Sermon Text — Acts 1 and Luke 24
May 15, 2015 — Ascension
In the Name X of Jesus. AMEN!
Beloved in the Lord,
To the Skies
For three and a half years they followed Jesus. That’s what disciples do, they follow their teacher, they go where He goes, hear what He speaks, and learn what He teaches, receive what He gives, and do what He bids. The Life of a disciple is always one of going, hearing, learning, receiving and yes, even doing. It has been forty days since Easter and the disciples are still following after Jesus in much the same way they did before Easter. They see Him. They touch Him. They hear His voice. They sit at His feet. They eat with Him. They walk with Him. They are not ashamed to be with Him. He is not ashamed to be with Him. Where Jesus is all is well because Jesus is risen from the dead. Death no longer has dominion over Him. If no longer over Him then no longer over His disciples. Following Jesus means eternal life. He is the way, the truth, and the life!
Now that its forty days after Easter Jesus leads His disciples once more. Where He goes they follow. That’s what disciples do. That’s why we’re here tonight. Leading them out as far as Bethany He blesses them. Beholding His pierced hands, the visible marks of death’s attack and so also death’s destruction, the disciples receive His Word, basking in the light of life. While blessing them Jesus is taken up. He is parted from them, ascended up to the skies, received by the cloud, welcomed by angels, heralded by the prophets, trumpeted by the saints. Like a mighty victor the one who conquered death triumphantly leads captivity captive. As Aaron wore the names of the tribes of Israel when he entered the holy of holies, so Christ our true High Priest in the order of Melchizedek wears the names of all believers on His heart. On His robe and on His thigh He bears the name King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16). To the Skies He ascends! To the right hand He journeys! To the throne of God He parades! There He prays without ceasing for His own. He rules over all the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land, over all that powers and principalities that exist and all that will ever be.
And the disciples are left staring into the sky. Disciples are called to listen but the temptation to see and wonder and marvel without understanding is often too great. So these men stare into the sky following their eyes instead of their ears. It’s not until they hear the angelic word that they are jolted from their trance and return to their vocations.
In Need of Power
Luke tells us in our reading from Acts that the hearts of the disciples were confused. Even now, even after forty days, even after everything Jesus taught them, they were still looking for the kingdom to be restored to Israel. Their affections were still formed by sensible objects. Their love still drawn to power. Their hope still set on glory. Their hearts still assuming too much. Such is the case when walking by sight. Salvation is by faith and not by sight. The disciples’ question echoes Old Adam’s dream – to follow after God by his own strength and merits. This not the nature of the Kingdom of our God. It does not advance by man’s power. In fact, man’s power works against the kingdom of God. Man is by nature sinful and unclean. Humanity is blind, dead, and God’s enemy. Jesus did not come to conquer humanity with swords and armies but to redeem humanity with blood, His blood. Though the world rages against Jesus, persecutes His church, imposes itself upon His Christians and seeks their divorce from Him and union with them against God, Jesus refuses to strike the world in wrath. He refuses to exalt even His own people with worldly power but rather provides for their lack of power as they have need to endure.
We Christians have no power in ourselves. The power we desire against our adversaries is contrary to the King’s will. The Savior does not wish us to repay suffering and persecution with vengeance and judgment, but rather wills us to turn the other cheek and offer ourselves in love and service. Our Lord does not wish us to call down fire from heaven, but directs us to pray for our enemies and bless those who curse us. He wills us to recognize our need and set our hearts on things above where He Christ is seated in power rather than chase after things that will perish on the day of His return. The Lord’s ascension compels us to follow our ears rather than our eyes, to walk by faith instead of sight, to acknowledge our needs and look to Him alone for every good and perfect gift.
To the Right Hand
For our Lord did not just go up into heaven, He ascended to the right hand of the Father. He didn’t go up as a spirit, apparition, or shadow of what He once was, but as the risen Christ. He ascended in His body to the right hand of God, the position of power over all things, to the throne of the Most High. All of this He did in His flesh, as a man, with our human nature. Therefore it is our human nature that sits on the throne of God. It is our human nature that is at the right hand of God. IT is our human nature that exercises fully and always the glories of the divine nature. Jesus has gone to the right hand of the Father not to be away from us, not to be absent, not to be limited, but to be nearer to us, with us, and unlimited in power, glory, honor, and majesty.
He is ascended as the conqueror of our mortal enemies; sin, death and devil. These raged against Him, did their worst, brought Him low, pierced His hands and feet, side and brow. These unleashed the full strength of man and hell against Him and He allowed it all to happen. He suffered hell’s fury, God’s justice, humanity’s rebellion. He turned the other cheek to be bruised. He offered His beard to be plucked, His brow to be crowned, His body to be broken, His blood to be shed, His life to be poured out. He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. And suffering these things for you and for all people Jesus has conquered these things for you and all people. His resurrection from the dead is the sign and seal of God’s approval. His ascension is higher than any prophet, priest or king. For He has ascended far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named not only this age but also in the age to come. That at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and confess Jesus Christ as Lord.
Power from On High Delivered here Below
As such a Lord He governs by grace and rules by His Word. His desire is to love and His love is given through means. He gives gifts to men, women, and children under the forms of water, bread, wine, and through the voice of a man. Through these the Savior leads His disciples and provides what they lack. Disciples follow where He leads and receive what He gives. Those sick with sin are given healing. Those dead in trespasses are raised to life. Those with an unclean conscience are cleansed with holy water. The despairing are given hope. The loveless are shown the depths of God’s love. The guilty receive mercy. The sinner is justified. Humanity is redeemed. God is glorified and the nations marvel!
Through these God is with His people. Through these God is with you. Therefore you are to follow the Savior where He leads, listen to what He speaks, receive what He gives and even do what He has given you to do. That’s why we worship especially today. Here in this place Christ is present leading, speaking, giving and doing for us. We hear His voice in the absolution. We hear it in the sermon. We hear it in the celebration of the sacrament and we receive the true body and blood of the Savior as a pledge of the forgiveness of our sins. This is why we come to church. It is almost impossible to remain steadfast without going to church. Just as it is impossible to survive without eating. Eventually the body fades away. So without hearing and receiving the Word of God eventually faith fades into unbelief. And our strength is overcome by weakness. For this reason we must all the more be watchful and remain steadfast in the Word. We who desire to be Jesus’ disciples are to be found where Jesus is present that on the last day where Christ is we shall be also.
To the Nations!
Until that day Jesus has given a mission to His church: Make disciples of all nations. This is not an institutional mission, but a vocational mission. For the life of Christ’s disciples is to be lived in the world but not of the world, serving all though completely free. His command to “go unto all nations” reveals the scope of His domino and the extent of His reign. Our Lord does not send His church just to the Jews, or to the Romans. His gospel is not just for Europeans or north Africans. Jesus is ascended above and beyond all kings, princes, countries, peoples – great and small, young and old, learned, wise, holy, poor, suffering, and dying. Jesus sends them to the nations, us to all the world. Evangelism happens because worship doesn’t. The call to Christ is a call to worship!
Therefore beloved, Christ sends you as He sent the first disciples. He sends you out with power from on high, power to suffer and endure, power that is given through Word and Sacrament and received by faith and not by sight. He sends you to your family and your friends, your neighbors and your enemies, those near and those far. He sends you to love not to war, to speak not to fight, to suffer not to conquer. He sends you out as His little Christians, those bearing His Name and His mark, those receiving His Word and His Spirit. You will be His witnesses in this world. You will be hated and you will be persecuted. You will struggle. You will hurt. You will suffer. You will speak the Word and the Word will bear fruit. Many will hear and many will believe. We may never see the fruit but we trust the Word and we await the harvest. Therefore we pray and we sing and lift our voice to Him to is seated on the throne, to the Lamb who is worthy of our praises. He is our God! And we are His dear children. Glory be to Him alone! AMEN!
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your heart and mind through faith in Christ Jesus. AMEN!