“The Forty Days before Ascension!”
First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday, April 25, 2021)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
“The Forty Days before Ascension!”
I have always been fascinated by and curious about the forty days between Christ’s resurrection and His ascension to heaven. What was Jesus doing during these forty days? What did Jesus talk about? Did he talk about the weather, sports, the latest gossip from Rome? What did He teach His disciples? Did He emphasize certain things during this forty-day period?
You may be interested to know that Acts 1:3 is the only place that tells us that the period between the Resurrection and the Ascension was precisely 40 days. For 33 years Jesus of Nazareth has made the earth His home. Now the time draws near to leave. We’re beyond the cross, past the suffering, the torture, the mocking, and even beyond the resurrection. We’re in that mysterious forty-day period that we would like to know more about.
In order to get a glimpse of what Jesus did during these forty days, we will be turning to Luke 1:1-3, a key Scripture passage that sheds some light on the time between resurrection and ascension. As you know, Luke wrote two books in the New Testament: the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. Luke addresses both books to unidentified reader called “Theophilus.” “Theophilus θεόφιλος” is a Greek name that means “friend of God,” or “beloved of God.” This could easily represent the actual name of an individual or perhaps referring to the Christian community as a community of those who have been loved by God.
During the forty-day period between Christ’s resurrection and ascension, Luke tells us Christ no longer speaks to thousands but now to only a few. To them is entrusted the responsibility to take the message around the world. To them is given the Gospel–the good news–the best news in history. Soon enough the incredible burden will fall on their shoulders alone. If they fail, the Christian movement will disappear before it ever begins. In human terms the future of the gospel is in their hands.
During the 40 days between the resurrection and His ascension into heaven, Jesus accomplished two important goals: He proved that he was alive. He prepared them for the future. We may sum the lessons from those days in two simple statements.
First: Jesus Christ is Really AliveLuke wrote to Theophilus these words in Acts 1:1-3, “1 In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2 until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.”
After his suffering Jesus presented himself alive to His disciples by many convincing proofs. The phrase “convincing proofs” comes from a Greek word found only in Acts 1:3. This word means to present a case so logically compelling that it may be considered as completely proved. In a court of law this word referred to an argument so overwhelming that no other conclusion could possibly be considered.
What Luke is saying here is that the proof of the resurrection is certain and sure, unquestioned and beyond any doubt. It is testimony that could stand up in any court of law–Jesus Christ actually rose from the dead. I think we sometimes forget what an astounding claim this is. Our familiarity with the New Testament has dulled our senses to the enormity of what we believe.
All that we believe is wrapped up in the empty tomb. In the words of Scottish New Testament scholar, William Barclay: “Jesus is still alive. He is not the one who was; he is the one who is.” Death is not the end. Death doesn’t have the final word. We will live beyond the grave.
Second: God’s Kingdom Must Be our Highest PriorityActs 1:3 tells us, “After his suffering Jesus presented himself alive to his disciples by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” “The kingdom of God” was the topic closest to Christ’s heart. In the gospels, Jesus referred to the kingdom in one way or another about eighty times. It was clearly the central theme of His teaching.
With the coming of Christ, the kingdom of God came near because the King had come from heaven to the earth. “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” Jesus preached in Matthew 4:17. Later in Luke 17:21, Jesus remarked that the kingdom of God is in your midst.
God’s kingdom is God’s rule over our lives; it’s a spiritual kingdom therefore it has no physical boundaries. It includes people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. The kingdom of God has come, and it keeps coming. It’s the here and now but the not yet. That’s why we pray “Your kingdom come.” The kingdom comes each time we submit our hearts to the will of God. No wonder that Jesus encourages us in Matthew 6:33 to “seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
What does it mean to “seek God’s kingdom?” To put it in simple terms, we all live in the kingdom of this world. The “world” in this sense refers to the organized system that leaves God out. Ever since the Fall, all of us have lived in a spiritually hostile environment where the values of the Bible are constantly at odds with the values of society at large. And things aren’t getting better, they’re getting worse.
Seeking God’s kingdom means consciously rejecting the ways of the world and making room for God’s values in our lives. It means choosing to follow in the steps of Jesus even when those steps lead to a cross. It means using our resources to help others and grow God’s kingdom instead of storing up silver and gold. It means living as if heaven is the goal of life—not a big salary and a happy retirement. In short, seeking God’s kingdom means putting God first in everything. Friends, as we remember these forty days between Christ’s resurrection and his ascension, let me ask you: Is Christ alive in us? Is God’s kingdom our highest priority? May God help us to be so. Amen.
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