The story of Jesus’ ascension in Luke 24:44-53 is a transitional moment in the Bible.  Occurring on the 40th day after Easter, Jesus’ ascension witnesses to the fulness of God’s power that was witnessed in the resurrection of Jesus.  To appreciate the significance of Jesus’ ascension, it is important to understand that, in the Bible, the number 40 represents transitional moments when God’s interaction with people of faith is fulfilled as well as the beginning of a new chapter of God’s interaction with people of faith.

There are 146 times in the Bible where the number 40 represents the fulfillment of God’s interaction with God’s people and the beginning of a new interaction by God.  Some of the transitional moments when the number 40 is found in the Bible are:

  • the number of days of rain in the story of the great flood
  • the number of days and nights Moses spent on Mt. Sinai receiving the 10 commandments from God
  • the number of days the spies were in the Promised Land gathering a report for Moses and the tribes of Israel
  • the number of years the Israelites wandered in the wilderness
  • the number of days Jesus was tempted in the wilderness following his baptism by John
  • the number of days from the resurrection of Jesus to the ascension of Jesus

In today’s scripture lesson, Jesus is preparing his disciples for a transitional moment as he teaches them that God is about to do a new thing when Jesus the resurrected Lord becomes Jesus the ascended Lord.  Jesus is teaching his disciples that a new chapter of faith will soon be written as they became witnesses of all that Jesus had done and all that the Holy Spirit is about to do.  To appreciate the transitional moment that was ahead of the disciples, it is important to understand the new thing that Jesus was teaching his disciples when he told them, “You are witnesses of these things.  And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

While this statement by Jesus may not seem to be a radical statement in our current understanding of faith in Jesus, it is actually a transitional moment in the biblical story of faith.  Until the time of Jesus’ ascension, it was understood that God’s Spirit resided upon one individual at a time for the purpose of empowering that individual to accomplish a particular task or purpose.  Luke 3:21-22 records this understanding of God’s Spirit when Jesus was baptized by John.

“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying; the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.”

With the ascension of Jesus, the understanding of God’s Spirit transitions from God’s Spirit empowering one person at a time for a particular purpose to God’s Spirit empowering all of Jesus’ followers for the particular purpose of being witnesses of how the resurrected and ascended Lord is part of our lives.  In the Bible, a witness is defined as a person who has firsthand knowledge of a fact or an event.   In the Old Testament, biblical law required the testimony of at least two witnesses to establish the guilt of any offense. Some of the prophets and leaders of Israel even called upon God to be a witness to what they told the people.

  1. 864, The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 4

Ascension Day is the day when followers of Jesus are summoned to be witnesses of the power of God’s Spirit in their lives.  It is the day they affirm their faith in the resurrected and ascended Lord of life as they are empowered by the Holy Spirit to be witnesses of Jesus in a transitioning world.

On Tuesday, I watched the news as, yet again, there was a horrific report about a mass shooting in our country.  This time, it was 19 elementary students and 2 teachers at Dunn Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, who were assassinated by an 18-year-old who had purchased two AR-15-style rifles and 350 rounds of ammunition as he became part of the ongoing tragedy of gun violence in our nation.  As I watched the news, I prayed.  I prayed for the innocent children and teachers whose lives were taken from them.  I prayed for their families whose lives will never be the same.  I prayed for students and staff who will have to wrestle with the sights and sounds of their survival for the rest of their lives.  I prayed for my wife, daughter, and son who are educators.  I prayed for my grandchildren who are students.  I prayed, “how long, O Lord?”

As I have prayed in the days that have followed, I have been reminded of another mass murder that occurred in a school shooting on October 2, 2006 at the West Nickel Mines School, an Amish one room schoolhouse in the Old Order Amish Community when a gunman took hostages and shot ten girls (aged 6-13) killing five, before taking his own life.  In his suicide note, he wrote of the anger he held against God.

In response to the deaths of the five girls and the shooter, the Amish community witnessed to the power of the risen and ascended Jesus as they comforted their own families and the family of the murderer.  It was a transitional moment as empowered by the Holy Spirit, they extended forgiveness to the shooter’s family by visiting and comforting the widow, parents, and parents-in-law.  One Amish man held the shooter’s sobbing father in his arms for almost an hour.  A charitable fund was set up for the family of the shooter.  About 30 members of the Amish community attended the shooter’s funeral, and the widow of the shooter of one of the few outsiders was invited to the funeral of one of the victims.

The widow of the shooter Marie Roberts wrote an open letter to her Amish neighbors thanking them for their forgiveness, grace, and mercy. She wrote, “Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. Gifts you’ve given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.”

West Nickels Mine Shooting, Wikipedia

Transitional moments – times when new chapters of faith are written.  Times when followers of Jesus are empowered to witness to the risen and ascended Lord.  How are you being a witness?

Transitional Moments
by Pastor Marc Brown
May 29, 2022

Accompanying Scriptures: Luke 24:44-53

Fort Hill United Methodist Church
Order of Worship for May 29, 2021

Scripture Lesson     Luke 24:44-53

The Good News        “Transitional Moments

Music                           “Ancient Words” by Michael W. Smith



Closing Music      “Brethren We Have Met to Worship” arr. John Purifoy

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