Nobody Likes Saying Goodbye / Ascension of our LORD

Acts 1:1-11

And while staying with them He ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, He said, “you heard from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

There must be fifty ways to leave your lover. Paul Simon sang those words years ago. That maybe so. But my experience is that goodbyes are never easy. Whether it’s goodbye to an old friend when you move to a new community, or to a son or daughter going off to college, or to colleagues when you change jobs. Goodbyes are difficult for most of us.

Some goodbyes are more familiar to us than others. Some of you of a certain age will remember Carol Burnett tugging on her earlobe as she sang goodbye at the end of each show. There may be some of you who are old enough to remember western star Roy Rogers and his wife Dale Evans in glorious black and white singing, Happy Trails to you until we meet again, at the end of their programs.

I’m sure most of us have seen news clips of Lou Gehrig saying good-bye July 4, 1939 at Yankee Stadium on Lou Gehrig Day. It’s considered the most famous speech in baseball history. It came just after Gehrig was diagnosed with ALS, often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Yet he called himself the luckiest man in the world.

Another baseball great, Babe Ruth said goodbye at Yankee Stadium in 1947. He was dying from throat cancer. Just before he spoke, Ruth started to cough and it looked like he might break down because of the cheering. But once he started to talk, he was all right, still the champion. It was the many men who surrounded him on the field–players, newspaper and radio persons, who choked up.

Some of you remember when, after the Watergate hearings, President Richard Nixon and his wife, Pat, and their family said farewell to the White House staff in the East Room. Then they calmly walked across the White House lawn and waved goodbye as they boarded a Marine One which flew them to Andrews.

Goodbyes are difficult. In one of history’s most famous goodbye speeches, a promise was delivered. In February 1942, as Japanese forces tightened their grip on the Philippines, Gen. Douglas McArthur was ordered by President Franklin Roosevelt to relocate to Australia. On the night of March 12, 1942, MacArthur and his troops left the Philippines. When they landed in Australia, MacArthur gave his most famous speech, in which he promised, I came through and I shall return. Two years later he did just that, he returned to the Philippines.

Saying goodbye is never easy. But a promise to return makes it more acceptable.

In Acts 1 Jesus is saying goodbye to His disciples. For more than three years they’d been a family. They ate together, prayed together, faced danger together, including the most traumatic hardship of all, Christ’s death on the cross. After His resurrection, they spent forty additional days together. Now He’s leaving them to return to His Father.

After Christ’s resurrection He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. One time He even, while He was eating with them, gave them this command: Don’t leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift My Father promised, which you have heard Me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days, you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. At this point, His disciples gathered around Him and asked, Lord, are You at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?

The answer Christ gave is one I wish everyone who keeps setting dates for Christ’s return would listen to. He said to them: It’s 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. After He said this, He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight.

In other words, don’t spend time speculating about when Christ will return. Instead get busy doing what Christ called you to do here and now.

They were looking intently up into the sky as He was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. Men of Galilee, 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.

Quite a dramatic scene, a fitting climax to the world’s most important biography. Jesus makes two promises to His disciples as He is leaving them: First, they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them and secondly, they will become Christ’s witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Let’s begin with You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.” Max Lucado uses several descriptive phrases concerning these early Christian recruits. He’s impressed by how ordinary these disciples were. He says they were more dinghy than cruise ship . . . more blue jeans than blue blood . . . more swaybacks, than thoroughbreds. Before Jesus came along, the disciples were loading trucks, coaching soccer, and selling Slurpee drinks at the convenience store! They were more plumbers than executives. More stand-ins than movie stars.

What a wonderful description of Jesus’ disciples. They were very ordinary men. And yet God turned the world upside down through them. How is that possible? Well, it begins with the power that Christ promised them, the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is Christ’s presence with us. The Holy Spirit is the key to Christian living.

Think of it this way, in the distance you see a man robed in bright, gaudy Oriental clothes who appears to be laboriously turning the crank of a pump and thereby making a mighty flow of water. You would be impressed with the man’s energy, his smooth motions, and his obvious physical conditioning. He was pumping a tremendous amount of water. As you get closer, you’re surprised to find out that the man is actually made of wood. Instead of turning the crank and making the water flow, the flow of water was actually turning the crank and thereby making the man move.

So, it was with the early church. They were dynamos, not through their own power, but through the power of the Spirit. They were effective not because of their own genius or eloquence, but because of who had invaded their lives, God’s Holy Spirit. This is the same power you and I could have as well if we surrendered ourselves completely to that power. Jesus promised His disciples they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them.

But what would they do with that power? That brings us to Christ’s second promise: “You will be My witnesses . . .” This is the only reason the Spirit gives us power, that we shall tell others about Christ’s love and grace. But where shall they witness? In Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

God certainly has a sense of humor. Or maybe God wanted these disciples to understand that none of what they would accomplish was through their own strength.

Some of us might think of Jerusalem as their home court, so witnessing should be easier there. In a sense, it was. Jerusalem certainly was close by. But the disciples were all Galileans. They were looked down on by the residents of Jerusalem. They spoke with a funny accent, as if they were from first century Palestine’s version of Appalachia.

And Galileans were considered pagans by the Jews. Who knows what heretical thoughts had infiltrated their minds? The apostles wouldn’t have an easy time finding acceptance for their message in Jerusalem or Judea as a whole. And don’t forget that Jesus had just been crucified in Jerusalem. There was still much to fear from the religious authorities.

As for Samaria, that would be no better. You know how Samaritans and Jews felt about each other. Samaritans were Jews who had inter-married with Gentiles. They believed that God dwelt on a mountain, not in the temple in Jerusalem. The disciples would have little credibility there.

As for the rest of the world, these were disciples from a small backwater area of a fully occupied state. They had probably never been out of Palestine. How could they possibly carry Christ’s message to Athens and Rome and the other great intellectual and social centers of the world? Yet they were to be Christ’s witnesses.

Let’s think for a moment about the word, witness. Sometimes the word witness seems to mean, to put on a show. I am going to witness through the eloquence of my speech or through the stylishness of my appearance. I’m going to witness for Christ, seems to mean, at least. to some people being, something they aren’t, to impress others. It must make Christ sick to see the hypocritical witness of some of His saints.

A lawyer once defended a bus driver against claims that his negligence had caused injury to a young man’s arm: he asked the plaintiff will you please show us how high you can lift your arm now? The young man obediently raised his arm to shoulder level, his face contorted with apparent pain. Thank you. And now, please, will you show us how high you could lift it before the accident? Before he could think, the young man’s arm shot above his head.

A phony witness is worse than no witness at all. We witness by living our lives authentically as a follower of Jesus Christ and sharing in an honest way what Christ has done in our lives. That takes courage whether you are in Jerusalem or Samaria or in [our community]. That takes conviction. That takes depending on the Holy Spirit daily.

On the day Christ said goodbye to His disciples and ascended into heaven He promised them His power and He promised them they would be His witnesses all over the known world of their time. They also received one other promise from two men dressed in white who suddenly stood beside them: Men of Galilee, 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.

Like MacArthur, Christ promised to return. When? No one knows and we shouldn’t speculate about it. However, this final promise took the sting out of His leaving for those who were left behind. Now they could focus on waiting for the power He had promised them and preparing to give witness to the love and the grace they had experienced. Those are our tasks now, wait for His Spirit and witness to His love.