“Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky?” They really had no good reason for standing there looking into the sky. Jesus had returned to the right hand of the Father. He told them he would go away so he could prepare a place for them. Waiting at the place where they last saw him wasn’t going to bring him back. And Jesus had told them what they should be doing. They were to wait for the Holy Spirit to be poured out upon them. Then they would become witnesses for Jesus in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
I probably would have continued stare too. Jesus had been everything to these people. Now their teacher is gone. Their friend is gone. Now what? How will they know what to say when they get the chance to witness? It would be ten more days before the Holy Spirit would be poured out on these people at Pentecost. So, “Now what?” and “Who’s going to lead us?” were probably questions going through their minds.
The angels proclaimed what the sky-gazers needed to hear. “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus who has been taken from into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” Jesus left them visibly, but he didn’t leave them forever. Luke’s Gospel tells us after this happened, “Then they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continuously at the temple, praising God.” (Luke 24:51-52)
Tonight we join our voices with those disciples who praised Jesus after his Ascension. Tonight we join with the Sons of Korah who wrote the words of our text to praise Jesus with, and we join with all of God’s people who over the years praise God who through Jesus has given us deliverance from our enemies. Tonight, we Sing Praises to Our Ascended King. We sing because our God rules. We praise him for what he has done for us and we praise him for what he continues to do for us.
Most of the psalms were written by Jews for Jews, but the scope of this psalm stretches far beyond the nation of Israel: “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy” Psalm 47 was written for all people. That means this psalm was written for you and me.
Clapping and shouting aren’t exactly the norm when it comes to Lutheran worship, but we need to remember that the setting of these verses isn’t a church sanctuary or even a synagogue service. Instead picture the glorious procession of a triumphant ruler: “How awesome is the Lord Most High, the great King over all the earth” (2)!
The Lord most high is awesome. What is awesome? Pizza is not awesome. Fourth of July fireworks are not awesome. Natural wonders like Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon, they aren’t all that awesome when they are compared with the God who created them. The Lord Most High is truly awesome, and over the course of human history he has done things that have filled his people with awe.
“He subdued nations under us, peoples under our feet”. The psalm itself doesn’t explain how and when God subdued nations and peoples, so I will. How about the time when the armies of Egypt had the poor, defenseless Israelites trapped with their backs against the Red Sea? What did God do? He directed Moses to part the waters so that the people could cross over on dry ground. And then he commanded those same water walls to crash down and destroy the forces of the Pharaoh (Exodus 13 & 14). How awesome is that?
Or how about the time when the Israelites came up against the city of Jericho? What did God use to bring down the walls? A battering ram? A massive siege ramp? A series of underground tunnels? The Lord directed his people to march around the city seven times and blow their trumpets, and the huge stone walls just collapsed (Joshua 5 & 6). How awesome is that?
Or how about the time when Joshua led an army against a group of Amorite kings? Not only did God give his people a great victory, not only did he send a hailstorm that killed more soldiers than Israelite swords, but he also made the sun stand still so that Israel’s enemies could not escape (Joshua 10). How awesome is that?
God gave his people many military victories like these, but these conquests were only a means to an end. Every army that was defeated, every king that was conquered, brought Israel one step closer to possessing the land God had promised them. “He chose our inheritance for us, the pride of Jacob, whom he loved” (4).
When Abraham pitched his tents in Canaan, he was a stranger living in a strange land. And still God promised him that his descendants would call that land their own (Genesis 15). When Jacob stole the birthright from his brother Esau, he was forced to leave the Promised Land and flee for his life. And still God promised Jacob that he would return (Genesis 28).
It didn’t happen for a few hundred years, but the Lord made good on his promises to Abraham and Jacob. He transformed the land of Canaan into the nation of Israel. And even more important than that, God fulfilled this far-reaching promise: “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3, see also Genesis 28:14).
We are included in “all peoples,” and we are blessed. We are blessed through Abraham’s offspring. We are blessed because God kept his promise to send a Savior. We are blessed because Jesus gave up his throne in heaven to become one of us. We are blessed because Jesus gave up his life to take away our sins. We are blessed because our King “has ascended amid shouts of joy” (5). We are blessed because we will rule with him in heaven.
How awesome is this?! Psalm 47 pictures Jesus as a king returning to his palace after winning a war. This scene has been played out countless times throughout history. Trumpets blast. Citizens shout and clap. Confetti and flowers rain down from balconies. But the King doesn’t always fight the battles. His men fight for him. And a king doesn’t usually go into battle unless there is a personal benefit for him.
But Jesus is different. Jesus is a king who went to war, not for his benefit, but ours. Jesus left the glory and splendor of heaven, and the praise of his angles, to live in a world that rebelled against him. A king puts down a rebellion. A king normally kills rebels. This King sought the rebels. This King came to save the rebels. His weapons? H told Peter, “Put your sword away.” The weapons he used: the Word of God, humility, obedience and trust in his Father. While fighting for the rebels in our world, Jesus blessed his followers: he provided for them. He protected them from physical and spiritual enemies: the yeast of the Pharisees, the attacks of Satan, and from themselves.
Jesus knew his final battle would be in Jerusalem. He once said “No prophet can die outside of Jerusalem.” He told his disciples “We are going to Jerusalem…and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.” (Mark 10:33-34) Sure enough, while in Jerusalem, his enemies caught up with Jesus after Judas’ betrayal. As he was arrested by the temple guard Jesus followers fled into the darkness and his enemies had their way with Jesus. Jesus was mocked, spit on, and lost his life on that and die on the battlefield of earth.
But this is why Jesus went to Jerusalem. To defeat Satan, Jesus must trust in his Father, meet temptation head on. To defeat sin Jesus offered a perfect sacrifice. To defeat death, Jesus rose again. Having finished this world of bringing back the rebels into his kingdom, God has ascended amid shouts of joy, the Lord amid the sounding of trumpets.
T. Tonight we join our voices with those disciples who praised Jesus after his Ascension. Tonight we join with the Sons of Korah who wrote the words of our text to praise Jesus with, and we join with all of God’s people who over the years praise God who through Jesus has given us deliverance from our enemies. All of God’s people praise our Ascended King for all eternally for what he’s done. We also praise him for what he continues to do for us.
2. If anyone pictures Jesus’ ascension as retirement from work, that is far from the truth. “God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne” (8).
Simply put, God rules over nations and God rules over rulers over nations. God rules over rulers. The powers of every nation every government on earth belong to him. He is calling the shots each day. God is the only true superpower because every nation and every citizen of every nation is subject to him. Everything belongs to Jesus. And even the president of our country answers to Jesus. But the Supreme Ruler of heaven and earth isn’t a tyrant or a dictator. Our King is our Father. Our King is our Savior.
Jesus reigns over the nations. The Apostle Paul stated that God the Father, “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” Mighty powers fight against Jesus and his salvation and against the Church, but this King of ours works out all of history for the good of His Church. Our Great King uses all his power for our benefit. No retirement for Jesus. He’s as busy as ever.
And he has made us citizens of his kingdom. “The nobles of the nations assemble as the people of the God of Abraham” (9). Do you understand what that verse means? Let me read it again: “The nobles of the nations assemble as the people of the God of Abraham” (9).
The Israelites were physical descendants of Abraham. The Jews boasted because they were the children of Abraham. But they weren’t special because they had Abraham’s blood coursing through their veins. They were blessed because they held onto the promises God had given to Abraham. And those promises were not exclusive to them.
The Bible tells us that Abraham was saved by faith, and so are we. By faith we are the children of Abraham. By faith we belong to the God of Abraham. By faith we belong to God and live in the kingdom of his grace. By grace this King’s rule extends to us Gentiles. And even now he is ruling in our hearts. And not only does he rule in our hearts, but as the “nobles of the nations, he includes us in his plan of extending his kingdom to other hearts. This former rebel is every privileged to address you fellow nobles with the message from of our gracious King.
But it doesn’t always seem like God rules all things, does it? If we are honest with ourselves, there are probably times when we wonder if God is really in control. Sometimes we’d rather not have the Lord be in charge because the Lord’s wisdom and our wisdom doesn’t always match up. Sometimes we wonder if the Lord uses all of his power for the benefit of his people. And let’s face it, being a noble in God’s kingdom isn’t real impressive in a world full of rebels. Sometimes we want more than knowing we have an eternal inheritance to look forward to. We’d like to reign now. We’d like the glory now.
We don’t know why everything happens, but God does. We can’t always explain why things happen, but God can. And sometimes he does. But even when he chooses to keep his plans hidden from us, his love for us always remains in view. And even if his visible presence has been taken away from us, his Ascension only serves to convince us that his work of salvation has been completed.
When Jesus was crucified, Pontius Pilate had this notice affixed to his cross: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19). That was an accurate statement, but it wasn’t complete. Jesus was the King of the Jews, but he’s our King too. His perfect life and sacrificial death give us the answer to life’s most important question: How can I be saved? Jesus’ resurrection proved that he had paid for sin and conquered death. But his ascension strengthened the awesome truth that his victories were complete. If Jesus still had work to do for our salvation he wouldn’t have returned to heaven. And now our risen and ascended Savior guides and directs our lives.
Our King will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Our King will never permit us to be tempted beyond what we can bear (I Corinthians 10:13). Our King will never allow the gates of hell to overcome his church (Matthew 16:18). Our King is intimately involved in every aspect of our earthly lives, and everything he does for us now brings us one step closer to eternal life.
“All’s well that ends well.” The person who coined that phrase wasn’t talking about Jesus’ Ascension, but Jesus finished his work and now all is well. And all will be well for all eternity. Therefore it is our honor and privilege to sing to our King. We praise him because of what he has done for us. We praise him because of what he still does for us. Amen.
Clap your hands, all you nations;
shout to God with cries of joy.
2How awesome is the Lord Most High,
the great King over all the earth!
3He subdued nations under us,
peoples under our feet.
4He chose our inheritance for us,
the pride of Jacob, whom he loved. Selah
5God has ascended amid shouts of joy,
the Lord amid the sounding of trumpets.
6Sing praises to God, sing praises;
sing praises to our King, sing praises.
7For God is the King of all the earth;
sing to him a psalma of praise.
8God reigns over the nations;
God is seated on his holy throne.
9The nobles of the nations assemble
as the people of the God of Abraham,
for the kingsb of the earth belong to God;
he is greatly exalted.
I got here today by turning right out of my driveway on HWY C, turning right onto HWY M, then driving into New Lisbon. I then turned left onto HWY 12/16, grabbed a cup of coffee and a donut, the breakfast of champion preachers, and went down HWY A to Allen road. When I saw the beautiful brick building I turned into the driveway, finished my donut and walked inside.
But it goes a little deeper than that. How did it come to be that I wear a robe on Sunday, that I have the right to announce to you the forgiveness of your sins? How did I get here?
You did. Five years ago, yesterday, Pastor Tom Fricke installed me as your pastor. You are the reason I am standing here right now. You called me. But it wasn’t just you. In fact, your Savior Jesus called me through you. Paul recognized the same thing when he wrote that “it was he (God) who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11). And the Lord of the church still works through his church to call church workers today.
Sometime this week the District Presidents will meet with certain faculty members of our seminary in a room above the archway at the seminary. We call it the Holy Ghost Room. These District Presidents come with their needs in their districts, each candidate is talked about, and placed where the men believe he would best fit. They don’t look for signs in the heavens, they don’t wait for divine revelation, they don’t throw darts at a board. They try to match ministry needs with gifts and abilities. This Thursday our Seminary graduates find out where Jesus will put them. It’s quite a day.
As the District Presidents and others sit in the Holy Ghost room they don’t look for signs, they don’t wait for divine revelation, they don’t spin a wheel and they don’t throw darts at board. They identify the need. They determine the qualifications needed in the call. And they appeal to the Lord.
God’s Word doesn’t dictate exactly how congregations and our Synod should call their spiritual leaders, but our text gives us an example an example of how it was done in the early church. Just a few days after Jesus had ascended into heaven, his followers came together to fill an important ministry position. And this gathering of disciples can rightly be called. A MODEL CALL MEETING. I. They identified the need. II. They determined the qualifications. III. They appealed to the Lord.
But before we sit in on the call meeting, let’s talk about what a “call” is. In a sense every Christian has been called. The apostle Peter, speaking to Christians in general, put it this way: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (I Peter 2:9).
You and I have been called out of the darkness of unbelief. Our hearts have been illumined with the light of faith. Every Christian man, woman and child, all of us have been called to be lights in the world (Matthew 5:14), to be God’s witnesses in the world (Acts 1:8), to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), to serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13).
That is the broad sense of the word. There is a narrow sense for the word call. There are times when God calls individuals to serve on behalf of his people. The term that is most often used to describe this specialized work is the “public ministry.”
Ever hear people talk about feeling like they were called? Some people feel a call to play music in different churches. Other people feel called to go lead a choir, or a Bible Study at New Lisbon Correctional. Often I have walked in with potential Bible Study leaders and I ask how they came to New Lisbon and they all say about the same thing: “I felt a pull to come here.” Or, “I feel a call to be here.” This would be an immediate call, placing themselves on the same level as Elijah, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah. These men didn’t just feel called. No the Lord immediately called them into their positions.
The Lord doesn’t use immediate calls like this today, like he did back then. I have a mediate call, a call from God through you. See the Lord empowers groups of Christians to call individual Christians to serve as their spiritual leaders, to represent them in the congregation, to preach sermons and teach their children and reach the lost. So we could say that the Lord gives some Christians two calls: 1) the broad call to faith and service; and 2) the narrow call to serve in a representative role in the church. It was the desire to extend a very specific call that led the disciples to meet in Jerusalem.
Peter stood up to remind the rest of Jesus’ followers why this meeting was necessary: “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus—he was one of our number and shared in this ministry” (16,17). And then in rather graphic detail Peter explained why their brother Judas would not be coming back: “(With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and his intestines spilled out)” (18). And then Peter, quoting the psalms, proposed that they choose someone to fill the position that had been vacated by Judas.
When the disciples decided to add a twelfth apostle they understood that this position would require a uniquely qualified individual. And so instead of just appointing the first person who volunteered they came up with a list of qualifications.
Peter said: “It is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning with John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection” (21,22).
Before the books of the Bible had been assembled, before the four gospels had been written, the gospel was shared by word of mouth. That’s why the disciples needed a reliable witness, a man who had seen the resurrected Lord, a person who could give eyewitness testimony that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead. They wanted someone who had been with them from the beginning, someone who had walked and talked with Jesus, someone who would not pick up and run at the first sign of trouble.
The disciples identified a need and they took steps to fill it. God has given us the command to “go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15). He tells us what to do, but he doesn’t tell us how to do it. He gives us the responsibility to be his witnesses, but he also gives us the freedom to decide what form our witness will take. Congregations look at the unique opportunities God places before them. That is why congregations may decide to call senior pastors or outreach pastors or Chinese outreach pastors or teachers or staff ministers to seize those opportunities.
This call to apostleship was special, but then again every call into the public ministry is unique. And every call comes with its own unique list of qualifications. Not everyone has the confidence to stand in front a large group of people. Not everyone is apt to teach. Not everyone has the patience to be in a room with sixteen three-year-olds. And so when the church extends calls the Lord expects us to use our God given wisdom to match ministry needs with ministerial gifts.
The year my class graduated, we went all over the world. One went to Russia, one to Bulgaria, one to Texas, two to Nebraska. Some stayed in Wisconsin, others went to Michigan. One went to Brazil. Guess where the Spanish speaking guys went: To Spanish speaking countries. Guess where the language geniuses went: To Russia, Bulgaria. Call it common sense, but also call it utilizing the gifts God gives to carry out his work.
The disciples carefully worked through the qualifications before they called a twelfth apostle, but they also recognized that they were not acting independently. And 21st century Christians would do well to pay attention to this 1st century example.
If we start thinking that we are in control, when we start believing that our “success” depends on the implementing the right program or picking the right people, then we need to revisit the apostolic model. The disciples identified a need. They determined the qualifications. But finally and most importantly, they appealed to the Lord.
This appeal came in the form of a prayer: “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two (Joseph or Matthias) you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry” (24,25). The disciples knew that God had already handpicked a replacement for Judas. The purpose of the meeting was to let everyone else know which man he had chosen.
It is likely that the disciples used the Old Testament method of casting lots. They probably put the names of Joseph and Matthias into a bag and shook it vigorously until one of them popped out. And when the name “Matthias” was read, he became the twelfth apostle. Normally, we associate the casting of lots with games of chance. If you pick the right numbers, you are lucky. If you draw the short straw, you are unlucky. But with God there is no such thing as luck. Proverbs 16:33 says: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” Every choice, every apparent coincidence, every event, everything that happens in this world is a perfectly fitted piece in God’s master plan of salvation. He devised that plan before the creation of the world. He executed that plan when he sent his one and only Son into the world. He announces the success of that plan as he calls and sends workers to share the gospel in every corner of the world.
That work started in Jerusalem. It began with people like Peter and James and John…and Matthias. They announced: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). They declared: “God raised him (Jesus) from the dead. We are witnesses of this” (Acts 3:15). And two thousand years later the Lord of the church calls called workers through the church to proclaim that life giving message.
It is rare to devote an entire sermon to the doctrine of the call. It’s the first time I’ve done it in almost 15 years. But it is worth it. May this model call meeting in Acts has given you a better understanding of and a deeper appreciation for this important teaching. And I pray that as you leave today you will give thanks. Give thanks for the twelve disciples of Jesus. Give thanks because you are called to be his disciple. Give thanks to God for the men and women God has called to preach, teach, and equip you for works of service. Amen.
Crown of Life Lutheran Adult Bible Study
May 6, 2012
Introduction: A very senior Apostle, in the twilight of his life and ministry, is writing to a church carrying out its assigned mission in the face of the expected opposition from the natural enemies of the church. What ongoing perspectives can we gain for ministry and our mission today in Fort Myers?
I. Truth-born love
3 John 1-4
To my dear friend Gaius, whom I love in the truth.
2Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well. 3It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness to the truth and how you continue to walk in the truth. 4I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
1. The Elder: The significance of John’s position in life and ministry.
2. Gaius: John’s Christlike love for him mentioned often.
3. John’s desire for him: health, prosperity, spiritual health.
4. John’s joy: reported faithfulness, spiritual children walking in the truth.
1. What is the connection between truth and love?
2. Practically, how can we show this love, find this same joy in serving our Lord and the fellowship of believers?
II. Self-less Love
3 John 5-8
5Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you. 6They have told the church about your love. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. 7It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. 8We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth.
1. The self-less efforts he expended for unknown brothers.
2. Those efforts did not go unnoticed.
3. You would do well to continue what you have done before.
4. That’s God’s name may be glorified.
5. They seek no support from those they are trying to reach.
6. What want to want to continue to be co-workers in connection with the truth.
1. How does the Lord want us to view our fellow believers?
2. How are we to view our missionaries?
3. What can we do to show our support for fellow believers/missionaries?
9I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. 10So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.
1. Unpreserved letter of John?
2. Diotrephes’ unloving attitude: pride leading to evil words against John.
3. His further evil action: removing those from the church who sought to help the missionaries John had sent.
1. Is there a danger for us today?
2. How can we cut down on the evil spoken of others while at the same time cultivate more open exchanged between us?
IV. God-Imitating Love
11Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God. 12Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone—and even by the truth itself. We also speak well of him, and you know that our testimony is true.
13I have much to write you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink. 14I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.
Peace to you. The friends here send their greetings. Greet the friends there by name.
1. The vivid contrast between good and evil.
2. Demetrius is spoken well of by all.
3. Pen and ink vs. face to face, literally, “mouth to mouth.”
4. Greeting the brothers by name.
1. To be a brother to someone, what needs imitating today?