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Diocese of Charleston Bible Study + June 8, 2016

Acts 1:1-12
Luke 24:36-53

Acts 1:1-12 (NKJV)
The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, "which," He said, "you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, "Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" And He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven." Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey.

Luke 24:36-53 (NKJV)
Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, "Peace to you." But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit. And He said to them, "Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have." When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, "Have you any food here?" So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. And He took it and ate in their presence. Then He said to them, "These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me." And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Then He said to them, "Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things. Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high." And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven. And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God. Amen.

Commentary 

The Feast of the Ascension of Christ, though one of the most important on the calendar of the Church, is often overlooked. It is treated as a sort of epilogue to Pascha, like a part of its leave-taking, and connotes more a return to fasting and the imminent arrival of Pentecost, and the return to 'regular time', than anything special of its own. This is unfortunate, because what happened at Christ's Ascension into Heaven is a critically important part of the Christian faith. When, in the priest's prayers of the Divine Liturgy, the priest lists the great saving deeds of Christ that make up God's dispensation for the redemption of humanity, he enumerates, "The Cross, the Grave, the Resurrection on the Third Day, the Ascension into Heaven, the Sitting at the Right Hand, and the Second and Glorious Coming." Note here that two of those six events, Christ's Ascension and His sitting at the Right Hand of the Father are celebrated at this feast. Further notice that in the prayers of the Divine Liturgy, these two events, celebrated now, are set in parallel with the events of Great and Holy Friday, Saturday, and Pascha itself in importance.

What is it, then, that makes this day's events so important? First, it is true that, as Christ Himself said at His departure, that His Ascension into Heaven is the sign of the coming of the Holy Spirit to dwell within His people at Pentecost. In the old covenant, God dwelt in the midst of His people in the Tabernacle, a tent in the midst of their tent encampment as they journeyed through the wilderness. Then, once He had brought them into the land of Canaan and they had settled, He dwelt in their midst in the Temple in Jerusalem. After His nativity, the Lord dwelt among His people in the person of Jesus Christ. Today, since the day of Pentecost, and since our Chrismations, He has dwelt within His people themselves. This means that no longer do we need to make a pilgrimage to a building in Jerusalem to find the presence of God. Nor do we need to travel there and seek out Jesus. But wherever two or three of us gather in His Name, in the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ is there in our midst.

Secondly, Christ did not merely go away somewhere, obscured from our vision. Rather, Christ ascended to the Father, from whom He came. This is not just a restoration of the prior state of affairs, as Christ now takes with Him our humanity, in which He shares, bringing us with Him into the presence of the Father eternally. And once there, Christ is not idle, but rather, He is enthroned at the Father's right hand, to rule and reign over all of Creation. Our first parents were given by their Creator dominion over all the rest of His Creation, but believing in a lie, they gave that authority over to the devil. Christ, by the victory won by His Death and Resurrection, has taken it back, and so now all authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to Him. Christ is not only a spiritual king of a heavenly realm, or the ruler over men's souls. Jesus Christ is the ruler of all of Creation, including this world, making all those who claim to rule it in his stead pretenders. We ourselves, everything we have, and our whole lives belong to Jesus Christ our Lord.

Finally, as the angels remind the Apostles in today's epistle reading, just as He departed, Christ is coming again, and His Ascension is the seal that this last of His saving works will come to pass as well. Since Christ is returning, we cannot spend our time as Christians staring up into the sky. The fact that He is returning, and at an hour which none of us knows, means that we have the work of His Kingdom to be about. When He returns, we, along with everyone else, will have to give an account as to what we did with the time on this earth which we were given. In the old covenant, Israel was chosen and given the Torah, the Scriptures, so that not only could they come to know the Lord, but that by seeing them, through them, all the nations of the world might come to worship the God of Israel. When Israel failed at this task, the consequences for them were disastrous. This is a mission, however, that has now been entrusted to us, as followers of Christ. To us has been made known the way of repentance which leads to the forgiveness of sins. It remains to us not only to follow this pathway ourselves, but through our example to guide the rest of the world down it as well. As Christ rules the world, we are His agents to bring His love, forgiveness, and redemption to it, but also His justice and His righteousness and holiness as well. Let us all pray that on that great day of our Lord's Return, that He will find each of us an industrious servant, working steadfastly at the work of His Kingdom.

Questions to Ponder 

  1. In today's epistle reading from the book of Acts, the disciples eagerly ask our Risen Lord when the time of the end will be, when His kingdom will be established on the earth. They were told that it was not for them to know God's timing, but that they would receive power from the Holy Spirit. We should, therefore, not spend our time worrying about the time of the Lord's return, or the time when our lives on this earth will end, but rather be about the business to which God has called us, empowered by His Spirit. When you think about your faith, do you spend most of your time thinking and worrying about what will happen when you die, or worrying about when that might be? Do you worry about countless other things that might happen to you or someone you love, and spend most of your time in prayer asking God to make sure certain things don't happen while certain other things do? Christ here tells us that we should trust God concerning the future, and be about those things to which He has called us on earth. The antithesis of worrying is activity, and there is, in Christ's Church, always plenty of work to be done.
  2. In today's Gospel reading, St. Luke makes it abundantly clear that Jesus indeed rose from the grave bodily. He not only invites them to touch and feel his flesh and bone, but He eats food in front of them. The eternal life which Christ possesses, and which He has promised to us, is not life as some sort of disembodied ghost or spirit in the clouds, but bodily life in a new, transformed heavens and earth. This confirms once and for all that God has not given up on, or abandoned His Creation. Considering your own faith, do you look at it purely as a kind of 'spirituality'. Is it something you do in private only? Or does your faith in Christ express itself in the way in which you act and work and behave in your every day life in this world? Do you claim to love your neighbor, somewhere deep in your heart, or do you show love in real ways to those around you every day?
  3. In both of today's readings, the primary task to which Christ called His apostles, for which He sent them out into the world, was to bear witness to him, and to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name. This was not merely their task, but it is the task of every follower of Christ. Because there is no other name in heaven or on earth by which people may be saved, we have been entrusted with a great treasure. Do you share this treasure with those around you? We are surrounded daily by people who are suffering because they do not know the forgiveness and love of God that is in Jesus Christ. Do you share with them the gift that you have been given, or do you hide it away, leaving them in their troubles?

Questions or Comments? FrStephen@stgeorgecharleston.org

Note from the Author – No rights reserved. If you find anything good, or helpful, or worthwhile in these Bible studies from week to week, feel free to take and use it as you see fit. I do not need credit.


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