Seward United Methodist Church
Tuesday, January 25, 2022
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Friends of the Highest King

Luke 24:44-53 and Ephesians 1:15-23

 Today is Ascension Sunday.  Today we remember that 40 days after his resurrection, Jesus ascended back into the heavens with the promise to send the Holy Spirit and one day to return.  

 I’ve often thought:  Wouldn’t it have been better if he had stayed?  It sure seems like it would have been.  It certainly would have made believing in him and his resurrection easier if he was, you know, walking around, talking with us, buying lunch at Taco Bell.  And we really wouldn’t have to have a lot of faith then.  And we wouldn’t have to have all this rigamarole about who leads the church and what we should do.  We could just ask him.  And we wouldn’t have to wonder, “What Would Jesus Do?”  We’d just go ask him.

 No, it’s good for us that he ascended.  If nothing else, it’s good he ascended so that he can be with us.  I know that might not make a lot of sense, but hear me out.  When Jesus took on flesh, when he became incarnate, he took on the limitations of flesh.  He got hungry, tired, thirsty, and so on.  And one of the big limitations of flesh is that it is bound by time and space.  It can only be in one place at a time.  

 But when Jesus ascended, he sent the Holy Spirit.  And now Jesus is present to us in the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit brings us his presence as it dwells in us.  In John 14:10, Jesus said, “I am in the Father, and the Father is in me.”  Theologians call this the “interpenetration of the Trinity,” meaning that while the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct, in some mysterious way, each is also present through each of the others.  So the Spirit brings Jesus into our lives.  When we say, “Jesus lives in me,” and, “the Holy Spirit dwells in me,” we are talking about the very same reality.  

 So it’s good for us that he ascended.  But we, in our tradition of Christianity, don’t really talk or think about the Ascension as much as some other Christian traditions do.  Sharon and I went to seminary in Lebanon County, PA, which is an area with a lot of Anabaptist traditions:  Brethren and Mennonite mostly.  In those traditions, everything stops on Ascension Day.  Life comes to a standstill as a reminder that all parts of our lives are lived under the authority of Christ, the one seated on the highest throne.  

And the one seated on the highest throne said this as he ascended:  “Take this message to all nations:  There is forgiveness of sin for all who turn to me.”  If that was spoken by the one who is over all creation, then it’s not an option, not something we might want to think about doing; it’s a mandate, an order.  

That message was spoken to the Church, to the Body of Christ.  So let’s turn to Ephesians now because Ephesians 1:15-23 has a lot to say about what the Church is and what it needs.  

First, what makes the Church the Church?  What defines us?  Two things:  First, we have faith in the Lord Jesus and, second, we have love for each other.  

First, we have faith in Jesus.  We believe he is the Lord.  We believe he is God.  And we believe that he has risen from the dead.  Romans 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  

To have faith in Jesus is to believe that he is God and he can deliver us from our sins.  Side-by-side with faith in Jesus is faithfulness to Jesus:  Obeying his word.  And the first and foremost command Jesus gave us is to love one another.  We’ve been talking about both of these things all throughout this Easter season, especially as we’ve been looking at the Gospel of John and the First Epistle of John.  These two things are essential marks of the Church.  The Church isn’t the Church unless it has faith in Jesus and love for his people.  

The second question we see answered here in Ephesians is, “What does the Church need from God?”  Paul says he is praying for the Church.  What is he asking God to give the Church that it needs?  

First, the Church needs wisdom, understanding, knowledge of God, and to have our hearts flooded with light.  We need to grow in our knowledge of Christ.  We can’t grow into the likeness of Christ if we don’t really know Christ. The Church must teach the truth diligently, and every individual Christian must learn the truth diligently.  

That is not something that we can on our own.  That should be obvious from the Gospel of Luke.  Jesus had to open the minds of the disciples to be able to understand what the Scriptures had to say about him.  Our minds are dimmed by sin.  Every part of our being is affected by the disease of sin, so we need to have our minds enlightened.  That is the work of the Holy Spirit.

We need the Spirit to reveal spiritual things.  Let me give you a few examples.  Psalm 119:18 says, “Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in your law.”  We need the Spirit to understand the truth in Scripture.  In 2 Kings 6, the Arameans are trying to kill the prophet Elisha.  Elisha’s servant is terrified when he sees they are surrounded.  Elisha prays, “Open his eyes,” and his servant sees that their enemies are surrounded by

an angelic army of flaming chariots.  Only Spirit-enlightened eyes can see spiritual realities.  

Our responsibility as Christians is to be always seeking growth.  We should never stop learning.  When we do stop learning, our faith tends to stagnate, and we often fall away.  So we must read the Scriptures regularly, preferably daily.  We should get together and study them with other believers, because the Spirit reveals his wisdom through the Body of Christ, not just to individuals.  

Next, we need to be aware of the hope and the glorious future we have as God’s people.  It’s easy to get bogged down and depressed and lost in the midst of the struggles and cares of this life.  If we don’t keep our eyes on our future, it’s easy to lose confidence.

And third, we need to see and experience the power of God.  In verse 19, Paul uses four different Greek words to describe the power of God.  That tells me that he is struggling to express something that is inexpressible.  God’s power is beyond our ability to comprehend.  In Judaism of the day, they often said that the fullest expression of God’s power was his ability to raise the dead.  Christ has not only been raised by God’s power; he has been raised above all other powers to the highest throne.  There is no power greater than him.

In the ancient world, many people lived in fear of spiritual powers.  They believed the universe was full of these powers, and if one was out to get you, your only hope was to find a higher and greater power and appeal to it for help.  But Christ is far above all other powers, he has the name above all names.  No power can undermine his work.  And this should be a source of great comfort for his people, especially to those who came out of this pagan worldview filled with fear.  

We often find power to be intimidating.  We feel uncomfortable in the presence of power.  But power itself is value-neutral.  It’s neither good nor bad; it’s all about who is wielding the power and how it’s used.  For example, many people today are worried about Iran obtaining a single nuclear weapon.  But the United States has more than 10,000 of them, far more powerful than what Iran could build?  Why aren’t we afraid of that?  Because it’s all about who is wielding the power.  And if it is Christ who wields the power, Christ who loves us, Christ who died for us, then his power is a source of comfort for us.  

All things are under the authority of Christ for the benefit of the Church.  The Church is filled with the presence and power of Christ.  But we can’t experience his power at work in us and through us until we “put our hand to the plow.”  When we do his will, we see his power working through us.  

Does our living reflect the truth that we are servants of the Most High King?  Do we act with confidence, knowing the power at work behind us?  Are we obedient to Christ, not just out of respect for his Lordship, but more so out of our love for him?  

I want to conclude this morning’s message by talking about the Six Expectations document that’s included in this morning’s bulletin.  Last fall, the Vision Team crafted six expectations of every member to help us to live into our Vision, Mission, and Core Values.  These were adopted as part of a strategic plan last November by the Church Council.  I’ve wanted to talk about them ever since, but I’d been waiting for a good opportunity.  Today was that opportunity, because I think we see all six of them reflected in the things we’ve been talking about today.

First, we expect each member to be growing through the Word and through prayer.  We need to keep growing in our faith, and we do that through Spirit-enlightened meditation on God’s Word.

Second, we expect each member to worship regularly.  If Christ is exalted far above all other things, then he deserves our praise and worship.

Third, we expect each member to be involved in a small group.  Spiritual growth doesn’t just happen on an individual basis.  We encourage each other and learn from each other as we grow together in community.  The Spirit teaches us as a community

Fourth, we expect each member to be active in ministry.  All of us are gifted by God for ministry, but we can only see God’s power at work through us as we do his will.

Fifth, we expect each member to share their faith.  This was the commandment Jesus gave before he ascended.  People don’t talk about trivial things in their last moments with those they love.  Jesus’ commandment to proclaim his name and salvation throughout the earth is not trivial.  The world needs to hear his message.

And finally, we expect our members to act like Christ in their relationships with each other, most especially to love one another.  This is the commandment of Christ, and it is a mark of what makes a church a church.  

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