George H. Morrison - Devotional Sermons
And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven?--Act 1:10-11
The Ascension--Christlike and Natural
Our lesson begins with the narrative of the Ascension, and the reader will remember that this is the second account of the departure of Jesus into heaven. The Gospel of Luke closes with the story, and now the Acts of the Apostles opens with it. The event that ends the earthly ministry of Jesus begins the ministry upon the throne. We are not to think of Jesus' work in heaven as something quite different from His work on earth. All He accomplished here was but the beginning (Act 1:1) of a service that He shall carry on forever Now the Ascension is the link between the two. It is the passage of the unchanging Lord from the lower to the higher sphere of service. Hence Luke concludes his Gospel with it and then puts it in the forefront of the Acts. Note, too, in the descriptions given by Luke, how sober and subdued the coloring is. When Luke tells of Pentecost, he is thrilled with excitement. He is vivid and picturesque, almost dramatic, when he relates the healing of the lame man at the Gate Beautiful. But a few simple and very quiet words are all that he uses for the Ascension, yet to us that seems the greatest wonder in the world. Two thoughts are suggested by Luke's simple statement. The first is, how Christlike the Ascension was. He who came down like rain on the mown grass, and who would not strive nor cry nor lift up His voice in the streets, will not go home with any sound of trumpet. And the second is, how natural it seemed to the little company who went forth to Olivet. They had always felt that Jesus lived in heaven. Could they be greatly surprised when He went there? The disciples were astounded at the cross. Death seemed so alien from the life of Jesus. But they were not astounded at the Ascension. They worshipped, and went to the city with great joy.
The Upper Room with So Many Memories Became the Place of Waiting
So the little company returned to Jerusalem, and we read that they went up into an upper room (Act 1:13). There can be little question that it was the very room that was already fragrant with memories of Jesus. Here, on the night on which He was betrayed, the bread had been broken and the cup had been drunk. Here they had sat, with the doors barred for fear of the Jews, when Jesus had appeared in their midst on the Lord's day. Probably from this very room they had gone forth to witness the Ascension upon Olivet. They were not forgetting the things that were behind when they returned under the familiar roof. The past was blending with the future for them; the agony, with the words "until He come." Try to imagine the company gathered there. There are the women who had ministered to Jesus and had held fast to Him when everyone else had fled. There is Mary, His mother, and this is the last glimpse we get of Mary, and she is worshipping the Son she once had nursed. His brethren are there, and only six months before John tells us they did not believe in Him. It was not so long ago since these very brethren had sought to have Him arrested as a madman. And now, for the ten days between Ascension and Pentecost, that company continues in united prayer. Their hearts are changed; their doubts have passed away; the command of Jesus is of supreme importance now. They are waiting for the promise of the Father, for the impending baptism of the Holy Ghost.
But one preparatory act still remained to be done. The number of the disciples was not complete. The little band must be at its full strength when the Spirit of God touched them with sevenfold power. So Peter rises--the same, and yet how changes How different from the impulsive, boisterous Simon! He is spokesman yet (such men are chieftains always), but a great fall has bowed him to the dust, and a great love has set him on a rock, and there is a quiet dignity of sweet restraint about him now that makes him ten times the man he was in Galilee. He would have hurled hard names at Judas once. Now Judas "was guide to them that took Jesus." He would have pictured his doom in fiery colors once. Now Judas has just gone "to his own place." If ever a man came out of the darkness glorified, I think that man was gallant Simon Peter. At Peter's request, then, and after a brief sermon, a disciple was chosen to fill the place of Judas, and we may note these two features of the action. Firstly, everyone present had a hand in it. They all prayed and all gave forth their lots. Secondly, the qualification of the disciple was twofold--he must have companied with the Lord Jesus from His baptism, and he must have been a witness of the Resurrection. Matthias was chosen. The lot fell on Matthias. Can the reader cite instances of the lot from the Old Testament? It was entirely discarded after Pentecost, and I think that the Moravians are the only body of Christians who still practice the casting of the lot.
Lessons to Be Learned:
1. God Does Not Want Us to Be Always Gazing.
The disciples would have stayed on the Mount of Transfiguration, but a demoniac boy was waiting at the fool The women would have lingered where their Lord was laid but they were bidden to depart with the glad news that Christ was risen. So here the two men in white apparel said, "Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing?--have you no duties to fulfil at home, and do you not know that Christ will come again?"
2. There Are Unknown Disciples.
No man on earth knows who Matthias was. There is not a trace of him in any Gospel; we never meet him in history again. Yet he had been with Jesus since His baptism and seen Him after His rising from the dead, and now it is the unknown follower who is chosen to take the honored place of a disciple. God, then, has many hidden servants. We do not know them, but the Master does. If they are faithful in the toil that no one sees, they shall have the ten cities by and by.
3. There Is Purpose in God's Delay.
For ten days the disciples had to wait. God did not send the Holy Spirit at once. It must have been hard to abide in that upper room and keep the glorious secret of Ascension. Yet the ten days were educative days. The power of fervent prayer was realized; the company were knit into a surer brotherhood upon their knees; the glory of Christ shone on them more transcendently. There was a deep purpose in that delay of God. He had a fatherly meaning in His tarrying. And whenever in our life the delays of heaven seem hard, we do well to remember that upper room.
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