RPM, Volume 19, Number 22, May 28 to June 3, 2017

Taken Up…Coming Back

Acts 1:1-12

By Dr. Don Patterson

Would you turn with me now in your Bibles to the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. Acts, the first chapter—I'm going to read now for our thinking together this morning the first twelve verses of that chapter. Keep in mind—will you —that it is our understanding, our belief, our confidence that the Bible is God's word, and therefore we should give careful attention to the reading of it at this time. The first chapter of Acts, beginning at verse 1:

The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, 2Until the day in which He was taken up, after that He through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom He had chosen: 3To whom also He shewed Himself alive after His passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God: 4And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith He, ye have heard of Me. 5For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence. 6When they therefore were come together, they asked of Him, saying, Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? 7And He said unto them, 'It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power. 8But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.' 9And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, He was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. 10And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; 11Which also said, 'Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven.' 12Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day's journey.

May the Lord bless to our understanding this that we have read from His holy word. Now let us unite our hearts together in a moment of meditation, of silent prayer, during which we ask that you make mention of your own personal need this morning and then pray for those that sit around you, for there are those who stand in need of God's grace today. Let us now unite our hearts together in prayer.

Enable us, O Father, to be obedient as we are moved by Thy Spirit. And as we would go from this place today, we pray that the Lord Jesus Christ would be precious to us, so precious that we would want other people to know the joy that He gives, the change that He brings about in a person's life. And we ask, O Lord, that Thou wouldst give meaning then to us, meaning in life, purpose, as we would understand what the will of the Lord really is. Our Father, there are those in our congregation today who need comforting. There are those in our congregation to whom a word of encouragement would be greatly appreciated. There are those, our Father, who are hurting physically and spiritually. We pray that the Spirit might minister to them. There are those, our Father, who have gone through deep trial, deep testing, and we pray that Thou wouldst minister to them. Our Father, we pray that there might be an understanding spirit among our congregation for one another. There are those of our number, O Lord, who have grown older that do not understand the problems of the younger people. There are those of our younger members that do not understand the needs that our older folk have. And so we pray, O God, that Thy Spirit would enable us to see one another through the eyes of the Lord Jesus Christ and may there be compassion on our part for one another. And, Father, I pray that that compassion would go beyond this place, that we might have the mind of Christ, that we might be able to see with His eyes the world that needs Jesus Christ, that we might be able to see with Him the world that is white unto the harvest. O our God, enable us to minister to those that are hungry today. Enable us to minister to those whose bodies are hurting, whose souls need Jesus Christ. And, Father, I pray that our ministry would be well-rounded as we would reach the whole man, the whole woman, for Jesus' sake. We thank Thee, Lord, for those from our congregation that have heard the call of Jesus Christ to a ministry that is totally Thine. And today, Lord, we want to pray for Kathryn Cook and Barry Gillespie and their ministry with Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. And we want to pray for Clifford Palmer and his ministry with Campus Crusade. Lord, we thank Thee for these young people and we thank Thee for the homes from which they've come, and for the ministry that they are performing. And we pray that as a congregation we might be lifting them up before Thee and that we might be supporting them not only in dollars and cents—although that's very important—but, O God, may we be praying that Thou wouldst keep them from discouragement, that Thou wouldst keep them faithful to Thee and to Thy word, that Thou wouldst enable them, our Father, to see truths in Thy word that will strengthen their ministry. O God, today we realize that these three young people are doing battle with Satan. They're out on the frontline. They are where the battle is going on. As Satan would desire the lives of college and university students, enable them our Father to present the word of God effectively so that lives will be changed to the glory of Jesus Christ. Our Father, we would pray for the program of our church, for its ministry right here. And we pray, our God, especially that in this coming week as our women gather to study the Scripture, that the word of God will fall with freshness upon the hearts of the listeners. Grant now, O God, Thy blessing as we continue in our worship time. May the Spirit of the living God fall fresh upon us. For Jesus' sake we pray. Amen.

Several Sundays ago we were looking at various events in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ in preparation for our service of last Sunday. I think that you'll understand that in the life of any person of importance there are those events that stand out above all others either for historical reasons or maybe for practical reasons. Certainly the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ would be one of those events that stands out in the life of our Savior, His unusual birth. And then you think of His death and the significance of it, and then, of course, His resurrection that we celebrated last Lord's Day and that we celebrate every time we assemble here on His day.

But there are other events in the life of the Lord Jesus that it would appear to me we would be remiss if we did not mention in our thinking today. I'm referring especially to the ascension of our Savior and then His coming again. I believe that every one of you in the building knows the significance of these events in the life of our Savior. All of which point up and lead to the return of our Savior in power and in glory. Had he not come the first time in humiliation, He could not come a second time in glory. Had He not come a second time in glory, then you and I would not have the hope that we have today. He could not have come to us in any other way than He came.

Now because He died we rejoice that He has come to destroy the last enemy and that last enemy, of course, according to the Apostle Paul is death. It is our joy that in consequence of His rising, the trump of the Archangel of God will sound one day and the dead in Christ shall rise, according to the word of the Apostle as he writes under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And as for His ascension, He could not come a second time if He had not first ascended. And so every one of these events in the life of the Lord Jesus point up to His coming again in His power and in His glory.

I want you then this morning at the very beginning to imagine with me, if it would be possible, the experience in the life of the Lord Jesus when, along with His eleven of disciples, they walked up the side of the Mount of Olives. They came to a standstill as they reached the brow of that hill, and while the disciples were looking the Scripture says that the Lord ascended into the clouds. And, of course, the disciples were spellbound by this experience. They were riveted to the spot upon which they stood…and very naturally so.

But it is not the will of our Savior that these men should stand there in an inactive situation for very long. They were interrupted. We find that two messengers of God appeared in human form. And they came in that way, in my judgment, in order that they might not alarm those disciples. They were dressed in white raiment. And in my judgment that was in order that they might be reminded of the bright and joyous things that are in the Lord Jesus Christ and for His children. And as they had said once to the women who came to the empty tomb, "Why seek ye the living among the dead? He's not here. He is risen, " these same ones said to the disciples, "Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven." Their reverie was over. They had been standing transfixed, gazing into heaven. And the word that we find in verse ten in the Greek is a word that indicates that they were staring into heaven. It was a matter of curiosity. But now the reverie was broken, and now they were to gird up their loins for active service for the Lord Jesus Christ. And now they must hurry and obey the command, the command which Jesus had said, "You must go and stay in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit shall come upon you."

I. The gentle rebuke of the angels.

Now in looking at the incident and trying to be very practical and helpful this morning, I want us to look at, first of all, the gentle rebuke that comes from these two men of God. What these men, the disciples, were doing at first sight seems to be right. If the Lord Jesus Christ were among us this morning in bodily form, I have no doubt whatsoever that you and I would fix our eyes upon Him and we would never want to take our eyes away from Him.

When He ascended into heaven, it was the duty of those of His disciples to look upon Him. But they went beyond that. The Scripture says, "They stood gazing." Now looking is one thing; gazing is another. Being fixed with curiosity is one thing, but just watching casually is quite another thing. It's always right to look. The Lord Jesus said, "Look unto Me and be saved." But it's not so commendable when the look is not that of worship but of curiosity. God in His infinite wisdom had taken out from among them, had withdrawn the object from them, and their gazing was probably a reflection upon that wisdom. Yet it did seem right to those disciples, and so certain things that you and I do may seem to be right, but you and I need to be rebuked out of them to something better. A steadfast gaze into heaven for some devout person may be a high order of worship. May I say that again? A steadfast gaze into heaven might for some individuals, some devout people, might be a high order of worship. But if this takes much of our working time, it may become nothing but foolishness and not worship at all. What these men were doing was very natural. I suspect that you and I, had we been there, would have done exactly the same thing.

You know the heart is not to be argued with. There are those times in my pastoral experience when it seems necessary and important to speak to the heart of an individual. Now I find that that's very, very difficult. The heart is not to be argued with—very, very difficult. For instance, a person loses a loved one. They stand beside the grave. Maybe you have done this. You can't seem to help it. That place is a very precious place to you, and yet there's not one of us in the building that would be able to prove that this is doing any good. Now it may be the most natural kind of thing. It may seem to be a good thing for you to do, but you're not able to prove that it's a good thing for you to do. But even the thing that may seem to you to be good may not in all cases be the wise thing to do.

Now the Lord allows us to do that which is innocently natural but God is not going to have you and I carry it too far. We must not stand gazing forever. Therefore we are aroused to get back to our Jerusalem, to get back to that practical place where you and I might be of service for our Savior. Now what these men were doing, you and I might be very apt to imitate. I would imagine that all of us would say in chorus, "You know, I'll never stand gazing up into heaven," and I'm not so sure about that. I find some Christians to be very curious but not obedient. Can I say that again? I find that there are some Christians who are very curious but not obedient. I think that every one of us in the building this morning knows people who are great leaders in the church who know the doctrine but don't have family prayer in their home, who know how to explain all the of the intricacies of the doctrine of predestination for instance, but who have no devotional life. It's important to know the doctrine, don't misunderstand me. It's important that we have leadership. It's important that we have elders and deacons. It's important that we have ministers, but it's far more important, beloved, that your children grow up loving the Lord Jesus Christ. It's more important that your children know the doctrine, that your children understand the Scripture, that your children know Jesus Christ as Savior—far more important than that I be a minister or that you be an elder, or that you be a deacon, or that you be a theological professor.

I know people that are contemplative but not active. I know people that are much given to the study of Scripture but not zealous for good works. Do you know that kind of person? You know, they have to be in three Bible studies during the week or they don't feel as if they've been very spiritual that week. When a person's religion lies in enjoying holy things for his own self, something's wrong. When your coming to church is for your own self, something's wrong. If your coming to Sunday School is for your own self, then something is wrong. When we have reached the point of judging a sermon of what it did for me, something's wrong. Once in a while a person has the courage to come by and say, "You know, Sunday sermon didn't mean anything to me"…or somebody, "You know, Sunday school class doesn't mean anything to me. I didn't get anything out of it." It indicates that there's something wrong. It's poor judgment. And this is what I feel coming from the text: There is a time so many of us face in which we are gazing into heaven. And so the rebuke is well taken.

II. The angels promise of His return.

But then there follows the rebuke this wonderful, beautiful description of this same Jesus. This description came from those that knew Him. He was seen of angels, the Scripture tells us, as the Scripture relates the resurrection appearances, the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus Christ. He was seen of angels and now He's gone, but He still exists. Just as surely as He died on that cross, that same Jesus sits upon the throne of God. He lives and we sang of that last Sunday. "He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today." It's a marvelous affirmation that we make to the world that we have a risen, living Lord Jesus Christ. His name means Savior and the One who has gone to glory is the full invitation to you and to me. He's the Savior. He'll be the same Jesus that went up into heaven, the same in nature—not in the same condition but the same in nature. He'll possess the same tenderness when He comes to judge, so that you and I this morning have confidence that we can go to Him with our troubles, just as those people went to Him with their trouble when He was right here upon this Earth. And we look forward to His coming with anticipation and not with dread because we know the Lord Jesus, this One who is described and who lives in Scripture.

Now the words of the angels must have reminded the men of His command, the command to go and to carry the word and then to work. And so then the disciples would say, 'Don't worry.' Just as those angels had said to them, 'Don't worry. It's not disaster that Jesus has been taken. This is an advance in His work. This is an advance in His ministry. His being ascended into heaven is something that's a part of the plan.' Those that despise Him, of course, would ridicule those followers of Jesus and they would say, "Oh, your leader is gone? Where is He?" And the response of those men would be, 'He lives, and it is our delight to turn our heavenly gaze into an earthward watching, to go down to the city and there to tell those people in the city that Jesus has been raised from the dead and that whosoever believeth in Him shall have everlasting life.' That's the story and that's the glory of it all. His ascension is not a retreat; His ascension is an advance. It's a part of the plan of God. His delay is not for a lack of power. His delay simply shows the abundance of His longsuffering. So the description is important to me. "This same Jesus, whom you've seen go into heaven, shall so come in like manner."

And, of course, that brings me to a great practical truth: that keeps me from gazing into Heaven, beloved. It keeps me from gazing into heaven and it does something to me that helps me to render some kind of service. The Lord Jesus Christ is gone into heaven, up to the throne from which He can send us relief, up to that throne from which He gives us assistance. He'll come again.

And as I look at the promise, as I look at the word of these men, I don't think of a commander that has given up the campaign because it's expedient that He should withdraw from that part of the field in order to go someplace else. I don't see that at all. Our Lord is doing the very best thing for His kingdom. He's doing the very best thing in His going away and He's coming in like manner. And if I read and understand the prophecy of Zechariah, I understand that He's coming right back to that same place. This afternoon read the 14th chapter of Zechariah and see if you don't agree with me. "This same Jesus who is taken into heaven shall so come in like manner." He'll descend from the clouds even as He ascended into those clouds, and He shall stand at that latter day upon the earth even as He stood before.

Beloved listener, this morning don't let anybody spiritualize this away. Don't let anybody spiritualize it away. There are those theologians who will say, "Well, when you receive Jesus as your Savior, that's the second coming of Christ." Nonsense! "This same Jesus shall so come in like manner." Don't let anybody take that away. His coming is a matter of fact. Literally coming, actually coming, and He will literally and actually call upon you and upon me to give an account of our stewardship.

Oh beloved, this morning may I just remind you of the blessed hope of the glorious return of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ? Will you be ready when He's going to come? Will you be ready? I mentioned on Wednesday night to the class that I taught that frequently I call upon people unexpectedly. Sometimes I'll find a housewife with her hair up in barbwire. I'll find that the dishes haven't been done, or I'll find a man out in the yard working—he's all dirty and disheveled and sweaty. And I hear them say from time to time, "Well, if I only had known that you were coming, I would have been ready." And, beloved, you know when I find a housewife who's working around the house and she's doing the things that a housewife is supposed to do, I'm glad. Or when I find a man out in the yard doing the work that he's supposed to do, I'm glad he's doing what he's supposed to be doing. They're occupied, as they ought to be.

When the Lord Jesus Christ comes, will you be ready? Will you be busy for Him? Oh listen, it's a searching question and I don't want you to easily forget it. I don't want you to easily forget it. Will you be ready or are there still things undone? Maybe a letter of apology that you need to write. Maybe it's a phone call that you need to make. Or maybe it's something that you need to say to your wife or to your husband. Part of the ministry of being a pastor is dealing with people who are saying over and over and over again, "Oh, if I only had another chance. If I only had another chance." Are you going to be ready? Are you going to be busy for Him? I simply want to remind you this morning, not only of the birth of the Lord Jesus, not only of that Gethsemane experience, not only of His death and His resurrection, but this morning I want you to know that we have an ascended Lord who intercedes for us at the right hand of God and we have the promise that He's going to come again. Are you going to be ready? Are you? Some of you are going to meet Him shortly. There's that time of course when death comes and we must meet Him. Are you going to be ready? And then there's the day, the Scripture tells us, "a time when you think not." Do you think He's going to come today? Let's bow our heads in prayer.

Our heavenly Father, we would not want to be guilty of setting a time for the return of Jesus. We would not want to do that, but Father I pray that every one of us in this building this morning would be anticipating the coming of Jesus Christ not with dread, anticipating it with joy. Oh Lord, prepare us for that, and help us to be busy, busy doing what Thou dost want us to do. Lord, enable us, I pray, this morning by the Spirit's help to get the picture. We pray this in our Savior's name and for His sake. Amen.

©2013 First Presbyterian Church.

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