The Ascension of our Lord: How Does Christ Remain Present?

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: Psalm 47, 2 Kings 2:5-15, Acts 1:1-11, Mark 16:14-20
Hymns: LSB 493, 492, 639, 495, 491

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.

      Other religions revere the graves of their founders. That should give the followers of those religions enough reason to leave them. The ones who started Islam, Mormonism, and Jehovah’s Witnesses are dead. They are mortal. And so are the religions they invented.

      It is much different with Christianity. The Triune God is the Creator, not creation. Christianity is not an invention of man, but it is salvation authored by God the Father, accomplished by the Son, and applied by the Holy Spirit.

      It would be interesting to visit the holy lands to see where Jesus walked the face of the Earth. While going to the Promised Land does not make us holier, it would give the opportunity to see some of the places where those important Biblical accounts took place. Of course, there are no bones or relics on display of our Savior, Jesus, for He is risen.

      It would be even more interesting to have been there when Jesus was conducting His ministry—to see Jesus in action, to hear His preaching, to witness the miracles He performed, to taste the wine He created from water at the wedding. But God has chosen a time and place for all things, and He has chosen for us to live in the here and now—not in previous generations, and not even to live in our own pasts.

      It would be nice to see Jesus face to face in this life—for Him to dwell in His flesh in our very midst. But I’m not sure how that would work. In His ministry, before Christianity caught on worldwide, Jesus already lamented that there was no place for Him to lay His head. Crowds would press about, making it difficult for people to hear Him. Many just wanted to see Him perform miracles. And others, jealous of His nature, were seeking to kill Him. Such polarization was common then, and it is no less common today.

      Leading up to Holy Week, there were some who were seeking to kill Jesus. They were so scandalized when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead that they sought to kill Lazarus as well.

      Then comes Palm Sunday. A crowd was following Jesus. These people were impressed by our Lord’s ability to raise Lazarus. They give Jesus that royal treatment fit for a King, laying down their cloaks and palm branches, shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

      On Palm Sunday, we sang:

Ride on, ride on in majesty!

In lowly pomp ride on to die.

Bow Thy meek head to mortal pain,

Then take, O God, Thy pow’r and reign. (LSB 441:5)

      In this single stanza, we hear of Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Easter, and the Ascension. Jesus rides into Jerusalem, demonstrating His kingly office. Yet, He rides into Jerusalem to die, bowing His meek head to mortal pain as He is beaten and crucified.

      Jesus, for the joy that was set before Him, did these things to take away the sin of the world, to bring reconciliation for iniquity, to redeem sinful man from the unbearable burden of sin.

      We have many sins to confess. We need Jesus to take our sin away. No one who is imperfect can come before the presence of God and live. And so, we plead guilty of our sin, and receive the Absolution—the forgiveness of sins—so that we are cleansed of unrighteousness and declared innocent by God.

      When we have sins which weigh us down, we are invited to go to our Pastor and confess our sin. Pastors will not reveal the sins confessed to them, for those sins are forgiven—completely gone. In the rite of the Individual Confession and Absolution we confess the following:

I, a poor sinner, plead guilty before God of all sins.

I have lived as if God did not matter and as if I mattered most.

My Lord’s name I have not honored as I should;

     my worship and prayers have faltered.

I have not let His love have its way with me,

     and so my love for others has failed.

There are those whom I have hurt, and those whom I have failed to help.

My thoughts and desires have been soiled with sin.

      Does this not describe us all? Is this not a very fitting confession? Does it not get to the very core of our own self-absorbed ways?

      Jesus has carried these sins to the cross and He atoned for them there. These sins of ours are replaced with very righteousness of Christ. That is, by faith in Christ, God does not see us in our sin any longer, but He sees us perfect in Christ. We are viewed by God as being acceptable to Heaven. Such a blessing! All because Jesus went into Jerusalem and died on the cross on our behalf, taking our sin away.

      “Then take, O God, Thy pow’r and reign.” In that Psalm Sunday hymn, we are rightly calling Jesus God. And we are acknowledging that His death does not end in death. For Christ is risen. And He not only rose, but He ascended into Heaven, where He is seated at the right hand of the Father, where He reigns.

      While it may be interesting to see the spots where Jesus could have been crucified and buried, that certainly is not as wonderful as knowing that Jesus still makes His presence among us and that we can go to the place where He has gone. Instead of going to a cemetery, we gather in God’s house. For Christ Jesus, who has ascended, still comes to us in our presence. You see, Jesus is with us always, even to the end of the age. Jesus has ascended into Heaven so that He would fill all things and be present everywhere.

      At times in His public ministry, Jesus would retreat to a secluded place. We sometimes like to do the same, seeking refuge from the busyness and craziness of this life. Ironically, we have a refuge here in this life; in fact, it is this place. Yes we congregate together and, for some of us, it is the time of the week when we are around the most people. But in God’s holy sanctuary, we are not met with the hustle and bustle of life, but instead we are met with Christ’s very presence through His saving Word and blessed Sacrament.

      When Jesus ascended into Heaven, it was not to get out of this crazy world and avoid it forever. For Jesus has not left us alone. He hears our various prayers and answers them, He joins us to His death and resurrection in Holy Baptism, and He unites His very Body and His Blood to the bread and wine in Holy Communion. What a remarkable reality! Christ Jesus is not gone, but He is here, joining Himself to sinners as we receive Him through His Body and Blood! In this, Jesus is forgiving us, as He forgave the Apostles after rebuking them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, not believing those who had seen the risen Christ.

      Remarkably, Jesus, after rebuking them, commanded them to preach the Gospel to all creation, that whoever believes and is baptized will be saved. He speaks of the trials they will face, facing demons, enduring snakes, drinking poison, getting sick. But Jesus will be with the disciples, helping them through their trials along the way.

      In the same way, the ascended Jesus is with us. He continues to shepherd us. He sits at the right hand of the Father, putting all enemies of the Gospel under His feet as His footstool, granting the victory to His own.

      If you want to go to the Promised Land to see the various sites our Lord walked, go right ahead. If you have already gone, enjoy your memories of that place. But know that the nearest place to be in presence of Jesus is not over in Israel, but it is here in God’s house. Jesus comes to you. He blesses you through His Word and Sacrament. And He delivers you the gifts that only a King can deliver. You are His, redeemed, restored, forgiven. Amen.

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