Sermon: May 21, 2023

“Opened Their Minds”

After a four-year-old boy told his father he had a stomachache, the father suggested: “That’s because it’s empty. You’d feel better if you had something in it.” He gave the child a glass of juice.

A couple of days later, the family’s pastor came by to visit the family. The pastor mentioned that he had a bad headache. The little boy responded: “That’s because it’s empty. You’d feel better if you had something in it.

A little quiz for y’all this morning (except for my reunion group brothers): can anyone tell me what occurred this past Thursday? Thursday marked the 40th day since Easter. Maybe some of you are thinking, so what! The number forty is prevalent in the Scriptures. In the days of Noah, it rained forty days and nights as God flooded the earth. Moses spent forty days on the mountain with God before he brought his people the Law. And Moses was what could be referred to as a 40-40-40 man; meaning he lived in the palace of Pharoah for forty years. He was what could be called a prince but gave that up or was forced to give it up when he witnessed a Hebrew slave killing another Hebrew slave. Interestingly, Jesus gave up His spot, His throne in heaven to come to earth to save God’s people. Moses was a shepherd for forty years, and then he was commissioned to lead God’s people to freedom through the desert for forty years.

Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness being tempted by the Spirit. And after His resurrection, Jesus walked this earth with His disciples for forty days; which brings us to this past Thursday when He said to the disciples: “Take a walk with me,” (It’s not really recorded that He said that, but He could have) and He ascended into heaven, which we celebrate today. Luke is the only Gospel writer who records this event for us; both in the last chapter of his Gospel and the first chapter of the Book of Acts. Let’s take a look at what he writes in his Gospel account.

Luke 24:44-53

Our Scripture this morning contains instruction—commission—and promise. The instruction is not new but stresses continuity between the words of the Risen Christ and the historical Jesus, “This is what I told you while I was still with you” and between the historical Jesus and the Old Testament Scriptures, “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” More is involved here than simply prophecy and fulfillment; that the gospel is in continuity with what God has been doing and planning in the Jewish Scriptures is underscored by Luke, the Gentile physician.

The entire Bible can be said to be about Jesus. The Old Testament points us toward Jesus and the New Testament is about Jesus, His ministry, and the ministry He passed on to us as His followers and the Church that He created.

Luke writes that Jesus opened the minds of the disciples so they could understand the Scriptures. Have you ever asked that He do this for you? He will and does you know? The Holy Spirit will open our minds when we study the Bible.

As I crack open the Good Book every morning, I ask that “The words from His word speak to me afresh and to be used to cultivate my soil.” What does it mean to cultivate my soil. When you cultivate you are turning over new soil in preparing to sow seed. I ask that the Word turn something new over in my life every morning to prepare me to sow the seeds of the gospel.

I want to throw a couple of terms at you that you might hear me repeat from time to time: Religious Busyness and Holy Discontent. We can get so busy in our Bible reading and our devotion reading and in our small groups that we mistake or imagine that the busyness increases our faith or our stake in the Kingdom. That’s a trap easy to fall into. And we can get to a point in our faith where discontent can creep in. A time when we feel like we’re going nowhere, that we aren’t growing but rather maybe going backward. It’s at these times that we can be thankful for the Promised Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom we receive thanks to the Ascension.

Pastor Lori Wagner writes, “In our culture, to be “open minded” means to be receptive to novel thoughts and ideas beyond our current ken, to be flexible and adaptable to new experiences, to be open to information that challenges our current beliefs. Open minded people are curious and open to ambiguity rather than embracing dogma. They are willing to be uncomfortable and explore unknown realms of the mind. They are essentially “curious.”

Our minds determine reality and truth based on our own experiences, knowledge, and perceptions. Someone who is more “Opened minded” acknowledges that one’s current knowledge of “reality” may not be the only one, that our minds may be at least in some way limited, or that what is “real” or “true” lies far beyond our human abilities to fathom.

This kind of open-minded curiosity allows us to imagine, envision, and allow for truths that lie far beyond what our minds currently can make sense of. It allows us to have faith.

We need to hear this. We need help to understand who God is. We need God’s assistance to “see” with our spiritual eye what God wants us to understand about scripture, about Jesus, and about our discipleship mission!

We need God’s help to cultivate the kind of faith that moves mountains, to have the kind of mind that can wrap itself around miracles, as well as the Truth about who Jesus is—His death, resurrection, ascension, and the coming Pentecostal experience!

Who is this man Jesus? No ordinary man to be sure. Foretold by the prophets, risen from the grave, ascended into heaven, surely He is who He said He was. Ascension Day tells us three things: It tells us who Jesus is, it tells us what we are to do, and it tells us where the power comes from.

We said it well earlier when we recited the Apostles Creed together. We said that we believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontus Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; the third day he rose from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. That’s what we believe, or claim to!

At 7 p.m. on October 20, 1968, a few thousand spectators remained in the Mexico City Olympic Stadium. It was cool and dark. The last of the marathon runners, each exhausted, were being carried off to first-aid stations. More than an hour earlier; Mamo Wolde of Ethiopia—looking as fresh as when he started the race—crossed the finish line, the winner of the 26-mile, 385-yard event.

As the remaining spectators prepared to leave, those sitting near the marathon gates suddenly heard the sound of sirens and police whistles. All eyes turned to the gate. A lone figure wearing number 36 and the colors of Tanzania entered the stadium. His name was John Stephan Akhwari. He was the last man to finish the marathon. He had fallen during the race and injured his knee and ankle. Now, with his leg bloodied and bandaged, he grimaced with each hobbling step around the 400-meter track.

The spectators rose and applauded him. After crossing the finish line, Achwari slowly walked off the field. Later, a reporter asked Akhwari the question on everyone’s mind: “why did you continue the race after you were so badly injured?”

He replied, “My country did not send me 7,000 miles to start the race. They sent me 7,000 miles to finish it.”

Jesus Christ had to die so that we all might be saved. Jesus Christ rose from the dead so that we might all know that grace wins. Jesus Christ ascended into heaven so that everything might be complete.
Jesus’ part of the work here on earth is complete—but our work continues. Luke was writing to the Greek-speaking world, the Gentiles. He wanted them to know that Jesus’ message of God’s love and forgiveness should go all over the world. Jesus said it in our 47th verse this morning, “To all nations.” We must never ignore the scope of the gospel. God wants all the world to hear the message of salvation and it’s up to us to see that fulfilled.

Celebrating and proclaiming the ascension is crucial if we are to fully and properly exalt Christ. Jesus, because of His ascension, is not only risen but reigning, not only alive but sovereign, not only central but supreme. When we fail to proclaim Christ as ascended, enthroned, and exalted, something else—our personal agendas, the world’s agendas, the church’s agendas—moves in to fill the vacuum. When we fail to exalt and enthrone Jesus, something or someone else assumes the throne.

Just last week in our text from John 14 Jesus said, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my father, and you are in me, and I am in you” (John 14:18-20). “On that day,” Ascension Day, Jesus becomes one with the Father and so do we. Because of His ascension we too are in heaven!

Next Sunday, when we celebrate Pentecost, we will talk more about the gift of the Holy Spirit. Among the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives us is the power to endure, the power to make a difference. The Holy Spirit also gives us guidance, for it doesn’t make much difference how much power you have if you ae going in the wrong direction.

The Associated Press once ran a story about a virus that had infected a flock of Canadian geese. The virus destroyed their navigation system. These geese flew in circles, became disoriented and got lost. Can you believe that? Canadian geese getting lost? It was devastating for the flock. Thousands of geese died. What an incredible consequence because of the loss of ability to navigate.

Many people today are as clueless about their lives and the direction they should go as those geese. We are missing out on a great resource for our lives if we do not pray daily for the Holy Spirit to open our minds and direct our thoughts and actions. It’s more than possible that the reason Christians aren’t having the impact God has called us to have in this world is that we don’t seek the guidance and the power of the Holy Spirit.

The end or our text this morning has Jesus leading His disciples to the vicinity of Bethany, raising His hands, and blessing them, leaving them and taken up into heaven. Then, Luke writes, “Then they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.” May we find that joy and may we, regardless of our location, praise God!

Thanks be to God!

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