They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

The Ascension

See Mark 16:19, Luke 24:50-53, and Acts 1:1-9

"Ascension", Rembrandt Harmensz

“Ascension”, Rembrandt Harmensz

After Jesus’ resurrection, He appeared and spoke to His disciples and others for forty days, teaching them about the Kingdom of God (Acts 1:1-3). On the fortieth day, Jesus took His disciples out to the vicinity of Bethany, on the Mount of Olives, and while they were watching, He was taken up to heaven in a cloud. Put yourself in the disciples sandals and take a moment to think about what just happened. In the last forty days they have seen their rabbi, Jesus, who they thought would be their earthly king, arrested, crucified, resurrected, and now taken up to heaven in a cloud! The disciples have now witnessed what could be argued as the most dramatic event in all Scripture, ascending to heaven! As far as a major miracle, it would have had to be as equally impressive as the resurrection. Going to heaven to sit at the right hand of God was also a fulfillment of prophecy just like Jesus’ death and resurrection was. Yet, have you ever thought or been taught that the ascension was a major theological event? We have a day on the church calendar, forty days after Easter Sunday to commemorate the ascension, but you never hear anyone preach or teach or give the weight to this event like you do Easter and the resurrection story. In the Acts narrative in Chapter 1, we hear sermons on waiting on the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-8) and the commission He gave the disciples in Acts 1:8, but we don’t hear anything about the ascension itself. We celebrate Jesus’ resurrection in a big way, but His ascension is every bit as important to His deity as His resurrection. There is bound to be more here than we’ve known at first glance and has to be more to the story.

The ascension is not mentioned in Matthew or John and there is only one sentence on it in Mark. From the last few verses in Luke and the first few verses of Acts, we can piece together the story – and what a story it is! Luke’s story of the gospel of Jesus Christ has quite a profound ending. Jesus gathered His disciples around Him near Bethany on the Mount of Olives. Scripture says, ”He lifted His hands and blessed them and while He was blessing them, He left them and was taken up to heaven.” When the disciples saw this, they returned to Jerusalem with great joy. It is interesting to note that Luke begins His book by telling the story of an old priest, Zechariah, who was part of the line of Aaron and the official priesthood. This old priest is unable to bless because God took his voice after he didn’t believe the angel’s story of what was about to happen to him. The end of Luke’s book is a story of Jesus, who is not a member of the priesthood and was not supposed to be able to bless. However, Jesus raises His hands and blesses His disciples. In doing this, Jesus is claiming to be the promised Messiah who would be a prophet, priest, and king all rolled into one person. By lifting His hands to bless – which only priest were allowed and commissioned to do – Jesus was claiming the priesthood and displaying His divine nature as this triune being. This was why they returned to Jerusalem with such joy!

When the disciples saw Jesus ascending to heaven their Jewish minds would have quickly gone to the story of Daniel and the prophetic vision that he wrote down in Daniel 7 while in captivity in Babylon. In Daniel’s vision, four evil beasts came out of the abyss to bring chaos to the world. These four evil kingdoms of men misruled the earth and put it in shambles. Then in Daniel 7:13-14, Daniel sees, “one like a son of man”, coming with clouds to come and restore order to the chaos. This was taken by the Jewish minds as a reference to the Messiah who was to come and this is the first time in Scripture the Messiah was called the ”son of man”. Daniel’s vision then goes on to say that when this, ”son of man” went into heaven, He was led into the presence of God and was given authority over everything and that His rule and reign would be forever at the right hand of God. Interestingly, Jesus applied this title to himself several times and the disciples were definitely aware that Jesus called himself by this messianic term. In fact, the title “son of man”, is used for Jesus over one hundred times in the New Testament. Read Luke 9:21-22, Luke 9:26-27, Luke 11:29-32, Luke 18:31-34, and Luke 19:10 and also look at these passages in Matthew; Matthew 24:30-31, Matthew 25:31-33, and Matthew 26:64. From the Daniel story and by listening to what Jesus said about Himself, when they witnessed the ascension, they thought, ”He’s going to heaven now to sit at the right hand and rule with His father! He is the ‘Son of Man’ like He said He was!”

In Mark 16:19 it says that Jesus, ”was taken up to heaven and sat at the right hand of God.” This fulfills the prophetical verse in Psalm 110:1 where God declares the promised Messiah will sit at His right hand. Jesus says,”that’s me”, when He quotes that verse to the Pharisees in Matthew 22:41-45. In conclusion, because of prophecy and Jesus’ words to them, the disciples knew exactly where He was going, where He would be sitting, and what He would be doing when He got to heaven. He would now have all authority over the earth. When they saw Jesus ascend to heaven, they realized in a huge way, “Our Rabbis is King of the Universe! He’s in Charge! He does have all authority!” Then an angel comes and tells them that He will be coming back the same way that He left.

Given this background, isn’t the ascension every bit as important to God’s deity as His resurrection? The ascension proves that Jesus is the King; He is ruling and reigning over the universe now! Like the first disciples, we are also to be witnesses of His ascension. When He said to, “be my witnesses”, it was not only witness to the resurrection, it was witness to His ascension as well. We are to be witnesses that He is not only our Savior, but He is also our King! Evidently, the early disciples really believed that He was in charge of the world. Do we? By what we say and how we live, we also are witnesses to whether or not Jesus is in charge of the universe. Every time we choose to do what the King desires we are taking back a square foot of the Kingdom and are advancing the Kingdom of Heaven. Conversely, every time we choose not to do what the King desires and requires, we loose a square foot of the Kingdom. He didn’t say, “Just hang on till I get back”, He said to start advancing the Kingdom here on earth. We are to be expanding the Kingdom by the way we serve the ascended King. What square foot will you take today by living the way the ascend King wants?

Abraham and the Three Strangers

AbrahamAngels-panoUnless you have experienced the hospitality of the Middle Eastern culture, there is really no way to describe it. It seems impossible, in a way, to think of hospitality in an area of the country where there is so much hatred and violence taking place. Yet, hospitality in this region is seen as a sacred obligation. If you think about Bible times, living conditions were harsh and food hard to come by. Because of this, sitting down at a meal and sharing your food and drink with strangers was seen as the ultimate act of giving and hospitality. To open your tent and to eat at the table with people not of your own family was considered the essence of a peaceful and harmonious relationship. Job 31:32 says, ”but no stranger had to spend the night in the street; my door was always open to the traveler.”

In Genesis 18, we see the earliest biblical record of this Middle Eastern hospitality and love of the stranger. Abraham is sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day when he notices three strangers approaching his encampment. These are men that he doesn’t know or recognize. As soon as he spots them, he gets up and runs out to meet them and then bows before them and welcomes them into his camp. First of all, in the Middle East, grown men in their robes do not run! It is considered shameful and humiliating to pull up your robe, exposing your legs, to run. Also, at the end of chapter 17, the last thing that has happened to Abraham was that he was circumcised. Running would not have been an easy thing to do in his condition! Abraham humbles himself before these three men and washes their feet. Then, he calls them “Lord” and calls himself ,”your servant”. Next, he invites them into his tent to eat with his family. He orders his wife to knead three seahs of flour into bread and to cook it for these three strangers. How much flour and bread was that? Three seahs of flour, according to most scholars, would have been fifty to sixty five pounds of flour! That would have been enough bread for a month! Then Abraham ran out into his herd, got a young calf, had it killed and prepared to eat by one of his servants. Also, he had curds (like cheese) brought in to to eat. While the three strangers ate, Abraham stood by and watched, waiting to serve them.

It turns out that theses three strangers were two angels and God himself. By humbling and sharing with these three strangers whom he never even thought that he would see again, he ended up feeding God! Now, think about this New Testament verse and see if the author wasn’t referring back to this incident:

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers,for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.
Hebrews 13:2

Now fast forward to the New Testament and listen to what Jesus says in Luke 13:21:

Again he asked,“What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

Jesus used the exact same amount of flour that Abraham and Sarah used to describe what the Kingdom of Heaven was like! Was Jesus saying to His audience – who would have been well-versed in the Hebrew Scriptures – “The Kingdom of Heaven is like what Abraham did for the three strangers?” Abraham (and also us), in welcoming the stranger, was feeding God and ushering in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus later enforces this by saying, “I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me something to eat, I was a stranger and you took me in (Matthew 25:35-40).” What a picture this paints of the Father and His eagerness to bring in the stranger and welcome him into His house! The idea of humbling ourselves and being anxious to be friendly towards people that are marginalized and outcast is an imposing thought for us westerners. We are not naturally inclined towards love for the stranger and more reserved in our approach to people. These verses are a poignant reminder of what Jesus expects from the people that carry his name.

Lord Teach Us to Pray: Part 3

Christ, the King

Part 3 of a Series on the Lord’s Prayer, found in Luke 11:1-4 and Matthew 6:9-13

In our third post we will tackle the second phrase of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom come (tamklikh malkhutkha), thy will be done (yei’ase retzonkha), on earth as it is in heaven (ba-shamayim u-va’aretz). The teachings of Jesus on the subject of the “Kingdom of God”, or the “Kingdom of Heaven” are found in many places in the gospels and have been discussed and debated extensively throughout the centuries. In this post, we will not try to cover all the many facets of this important subject, but we will attempt to understand what Jesus would want us to know about praying for His Father’s Kingdom to come and His will to be done.

It is interesting to note that Jews had been praying for God’s Kingdom to come long before Jesus put it in His model prayer. An ancient prayer, called the, “Alenu” (which is still prayed in synagogues today), has the following lines concerning the Kingdom:

“Therefore we do wait for you, O Lord our God, soon to behold your glory….when the world shall be regenerated by the Kingdom of the Almighty…. So will they (the world) accept the yoke of your Kingdom and You will be King over them forever….for yours is the Kingdom and to all eternity shall you reign in glory. The Lord shall reign forever and ever, and the Lord shall be King over all the earth.”

As we shall see, knowing that this was how they prayed and how they viewed God’s Kingdom will really help us to understand the Lord’s Prayer. We have always been taught that, “Thy Kingdom come”, meant God’s second coming, as in “Come soon Lord!” This may well be a part of the meaning, however, the Kingdom is much more complex than just His second coming and contains several paradoxes that are hard to comprehend. Let’s look at the paradoxes as they are presented in the gospels.

First of all, we know from Jesus’ teaching that the Kingdom of God has already come in the person of Christ (Luke 11:20). Yet, in the Lord’s prayer it sounds like we are to ask for it to come, and speaks of a future time when it will show up. In essence, the Kingdom is both “already” and “not yet”.

Secondly, we know that the Kingdom of God is near as Jesus stated in (Mark 1:15). Yet, in (Luke 19:11-27) Jesus told a parable to a crowd of people that were expecting the Kingdom of God to appear immediately, telling them that the Kingdom was not near but was to appear at some time in the future. So, the Kingdom is near, but far away.

Thirdly, it also seems from the gospels that the time of the coming of the Kingdom is unknown and unknowable (Matthew 24:36), but yet in Matthew 24:3-35 and Luke 21:5-36, Jesus gives us the signs that tell us when the Kingdom will be coming! The Kingdom then is unknown, yet known.

Finally, read Luke 17:20 where it says that, “the Kingdom of God is within you”, yet it is also described as an outward event that we can see with our eyes. The Kingdom is both within and without.

In light of these apparent paradoxes, how do we know what we are praying for when we pray for his Kingdom to come? The answer lies in the ancient prayer that we cited at the first of our post. The ancients prayed that all the world would come to know, worship, and serve the Jewish God and that the people would be subject to His rule and reign. By praying for His Kingdom to come and His will to be done here on earth, we are praying for the gospel to go forth and for people to be subject to His Kingship with all that entails. Instead of just standing by waiting for the world to come to know Him, we are to be actively making His Kingdom come by bringing people to a knowledge of Him and to worship Him as their Lord and King. To have a Kingdom, you have to have a King, and subjects who obey the King and live according to His laws. Jesus, in the Lord’s Prayer, was talking about Gods’ rule and reign over the daily lives of His people and not just a future time when He would show up in power at the end of time.

This makes perfect sense when added to the next line in the Lord’s Prayer, “On earth like it would be in Heaven”. As His disciples, we are to expand His reign over the earth so that His will is done, just like it would have been done in heaven. To say that, “His will be done”, implies that we have a choice whether to obey God’s will or not and we must accept responsibility for what we do here on earth. Even here, there is a paradox as God is sovereign and directs history – His will is always done. Yet somehow, we are free to oppose His will and His plan for us. It is all God and we are unable to add anything to the equation, yet He demands our obedience. We live our daily lives between these two stones. This tension is exemplified in the phrase, “on earth as it is in heaven”. Our lives here on earth and the way we live them is what fits us for heaven, but our purpose is for His Kingdom to come here on earth. We must be about doing His will and letting people know about His Kingdom while we are here on earth.

To sum up these first three sections of the Lord’s Prayer: We pray to, “Our Father“ (not my father – think community), “who is in heaven”, and sovereign over us, and pray that “His name would be made Holy” in our lives and actions and that we would do nothing to make it unholy. We pray for,”His Kingdom to be made known” to all people here on earth, and for us to be obedient subjects to His will “just like it would be done in heaven”. These three petitions, “Hallowed be your name”, “Your Kingdom Come”, and “Your will be done”, have long been called the, “Thou” petitions because they focus on our thoughts and prayers towards our Heavenly Father.

In our next post we will turn our attention to the three ”We” petitions, where we ask God to help us in our daily lives.

Where Heaven and Earth Meet – Part 2

We finished our first lesson with God creating a new space where He could dwell with His creation. After the Fall, God and man were separated from each other by sin. The tabernacle would be the new place and the new space where God could reunite with His people. As the intersection of heaven and earth, the Tabernacle was a constant reminder to the Israelites that God was with them as they traveled the wilderness and entered the Promised Land.

Later, God had them build Him a permanent space when they constructed Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. However, the prophet Jeremiah prophesied that in the future there would be a time when all of this would change. In Jeremiah 31:31-34, it says that God would change the old sacrificial system that was outward and put it in the hearts of the believers. Verse 34 finishes by saying that God will forgive their sin and remember their iniquity no longer.

In both the Tabernacle and the Temple, God said through the Temple ceremony sacrifice, “Your sins are forgiven”. Only God could forgive sins; forgiveness was only found at God’s house, the Temple. Fast forward nearly one thousand years until the time of Jesus’ coming. Jesus was with His disciples in the Galilee, ninety miles from Jerusalem and the Temple. Mark 2:1-12 tells the story of a lame man that four of his friends brought to see Jesus. They couldn’t get to Jesus because of the crowds, so they cut a hole in the roof and let the lame man down into the room in front of Jesus. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Son, your sins are forgiven”. Immediately, the teacher of the law said that this was blasphemy, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” They were saying, you can’t do that! Only God can do that and then only at the Temple.

Can you see the paradigm shift here? Jesus said to the teachers of the law, “The Son of man (Jesus) has authority on earth to forgive sins. I am the new Temple – I can forgive sins! I am where heaven and earth meet!” There are several other places in the gospels where Jesus told his listener, your sins are forgiven (e.g. Luke 7:48-49, where the listeners said, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?”). In fact, what ultimately led to Jesus crucifixion was that He was messing up the Temple system. He was doing what the Temple was supposed to do and that was a huge threat to the Sadducees and Temple authorities.

God never intended for the Temple in Jerusalem to be the final answer to God dwelling with His people! Jesus was resurrected and went back to heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father, so where is the Temple now? Where is that space that God inhabits and where heaven and earth meet? Where do people come to have their sins forgiven? Because of what happened at Pentecost, we, the body of believers (1 Corinthians 3:16), are the New Temple (also Ephesians 2:19-21)! God came out of His old house at Pentecost and is now dwelling in His new one! We (the church) are where heaven and earth now meet! He wants His presence to be us! We are the body and bride of Christ! There are a lot of people out there that need forgiveness of sins and the church should be the place where those sins can be forgiven. We can say with authority from Jesus himself, to someone, “Your sins are forgiven if you believe on the name of Jesus Christ” (John 20:23). In our churches and in our daily lives we are supposed to be creating a space where God lives, so that when homeless, abandoned or hurting people come in they find the presence of God. When your grandkids come over, is there a little slice of time and space where heaven and earth meet; where they feel loved, protected and forgiven? In our church meetings, do the unclean and the unforgiven find welcome, acceptance, and absolution? We are the New Temple and we are the place that God wants to inhabit! He wants us to be the place where heaven and earth meet. Our heart is that space that God inhabits, where He dwells with His people. What God began in the Garden of Eden, with his desire to dwell among (tabernacle; John 1:14) His creation, He completed by sending His Son and His Holy Spirit to dwell within us.

Additional reading:

  1. Discussion on “shakan” in Mount Sinai & The Mount of Transfiguration
  2. Creation Story in the Tabernacle

Where Heaven and Earth Meet – Part 1

When God first created heaven and earth in Genesis, they were both the same place. If you read the creation story, it does not talk about two distinct places where God lived and man lived. For example, the tree of life, which signified life without death, was located in the middle of the garden of Eden (Gen 2:9). This same tree of life is pictured in Revelations 2:7 and 22:2,14 as being in the new heaven at the end of the age. In Eden, God created a space where He could live with His creation. His perfect intention was for His people to dwell in His place, with full access to His presence. In Genesis 3:8, God was walking in the garden with His creation. It doesn’t say He came down from somewhere else to visit, it implies that He was there, his presence was with His creation in the garden He had created.


Because of the original sin of Adam and Eve, God was forced to drive them from the garden of Eden and put cherubim and a flaming sword to guard its eastern entrance and keep his creation from entering (Genesis 3:23). God was holy and could not live where sin was, so He had to separate himself from His creation.


The only hope that man now has is that God would have mercy and somehow redeem His fallen people that are separated from Him by the chasm of sin. The story of Eden is where the redemptive thread in the Bible begins. Who will pay the price for Adam and Eve’s rebellion? How do we get Eden back? The salvation story begins not with Jesus, but with Adam and Eve.

Because of His infinite mercy, God did not give up on his desire to dwell with His creation. In Exodus 25:9, he told Moses, “Have them make a sanctuary for me and I will dwell among them”. In this verse, you can hear the echo of Eden. God wants to live with His children again, so he has them build a sacred place where once again heaven and earth can meet and be one and the same.


Notice the similarities of the Tabernacle to the Garden. The entrance to both is from the east (Genesis 3:24 and Exodus 26). Both were guarded by cherubim (Genesis 3:24 and Exodus 26:31-33). God placed the tree of life in the garden (Genesis 2:9). In the construction of the Tabernacle, God told the craftsmen to build the menorah to resemble the tree of life, with buds, blossoms, branches and fruit (Exodus 25:31-39). The tabernacle was erected on the first day of the New Year (Exodus 40:17) to signify a new beginning between God and His people (see also Creation Story in the Tabernacle).

Heaven and earth could now meet in the Hoy of Holies where God lived in the Tabernacle. Time and space would meet here where God would forgive the sins of the people through the sacrificial system He put in place. For one small moment, the Garden of Eden would be back, sins would be forgiven, and worshipers would experience what heaven is like. God would be living with His people again.

The Coming of the Maharaja

As we learned in our study of the Shema, the Hebrew words, “b’khol” and “uve’khol”, are translated as “with all” and “and with all”, as in, Love the Lord your God, ”with all” your heart, “and with all” your soul, “and with all” your might. However the Hebrew word, ”uve’khol” packs an even bigger punch than its English translation. The following adaptation of an old Indian fable was given to me as a parable of sorts to explain what it means to do something with “uve’khol”. The story reminds me of how Jesus would explain something by saying, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like” and then tell a parable to explain God’s personality and His Kingdom. Listen and have ears to hear what the story has to say about loving the Lord with all your heart, soul, and might.

In rural India, in the late nineteenth century, there lived a young man who was born into a poverty class and because of this was forced to beg for a living. The countryside was poor and the living meager for even those in the higher classes of people. Due to his position in life, the young man owned no land and had no means of support. His parents had died and left him alone and he was forced to live off the generosity of others. There was no currency to speak of, so the man carried a large cup with him and held it out to beg, hoping to receive grains of rice from his fellow villagers. He would station himself on the crossroads of the village tracks, hoping to catch the farmers as they came to and from the fields. On his best days, he might fill the cup half to three fourths full of rice to give him a meager meal for his supper.

One day as the man sat in his customary position on the dirt tracks leading to town, he noticed some activity at the far end of the road that came towards the village. As he strained to look, a huge procession of people and animals began to take shape in the distance. He could see soldiers and flag bearers in their bright uniforms leading the way, and what came behind the soldiers caused his heart to leap in his chest! A procession of elephants was coming and that could only mean one thing! The Maharaja was coming to their village! The title, “Maharaja”, means, “ great king” and there was only one in the province! All the villagers had heard rumors about him, but no one had ever seen him in person. It was almost unbelievable that their great king was actually here and coming to their town!

Quickly the beggar moved to a place in the road where they could not miss seeing him when the procession passed by. This was his once in a lifetime chance to actually receive something of value in his beggar’s cup. His quick actions put him at the front of the large crowd of people that had also spotted the procession and were gathering to witness the spectacle. Finally, the formation of soldiers reached the edge of the village and began passing by the beggar. Just as the lead elephant was approaching the man’s position, a command was shouted out for the elephants to stop. The man couldn’t believe his fortune! He was in the perfect spot! With another command the elephant went to his knees and the Maharaja dismounted. Surrounded by soldiers, the King moved toward the crowd. The beggar began to shout and frantically wave his cup, hoping to be noticed. The King spotted the beggar and walked directly toward him. Looking at the man’s cup, the Maharaja asked, “How much rice do you have?” This question was not at all what the man had expected and it caught him completely off guard. Why would the King want to know how much rice he had? He owned all the rice in the world!

“Only half a cup, your Majesty!”, the man replied.

Then the King asked another startling question, “May I have all of it?”

“What?”, the beggar thought, “I was hoping to get a huge reward from him and now he wants all that I have?”

“Well, your highness, this is all the rice I have to my name. I suppose you could have half of it”, the man dejectedly said.

The Maharaja then took the cup, turned his back and poured out half the rice into a servant’s pouch. He then handed the cup back to the beggar and without another word, got back on his elephant and the command was given to leave. As quickly as it happened, it was just as quickly over.

Utterly dejected, the man sat beside the road with his head in his hands. It had all happened so fast! His one chance for riches had come and gone so quickly! “What did I do wrong?”, he chastised himself. Finally, he forced himself to look into his cup to see how much rice was left and how much the King had actually taken. When he looked in the cup, his jaw dropped to his chest! For very grain of rice that the Maharajah had taken, he had left a golden nugget! In anguish, the beggar cried out,”If only I had given him everything!

If we love the Lord with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our might, we can’t hold anything back! He wants it all, but promises so rich a reward in the process. We are the beggar without much to offer, but our King says, “Give me everything you’ve got!” Like the beggar, we are hesitant to let go! It seems too great a sacrifice and we want to hang on to what little pittance we have! Let’s give him everything we have and not look back-that is the definition of uve’khol! Shema!