I remember when my wife Jodi and I were dating, I lived in PA, she lived in Iowa, and every 4-6 weeks we would find a way to fly to each other for a long weekend. And because it was back before 9/11, friends and family could walk right out in the terminal to the gate, so we’d sit with each other up until they were about to close the airplane door. Zone 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 anyone else, last call… and we were sitting there holding hands not wanting to say goodbye.
But of course, finally we had to let go, and say goodbye. And as she would walk down the jet bridge, I’d start the long walk back to my car in hopes that I would see her again one day.
Maybe you know the feelings of “goodbye”, but they aren’t the sappy ones like that. Some of you have had some really hard goodbyes. Maybe it was a messy and difficult divorce, maybe a child was leaving home in a bad way, maybe it was that you moved or your job changed, and you had to leave people you loved, a school with friends, a city or neighborhood you grew up in.
I know for others of you, you’ve had experiences in life where the goodbye was only one sided. A miscarriage or an unexpected death took someone dear to you, and you didn’t get to say goodbye. You didn’t get one last hug. That sappy goodbye was stolen from you.
Goodbyes are hard, and life on earth is full of them.
Our scripture for today, our next stop in the Story of God is a goodbye. This one was two sided, although it was a little unexpected and quite confusing. And yet this goodbye has incredible meaning for the Story of God, and for you and I.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth – a kingdom where he would be king, and he made men and women in his image to work this kingdom as his representatives until it was complete, and covered the earth. But Adam and Eve rejected that call, chose to live their own truth instead of Gods, and into our DNA was released a rebellion that unleashes hell on earth, separating us from our Creator and each other.
But God’s plan was not foiled, in fact, the plan was just getting started. He chose not to scrap his broken world and start over, but like a skilled artist, set out to fully restore humanity to the image he’d created it to carry.
And because sin doesn’t make us bad, it makes us dead, none of us can do a thing about our rebellion. Now when I was a kid, growing up in church, skipping little league games to go to Vacation Bible School, traveling around with my family singing in churches and doing ministry, the idea of being a rebel was a foreign concept to me. I knew Christ died for me, but it was just in case I would ever sin. I couldn’t see the self-righteous pride that had dug its talons into me and killed me. I couldn’t see that my church attendance, my participation in ministry, my youth group couldn’t bring me back to life. That actually the very thing I needed rescued from was my righteousness. It could never be enough to bring me to life.
So God sent his own Son Jesus to be that rescue. He lived a sinless, righteous life in my place, he fulfilled all the Old Testament prophecies and laws in my place, he perfectly carried out the will of God, even when it meant his death. He paid the bill for my rebellion. He became the curse of sin FOR ME, so that I could be given REAL righteousness: HIS righteousness.
Turn with me to Acts 1:4-11 - read
Acts 1 begins with, “I wrote the first narrative, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up…”
Theophilus is the recipient of this letter, and the only other book in the Bible that talks about him is the gospel of Luke. Which leads us to believe that Acts is actually Luke part 2.
So if Luke part 1 is about all that Jesus began to do and teach until he was taken up, what would part 2 be about? It would be about all that Jesus continues to do after he was taken up. Jesus rose from the dead, and went back to work. And 40 days after rising from the dead, he was taken up.
Now you can see in verse 10, this is a goodbye. Jesus has been showing up somewhat randomly these past 40 days for the disciples. He comes and goes. But there’s something about this time that I imagine they sensed, this is a goodbye. I think Jesus loved these guys enough to give them hugs before he left. I imagine him walking around the circle, and encouraging each man, each woman, with kind and assuring words.
And then, like the gate attendant at the airport giving the last call, Jesus turns around, walks away and cloud takes him out of their sight. 40 days ago they said a heart-wrenching goodbye as he was laid in a tomb, beaten, bloody, and dead. But now, very much alive, Jesus leaves them again, this time with a promise that even though he is leaving, the Father will send someone else. The Holy Spirit is coming to empower you to carry on the work Jesus started. And just like that – he was gone.
Now, maybe you grew up in a church culture where the ascension was talked about a lot and you could easily preach this sermon for me. But in the event you didn’t, maybe you’re wondering why the ascension is such a big deal. Why wouldn’t Jesus just be able to stay here on earth after his resurrection and keep appearing to people? Wouldn’t that be more convincing? And so he ascended. So what?
There are several reasons, I’ll give you three. And get ready to add your 2¢ to the chat box, because I’ll have a question that goes along with each one.
John 16:7-11 CSB -  Nevertheless, I am telling you the truth. It is for your benefit that I go away, because if I don't go away the Counselor will not come to you. If I go, I will send him to you.
HOLY SPIRIT COMES
So Jesus says here in John, “you actually want me to go away. You want me to ascend to heaven, because if I don’t, I can only be in one place at a time. If I go away, and the Spirit comes, he can be in you all at all times, which means the power of God is spread out anywhere Believers are.”
This means through the Spirit, Jesus gives his power, which causes us to be born again, sanctifies us (make us holy), gives various gifts to help the church, restrains the enemies of the cross, and holds all power on heaven and earth.
So here’s my question for this point: IN WHAT WAYS ARE YOU THANKFUL FOR THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT THIS PAST WEEK?
For River City, that means none of us would be here today if Jesus didn’t ascend to heaven. If he doesn’t leave and send the Holy Spirit, the apostles would have not been empowered and filled to be witnesses to the world, we would not have received the gospel, and would still be dead in our sins.
Secondly, it means that you and I have been given the same power that Peter, Paul, James, John, all had, in that we too can be filled with the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, so that we can boldly be witnesses, ambassadors, to the glory of God, and continue to see people in our families, our workplaces, and our neighborhoods brought from death to life.
Third it means that the work of River City WILL BE SUCCESSFUL! If we are empowered by the Spirit to proclaim the word of God and make much of Jesus, we cannot fail!
1 John 2:1-2 CSB -  My little children, I am writing you these things so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father-Jesus Christ the righteous one.  He himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world.
ADVOCATE WITH THE FATHER
The second reason the ascension matters is that we now have an advocate with the Father.
What does that mean for River City? It means that every day, as I wrestle with uncertainty, anxieties, fears about today and about the future, Jesus has my back. Which is crazy, because my sin put him on that cross, and yet his love for me is so much more than my sin that he pleads for me to the Father. For me to get to the throne of God as a sinner would be the worst possible scenario. But because Jesus is there, advocating for me, it can be a throne of grace and kindness.
I love that! Jesus entering heaven isn’t like me coming home from work. Yesterday I helped cut up a tree and haul wood. I got home, took a shower, and didn’t want to move a muscle for another month. Stay at home sounds good to me. But Jesus didn’t get to heaven, take a shower, sit down next to God the Father and say, well let’s see if that worked. No way! He sat down next to God and said, I did it. I made Rodney righteous. I made Michelle righteous. I made Keith righteous. I took their sin and gave them you.
Father don’t look at their sins and their failures – look at the righteousness I gave them.
Hebrews 9:1-28 CSB - In the first several verses, the author is recalling the way the tabernacle was constructed and laid out, pointing to a small room in it called “the most holy place,” where once a year, a high priest would go behind the curtain, and sprinkle blood in the presence of God for the sins of the people.
-  But Christ has appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come. In the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands (that is, not of this creation),  he entered the most holy place once for all time, not by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.
 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with hands (only a model of the true one) but into heaven itself, so that he might now appear in the presence of God for us.
Which means, the most holy place of the tabernacle or Temple here on earth is just a picture of the true most holy place, the throne room of God. Christ was the high priest who entered the holy place, the presence of God, for us.
You may remember our reading from Good Friday that the curtain of the Temple was torn in half the moment Jesus died. Hebrews 10:19-21 CSB - Jesus-  has inaugurated for us a new and living way through the curtain (that is, through his flesh) So if heaven is the most holy place, the curtain that was torn to give us access to God’s presence was the body of Jesus.
Back in Genesis 17, God spoke to Abraham and said, “I am God Almighty. Live in my presence and be blameless.” Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension made it possible for that to be fulfilled!
So the third reason for the ascension, is so Jesus could give us ACCESS TO THE FATHER
So there you have three quick but massive reasons why Jesus’s ascension is such an important part of the story of God, and why it matters for you today. We’ve talked in the past about how to respond to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, but how do we respond to his ascension?
Hebrews 10 shows us the way:  let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water.  Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, since he who promised is faithful.  And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works,  not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.
What does the ascension mean for you and me in 2020?
It means, for those who are in Christ, even when the world is flipped on it’s head and nothing seems certain anymore, you can have full assurance that your faith is in a real God who really works all things together for good. You can have your own heart, sprinkled by Jesus’ blood, be a place where God is present. And you can actually hold on to the promise of a bright eternity without wavering since he who promised is faithful.
Jesus’s life, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension into the presence of God give us full assurance and unwavering hope in a God who invites us to draw near.