The Ascension of our Lord: Jesus Ascends, but does not leave us alone

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 2:8-15, Acts 1:1-11, Mark 16:14-20
Hymns: LSB 493, 492, 639, 495, 491

Listen to the service through the sermon here (the audio didn’t work after the sermon).

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

      Our Gospel Lesson from Mark gives a short account of Christ’s ascension, along with some of the words that Jesus spoke leading up to His ascension. These are some serious words that we must all heed today!

      Our Gospel begins right after Christ’s resurrection. He atoned for the sins of the world, bearing our sins and iniquities upon Himself as He bled and died for us on the cross. He was sacrificed in our place, forsaken by God the Father, and was sentenced to a sinner’s death. He suffered hell on the cross as He was left alone—stricken, smitten, and afflicted. Then He died. He took our sins with Him to the grave, burying them forever. Death no longer has its sting. Death is Dead. Christ Jesus lives. The grave could not hold Him. Satan lost. Life lives. Murderers like us and Barabbas go free.

      For forty days, our risen Lord appeared to the people, showing them His hands and feet, allowing them to touch His wounds so that they could see for themselves that Christ had indeed risen. He ate with His disciples. He caused them to catch another huge miraculous catch of fish. He appeared before over 500 brethren at once.

      Each appearance of Jesus before the people between His Resurrection and Ascension was necessary. After all, He said He would rise. The Scriptures testify to His resurrection. He demonstrated that He had risen, giving infallible proofs of His Resurrection.

      So now He is ready to ascend into Heaven.

      But ascending into Heaven seems to be a killjoy. Why should He leave us? Has He had enough of this world? Did He decide it’s too hostile for the way He was treated and decided He should come back when things will be better for Him?

      No. Instead, Jesus ascended to sit down at the right hand of God. Just think about what we confess in the Creed. We first confess the stages of His humiliation—that He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified died and buried. We confess that Jesus has always been the Son of the Father. But at His conception, He became Man—a human. (This, by the way, teaches that life begins at conception. Jesus became Man at conception.) During His stages of humiliation, He did not always use His divine attributes.

      Next, we confess His exultation—that Jesus descended into Hell, the third day He rose again from the dead, He ascended into Heaven where He sits and reigns. Now that He has fulfilled these stages of exultation, we confess that Jesus now fully uses all His divine attributes.

      In the final stages of His exultation, we confess that He sits and reigns. This is what a King does.

      At the Ascension He has entered His glory. You see, Christ is our King. His Kingdom is threefold: King of the universe (power), King of His church on earth (grace), King of His church in Heaven (glory).

      The disciples wanted Him to reign on earth. Many Christians have adopted the Jewish heresy that Jesus must reign on earth at some point. But look at how Jesus answers their question “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). He doesn’t say anything to directly answer their question. Instead, He ascends. His kingdom is not of this world.

      If Jesus reigned on earth, His kingdom would only be that of a portion of His kingdom of power and His kingdom of grace. But His kingly office encompasses far more than this, as St. Paul testifies in Ephesians 4:10, “He who descended is the One who also ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.”

      You see, Jesus has indeed ascended bodily. He now fully uses all of His divine attributes as the Man Jesus Christ. He is not limited to time and space. He is omnipresent, as St. Paul teaches.

      This is comforting. Jesus has not left us alone. He has done what is best. And He is still present, as Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matt 18:20) and  “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). He is present in His promises. He is present in His Word. He is present at Baptism. He is present in the Divine Service. He is present in Holy Communion. He is present here in your midst.

      Therefore, even though Christ has ascended, He is not gone. He is here. He is with us.

      We tend to forget His presence among us. We think we can get away with sin as King David did with Bathsheba, as long as we don’t get caught or as long as the pastor doesn’t know. We pretend that we get nothing out of the Divine Service, not recognizing His presence. We don’t want to take Communion too often, because we forget the reality of His presence. We aren’t naturally inclined to approach His throne of grace with reverence and awe. We don’t always honor Him when we’re in His presence. We plop down in our pews and carry on a conversation with our neighbors as if we’re at a ballgame. We seek entertainment, rather than God’s gifts of Word and Sacrament. Ultimately, all of this shows our disregard for Christ and His Ascension. Repent.

      For the risen Lord comes to you that you might share with Him in His Ascension and in His divine majesty. We are with Christ and He is with us. St. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:4-7, “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

      St. Paul writes in Col 3:2-4, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

      Your very existence—your eternal well-being is kept secure in the ascended Jesus. He is with you always.

      And He will return in the flesh again at the Last Day—in the same manner in which He ascended. He will return and judge the living and the dead. And He will grant unto you, O Christian, eternal life. He will do it because He bled and died for you. He took away your sins. He washed you in holy baptism. He cares for you dearly. You have eternal life. Amen.

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