Rising Above It All June 5 2011
In this passage we see Jesus ascend and rise above it all. As we think about the notion of ‘rising above it all’,
you may remember news items recently which drew our attention to the image of our own ascension up to
heaven. Unfortunately the reports are not referring to the ascension of Jesus spoken of in this scripture. Instead
the focus has been on the prediction made by Harold Camping. As many know he predicted that the rapture was
to have taken place this past May 21st. And naturally when the 21st came and went there was a lot of publicity
about his false prediction.
The media of course had a field day…with jokes abounding about his wrong prediction. And I have to admit as
I was at Annual Conference on the 21st it crossed my mind to lay out my clothes on one of the seats in the
auditorium and skipping that day’s session. I thought it might be rather humorous to make it look as though I
had been “raptured”.
Yet, for us as Christians, when we really think about The Rapture it is not a joking matter. There’s a real
danger in what Camping was doing. It’s like the simple story of the boy who cried wolf as when the day
actually occurs we might not be ready. Because of wrong predictions of dates for The Rapture, people may
grow weary and more and more skeptical of Christ’s return. It also may take our focus off what God has
already told us that we should be doing right now in this time we have been given. And that’s actually the focus
of this scripture and should be our focus as well. For while this passage speaks of Jesus’ rising above it all as
he ascended to the Father and of Jesus’ return, it’s interesting to note that the scripture encourages us to rise it
above it all in a way that actually opposes Camping’s attempts at prediction. You see in this scripture for us to
rise above it all, it is not really about the rapture or our ascending one day, it is about our rising up to do what
God has called us to do today.
In fact, this scripture confronts the temptation of predictions such as Camping’s as Jesus emphatically says “It
is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power
when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth.” The Father has set the date of Christ’s return and our job is not to guess the date.
Our task is to rise above it all by obeying what Jesus instructs us to do. Yes, it’s wonderful that we can trust in
the promise in this scripture that Jesus will return one day, but the central focus is on what we should do in the
meantime. There are clear instructions given to the apostles in this passage. And those same instructions are
meant for us today.
So what are the instructions from Jesus which will help us to rise above it all? Well, first of all, in order to rise
above the frustrations of daily living we need to wait upon the Lord. Jesus tells the apostles “Do not leave
Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized
with[a] water, but in a few days you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit.” Jesus instructs them to wait for the
Holy Spirit. And you know that waiting is a hard task. Waiting on the Lord is a spiritual discipline that is
plainly difficult to do. But it’s essential in rising in the strength of the Lord. Isaiah 40 says it this way “those
who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength – they will rise up with wings like eagles.”
Now we like the rising part, but the waiting part we’d rather skip. I think that’s one of the reasons why
Camping’s predictions and others like him are so seductive. After all, I’d like to rise and be with Jesus
especially on those days when frustrations seem to abound. I have to admit, I’m like the disciples asking “Lord
when is this going to happen?” At times, I find myself thinking, “Lord Jesus could you return today so I don’t
have to deal with a phone system that doesn’t work and all those other simple frustrations of everyday life?”
Now maybe that’s not your response, but all of us can grow impatient with waiting and want the answers now.
We’d like to know when and how this will all take place. We’d at least like to have some clear answers just on
our future and the daily decisions and dilemmas we face. But what we don’t realize is that the first answer we
need to hear is Jesus’ telling us to wait… to wait upon his leading… to be in prayer and listen to his direction…
to depend upon the direction of the Holy Spirit in every aspect of our lives.
For instance, I think back to one particular time in my life when I wanted to have an answer, but was told to
wait. I’ve mentioned it before, but I wanted to share it again because it is part of how God called me into
ministry, and at this past annual conference we were challenged to share our call story.
It was during the summer of my junior and senior year in college. I had taken the MCAT examination to get
into medical school. And yet I wasn’t sure where God wanted me to go and what he wanted me do with my life.
Was I to go to medical school? Was I to be a psychologist? What was my future? I prayed and asked God.
Each day I pleaded with God to show me the way. And the answer I got back was…“WAIT”. Every answer I
got back was wait. God said “Wait for my direction and I will show you”. And my response was; “what do you
mean wait, Lord? I am going into my final year of college. It would be nice to know now!” But still the
answer was simply to wait. Yet, as I look back, it was the answer I needed. God wanted to use this time so that I
when the time came I would be ready to hear where he wanted me to go. God wanted me to wait so that I
would be better prepared for the task that was ahead.
You see, waiting in prayer teaches us to trust God more.
Waiting on the Lord is not just a one-time event, but is a continual task that is just plain hard at times. I needed
to wait many times. I had to wait for God’s call into ministry. I also waited many years before, finally, at the
age of 33 I was married. And right now my wife and I are waiting for children. Waiting is hard, and admittedly
sometimes, it just downright stinks. But as I continue to look back at that time of waiting before God led me
into the ministry, it reminds me today that I must rely on God. God was faithful to his promise and eventually
did answer where I was to go and do. And so as I wait today I am reminded that I can trust him more…that it’s
only by God’s Spirit that I will be raised up to do what God has planned for me. And when those days come,
when I struggle and grow impatient, I fall back upon his promise. God was faithful to answer before and God
will continue to be faithful to sustain me for the task ahead. Through the process of waiting we can learn to
rely upon the Holy Spirit’s direction and power.
And that’s why the apostles were commanded to wait… for it was not going to be by their strength that they
would change the world. Instead it would be the very presence of God’s Spirit working in them that would
soon change the world. They needed to wait on the power of the Holy Spirit to work in them.
The Lord had an incredible task ahead for them… something that could only be accomplished by the power of
the Holy Spirit working through them. They were going to be called to tell the whole world about Jesus.
Therefore like them, in order to rise up with the power and strength of the Holy Spirit, we need to be willing to
witness to God’s Kingdom. Jesus said to them “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and
you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Take notice that their focus needed to change and must now be upon the Holy Spirit’s power working within
them. And now, rather than wondering about how Jesus’ return would benefit themselves, they are told what
Jesus wanted them to do for others. And for us to rise up and do what Jesus calls us to do, that change needs to
take place inside of us too.
You see, today we’ve forgotten that the primary purpose of the church is not for ourselves … not for those
inside the church … but for those outside the church to come to know Jesus. Being a witness is what Christ
calls us to be. It’s not about our predicting the right date. It’s not even about our having the right words or the
courage to speak to others about the Lord. But rather, it is about what the Holy Spirit can do in and through us.
It’s been said that a good witness is not like a salesman. The emphasis is on a person rather than a product. A
good witness is like a signpost. It doesn't matter whether it is old, young, pretty, or ugly. It simply has to point
the right direction and be able to be understood. As witnesses to Christ we should point to HIM. (John White,
After all, the fact that the rapture did not take place on May 21st reiterates more clearly that God has more for us
to do…that we are not done sharing his word with others…that we still need to be Christ’s witnesses in this
world. It’s interesting to note that Camping’s prediction turned the focus inward and away from witnessing.
First we can see that the results of his prediction was a bad witness in many ways. Just take the stories of
family members irate over their loved one selling their entire inheritance to give it to Camping’s radio program.
Why did this loved one do this? Because they actually thought the end was near. This is the witness
unfortunately that the rest of the world sees.
Secondly, though it’s even more telling that because the 21st has passed, Camping is now saying that the 21st
was really a spiritual rapture. This would suggest that Jesus is done saving people, and the focus of the church
should now be on only caring for those inside the church who already know Jesus. Basically he’s out right
saying we don’t need to witness anymore. Jesus is all done until he returns on Camping’s new date of Oct 21st.
Looking at this scripture though it’s clear Jesus gives us the task to witness. People need to hear the good news
of Jesus. There are loads of people around the world who have never even heard the gospel. And until that day
comes when everyone has heard, God has given us the task of being witnesses for Christ.
Understand, the problem is not in thinking that Christ will return someday for Jesus will come again. The
problem is thinking that because Christ will return I don’t need to do anything but just sit around focusing on
myself until that day comes. In fact, we should give thanks to God that we do have to wait for Christ’s return
because not everyone has heard the good news of Christ. In fact, it is God’s mercy and grace that compels the
Lord to wait to come back so that all who might receive his love would have the opportunity to do so. This is
the Lord’s heart for us and for others.
Wonder of God
Therefore, in order to rise above everything, we need to focus less on wondering when the date Christ will
return and experience the wonder of God now. For it’s amazing what God is doing these days. In this passage
we hear Jesus speak of being his witnesses throughout the world. And today, more people are coming to Jesus
than ever before. We can look around the world in places like Africa and Asia and see incredible numbers of
people coming to faith in Jesus.
It might be harder to experience this wonder in the States because of the decline in numbers the church has
experienced here. If we looked at the United Methodist Church we might become discouraged at how much
membership has decreased in the past 40 years. Yet what’s amazing is that while we have lost membership in
the states twice that number are coming to faith in Jesus in other places around the world. Why is that? Some of
the main reasons are that Christians in Asia and Africa emphasize the importance of waiting in prayer upon the
Holy Spirit’s power. They take seriously the call to be Christ’s witnesses in this world and they are ever aware
of God’s wondrous workings in their midst.
When we look at the ascension of Christ it should spark a sense of awe and wonder in us even today. In this
passage Luke describes Christ’s ascension in this way “taken up into a cloud” and “rising into heaven”. This
image points us to the cloud spoken of in Exodus, which descended upon the Temple and Moses in the
wilderness. For with the cloud came the very glory of God – the shekinah – the manifest presence of God.
“And to enter into it was to go into the holy of holies, the immediate presence of the Lord,” writes theologian
Peter Toon in the Assession of the Lord.” (reference from Good News Magazine May/June 2011 Steven
The apostles were in awe and it speaks to us about our witness. For being witnesses of Christ is more than mere
words. It’s about bearing witness to the wonder and Glory of God in our midst. It’s about entering into the very
presence of the Almighty and inviting others to come alongside into the holy of holies. The wonder of it all is
that God’s own Spirit comes and dwells within us. This is amazing! And yet, how often do we get sidetracked
and miss the glory of God that is before us.
For instance in light of the Life Outreach Center which shared with us earlier this morning I am reminded of a
story I came across about the wonder of new life. One night a wife found her husband standing over their
infant’s crib. As she watched him looking down at their firstborn baby, she saw on his face a mixture of
emotions…disbelief, doubt, delight, amazement, enchantment, skepticism. Touched by this unusual display and
the deep emotions it aroused, with eyes glistening she slipped her arm around her husband. "A penny for your
thoughts", she said.
"It’s amazing!" he replied. "I just can’t see how anybody can make a crib like that for only $46.50."
Yep, here was one of the greatest miracles in God’s creation, and all this father saw was a crib. He didn’t see
the true glory that lay before him. But the sad reality is, he’s not the only one. Often we can look at the
wonders of God and yet we are totally focused on our personal agendas, the deadlines we face, our work-related
responsibilities. Whether it is the miracle of the birth of a new baby or the miracle of the birth of a new
Christian, we can miss the true wonder of what God is doing.
As Christ ascended into heaven the disciples experienced the wonder of God and that was amazing! However,
the angel reminded them that there was still more to come. This amazing sight should not lead them or us to
simply stand gazing into the sky pining our time until Christ returns. No instead it led them, and it should lead
us, to rise up and do what God has planned for us. “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.”
Christ will return. What will be the date? I don’t know. Our Heavenly Father does, so in the meantime, I’m
going to trust him and I’m not going to guess. Instead let us respond by doing what Jesus told us to do and that
is to wait on the Holy Spirit’s direction and power…to be his witnesses to a world that needs Jesus. And let the
wonder of God fill our lives in such a way that it extends to all those we meet. Let us rise up and heed our
Jesus Taken Up Into Heaven
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was
taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his
suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to
them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating
with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised,
which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with[a] water, but in a few days you will be baptized
with[b] the Holy Spirit.”
Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to
He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you
will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all
Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood
beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “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.”