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The Ascension of Our Lord

Acts 1:1–11; Luke 24:44–53

James T. Batchelor

The Ascension of Our Lord
Saint Paul Lutheran Church  
Manito, IL

view DOC file

Thu, May 5, 2016 

We can learn a lot about the Ascension of our Lord from the information that Luke the Evangelist provides in the first reading and the Gospel reading for this evening.  Luke informs us that the ascension took place near Bethany.  Bethany is east of Jerusalem just on the other side of the Mount of Olives.  Luke also informs us that the Ascension happened forty days after the Resurrection.  That is the reason we are meeting this evening on the fortieth day after our celebration of Easter.  Luke provides an account of what the witnesses saw at the Ascension.  When he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. (Acts 1:9) Luke the Evangelist gives us a lot of information about the Ascension of our Lord, but there are some things that he does NOT say.

For example, many people just assume that once the cloud hid Jesus from sight that Jesus just kept on going up, and up, and up.  They assume that Jesus just left the earth behind and He is now far, far away.  They assume that Jesus is watching the big picture from somewhere way far away.  From that far off command center, He gets involved with the important things that happen in this world, but for the most part, He has bigger, more important things to do than keep an eye on us.

The Bible teaches something different.  When we read Lukes account carefully, we realize that he only tells what the disciples saw.  Jesus rose from the surface of the earth far enough for a cloud to receive Him.  After that, Luke tells us nothing.  Is Jesus riding around on the clouds just out of our sight like some sort of surfer in the sky?  Did the cloud hide a door in the sky that goes from time into eternity?  If all we had was Lukes account, Jesus could have gone anywhere after the cloud hid Him.  If we want to know what happened after the cloud hid Jesus, we must look elsewhere in the Bible.  Here is where this evenings reading from Pauls Epistle to the Church in Ephesus really helps.

In this reading, the Holy Spirit spoke through the mouth of the Apostle Paul and told of the great work of God 20that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21far 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. 22And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:2023) These words can fill in many of the blanks concerning the Ascension of our Lord.

First of all, Paul wants his hearers to understand that the Ascension is not just a movement in time and space, but it is also a recognition of authority.  When we hear that Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father, it is helpful to think about what it means that an earthly monarch sits on a throne.  For example: we say that Queen Elizabeth sits on the throne in London.  That does not mean that she must sit on that throne 24/7 until the day she dies.  Instead, it means that she reigns as queen over the United Kingdom.  It means that she has the right to sit on that throne by virtue of her office as queen.  When we hear that Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father, it means that He reigns with His Father over all things.  It means that Jesus has taken humanity into the Holy Trinity by virtue of the fact that He is both God and man.  Christs ascension means that a man has ascended to rule over all things.

The other thing that Paul proclaims is that Jesus is the one who fills all in all.  Here Paul is proclaiming that Jesus is not confined to one place.  He is everywhere.  Furthermore, He is not everywhere just as God.  Because Jesus is both God and man, He is everywhere as God and man.  We theologians say that Christ communicates the attributes of His divine nature to His human nature.  Because he is one person who is both God and man, everything He does and is, He does and is as both God and man.

So, when we contemplate the ascension of the Christ, we should not think, Up, up, and away! Instead we think, Up, up, and out!  Jesus ascension does not mean He is gone.  It means He is with us everywhere.  He is with us as both man and God.  Jesus is closer to each of us now than if we could see him with our physical eyes.

We have already seen this at work during the forty days Jesus appeared to His disciples after He rose from the dead.  He left the tomb without bothering to move the stone away from the door.  He had a conversation with two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus and then simply disappeared after He broke bread with them.  Later on that same night, He suddenly showed up in a locked room in the middle of His disciples.  He did exactly the same thing a week later and had a special talk with Thomas.  He came and went and appeared and disappeared at will.  He was always with the disciples, but they could not always see Him.  He got them used to the idea that even though they could not see Him, He was always with them.

Jesus made many promises to His church that He would not be able to keep if it werent for the fact that He communicates His divine attributes to His human nature.  Today, we heard that Jesus ascended into heaven, but elsewhere Jesus made the promise Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20) and Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. (Matthew 18:20) Then there is the promise that Jesus makes in the sacrament itself when he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. 20And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, This cup that is poured out for you is the new testament in my blood. (Luke 22:1920) How can Jesus make all these promises to be with us and then go and ascend into heaven?

If Jesus were a mere human being, these passages would make no sense.  But because Jesus is both God and man, He can fulfill these passages easily.  The divine nature of Jesus communicates the ability to be everywhere to the human nature of Jesus.  The ascension does not mean that Jesus went away.  Instead, it means that He is always with you no matter where you go or what you do.

This eternal presence of God with us means that Jesus is always with us in His full deity AND His full humanity.  The very body with the prints of the thorns, the marks of the nails, and the hole of the spear is with us even though we cannot see it.  In a way that we cannot understand, all of His forgiveness, all of His love, all of His comfort is with each and every one of us in the crucified and risen, human body of Jesus Christ.

I feel so sorry for those who reject the possibility that the divine nature of Jesus communicates its attributes to the human nature of Jesus.  It means that they believe that the bread and wine of the sacrament only represent the body and blood of Christ.  It means that there is no forgiveness, but only a symbol of forgiveness.  It means there is no love of Christ in the sacrament, but only a representation of the love of Christ.  It means that there is no comfort in the cup, but only a symbol of the comfort of Christ.  When people reject the divine power communicated to the human nature of Jesus, there is no real Gospel.  Instead there is merely a symbol of the Gospel.

But Christ has ascended to fill all things.  He not only dwells in heaven, but He also dwells with us both as God and as man.  He still is Immanuel, God with us.  He continuously brings us the gifts that He earned for us with His life, suffering, death, and resurrection.  He is with us with His real love, His real forgiveness, His real comfort, His real salvation, and his real eternal life.

The Ascension of Our Lord means that the God-man Jesus Christ is fully with us even though we cannot see Him.  The good news is that the day is coming when we shall see Him.  The first reading for today tells us that while [the disciples] were gazing into heaven as [Jesus] went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11and said, Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven. (Acts 1:1011) Jesus will come again.  We will see Him again face-to-face for the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to write, For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

Until that day comes, we can rest in the assurance that we are never alone.  Christ our Lord, true God and true man is always with us.  We have His forgiveness, His love, His comfort, and His strength.  The world will do all it can to separate us from Him.  It will discourage us.  It will attack us.  It will persecute us.  Jesus Himself warned us, In the world you will have tribulation. (John 16:33) Never the less, He also said, Take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33) The one who overcame the world ascended into Heaven in order to fill all things.  He ascended so that He could be with us to the close of the age.  For now, He is with us always even though we cant see Him.  At the end of the age, we shall see Him and those who believe in Him will see Him forever.  Amen

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