42. Sermon Text - "Sunnyhill" Herne Bay Evangelical Free Church

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42. Sermon Text

Special Service
Text : Acts 1 :1-11
The Second Coming

Introduction
The teaching concerning the return of the Lord Jesus Christ is very important and in order that we don’t let it slip from our minds I took the decision right at the outset of my ministry amongst you that I would preach on this vital subject on the first Sunday of every New Year. That doesn’t mean we only ever think about this doctrine once a year but it does mean that we think about it at least once a year. And as today is the first Sunday of the New Year there are no prizes for guessing what our subject is this morning. We’re going to be looking for a while together at the promised return of our Lord and Saviour.

So let’s get to it. I want to begin with Luke.

“Luke” is only mentioned by name three times in the NT and yet he was the author of approximately one third of it. In addition to the Gospel that carries his name he also wrote the Acts of the Apostles and these two books can be thought of as two volumes of one larger work for both focus on the importance of the person of Jesus Christ. This historical narrative of Luke’s writings covered a span of some 60 years.

Even though he was an active and valued participant in the growth of the early church that is described in the Acts of the Apostles, Luke did not draw attention to himself. Most of what we know about this, the only Gentile, author of Scripture comes from the pen of the apostle Paul who referred to him as a “fellow worker” and the “beloved physician”. The most important thing Luke wanted his readers to understand was that salvation is in Christ.

Luke had not been present with Jesus during his ministry and probably did not become a follower of Jesus himself until after the resurrection. But he carried out careful research into the material that was available which enabled him to write his gospel account. His attention to detail along with his careful use of abundant eyewitness accounts show him to be a credible and reliable historian for the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Indeed his is the longest of the four gospels and it is the one that contains the most detailed account of Jesus’ birth as well as a more descriptive account of his death and resurrection.

At the beginning of his gospel Luke took care to explain why he had done what he did:

Lk.1:1-4 “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”

Then at the beginning of his second volume there is more of the same:

Acts 1:1-2 “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.”

Luke was an evangelist, a historian, a physician, a pastor, a missionary, a companion, a brother, and a theologian. His goal and purpose in writing was to write exact truth concerning Jesus Christ and the plan of salvation, an infallible history and theology inspired by the Spirit. And with God’s guidance that’s exactly what he did.

It is interesting and important to note that Luke brought his first volume to a close with a brief account of Jesus’ ascension into heaven and then began his second volume with the same theme supplying us with some additional information and explanation.

The story of Jesus Christ – and we’re thinking here about real history and not some fictional character with a made up storyline – is like none other. Jesus really stands apart and above everyone else who has ever lived. About who else could you possible write describing what he had done on earth as simply what he had begun to do? But that is exactly how Luke wrote about him.

Normal biographies will describe the life and behaviour of people detailing what they did during their lifetime and then they come to an end with the death and burial of their hero. Some might include a further chapter about the ongoing influence of the deceased person’s ideas or legacy but that’s about it. However with Jesus things are very different, in fact it could hardly be more different. Yes, Jesus died but he then conquered death and that means he is alive now. Death certainly wasn’t the end as far as Jesus is concerned. And so when we talk about him being alive and active we’re not talking about the ongoing influence of his teaching important though that is, nor are we talking about his abiding presence in our memories we’re talking about his genuine vital and living activity.

And so Luke began the Acts of the Apostles with a description of the ascension of this living Lord Jesus into heaven. The event he described was a real one, an event that occurred at a specific time and place in history. But it is more than a simple description of an event that took place a long time ago for this event provides us with a model for a great event that is yet to happen in earth’s history, for this Jesus, the same one, will come to earth again – the world has not seen the last of him!

Jesus’ Ascension
At the end of that forty day period when Jesus gave his followers many proofs of his resurrection life and issued them with his instructions and commands the time finally came for him to return to heaven and he would so in bodily form. The ascension explains why it is that Christians can and do maintain that Jesus is alive but not visibly present with them on earth now – he is in heaven at the Father’s right hand.

When the time came it came as something of a shock to his disciples; they were not at all expecting anything like this to happen. It certainly wasn’t an idea that they had dreamed up but something that forced itself upon their consciousness – they reacted to the reality of it all, they had to. You see, one moment Jesus had been talking with them, teaching them what they needed to know about the Kingdom of God and what their role would be in spreading the good news about it throughout the world and the next he was being taken up into a cloud and removed from their sight!

They weren’t prepared for this and all they could think of doing was to stand gazing upwards to where they had last seen him.

It was an extraordinary event.

In the Bible, clouds often figure in accounts where God is specially active and present and here Jesus had just left the earth to be taken from their sight by a cloud. What did it mean? Well we don’t have to scratch our heads and try to come up with our own theories because a divinely inspired explanation was about to be given. And it would be given by a couple of unusual messengers who suddenly appear of the scene. Luke refers to them as two men in white robes but we’re not to imagine these were ordinary folk – they were angels.

In the Bible angels sometimes appear in the form of men. Joshua once met the commander of the army of the LORD – surely an important role to be carried out by an important and impressive person and yet we’re told that Joshua saw him as a man standing. In the Book of Daniel the angel Gabriel put in an appearance, we’re told he flew but to Daniel he had the appearance of a man. And we have the same phenomena here in Acts ch.1. The angelic identity of these two men is highlighted by both the clothes they wear and the message they bring. Their garments were white robes – we maybe don’t think much of this as we are so used to people wearing white shirts or blouses but in Bible times white garments were not the norm they were rather a token of rare and excellent dignity. The message that these “men” had to pass on was no ordinary message either. It was a message which had a spiritual content that had no earthly origin – what they had to say was a divine revelation - these were no ordinary men.

A Question and an Explanation
The disciples were there. They had really seen something that had really happened. They hadn’t dreamt it up nor were they hallucinating.  It was a genuine experience and at the same time it was a spiritual experience unlike any they had quite known before. They didn’t know what to do next. And so they just stood there gazing heavenwards. It was then that the angels spoke to them:

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?” v.11a

I suppose the disciples could have responded with a counter question: What else do you expect us to do? We’ve just seen our Lord ascend into that cloud up there and we can’t see him any more.

I wonder, did the disciples expect to see Jesus re-emerge from the cloud and return to them? Did they perhaps hope to see him land somewhere nearby? Or were they just stunned by it all? Whatever the reason they stood there gawping unproductively into the sky – they were effectively wasting their time and achieving nothing.

How we need God to shine light into our lives! Even genuine spiritual experiences need to be explained to us if we are to react to them in a proper manner. Without such instruction we too are very likely to act in inappropriate and unproductive ways.

The question posed by the angels provided a springboard for the instruction that would send the disciples on their way rejoicing. How much information the angels managed to cram into a few words! This is what they said next:

“This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” v.11b

Let us look more closely at this.

  • The first thing for us to notice is that the angels explain just what has happened to Jesus and where he has gone. He had been taken up into heaven.

In the OT the prophet Elijah had been caught up to heaven in a whirlwind without having to pass through death. When Elisha, who had witnessed the scene as it unfolded, seeing the heavenly chariots collect his master, reported to others what had happened they were all reluctant to believe him and insisted on organising a search party to see if they could find Elijah’s body, perhaps it was lying somewhere in the nearby hills. Elisha gave way under this pressure even though he knew such a search would prove to be utterly futile. And of course it was: they couldn’t find Elijah’s body because God had taken Elijah.

And now Jesus’ disciples didn’t need to stand gazing hoping to see Jesus come out of the cloud again. Nor did they need to search for him on the nearby hills for God had taken him too! God had taken up his Son Jesus into heaven again!

And that is where our Jesus is now. He is in heaven occupying the place of supreme honour and authority at the Father’s right hand. There he possesses all power and authority to rule over all of God’s creation. There he represents his people and continues to take an intimate and detailed interest in them. A little later in Acts Luke will show us again that Jesus is in heaven. Stephen was on trial because of his faith in Jesus and for his proclamation of the gospel. Like his master’s before him Stephen’s trial was not going to end well. After giving a clear explanation of God’s plan and purposes down through the centuries Stephen realised his hearers weren’t prepared to heed what he had to say. Explanation gave way to application and Stephen issued a serious challenge to all those who were listening to him. The challenge went unheeded, it served only to infuriate those who listened to him speak. With the tension rising we read that Stephen:

“full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” Acts 7:55

These were nearly the last words Stephen would ever speak for the crowd turned on him and dragged him out to stone him. But he had seen Jesus and Jesus was in heaven! And Jesus was taking a close interest in him!!

  • The second thing the angels had to say to the disciples concerned “this same Jesus”. He would come again. The same Jesus they knew and not another would come. Just think about it. The Jesus that they had known for three years as they had followed him. The Jesus they had learnt from him as he had taught them. The Jesus who had carried out numerous miracles in their presence. The Jesus whom they had seen arrested and known to be crucified. The Jesus who had astounded them by coming through locked doors to speak words of peace to them when they had thought their world had come to an end. The Jesus who had proved over and over again to them that he had conquered death and was alive. This same Jesus, this loving, tender, compassionate, faithful and trustworthy Jesus was going to return to earth! It was astonishing but it was also so, so encouraging: what terrific news it was!

But could it really be true? How could this be? And this too the angels wanted to say something about.

  • “this Jesus... will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” v.11b

And so we must ask how did the disciples see him go into heaven? What characterised his ascension? It’s important for the details of the ascension provide a pattern for his return.

Well it was a visible departure and it was a personal departure and it was a physical departure.

The disciples saw with their own eyes the Lord Jesus being taken up into a cloud until they could see him no longer. When one of our believing friends dies we know that their spirit has gone to heaven to be with the Lord but we don’t see it as it goes and the body of our dead friend remains behind, an empty shell for their spirit has gone.

But when Jesus was taken up to heaven he didn’t leave a body behind. He went physically as well as spiritually to heaven. And they saw him go. They saw him being received into a cloud that points to the glory of God. There is now the physical body of a man in heaven, at the Father’s right hand, and this is proof that one day all those who believe in him will one day be there with him with their own resurrection bodies.

Jesus’ ascension was real in every possible way imaginable – the disciples had observed it – but perhaps the more glorious truth is that just as the Jesus they knew had ascended into heaven so he, the same Jesus that they knew and loved, would himself return visibly, personally and physically!

The angels’ message concerns Jesus return to earth and the return that is envisaged is the real return of a real person. The same Jesus who once died on the cross of Calvary will personally and physically return to the earth he came to save. And men will see it for it will be visible! Received into a cloud of God’s glory at his ascension the Son of Man will return in glory coming on the clouds again.

Jesus advent was a relatively quiet affair as he accepted the humiliation of a stable birth but his second coming will be significantly different. His visible return will be accompanied by the loud and glorious public sounding forth of an archangel’s trumpet.

The fact that Jesus’ return will be a personal return of the same person is in perfect harmony with other aspects of the Bible’s clear teaching.

  • It is in perfect harmony for example with the teaching that Jesus was genuinely raised from the dead and is alive! In fact he has been ever since the third day when he was raised from the dead.

  • It is in harmony with the promises that Jesus made while on earth. Then he promised that he would raise his followers on the last day and his real physical and personal return points to his intention of keeping his promise.

  • It is in harmony with the Bible’s declaration that a Day of Judgment will come about. The one into whose hands that judgment has been committed is none other than this same Jesus whom God raised from the dead. His return will usher in that great and awesome day.

The angels’ message gives the Christian a wonderful hope. It might well be nice for the Christian believer to witness the triumph of Christian principles in the world, to see the resurgence of Christian ideas and to celebrate the perpetuation of Jesus’ teaching. But our hope is far greater than that! Our Lord will return in person and receive the honour and glory he most richly deserves!

Now for those disciples who watched Jesus ascend into heaven this was tremendously good news. For all those who have put their faith and trust in the Lord Jesus in the many years since this is tremendously good news. But it is not good news for everyone regardless.

Just as there were people who did not benefit from Christ’s first coming there will be many for whom his second coming will bring no joy either. Those who rejected him and opposed him when he first came and all of those who since then have rejected and opposed him will find that this is the same Jesus who returns. This is the man who called a spade a spade and told men and women to go and sin no more. This is the same man who made extraordinary claims declaring that he was the only one who could secure forgiveness of sins and the only way whereby men and women might be reconciled to God.

Extraordinary claims, exclusive claims, totally politically incorrect claims and yet they were claims that were backed up. You see, this is the same man who said that he would be rejected and betrayed by his own people and he was. This is the same man who said that he would be handed over to Gentile powers who would cause him to suffer and to die – and he was. This is the same man who said that after being put to death by that horrible and cruel death of crucifixion he would rise from the dead. And he did! His truthfulness has been vindicated over and over again.

And it is this same Jesus who is the returning one. He was truthful and upright before and he hasn’t changed. He promised to save his own and to raise them at the last day and he will – but he will not recognise and own those who don’t belong to him. In returning he will say to false followers as well as to outright enemies “Depart from me for I never knew you.”

Conclusion
We have lived through 2020 which has been a most unusual year for all of us. We stand now at the start of a New Year and we don’t know exactly what this year holds in store for us. On the one hand the vaccination programme is ramping up offering hope that the pandemic might be brought under control and on the other hand the infection rates continue to escalate. Our new relationships with Europe and the rest of the world are now up for grabs with the completion of Brexit. What can we be sure of as we move ahead into the future?

Let me tell you.

We can be sure of the faithfulness of our God. We can be sure of the help of the Holy Spirit – the Son’s gift to the church. And we can be sure that in the determined plan of God Jesus will return. The future is in his hands. I don’t know whether he will come in 2021 but he will come.

Are you ready?

Heaven has received him until the time for the restoration of all things about which God has spoken by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago – but when that time arrives he will come again. And you can, you must be ready for him. He has been appointed for you:

Acts 3:19-20 “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out (and) that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.”

And as we look forward, well aware that it is not for us to know the times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority, we can put our trust in the one who holds the future. In the words of a well-known chorus:

“I know Who holds the future, And He'll guide me with his hand.
With God things don't just happen; Everything by Him is planned.
So as I face tomorrow, With its problems large and small,
I'll trust the God of miracles, Give to Him my all.”

And to God be the Glory

Amen
 
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