I Think They've Got It
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 24:44–24:53
May 14, 2015 – The Day of our Lord’s Ascension
By The Rev. Dr. B. F. Nass, Pastor Emeritus
Dear rejoicing disciples at our Lord’s triumphant Ascension:
One of my all-time favorite musicals is the ever popular, “My Fair Lady.” Set in England, it depicts an arrogant English professor who braggingly accepts the challenge to correct the Cockney accent of a street waif named Eliza Doolittle so that she would speak “proper” English. Eliza, however, proves to be a very difficult student. Weeks of exhaustive training produce nothing but failure and even Professor Higgins is about to call it quits. It is only then that Eliza finally masters a challenging phrase and speaks slowly in very proper English: “The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.” At which time the dozing valet on the sofa opens his weary eyes and mutters to himself: “I think she’s got it!” After several successful repetitions of the phrase, and coaching by Prof. Higgins, they all begin to joyfully sing and dance around, congratulating themselves on their success in sudden transformation of Miss Doolittle.
Curiously, I find similarities in that scene that are somewhat reminiscent of that portrayed by St Luke. at our Lord’s ascension. To be sure, the arrogant character of Professor Higgins in no way corresponds to nor can be compared with the demeanor of our ascending Lord. However, as a teacher, Jesus must have been, at times, just as frustrated with the snail-paced learning cycle and comprehension failure of his student disciples as Henry Higgins was with his charge, Eliza Doolittle.
When their final exam took place at Jesus’ arrest, trial, and death on the cross, they flunked miserably, betraying, denying or fleeing. They had clearly studied the wrong chapter from a book that was not God’s plan of salvation. They not only did not have the big picture; in fact, they had the wrong picture altogether. And this mistaken preconception dissipated like the air from a popped balloon when it did not materialize. It was time for a new paradigm.
The forty day period following our Lord’s resurrection became cram time for the make-up exam on that new paradigm. Educators say that it is much harder to unlearn a mistruth before we can accept the real truth. First, the disciples had to unlearn all those preconceived notions about who the Messiah was and what his mission would be. And Jesus, the master Rabbi-teacher, set about to do just that.
Our text tells us that he then opened or expanded their minds to understand and finally comprehend fully what all of the Old Testament Scriptures intended to say. He told them, “This is what is written (from the three subdivisions of the Torah or Law of Moses, the proclamation of the prophetic literature and even the song book of the Old Testament, the Psalms): They all say: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
The most effective mode of teaching is experience. Having lived through those passion events and having seen with their own eyes the events of God’s redemptive plan being implemented, now the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place to form the big picture, the accurate picture. That’s the indicative portion of God’s action. But it doesn’t end there with the disciples simply saying, “I think we’ve got it.” This is complete with the follow-up imperative that their response is now to become the proclaimers and spreaders of that vital message from the starting point of Jerusalem and then spreading out in widening, concentric circles like sound waves echoing to the ends of the earth.
With the message clarified and the mission clear, the forty days quickly go bye and its final exam time once again. Jesus questions each disciple and is assured by the answers he receives: “I think they’ve got it.” And get it they certainly did.
No greater evidence of that is needed than by their reaction after Jesus ascended. Theirs is not the normal reaction at the parting of such an intimate and close relationships as the disciples had with Jesus. No tears! No feeling of abandonment. No sense of failure. Instead, like the overjoyed group in “My Fair Lady,” who sang and danced and congratulated one another at their successful transformation. We are told of the disciples that: “They worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.” Yes, indeed, they finally got it. That’s for sure.
But the question for us, his disciples today, dear saints of St. John’s, on this Ascension Day is: do we get it? Has your mind been expanded by what you have witnessed from (1) his birth in Bethlehem, (2) his ministry of words and healing, (3) his transfiguration, (4) his passion of suffering, (5) his road to the cross and (6) his glorious resurrection so that you get the big picture of God’s amazing salvation plan for you and for the entire world? Or do you still often blur that clear picture with a fuzzy Messiah who is there merely to serve your personal goals or enhance your life style or ego? And how often has that blurred picture caused you to betray, deny and flee from your Savior and your mission to be a proclaimer and spreader of the correct message of salvation to your world? I must plead guilty and I should hear an “amen” from all of you as well. We need daily to refresh our baptismal promise and start over.
So far, I have concentrated on the role of the disciples but the real focus around our Lord’s Ascension is and should be on him. It marks the successful completion of all God sent him to do for his fallen creation. It is his coronation and return to his former glory. To make sure we’ve got it, he assures us that we will receive a marvelous tutor – being clothed with power from on high. The angels remind us that this same Jesus has been taken up will return next time in power and glory.
So, in the strength of those comforting promises we hear again the words of St. Paul from our Epistle lesson and make them our own:
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.
May this faith and hope fill and enliven each of us, as did the first disciples, with ascension joy and give us cause every day to worship and praise our great God who creates, who redeems, and who calls us by name to finish the task until our life span says it’s personal “amen” and we follow him where he has gone where we will remain eternally, praising God.