Ascension Service, Thursday, May 14, 2015.
GRACE, MERCY, AND PEACE are Yours this day from God our Father, through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. AMEN.
The text for us to consider this evening is from St. Paul’s letter to Ephesians, who writes of “the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His great might that He worked in Christ when he raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 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 and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”
In the NAME that is above all names, the Holy Name of Jesus. AMEN.
THEME: Jesus Ascended For You.
It was quite natural that the Apostles stood, peering into heaven that day – gazing up at the cloud that removed Jesus from their sight. It’s the position we often find ourselves in. Jesus is ascended on High – and we think He is far removed from us – far above us – distant and inaccessible.
This is, in fact, why we need to hear the Word of the Lord spoken by the Apostle this evening. Because the Ascension of Jesus did not remove Him or separate Him from us. In fact, it is precisely the opposite.
First we must see that, because He has ascended to God, we now have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous one. He interceeds to the Father on our behalf, covering over our sin with His righteousness and holiness. Any accusation that arises against us is answered for by the Ascended Lord Jesus. As we are in Christ, God the Father no longer sees our sin, but He sees only the righteousness of Jesus. The blood that began coursing through his veins when He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the virgin Mary, was poured out in payment. And because we are in Jesus, and Jesus has paid the debt, there is nothing that remains outstanding. That life which He lay down for your redemption and mine, the Lord Jesus has now taken up again and now is raised to the position of power and authority at the right hand of God where He exercises dominion over all of creation.
This is what was always intended – from the beginning, man was put on earth to rule and reign over creation caring for everything that God had created according to His good and gracious will. This is why Jesus was born of the virgin Mary. This is why He suffered temptation, lived and breathed and walked among us, so that as a true man – one who was tempted in every way that we are, yet remained without sin, Jesus would be raised to the rightful place that man was to occupy. And now, this man, Jesus, exercises all authority in heaven and on earth.
This is what the Apostle means when He says that He is above every name that is named not only in this age, but also in the one to come. By His ascension, Jesus, now holds the position that is above all rule and authority, power and dominion. His Name is above every name.
But what should impress us this day is that the Father has done this not for His own glory and majesty – His own soverignty and might, but God the Father has done all this for us.
He has done it for us, who have been called by that Name. He has done For us who have been baptized into that Name. He has done it for us who have been given faith and trust in the work He has completed by pouring out His blood to save us from our sin. FOR US the Father has put all things under Jesus’ feet.
And this fact provides for us great comfort and peace. Because with Jesus ascension we are not loved and cared for by a God who cannot sympathize with our troubles, our trials and our weaknesses. We have a Lord who rules with all of our frailties in mind. Because it is not merely the divine Son of God who ascends to the Father, but it is the God-Man – it is Jesus who in both His divinity and His humanity enters into the unapproachable light of the cloud of glory that envelops the Holy and Mighty creator of the universe.
Therefore we dare not in any way doubt that God does indeed understand our weaknesses as He rules and governs all things for our good.
The One who felt the pangs of hunger and thirst during His fasting in the wilderness – the one who felt his flesh tearing as the bits of bone struck his back as He was scourged, the one who suffered the separation of His body and His soul in the hour of His death is a man with flesh and blood, heart and soul as we have. And He is the one who has ascended.
Now, by His Ascension, this Jesus, our brother according to the flesh, fills all things. Now He is nearer and more accessible to us than he ever could be by walking among us as He did with His disciples.
Wherever we are, wherever we go, He is there – with us. We remain connected to Him by the faith He works in us by His Spirit so that we can look at our surroundings and know and understand that no matter the appearance of things, Jesus is acting and working for our good – to bless and preserve us in the midst of all that happens during this life.
This is what the Apostle means when he speaks of the immeasurable greatness of God’s power in raising Christ from the dead and seating Him at the right hand of God.
Now, whenever God acts, He acts through the humanity and the divinity of Jesus. And the whole reason and purpose for His actions in these days for the blessing and preservation of His church. This is why the Apostle says, “He put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church.”
By His ascension, He is hidden from our senses, but He is truly and substantially present because just as the Divinity of God is omnipresent, so to is the humanity and divinity of Jesus present in all places. What’s more, He indwells those who are His own and even more amazingly, He gives Himself in body and blood to all who kneel at His banquet table. These things would be impossible if Jesus remained locally present as He was with the Apostles between His resurrection and the day of His ascension.
So we see that Christ Jesus is the gift and treasure of God who does not live and reign to His own glory alone, but lives and reigns in us and among us and for us. He is active in keeping and preserving faith in the world so that we may hear and know of God’s wonderful grace and mercy in saving us from our sins.
Now, you may ask, what of all the persecution and danger and trouble in this world? Why is ISIS beheading Christians, if Jesus lives and reigns? Why were the Apostles killed and tortured for their faith if Christ Jesus ascended to exercise dominion over all things for the church? Should not the church overcome all adversity in this world. If God is for us, why does it seem that the whole world is arrayed against us and wins?
Dear friends, do not let the appearance of things confuse you or confound you or cause you to doubt. This side of eternity, we do not see clearly and properly how God is working all things together for good. We are still wrapped up in a worldly way of thinking that looks for earthly glory and sees the cross as a thing of weakness and shame.
But Jesus’ Ascension is a sure and certain testimony to God’s victory through the cross and it is a sure witness to His power in what appears to us to be weakness.
Those brothers and sisters who suffer and die for the faith are – each and every one of them – a special gift to the church. Faced with such a painful death, each of us on our own would renounce Christ if it were not for His work in us keeping and preserving us in the faith.
Just as Christ’s death was but one step closer toward the fulfilling of His work of salvation – a necessary event by which He won victory over death – so the death of one of His own who dies in the faith – is but one step closer to the full number of the redeemed being glorified together with Christ. As the Apostle wrote, “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain!” And as the Psalmist confesses, “Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of His saints.”
Those that are persecuted and die with the name of Jesus on their lips are simply further testimony that nothing in all creation can separate us from His love and care and mercy because Jesus’ ascension brings Him closer to us than we could in any other way be. We have been united with Jesus by our baptism, and His victory over sin, death and the power of the devil is our own victory. We have been made alive with Him already, what the world does to us Christians, it does to Christ Jesus Himself, for we are His body – the fullness of him who fills all in all. Already, even now, we, along with Him are seated in the heavenly places. So on the last day, the apparent defeat we suffer in persecution or even martyrdom will be seen as a victory. And just as Christ Jesus was raised from the dead, we too shall rise again to live and reign with Him for all eternity.
And so this is the comfort of Jesus’ ascension. We ought not gaze into the heavens feeling alone and destitute – as if He has made us orphans during this time between His first coming and His return. Rather, we are given the joyful assurance that our Lord Jesus lives and reigns over all things in this world for our good – keeping us from the true evils that would strip us from the faith – upholding us in faith and mercy as He gives us hope and help and strength to endure to the end so that when He returns we will be gathered with Him to live in His Kingdom which will have no end.
In the NAME of Jesus. AMEN.