June 5, 2011
Acts 1:4-14

In 1986, I had the unique experience of attending the Indianapolis 500. The Indy 500 is more than a sports event; it is an experience.

I came to the racetrack doing my ultimate Joe-tourist routine. I was slathered in suntan lotion and hunched over from the weight of the ancient (and very large) 35mm camera, complete with interchangeable lenses, slung around my neck. Either I didn’t learn how to operate the camera properly, or it was defective because my pictures were a mess.

One picture, however, was a keeper. In some photographic glitch, three snapshots taken at different times in the day were somehow developed onto one print. It shows the Air Force Honor Guard presenting the flag at the beginning of the race, me cheering at the mid-point and the checkered flag at the finish line. Imagine that—one photo showing three different time periods.

Our passage is but one text, yet it pictures three different time periods for Jesus. In effect, it is a 3D picture: Past, present and future. The ascension shows His act of returning to His heavenly throne, His present ministry to the church and His future hope for the church.

I. Past: His Return to Glory (v. 9)
Imagine that scene: Jesus had just repeated the Great Commission and suddenly was taken up. No doubt, the disciples were dumbstruck. Not only were they hoping for a political kingdom to be ushered in at that time, but they were not expecting Jesus to levitate out of sight.

The greater scene, however, must have been in heaven. Jesus returned to His previous state. Remember, Jesus did not begin as a babe in Bethlehem’s manger. He is from everlasting to everlasting. There never has been a time when He was not. What a precious reunion that must have been. The eternal Prince of Glory returning to heaven and presenting His sacrifice. Angels must have been stunned at the sight of the Son of God looking like a slain lamb.

Don’t ever forget Jesus has returned to heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He is not a deposed monarch in exile. He is on the throne of authority.

II. Present: His Ministry to the Church (v. 4)
Immediately prior to His ascension, Jesus told His disciples to return to Jerusalem and wait for the promise. This promise was the coming of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-18) to birth the church and indwelling of believers. The Holy Spirit acts on behalf of Jesus, and therefore is the Agent of Jesus’ present ministry to the church.

Even at this moment, Jesus is ministering to His Bride. He blesses us with His hand of favor. While seated at the Father’s right hand, He intercedes for us and serves as our advocate, making the case for our justification. He inhabits our praise, increases our knowledge, energizes our worship and includes us in His family. We are not orphans; we are honored heirs!

You are not alone, and you are certainly not forgotten. Jesus, by His Spirit, is serving as a salve to your hurting heart and a convicting nudge to your unconfessed sin. He is loving you, abiding with you and caring for you.

III. Future: His Return for the Church (v. 11)
The dumbfounded expression on the faces of the disciples must have multiplied when suddenly two angels appeared before them. With jaws dropping and knees knocking, they listened intently to the promise from the angels that Jesus would return for His people.

The angels merely were repeating a promise Jesus had made the night before His crucifixion (John 14:3). This time, however, they are being told more. The angels announced the method of His return. It would be the “same Jesus” returning for them, not some emissary sent by Him. We have the settled assurance the Messiah one day physically will return to this earth to gather His people.

Also, Jesus will return “in like manner” as He left. In other words, He will return bodily, unexpectedly and in the air. One day, the eastern sky will split and roll back as a scroll, and the Lord Himself will descend. He will rescue His bride and escort us to His waiting Father. That thought, the hope of glory, should drive believers to live completely for Jesus. We neither are in bondage to this world system, nor are we dependent on the accolades of people for our reward. We are looking to a promised day for our permanent deliverance.

One photo, three pictures. Look hard and you will see Jesus: past, present and future.

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