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06.06.2021 A New Day is Dawning Acts 1.1-11 Sermon Summary

by on June 7, 2021

This passage recounts the “Ascension of Jesus.” It occurs forty days after the Resurrection. “Forty Days” is a common time reference.

  • In Noah’s story, it rained forty days and forty nights
  • Moses spent three forty-day periods on Mount Sinai
  • The spies he sent into Canaan remained there forty days
  • Elijah walked forty days to Mount Horeb
  • Goliath challenged the Israelites forty days until David silenced him
  • Jesus was tempted in the Wilderness forty days

Clearly we’re dealing with a symbol. Forty days represents the completion of a full time. I have chosen this passage for this morning’s sermon because today marks a new start of our ministry together. A full time is ending. I have been at Faith Presbyterian Church thirteen years this Sunday. A new day is dawning—year fourteen.

Since forty days is symbolic, one wonders if there are other symbols in Acts chapter one. The book is addressed to “Theophilus” which means “One Loved of God”. This is probably not an actual person, but a reference to all of us who read Acts. We are the ones loved of God. Later in the chapter, upon Judas’ demise, the remaining eleven disciples seek to replace him with another twelfth. This, too, is a symbol. There were twelve tribes of Israel, and in this “new Israel” there must be twelve disciples.

The symbolic world is important because it is the realm of meaning. It points to meaning beyond history and beyond reality. Take music, for example. It also exists in the symbolic world. The most meaningful songs aren’t to be taken literally. Consider “Amazing Grace”: “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’ve first begun.”

Time-keeping in God’s realm is utterly meaningless. Second Peter 3:8 says, “With the Lord a day is like 1000 years, and 1000 years are like a day.” The meaning of Amazing Grace is that our praise of God never ends. God’s deserving of our praise is inexhaustible. Ten thousand years doesn’t even count.

Imagine if we were to argue about the ten thousand years. If we were to take it literally. If we were to restrict our conversation to history and to reality. We would risk losing the meaning of the lyrical symbol.

On the other hand, if we keep only the meaning of symbols, we miss the importance of history and of reality. Grace is effective now in this life, according to Amazing Grace, and not just in those symbolic ten thousand years.

Try this with other meaningful songs to you—love songs, songs of mourning, inspirational instrumental songs. They are meaningful as symbols; of meaning grounded in history and reality. Force them to be literal, and they risk losing the meaning.

The symbolic world looks past the past. It looks past history and looks past reality. It looks past the past to see meaning.

So we return to the symbolic world of Acts chapter one. There are “forty days,” it is addressed to “Theophilus,” Jesus speaks of the, “baptism of John in water and the baptism in the Holy Spirit.” We are told Jesus is, “lifted up and disappears in clouds.” And then there are “the two men dressed in white.”

The setting of this story is “forty days” after the Resurrection. Jesus promises the Holy Spirit and gives his disciples a mission: To be witnesses. And “while they are watching” Jesus is “lifted up and disappears in clouds.” “Two men dressed in white” appear and begin speaking. They are obviously angels by their sudden entrance and their dazzling appearance.

Angels are messengers of God. They proclaim the divine perspective. They tell us how to look at things. “Why do you stand here looking into the heavens?” they ask. “This Jesus will return the same way you saw him depart.”

THIS Jesus. The Resurrected Jesus. The New Jesus. The Different Jesus. The Living Jesus. Things are very different. The Day of Resurrection has occurred. A new day has dawned. Everything is changed.

Things are different now: “Why do you stand here looking into the heavens?” Things are very different. The worldwide human community is obvious to us now; a virus in China creates a pandemic in two months. A container ship grounded in the Suez Canal disrupts the global economy for two weeks. School classes, meetings, worship, and family reunions all occur online.

Things are very different; but something remains the same. Jesus who was resurrected will return. And not just once, but over and over. Here’s a symbolic meaning of this passage for us today.

Notice when the angels say Jesus will appear. I make three observations. It is: “As they were watching”; “While they were waiting”; and “As they received the mission.” Let’s take these in reverse order.

“As they receive the mission.” The mission is to bear witness. They are to witness beyond history and reality; beyond Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria; even to the ends of the earth. And of what are they witnesses? “To the resurrection of Christ,” according to Acts 1:22. They bear witness to the new day that has dawned.

“While they were waiting.” The disciples asked, “Are you going to restore the Kingdom at this time?” Jesus responds, “It is not for you to know the times set by God, but to wait for the Holy Spirit.” In ten more days—another symbolic number of fullness—the Spirit came to them. And the Spirit brought along with her the Resurrected Christ.

“As they were watching.” Jesus departs and returns to those who watch, those who look, those who seek. They alone are the ones who see.

As they were watching, while they were waiting for the Holy Spirit, and as they received the mission. The angels are saying, “Look past the past. Live in the present. Proceed toward the future. All the while Christ appears, disappears, and appears again as things continually change.”

Things are very different now. And they will continue to change. But together we witness to the Resurrection of Christ. As we wait. As we watch, seek, and look. For the Resurrected Christ is STILL reconciling the world, and now we have this ministry, this ministry of reconciliation.

We are to bring those near who are far away, to restore to victims what was stolen by privilege, to reunite responsibility with freedom, so that, in the words of Psalm eighty-five, faithfulness meets steadfast love, and peace and righteousness kiss, that the glory of the Kingdom of God may dwell even in our land.

This we may do together. Bearing witness to Christ’s Resurrection, to his reconciling ministry which he has placed in our hands. This we may do together by waiting upon the Spirit, by watching for his appearing. This we may do together, looking past the past, as pastor and church, so that the new day of resurrection can dawn again and again and again upon us and the world.

And our history, and our reality, can have meaning and a future in the Kingdom of God.

Let anyone who has an ear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Amen.

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