May 12: The Power to Endure

May 12: The Power to Endure

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Audio of Scripture reading, sermon, and closing prayer only

May 12 – Ascension Sunday

Scriptures: Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53


Two weeks ago you all did well on a fill-in-the-blank question I threw at you. So, I thought I’d pose another one and see how you do. This one is a fairly well-known Scripture verse. Some will know it by the reference itself, and some will recognize the wording of the verse. It’s Philippians 4:13, which is:

“I can do ________ through Christ who gives me _______. (Answer: all things/strength)

I can do what? (all things) …. through Christ who what? (gives me strength) I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.

One of the benefits days is that we have multiple translations of the Bible available to us. Some of the newer translations use wording which reflect a more modern way of talking. One of those newer translations is the CEB, the Common English Bible, which is the translation we use in our worship service. Listen to how Philippians 4:13 is worded in the CEB: I can endure all these things through the power of [Christ] who gives me strength.

Three things about the CEB rendering of Philippians 4:13 immediately jump out to me. The first is the use of the word “endure” instead of “do.” “Endure” implies the facing of some kind of hardship or difficulty.

The second thing is that it alludes to “all these things” instead of just “all things.” He seems to be talking about having to endure something specific—these things. If that’s the case, then what specifically is Paul having to endure? The answer is found in verses 11 and 12, where he writes, “I have learned how to be content in any circumstance. I know the experience of being in need and of having more than enough. I have learned the secret to being content in any and every circumstance, whether full or hungry or whether having plenty or being poor” (vv. 11-12). So, at the point in his life he wrote this letter, Paul had learned to endure much hardship, including poverty and hunger. But he wants to make it clear that this kind of endurance comes not from one’s natural abilities or resources, but from Jesus Christ. I can endure these things through the power of Christ who gives me strength.

The CEB’s reference to the “power of” Christ is the third thing that jumps out to me. The power of Christ. The power which belongs to Christ. The power which is Christ’s—which is his to give. We’re talking about a power which belongs to Jesus Christ and which he makes available to those he inhabits so that they can effectively and faithfully endure life’s hardships.

What, exactly, is this power Paul’s talking about? Well, let’s quickly look at three verses from today’s readings, two of which were read earlier. In Luke [chapter] 24, Jesus is giving final instructions to his disciples before his ascension back to Heaven. In v. 49 he tells them, “Look, I’m sending to you what my Father promised, but you are to stay in the city until you have been furnished with heavenly power.”

Luke also wrote the book of Acts, and he begins the book of Acts where he left off in his Gospel. Again, just before his ascension, he tells them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). In both situations, Jesus told his disciples that they would soon receive some kind of power from above—not earthly kind of power, but a power related to his Spirit. And that it would somehow come upon and fill them

The third is Ephesians 1:19-21. Whereas Jesus was talking about a power yet to be given and received, Paul’s letter, written some 30 years later, was referencing a power that had already been given and received. These verses are part of a longer prayer for the Ephesians which Paul writes out as part of his letter to them.  He writes in part:

“I pray that the eyes of your heart will have enough light to see…what is the overwhelming greatness of God’s power that is working among us believers. This power is conferred by the energy of God’s powerful strength. God’s power was at work in Christ when God raised him from the dead and sat him at God’s right side in the heavens, far above every ruler and authority and power and angelic power, any power that might be named not only now but in the future.”

In essence, Paul’s prayer—initially for his congregation in Ephesus, but now a prayer for every congregation and every Christian since then—is that we would know and experience firsthand — for ourselves — the very power behind the creation of the world, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and his bodily ascension back to his heavenly glory where he now sits “at the right hand of God, far above every ruler and authority and power.” At his ascension, Jesus gave his followers a heads-up. He told them this power would be coming, and all they had to do was wait for it. After that and as a result of it, they would embark on a task that would remain unparalleled for the rest of human history: the building of the church on earth as well as preserving it until the time of Christ’s return.

The return of Christ, his ‘Second Coming,’ is the context of Jesus’ comment about receiving power in Acts [chapter] 1:

“Those who had gathered together together asked Jesus, ‘Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?’ Jesus replied, ‘It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority. Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’ After Jesus said these things, as they were watching, he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going away and as they were staring toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood next to them. They said, ‘Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you saw go him into heaven.’” (Acts 1:6-11).

So, here’s what we believe about the power Paul prayed upon us. It’s of God and it’s from God.  It’s the power that created the world; and brought Jesus back from the depths of hell and raised him to life for all eternity; and lifted his physical body up and out of this world and returned it to his heavenly abode. It’s the power that will bring Christ back to this world some day; and return all of Creation to its original state of righteousness and wholeness, wherein all of the redeemed in Christ will dwell for eternity in God’s care in a state of light and life and joy and peace. This is the power the Jesus said he would give to his people to build the church—his body—in this world. And to preserve the church until his return. Paul said that it was by this power of Christ that he was able to endure the human hardships of this life—like hunger and poverty and shipwrecks and beatings. And this power was his by way of the Holy Spirit who lived within him. That same power is granted to us and for the same purpose.

But, friends, this power to endure is given for purposes far beyond keeping each of us going in this world. The real power of the Holy Spirit is that it has preserved the church throughout the last 2000+ years, and will continue to preserve us for the rest of human history, however long that will be, whether it’s 1 year or 10,000 years or 100,000 years. Jesus’ ascension was his guarantee of this. He’s alive today, sitting at the right hand of the Father. That’s the biblical witness. And a day will come when he returns, when the church, still alive, will be given its high and honored place for all of eternity.

We the church have endured both persecution and strife against us and injustices and wrongdoing from within–sometimes perpetrated against ourselves and sometimes against those outside of the church. Regardless, though, we’ve endured. Not because of our own strength or ingenuity or wisdom, but because of God’s grace and mighty power. And the good news is that nothing in this world can destroy the Church. Nothing! There may be times when we teeter, or dwindle, or seem irrelevant in the world. People may be crying out that the church is dying. But we can’t die! But the truth is that we’re empowered to keep going and keep bearing witness to the Lordship of Jesus Christ by the power that created the world, that resurrected Jesus, that seated him at God’s right hand, and that will restore Creation to its original state of righteousness.

That’s the power Paul talked about. And prayed for us to know. It’s the power Jesus said would be given to us. This power has a name: Holy Spirit. And next week, Pentecost Sunday, is when we celebrate the fulfillment of this promise. When the Spirit came upon the believers gathered in Jerusalem and empowered them to be the church, the body of Jesus Christ in the world. Let’s pray…

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