May 24th Worship Service & Sermon: “Why Did Jesus Leave?”

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May 24, 2020

The Day of Ascension

Acts 1:1-11; Luke 24:44-53

Why Did Jesus Leave?

Is this the time?

What a beautiful season we have enjoyed these days! The weather is getting warmer, the days are lengthening, the sky is a dazzling blue, the air is fresh, and our yards are a shiny green. We are surrounded by all sorts of signs pointing to the beginning of summer, and I am sure that we all have been looking forward to this seasonal change.

As we are now in this beautiful season, we may have high hopes of our new life. We have been stuck and frozen almost for three months under the grip of this pandemic. This is the time we can get out of its clutches. So we want to ask God, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore our country, our state, our business, our stock market, and most of all, our freedom to move and hang around as we want?”

Against our earnest wishes, however, we are actually being told that this year’s winter will be the worst winter in our history. This means it’s not yet the time for us to come back and restore our lives. It would be such a shame to have to continue to stay locked up in this beautiful season. We must not succumb to this pandemic. We must do something to overcome this crisis and bring hope of life in our world. What can we do as God’s people?

On Ascension Day

Liturgically, this is the Ascension Sunday when Jesus was taken up into heaven in front of his disciples’ eyes. Before he ascended to heaven, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” (v. 6) They had been longing for freedom and liberation from the long oppression of the Roman Empire. Now they had Jesus Christ who rose from the dead. His own resurrection proved he had the power to fulfill their wishes. But Jesus’ answer was somewhat disappointing because he replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority” (v. 7).

By the way, how did the disciples react to the sudden ascension of Jesus in front of their eyes? Were they shocked, frustrated, confused, or thrilled? Whatever it was, I can picture them on that hillside, their bodies frozen, their mouths open, staring into the cloud that had swallowed Jesus from their sight. I can also hear some of them saying, still staring to the sky, “Why did he leave us?”

I can’t blame the disciples. In fact, I sometimes think, as they probably did, “Wouldn’t it be better if Jesus were still here with his people for his own mission. As their Lord, he could guide and lead them to do things right. Who would dare to compete with his power when he spoke, fought, or healed the sick? Why did he have to leave?

“Why do you have to leave?” This is actually what my mom grumbled when I had to board the plane at the airport. I am old enough to feel how upset she was when I had to depart from her. She didn’t want me to leave because as her son, I am her everything. I also believe that she would have a better life if I was always with her in her house. But I had to leave her because I have much bigger world to serve. But that doesn’t mean I abandoned her. I can always come back to her or invite her in my world, which is a lot bigger and better than her little house.

Not only adults like us but little children also know how hard it is to break up with their parents. “Why are you leaving me?” A little child would complain with this kind of question when his/her daddy is heading out the door. Daddy usually tells his child that he has to leave for work and will return soon. Yet the child doesn’t want him to leave because he/she just wants to play with him at their home. But daddy has to leave because he has a bigger community to serve. That doesn’t mean daddy is abandoning his child. He has to leave, so that he can not only do his job but also nurture and feed his child. Unfortunately, the child is too little to understand why daddy has to go.

In a way, the disciples were just like little children.  They didn’t understand why their Lord Jesus had to leave. They wanted him to stay with them in their small world. Holding him, they focused only on their own little hope about restoring their kingdom. But Jesus had a much bigger vision and for that he had to leave. He had to leave for the sake of the whole world. But that doesn’t mean he abandoned his disciples. The disciples would be invited to Jesus’ world (Kingdom of God).

There are differences in how little children and how the disciples react to their being left alone. Little children stay home, doing nothing until their daddy comes back. But Jesus’ disciples were called to do something until he would come back to them. Jesus gave them a special mission to be his witnesses: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (v. 9). For this mission, Jesus promised to send his people the Holy Spirit. By ascending, Jesus has been working in heaven, and by receiving the Holy Spirit his disciples have been working here in our world.

Yet I can see some similarities about their reactions too. Both of them (children and disciples) are still not mature enough to understand why their daddy and their Lord Jesus had to leave. The little children are so upset that their daddy is leaving; they are so resistant, cry for a while, and then fall asleep. Likewise, the disciples got caught just standing there for a moment when Jesus ascended to heaven. They were frustrated, confused, or thrilled, and so they just stood there like statues. It took a visit from an angel to shake them out of their stupor. Basically, the angel shouted to them “Don’t just stand there and stare into heaven; look around and do something!”

Call to witness to God’s grace and love

For my conclusion, let me give you an illustration about squirrels. They are cute little animals. Yet I believe some of them are not very smart. I often see them crossing the street in front of a car. Some squirrels hurry across and get out of the way. But some squirrels stop there in the road and just watch the car coming as they hold their hands in front of their heart. Do they ask the driver to stop the car or turn his/her steering wheel? Whatever it is, those squirrels just stand there watching, doing nothing, and eventually being killed by a moving car.

On Ascension Sunday 2,000 years ago, the first disciples asked Jesus, ““Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” (v. 6). On this beautiful season today, we want to ask him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore our country, our state, our business, our stock market and most of all, our freedom to move and hang around as we want?” Yet it seems like Jesus is replying, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority” (v. 7).

How would you like to respond? Just like those dummy squirrels, will you get stuck or frozen and just stand there watching and doing nothing? Or will you look around, step forward, take action, and witness to God’s grace and love? We know sometimes things don’t go as we wish, but that doesn’t mean Jesus had abandoned us. Rather, we should know that he has a much bigger vision for us and for the world and he is always with us by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are not called to hold onto our small hope or small world as we only stand and watch. We are called to work for our Lord as we witness to his ministry and vision of God’s kingdom. Amen.