Is there any rhyme or reason?
(Luke 24:44-53 / Ascension Day 2020)
In the early 700s AD, there lived an English monk known to history as the Venerable Bede. That’s B-E-D-E. I wasn’t sure why he’s called “Bede”, so I looked it up, and I didn’t get much information. Sounds like it was just an Anglo-Saxon surname. But he became known as the “Venerable” or Saint Bede. In addition to being a Benedictine monk, he was a theologian, a historian, and a devout Christian man.
Did you know that the Venerable Bede is the man who divided history into AD and BC? I didn’t know that either. Among other things, he also wrote the earliest history of England. And on May 25, 735 AD, on the great Ascension Vigil, Bede finished his translation of the Gospel of St. John into Old English. And then, the next day (which was Ascension Day), he died. From his deathbed, the Teacher of the Middle Ages spoke the words that have become the Prayer of the Day on Ascension that we still use today. It reads:
Lord Jesus, King of glory, on this day you ascended far above the heavens and at God’s right hand you rule the nations. Leave us not alone, we pray, but grant us the Spirit of truth that at your command and by your power we may be your witnesses in all the world; for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Let me just emphasize a few words from that prayer once again: …at God’s right hand you rule the nations. Leave us not alone, we pray…
Ascension marks the coronation of Jesus as King. He has always been King, but in coming to earth he set aside his crown to suffer and die for our sins. At the Ascension, however, Christ returned to his exalted place in heaven. And there is a reason why he ascended in the sight of the disciples, and that reason is this: so that all would know he had returned to the right hand of God in order to rule over all things.
Which is exactly what the Venerable Bede said his prayer 1,300 years ago; Lord Jesus, King of glory, on this day you ascended far above the heavens and at God’s right hand you rule the nations.
Well, if that’s the case, then the question it provokes is whether it seems like someone is in charge of the nations right now?
The moment I finished writing that sentence a lady walked into my office and said she had been tested for COVID-19 and was awaiting the results. She was nervous. She said that two of her friends had tested positive. But then she said, “There were four of them together, and so all four were tested. But the strange thing was that the two who had symptoms of strong headaches tested negative, and the two that felt absolutely fine tested positive.” Hence the question: Where is the rhyme and reason in all that is going on?
Well, most of us are sick of hearing about the Coronavirus by now, but the question is applicable to much more than our current times. Sometimes I lay awake in bed and my mind can’t stop thinking. It just goes and goes wherever it wants. Sometimes, like last night, my mind for whatever reason, went to random episodes from my childhood with no apparent link between them. And I said to myself, “I wonder why it had to be that way.” There are still things in life that cause me to wonder why God allowed them to happen in the way that they did.
As Jesus prepared to leave the disciples, he led their thinking back to the past and then connected it all to himself. He said, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (v. 44).
Notice what he says, “Everything must be fulfilled.” Or if you like, “This is the way it had to be.” The disciples still didn’t understand why Jesus had to die. If he was the Messiah, that meant he was King. And if he was the Savior King, why then did he have to die? And then, having come back to life, why was he now leaving them at the Ascension? Where was the rhyme and reason?
So, Jesus opens up the Scriptures to them. I love that picture of Jesus opening up the Scriptures. What a blessing each and every time we have an open Bible before us! Jesus opens up the Scriptures to them, and just as important, he opens their minds so they can understand the Scriptures. And what do they see? That there was rhyme and reason to it all, after all! That it was all according to God’s good purpose and plan! Jesus told them, This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations beginning with Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things” (vv. 46-48).
Now, here is the application for us on this Ascension Day 2020. Depending on your age, you know better than I do that, on the face of it, life has little rhyme and reason to it. The most haunting question known to mankind is the question “why?” So, here is our comfort for those puzzling moments of life: You may not know the answer to the question “why?”, but Jesus does, and it is from his throne of mercy in heaven that he is directing all of life for the good of his people, that is his church.
You see, if Jesus was only a prophet, then, even if he were a prophet sent from God, there would be little to no comfort in following his teaching. So, let’s say you do follow his teaching, in the same way that millions of people follow the teachings of the Buddha. How does that help you with the Coronavirus? How does that help with global warming, the threat of nuclear war, and the ultimate reality check of death?
It doesn’t. But if Jesus is more than a earthly prophet, if he is God himself, then, rather than follow a specific teaching, as Christians we follow a person and, wonder of wonders, in this case, the person happens to have all authority in heaven and on earth because he is God(Matthew 28:18).
Now, I debated whether to include the following reference because I don’t want this devotion to get too long, but I feel it’s important that I point you to the words of Ephesians 1:19-22. Listen to how BIG the Scriptures describe Christ Jesus (He’s so much more than just a man):
“How surpassingly great his power…which God worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule, authority, power and dominion, and above every name that is given, not only in this age but also in the one to come. God also placed all things under his feet and made him head over everything for the church” (EHV).
So you see, that’s BIG stuff! He is seated on his throne in the heavenly places, far above all rule, authority, power and dominion, and above every name that is given…God place all things under his feet and made him head over everything… And the modern world comes to a crashing halt because of a microscopic virus. Do you see how impotent we are as humans? And do you see how BIG Jesus is? He rules and he overrules the affairs of life (your life!), and he does so “for the church”, for all those who believe in him.
Christians throughout history have understood this. That is why I chose to begin with the Venerable Bede. You say to yourself, “Who cares about the Venerable Bede? What relevance could he possibly have for me in the year 2020? For that matter, what relevance does Ascension have for me in the year 2020?”
Everything. Absolutely everything. For there have been plagues,wars, and famines throughout history of which the atheist says, “There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it.” The believer, meanwhile (like the Venerable Bede), says there is meaning in all of it. All of history finds it’s meaning in the person and work of Jesus Christ raised from the dead and ascended into heaven. And only he will ever make sense of it.
The way for you to make sense of it? The way for you to make sense of your life? Open up the Scriptures. “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me [Jesus] in the Law of Moses, the prophets and the Psalms. Then he opened their minds so that they could understand the Scriptures.”
And once they understood, the disciples had their life’s mission and purpose. And it was this: “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witness of these things.”
Loved ones, the Scriptures are what give reason and meaning to life. You and I have a mission. It is to preach Christ to the world. Do that, and whether or not life makes any sense to you on the basis of the news you consume, it will on the basis of God’s Word. It’s all heading in a linear direction to a final destination before God and his heavenly throne. Christ is in complete control. Which is why we have great joy. Which is why we worship him. Luke ends, “While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.” Amen.