Ascension Day (Observed)
May 8, 2016
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Epistle, which was read a few minutes ago.
This past Thursday was a special day in the Church, Ascension Day. It’s a day that doesn’t get a lot of attention from most people, partly due to the fact that it always falls on Thursday. Some churches have services, but a lot, including us, don’t. Ascension Day occurs forty days after Easter and in between these two days our Risen Lord appeared to hundreds of people to prove He was alive and to encourage them for the days ahead. Now though has come the time for Him to take His seat at the right hand of the Father where Jesus will reign until the Day He returns. But what does this mean exactly? Is Jesus just kind of hanging out, waiting? Or is there something else going on? Even though Jesus has done all that needed to be done to save us, this doesn’t mean that He’s resting, instead Jesus is still active in our lives and in the life of the Church.
As we think about Jesus’ ministry and all the good He did and all the love He showed, we would agree that it would be great if He was still around. Can you imagine how great things would be if the Risen Savior was here walking the hospitals, talking to us on TV, and putting His arms around children? But interestingly Jesus says the opposite. He says, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you.” This verse is a little confusing; how can it be good that Jesus left us? What this means is that the Holy Spirit continues the work of Jesus by reminding the disciples of what Jesus taught, of strengthening them in the face of opposition from political and religious enemies, and most of all, leading the charge of sharing all that Jesus has done for this world, from His birth to His Second Coming. So as Jesus prepares to leave His disciples, He tells them one more time that He’ll still be working in this world. He says, “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak…He will take what is mine and declare it to you.” And sure enough, just ten days after Jesus ascends, the Holy Spirit descends on the disciples. We’ll celebrate the coming of the Helper next week on Pentecost Sunday, but today is still a great day to see that Jesus is at work in Him.
One of the ways we see that Jesus is still at work in this world is the fact that you are sitting here today. If Jesus wasn’t still working in this world through the Holy Spirit you’d be faithless. Well, maybe not completely faithless. You’d still trust in money or possessions or what have you, but you certainly wouldn’t believe in Jesus. It’s the Holy Spirit who gives you faith and the wisdom that looks to God for all good things. Paul says in the Epistle, “That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened”. Nobody can find God without the Holy Spirit, so Christ sends Him to us. We find Him in us when we’re brought to faith and we find Him in the Scriptures where He speaks to us and reminds us of all that God has done for us. We trust the Word of God because it came from Him through the disciples who received the power of the Holy Spirit and then shared His Word with the rest of the world, all the way down to us.
And as we walk through this life, what Luther calls this “veil of tears”, the assurance that we are not alone gives us comfort and courage. To face a world that is full of hate and sin without God’s help would be a terrifying thing, but we know He is with us. The same Helper Jesus sent to the disciples comes to us. We hear the Gospel message from Him. We hear all that God has done for us. We can be sure we’ll never be abandoned by God because Jesus was. We can be sure that Christ has prepared a place for us because He said He did. And as Paul says in the Epistle, we have a glorious inheritance waiting for us. He says, “You may know what is the hope to which He has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance.” He is preparing that glorious inheritance which He bought for us with His precious body and blood. Just as we talked about a couple of weeks ago, what awaits us far surpasses anything we can imagine or understand because it is made for us by Christ Himself.
There are so many descriptions of Jesus in the Bible that just about anyone can find a favorite picture of Jesus. Jesus as the Good Shepherd, the Bread of Life, the Living Water, and the Vine bring us comfort and assurance, I’m partial to Jesus as the Good Shepherd. The depiction of Jesus that doesn’t grab people all that often is Jesus as the Ruler of Everything. He may have gone back to Heaven, but to ascend to the right hand of the Father means that He is still very much in charge. This symbolic language speaks of Christ’s power, not His location, so Paul can say that He is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things under his feet.” There is nothing that has the upper hand over Jesus. If He can defeat Satan and Sin and Death, there is nothing that can threaten His power.
So as we watch our world go to hell in a handbasket, as we watch it all unravel, we can be certain that Jesus is at work. We may not see it, but there’s nothing going on that is a surprise to Jesus or that He can’t use for His glory. We get all bent out of shape about who the next president will be or what the future holds, when we really should be remembering who holds the future. It’s the Risen and Ascended Jesus Christ, and no matter what happens, He is in control. Satan seems to have unbridled power, but he doesn’t, he’s on a leash and he can only do so much. The Ascended Lord is still very much in control
Until that Day, Jesus is working in and through the Church. He says in Acts, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Jesus sent the disciples out to evangelize, and we’re saved through their message. We too now share that message with others. Every, single one of us knows people who don’t believe in Christ, who claim to have a faith, but don’t show it. It’s up to us to tell them the News that Jesus died for them and that He loves them. Everyone needs to hear that message, right? It came to us and now we give it to others. Why on earth would we not want everyone to hear what we know? We do, right? Jesus is still working in this world through us. We have best news in the world, we have the best Helper in the world, so all we have to do is speak.
Jesus is also at work protecting His Church. I know we have our doubts. We see how people revile Christianity and mock Christians. We hear about Christians being beheaded, crucified, and burned alive. It’s not easy for Christians, and for us in America, it’s going to get harder. But while Christians have suffered over the centuries, the Church has always stood. Jesus used these suffering Christians in a way that brings glory to Him, that raises us up, empowers the suffering, and draws Christians closer to Himself. And He will continue to guard and guide His Church no matter what. As long as we preach about Him correctly and as long as we baptize and commune the way He has instructed, He will work through us. Paul says Jesus is “head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” and what this means is that Jesus will use the Church to accomplish all the He wants it to do, until He comes again when the world will not see His power hidden in us, but it will be revealed to the world and every inch of creation.
The angels in the first reading said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into Heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into Heaven.” Jesus isn’t leaving for good. He’s working in invisible ways now, but when He comes back, everyone will see His power, every knee will bend and every tongue will confess that He is the Lord and Savior. Until then we trust that while the world is spinning hopelessly out of control, He’s in full control, and nothing threatens His power. He is at work. He is at work in us and through us so we live our lives faithfully teaching and preaching about Him until the day we all see Him come again in glory.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen