The pivotal point of history is the resurrection of Jesus. Everything that went before led up to this one defining event and all that comes after is viewed in light of it. The hope of the ages is realised in the sacrificial death and triumphant resurrection of Jesus. For every person looking for identity, purpose and hope the Cross and the empty tomb offer the answer. The apostle Paul wrote to Christians in Corinth:
I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures … (1 Cor. 15:3-5)
He goes on in this same passage to declare that, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” (1 Cor.15:14) We may quibble over some points of doctrine and there will be secondary issues but if this isn't true, if Christ is not risen and only in this life we have hope, we are, Paul writes, “of all men to be pitied.” (1 Cor.15:19)
And to the Ephesian believers Paul sums up God's great plan in this way:
In the king, and through his blood, we have deliverance – that is, our sins have been forgiven – through the wealth of his grace which he lavishes on us. Yes, with all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the secret of his purpose, just as he wanted it to be and set it forward in him as a blueprint for when the time was ripe. His plan was to sum up the whole cosmos in the king, - yes, everything in heaven and on earth in him. (Eph.1:7-10 Tom Wright, New Testament for Everyone)
So – What Next?
There is a plan and it is founded on that great work done on the cross of Calvary and the power demonstrated by an empty tomb. It is summed up in God's purpose to renew everything in King Jesus. So what happens next?
When it comes to the ascension we can treat it as a high point in what is otherwise a sort of hiatus, the time we are marking between the miracle of the resurrection and the drama of Pentecost. Nothing more than a signal in the story that Jesus has now gone back to glory, a waiting time. Indeed Jesus did say “Wait in Jerusalem until the promised Holy Spirit comes.”
But so much more happened in the days leading up to Pentecost, indeed a full ten days before Pentecost the church already had been given an assurance of power to act, an authority to speak, a mandate to go, and a clear Bible message to share; clear teaching about “what next.”
I wonder how big is your vision of God's plan?
After all they had seen and heard the disciples' vision was still too small. As they stood with him on the Mount of Olives they asked Jesus “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” They were still thinking of a military and political restoration such as had happened before, when invaders had been repelled, when God's people brought back from exile once again inhabited the land free and unmolested. Jesus' answer tells us two things:
“It is not for you to know times and seasons.” How often have these simple but clear words been overlooked in some complicated scheme that plots days and weeks, months and years, and arrives at a date for the end of the world, only for the day to pass unremarked except for more embarrassing headlines about failed prophecy and wacky preachers? It is not for us to know but it is for us to turn to the business in hand. So what are we to do until that great day comes when he returns?
- “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses...to the end of the earth.” The vision is much bigger than physical Israel.It was not about a plot of land in the Middle East, a discrete people group. This was a greater vision than they could possibly have imagined. It encompasses the restoration of the whole of creation – to the end of the earth.
After the events of the Mount on Olives, the ascension, the disciples returned to Jerusalem we are told. And in an upper room just 120 of them met together, talked about recent events and prayed.
Today there are between 2.2billion and 2.6billion people in the world who self-identify as Christians. If you are fortunate to live in a free country you may be aware of many different churches in your town or city. Your own church, you know, is just one of countless churches around the world.
Put yourself in that upper room. Imagine a disparate group of people with no money, no influence, indeed considered outcasts after their leader had suffered an ignoble execution on a Roman cross. The fact of the resurrection would surely have given you incredible confidence, the promise of the Holy Spirit instilled great hope. But – to the end of the earth?
Are you ready for that, people most of whom had never left Israel? So unfamiliar with the end of the earth that they thought the Lake of Galilee was a sea? Are you ready? Next time we'll look at how Jesus prepared the disciples for a task that would see the known world hear about Jesus by the end of the century and the whole Roman world accept Christianity as the state religion within 300 years.