The Ascension of our Lord: the Ascended Christ Reigns

The Ascension of our Lord
Cover: Leaving his disciples below, Jesus is taken up into heaven to sit at the right hand of God (Acts 1:1-11). From Martin Luther’s Church Postils (Sermons), 1549.

Lessons: 2 Kings 2:5-15, Acts 1:1-11, Luke 24:44-53
Hymns: LSB 491, 492, 493, 495

Listen to the entire service here (the sermon alone is above).

      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

      It’s fitting to have an opportunity this week to come to church to pray. For when you come to church, you not only listen, but you pray. You pray to our ascended Lord throughout the liturgy, in many hymns, and in the many prayers. This reason alone ought to motivate us Christians to gather in God’s house whenever there’s a church service. And, as important as prayer is, the Divine Service offers so much more. Our ascended God graciously speaks to us. He absolves us. He gives us His Body and His Blood for us Christians to eat and to drink.

      We need these things. We can see from recent events how sinful mankind is, which also speaks to how mortal we are. It’s so tempting to think that we can solve all the world’s problems by using our great might. The economy tanks from shutdowns due to a pandemic? Spend $4 trillion. A war breaks out in Europe? Many want us to send in our best military might to quickly end the atrocious war there, as if we can swiftly and cleanly settle it without any harm to any people. Mass shootings? The solution offered by many is to create new laws to regulate the masses. But what about the existing laws against crime, drugs, sex trafficking, and underage use of tobacco, alcohol, and pornography? Yet those who want these things readily and freely get them as they desire.

      We love greatness and strength. That’s why so many are captivated by the superheroes in comic books and movies, and why the ancients were so caught up with mythology. That’s why Putin thought he could swiftly invade and conquer Ukraine. That’s why lost and directionless young men think they can show up with a cache of weapons and shoot away at people.

      Focusing on our greatness as a country is really the wrong place to start. Recall the words of the blessed Virgin Mary when she visited Elizabeth after learning they will both give birth, fulfilling God’s promise to send His Son and the forerunner to the Messiah. Mary said, “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” (Luke 1:51-53). God brings down the mighty, the proud, and the rich. Their might is nothing compared to God’s. After all, He is the Creator of all things.

      God is so great that He sets the heavens, as it is written in Job, “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion? Can you lead forth the [constellations] in their season, or can you guide the Bear with its children? Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you establish their rule on the earth?” (Job 38:31-33) God is asking, do you have the ability to place the stars in the sky? No, but He does. Or consider the great beasts of the Earth. God asks Job, “Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook or press down his tongue with a cord? Can you put a rope in his nose or pierce his jaw with a hook? Will he make many pleas to you? Will he speak to you soft words? Will he make a covenant with you to take him for your servant forever? Will you play with him as with a bird, or will you put him on a leash for your girls? Lay your hands on him; remember the battle—you will not do it again!” (Job 41:1-8) How strong does man think he is? Yet he won’t play with the giant sea creature. Man won’t make deals with the Leviathan, play with it, or battle it. But God made it. He is greater than His creation. Then God adds, “Behold, the hope of a man is false; he is laid low even at the sight of him. No one is so fierce that he dares to stir [the Leviathan] up. Who then is he who can stand before me? Who has first given to me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.” (Job 41:9-11)

      God is the Creator of all things. Man ruined God’s perfect creation by sinning. God created a way to fix that which man wrecked. And so we turn to our Creator and Redeemer and Sanctifier. We look to Him for the source of all help and comfort. For He alone can get us through this messed up world.

      We heard in our Gospel that Jesus truly accomplished what He was sent by His Father to do for us and for our salvation. He fulfilled everything that was written of Him in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and Psalms. He got to the heart of what He must do when He said to His disciples, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead” (Luke 24:44-48). Jesus didn’t come to strongarm mankind to be His subjects. He didn’t come to destroy the thrones of all the kings of the earth so that He can take up His own throne in some earthly palace and rule the world by force. While Jesus is God and His greatness is beyond our comprehension, Jesus came for better reasons. He came to reconcile us sinners to Himself, to take our sin away, to fulfill His Father’s will, to declare sinners righteous, to love us and lay down His life for us. The Resurrection of our Lord proves that Jesus truly took away the sin of the world. The ascension of Jesus proves that Jesus truly did everything that the Father commanded of Him and fulfilled all that the Scriptures said of Him.

      Repentance and forgiveness must now be proclaimed in His name to all the nations. What Jesus earned for all must be applied to all. When sinners hear the Law, the Holy Spirit brings them to repentance. They then hear forgiveness through the Gospel. Jesus ascended to Heaven so that no people group can lay claim to the Gospel to the exclusion of others. The Gospel is to be proclaimed to all nations—even to all who have done wickedness. Jesus paid for the sins of Putin, the recent mass murderers, and all those who have failed our young through the lack of parental guidance, selfish ideals taught in schools, failed justice systems, the lack of mental health providers, and the failure to bring good systems to those who desperately need them. Many people think we can affectively fix our problems by enacting more laws, which are usually bandaid the problems. Many think they can solve the problems our society faces, just by endless talking. Many think that exercising greatness and strength fill cure all our ills.

      God provides another way, one that is much humbler. It is found first in Christ, who humbly accepted the burden of the world’s sin and paid for all sin Himself. He did not, in self-righteous indignation, point His fingers against all who had done wrong. Instead, He bore their sins in His Body and made the ransom payment for their sin. The way of Christ is that of faith in our Savior, who loves the world and gave Himself up for all people.

      So how, then, can all these wrongs we see in our society be corrected? First and foremost, as God’s people, we must be in the Word. That way we can confess the truth to others and discern between God’s truth and the world’s lies. We can know what pleases God and what is evil. Then we can extol that which is good.

      Second, we pray. As we are in the Word, we learn to pray. As I said on Sunday, for Luther, prayer did not come about so much by our reading the world, but primarily as he read the Word. The more we’re in that Word, the more we pray.

      Third, we learn to be faithful to that Word. Look at how much better our world would be if we didn’t have any access to porn, murdering babies, or mind-numbing violent video games. Look at how much better our world would be if we extolled marriage and insisted that couples keep their vows, providing help for them when they struggle. Look at how much better life would be for our children! Most mass murderers do not have both parents in the home, good fatherly mentors, and a healthy set of upright friends. We are so enamored with strength that we give all our attention to the jocks in school and neglect those who are weaker. And then we wonder why they get so messed up! They look for mentors and find them online where countless predators are seeking to devour them. Children are given smartphones which often have no parental controls, opening them up to a very dark, sordid world. At the same time, children spend very little time in Church. There’s no excuse for them to miss Sunday services and our educational offerings.

      For there’s nothing more important than to teach this saving Word. Jesus said repentance and forgiveness must be proclaimed. Look at how much stronger homes and communities would be if we honored God by abiding in His time-tested divine Word!

      Until we return to the Lord, the Creator of all things, and the One who has carried out our salvation, we will be grasping at straws. We may come up with a few worldly solutions that will last for a time, but we will remain a ticking time bomb, producing more mass murderers, drug addicts, pornographers, sex traffickers, and the list goes on. Now is the time to return to the Lord. He not only has the power to make all things new, but He has already proclaimed His victory. Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father. He has not left us but is always present among us. His enemies become His footstool. He is the Victor. Christ has triumphed.

      We long to be with Jesus. His ascension means that the world as we know it is our temporary home. We will leave the possessions behind that we treasure so dearly when we breathe our last and join our Lord in Paradise. Therefore, our eyes are not fixed on what we possess, but they are fixed heavenward, toward our Savior Jesus and the spiritual blessings granted by His grace. Being with the Lord is our fatherland, our heritage, and our eternal home. And so, our hope abides in Christ, who lives and reigns to all eternity. Amen.

      The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen