are also two stories about those who would carry on the ministry of their masters, and how much they needed the spirit of God in order to do so.
So, what about us? We’ve all heard Jesus’ words, “You are the light of the world!” We’ve heard him say, “Go into the world and make disciples of all nations…” But don’t we think, in the back of our minds, that’s some “pretty big shoes to fill?” Don’t we somehow think that those statements were given to his disciples, but not to us?
Certainly, to be called to be the successors to the leaders of Jesus’ ministry who have come before us, is a huge call! It is a difficult challenge to be the “light of the world,” and to “go and make disciples…” It can be a huge challenge to “be like Jesus” as we are called to be!
I think you’ll agree that those are difficult challenges! Well, don’t you think these disciples felt the same way when they heard Jesus telling them they would do difficult things? And little did they know, just before this moment of ascension, that they would be called to meet those difficult challenges… without him?! I think they felt exactly the same way we feel!
What we can take from these two stories, is that with God’s spirit, we can do what he calls us to do – just like them! But without his spirit, when it’s only by our own strength that we try to live our lives, we will fail, and we will fall short of the glory God has for us!
To often, that’s what we try to do. Don’t we? “Oh God, your power is abundant, your spirit is sufficient for all of our needs, and for whatever you call us to do.” “But, we can do this!” “We can make it on our own.” “We can do it ourselves!”
We all do that, don’t we? Either consciously or sub-consciously, we leave God out of the equation, thinking either he doesn’t have the power, or we don’t need his power! I’m sure you do that. I know I do that!
So, together let us make this Ascension story be one where we recognize the needs of the people in question to receive an “infusion” of God’s spirit, in order to do the things he called them to do. And let us recognize that we, too, need that same spirit the Elisha received, and that Peter and James and John and Andrew and the rest received. And as we look to the celebration of Pentecost, in just a couple of weeks, let us make it our prayer – all of our prayers – that we ask God for the empowering of that spirit, that we can be his people, that we can do what he calls us to do, that we can follow in the footsteps of our Lord, and that we can live in his joy!
Eternal God, you have ever been the strength of your people. Help us in our lives to know the power of your Holy Spirit, as we strive to be the people you call us to be. Help us to think of these disciples as they received from you that spirit they needed to change the world as they did. These things we pray in the name of Jesus, our Savior. Amen!