On Thursday 21 May 2020, District Apostle J Kriel conducted the Ascension Day divine service at Silvertown congregation.
He was accompanied by Apostle M Diedricks, who did the Bible reading for this festive divine service, and a small team from the admin office. This divine service was made available on Cape TV, channel 263 on DSTV, as well as Radio Teemaneng, RadioKC, Voice of Hope FM, RiseFM943, PEFM, Westbury Community Radio and SABIE stereo.
For members who were unable to watch the divine service, please find a detailed summary of the sermon:
Opening Hymn: Gathering homeward, you pilgrims (EH 409)
Bible word: 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. (Luke 24:50-51)
The Bible reading for the divine service was taken out of Acts 1:4-12.
My dear brothers and sisters, the musical items rendered reminds us of our home, and I dare say, if one can only but imagine, the feeling of Jesus when He completed His task and He went back to His Father – to the place where He belonged. We are reminded that our true home is with our Father, and the homesickness within our heart is increased when we hear of the beautiful, home-going singing that rings in all our hearts.
I hope and trust that wherever you are, you can feel the festivity and joy as we celebrate this day of Ascension when our Lord completed His task and He could return to His Father. If we think about what Jesus’ mission was – why was He sent to earth? He was sent to earth for a special purpose – one that He fulfilled to perfection. Jesus did exactly what His Father wanted Him to do. Man was made by God too. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of us, but Jesus fulfilled His task and His commission to its perfection. One of the big tasks Jesus had was to introduce His Father to mankind, because up to that time, God was known as a harsh God; a God who was always ready to punish and was such a fearful power – everybody feared Him. For the few that knew him, the chosen people at the time, they fulfilled the law as God wanted them to do it. Jesus came and gave us a different picture of the God we serve. “God is love,” He says. God is willing to forgive because everything about Him is what we know about Jesus – He introduced us to the Father; He said: “If you see Me, you see the Father.” And we can have a picture of God because Jesus was there ready to forgive. Jesus was the friend of the poor and rich, the sick and healthy – all could come into His circle – He was willing to bless all. He came and did a very good job to introduce us to God, His Father, whom we learn to know more and more through the spirit that He sent. And remember, through the triune God, none of them speak about themselves. Jesus spoke about His Father; He spoke about the Spirit that is to come. And now the spirit speaks about God and the Father. That’s why we don’t speak about ourselves – we speak about the activity of the spirit that takes place. And so we see that Jesus introduced us to God, His Father, and He also paved the way for salvation for all man.
When we read and hear the music about ‘going home’ – the heavenly home that awaits us – that’s not for flesh and blood; that’s for the soul of man. And Jesus made it possible that anyone can find their way to salvation through Him who brought about this great sacrifice. And so, we see that it was one of the missions of Jesus: He came, introduced us to His Father and paved the way to salvation.
When He rose from the dead we read, already in the book of Acts, Jesus did not go to His Father immediately after His resurrection – He spent 40 days with His disciples. In fact, on one occasion, up to 500 people saw Him. But not everyone saw Him; only those who believed and loved Him. And so we see that in those 40 days, Jesus allowed man and His disciples to know Him as the Lord. Jesus was true man and true God, and up to the time that He spent with them on the earth, they knew Him as a true man, one who cared and fed them, they knew Him as one who cried and was just as human as they were. On occasion, here and there they saw the glory of Jesus. One of those occasions was when Jesus appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration. Here He was in all His glory, and the Apostles Peter, James and John were with Him. And they wanted to stay there. They said “come, let us build some tabernacles so that we can stay here”, but Jesus said to them “don’t tell anyone about this”. They had a glimpse into the glory side of Jesus because once Jesus completed His work, He went to the original state that He was in before He came to the earth. And so, in those 40 days, they learnt to know the other side of Jesus. He was no longer the human being that they learnt to know – they could recognise ‘here is the Lord’. Remember the confession of Thomas? Jesus said to him ‘here is My hand, you can put your fingers where the nails were’, and Thomas went on His knees and said, ‘My Lord, My God.’ That was a different message now – they acknowledged Jesus as the Lord. So those 40 days were important so that they could see and understand, and that the teaching of Christ could be emphasised, and they knew this was indeed the Lord. And so we see, dear brothers and sisters, nothing that Jesus did was by chance – everything was for a purpose.
And His ascension did not only bring an end to His time upon the earth – but His ascension also brought about His exaltation where He took up His rightful place at the right-hand side of God the Father from whence He shall return, because He is coming back, and we must never forget that, He promised He would return! But here He was, back in His exalted state next to His Father. And we read in the Holy Scripture that to His name, every knee will bow. And that is the path to salvation, and we are thankful.
Many of us have started the journey and we want to remain there and invite whoever will come upon this path that Jesus has laid for us. And He was the firstling amongst the resurrected. He was the first man and at this point the only one, who returned to God the Father and received a glorified body. He was the only one; no one else did. All man awaits that miracle. All man awaits that ascension so that we too can receive that glorified body.
Now Jesus was perfect: He had no sin. We cannot say that. But He invites us and says that we can benefit by His sacrifice, perfection and His path and oneness with the Father: Come, believe in Me, then you can experience your own ascension. Now, dear brothers and sisters, this ascension was great. Remember, when He arose from the dead, none of the Apostles witnessed His resurrection – they just found His grave empty. But evidence of His resurrection was experienced by all because He was seen by those who believed. His ascension, however, was a little bit different: the disciples had to witness it because there was no way that Jesus could prove to them that He ascended to His Father. So they had to see it; they were with Him. And so, when we experience, relive and celebrate the ascension of Jesus, we are assured that our ascension is also being planned, that as He ascended, we can ascend too. Because that is God’s purpose with us. Man was created to spend eternity with God, but our choices were not that great. Despite this, God continued to love us, and He made a plan so that we could be with Him and enter His kingdom so that His purpose can also become our purpose.
Hymn: Forth, forth, my heart, to heaven (EH 408, verse 3)
The last words of the hymn that was sung now says “forth, forth to heaven go” – that is our journey – that’s where we want to be; that’s where we want to end, just like Jesus. We know what Jesus’ purpose was and that He fulfilled it and returned to His Father. What about us? That is our journey too. Jesus did His share; we need to do ours. He paved the way and we need to follow it. What I found interesting while reading our Bible word, it says ‘and He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them.’ Bethany was close to the Mount of Olives, and we heard in the Bible reading that He chose to ascend from there (Bethany). When we think of our ascension, we cannot make our way to Bethany, in fact, we can’t even travel these days. In this sense, we shouldn’t see Bethany as a place or geographical location on a map, but let us, as Jesus experienced His ascension out of Bethany, let us create the condition of a ‘Bethany’ wherever we are. When we look at the little bit we know about Bethany, many things took place there. But I think the most known was that Bethany was the home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha. Jesus loved to go to Bethany. If we want to experience our ascension, we need to ensure that the condition of Bethany can also be found in us.
If we take a closer look, Bethany was the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus – they were all different people who had different gifts and talents. But one thing they had in common – they loved Jesus. And that you couldn’t take away from them. They loved Jesus; they listened to Him and loved to be with Him. And Jesus loved them. In fact, when we read about Lazarus who passed away, when they came there the sister said to Jesus ‘Lord, if you were here, this would not have happened’ – they trusted and believed in Him. And then they cried, and He cried with them.
Dear brothers and sisters, in preparation for our ascension, let us love Jesus as they loved Him. Because Jesus loves us; of that, there is no doubt. Many say they want Jesus to do this and that for them; but Jesus says “I died for you, what more must I do?” He said, “I died for you; can I love you more?” He loves us, of that, there is no doubt, and in preparation for our ascension: stay in that love; and let us love Jesus. And that is what these siblings had in common: they loved Jesus. And remember, Jesus loved them. And if we look, maybe we go into the life of Mary. After Martha told Jesus that Mary never does any work, Jesus told her that Mary chose the better part – she went against tradition. In those days, it was only the men who gathered when there were discussions around matters of faith. However, Mary was there – Mary sat at His feet knowing that this path is forever. ‘Man shall not live by bread alone but every word that cometh out of the mouth of God’ – Mary knew that, and she wanted to be a part of that. Mary is also the one who anointed His feet with expensive perfume to the disgust of many around her. But she was prepared to give up what was precious for her to the benefit of Jesus. That’s another condition that we find in Bethany today, out of which we can experience out of our ascension: love to sit at the feet of Jesus; love to be there when His word is shared; love to be part of a congregation albeit a virtual one. Love Him, because that is the better part. There is so much we could be doing today, but we are part of this service. And I want to say to all of us, like Mary, you have chosen the better part. This adds value and prepares us for our ascension when we can be with Him forever. We want to create the Bethany Mary created: sitting at His feet. The Bethany that God loved them and that they loved Him.
Martha was one that was misunderstood. When someone says to you ‘stop being a Martha’, they mean it negatively. They mean that you’re busy with so many other things; you’re missing out on the important things. But that was not all that Martha was about. Martha was prepared to do the work. She was prepared to do something Jesus and His disciples needed – they had to eat – and Martha was prepared to help in this regard. And that is another aspect of Bethany, that we are prepared to do something. She was prepared to roll up her sleeves and feed these men who were doing such great work. To enable them to do their work better, she did what she could and she fed them. In Bethany, Martha did what she could to help. But that was not the only part. Because when we read of the 2 occasions when Jesus came to their house, Martha was the one who came out to meet Him and she welcomed Him into their home. She didn’t just wait at the door to welcome Him. She went outside and met Him. She made it easy for Jesus to come into her home. How easy do I make it for Jesus to come into my house and heart? Do I wait behind a closed door and say welcome? No, let’s go out to meet Him; let’s say ‘come in’ and ‘don’t pass me by’. That’s what Martha did. When she went to meet Jesus, she was not only happy to meet Him, she also went back and called her sister and said to her ‘the Master is here and He calls you’. Let us not just be satisfied that we’ve met Jesus, but that we go get others. Go to your sister, go to your brother, go to your neighbour, go to your friend, I say go even to your enemy and say ‘ the Master is here and He is calling you’ because He has our ascension in mind. He wants you to be with Him forever. And so, in this condition of Bethany, we want to take the characteristics of all who live there and come to the Master. Mary and Marta said they believe. In fact, we don’t often speak about it, but Martha was the one who made the great confession, just like Peter did. She said, “we believe, and we know, You are Christ, the Son of God.” That was the confession of Martha. And that is the condition of a Bethany. If we want to experience our ascension, let that be in our heart and our mind: I believe that Jesus is indeed the Son of God – He brought about the sacrifice and returned to His Father from where He will return so that we can experience our ascension. That is important. That element and condition of Bethany needs to be found in all of us if we want to experience our ascension. And remember, Jesus loved them, and they loved Him. And what did Jesus say? “If you love me, keep my commandments”, and the commandments are to love all, and your neighbour as yourself. In this time, more than ever before, let our love for Jesus be measured in how we love our neighbour; how we care for those who cannot care for themselves; how we feed those who cannot feed themselves. Love is not a noun; love is a doing word – let us do something. Love changes us to do that which is positive. And that was found in Bethany, and that condition needs to be found in us. That acknowledgement of a Martha: ‘You are Christ; you are the Son of the living God’, must be found in us.
And so, dear brothers and sisters, we come to Lazarus. It specifically says ‘see how Jesus loved Him when He wept’. And here in Bethany, Jesus called out to Lazarus ‘come forth Lazarus.’ And people asked, ‘but what us the point, he is dead.’ But even in death, he responded to Jesus’ call. We may have died in many things; our love maybe, our faith and compassion, our mercy. And unto us, in this condition of Bethany, He says to us ‘come forth’ ‘come out of your unbelief and position of hatred’. Remember, we were introduced to our God, willing to forgive, willing to give us His kingdom. And so, Jesus calls us, like He did with His disciples and says, ‘come with Me to Bethany, I am going to ascend from there’. The invitation is to all of us – let us go to that condition of Bethany. Remember, that condition where we love Him and He loves us. That condition where we sit at His feet and listen to what He wants to say. That condition of where we are willing to give what is precious to us, to Him, just as Mary did, even if others did not agree. The condition of a Martha who is willing to work and do what is necessary, and at the same time believe that Jesus is Christ, the Son of the living God. The condition of a Lazarus who answers to the call of God – He calls us all – we all want to respond to that call. And like Martha, let us go to our brethren and tell them ‘as I met Jesus, come, He is calling for you too’ – that they too can experience Jesus here, and ultimately the ascension that awaits us. It says further in our Bible word that He blessed them before He left. He knew He had to bless them before He left. He knew He had to strengthen them to prepare them for what is to come. He said to them ‘because I have suffered, you will also suffer.’ And what kind of life did they have? Most of them were persecuted, but their faith stood strong because of His blessing. And when He blessed them, He didn’t only pray for them for their task, but He prayed for all those who would believe in Him through their words. And if we think of the great church of Christ today, then their work was marvellous – they spread the gospel.
We too, we understand that we do not stay here forever. Our ascension, we sing in one of our hymns, He has planned it – that is His intention. He did what He had to do, come let us do what we must do and get ourselves into that Bethany condition so that we are able to arise when the call comes and leave behind that which must be left because He says “I will come again and receive you unto Myself.” And we pray Lord, let that day be soon. He blessed us. And whatever we are going through, we will get through this because He blessed us and He said: “I will be with you even until the end of the ages.” Come what may, we will not be moved – our faith will remain strong and we trust that soon, we will experience our ascension. Amen.
Thoughts from District Apostle JL Kriel