THE ASCENSION OF OUR LORD AD 2018
TRINITY EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH
REV. KURT E. REINHARDT
Acts 1:1 In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? 7 He said to them, It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and 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.
Ephesians 1:15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far 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. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Luke 24:44 Then he said to them, These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled. 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.
50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.
As big as the world seems, as vast as her rolling oceans are, as mighty as her highest mountain peaks appear, as awesome as her grand canyons might be, they are all dwarfed when your eyes are turned to the heavens. Whether its the quiet glory of the dawn, or the Sun blazing in all its heat at midday, or the beautiful hues that paint the sky as it sets, the glories of the heavens dwarf all that lies beneath them.
I especially find this to be true on clear nights like the one we had last Monday when I was up at the cottage. I stepped outside and the heavens caught my breath, as they always do at such times, as the words of the psalmist came to mind, “What is man that you are mindful of him?” As awesome as the world is, it pales before the stars that blanket the night sky. Even with the naked eye being able to see only a fraction of it, the glory, the power, the greatness of it all is simply overwhelming.
Without a doubt, beloved, this is no small part of the reason why the Lord Jesus, goes to take His seat at the right hand of the Father by bodily ascending into the skies before the disciples. He doesn’t do it because the right hand of the Father is up on the clouds, or even, in outer space. The Father is Spirit and is omnipresent, which is a fancy way of saying He’s everywhere, or as the psalmist put it, there’s no place that you can flee from His presence. All things are present to God. His right hand is not a place but a position.
God’s right hand is a position of power. To help us understand what this means, the Lord reveals it to us using images that we can grasp, that give us insight into the truth. The images reveal a reality that is far deeper and greater than the images themselves. So it is with the image of God seating Christ at His right hand. As it is with Christ visibly ascending before the eyes of the Apostles. Both images point to the reality that Christ, as man, has been placed 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.
Christ takes up His place at the right hand of the Father by ascending up and above the greatest thing that we can see - the heavens above us - the universe spread out over the earth. Christ ascends bodily to show us, that as man, He is above everything that was made - the whole of creation. As very God of very God He has always had this place. He is One with the Father - all that the Father has and is He shares with His only begotten Son. The Father created the universe through Him as we confess in the creed. But at His ascension all of this is publicly given to Him as man. His manhood had access to it all before through it’s personal union to His Divine Nature but didn’t use it so that He could suffer and die for us.
But now that the work of saving us is finished, His humanity takes full advantage of it 24/7 - ever and always, for the sake of His Church, which is His body. According to His human nature, as man, Christ fills all in all, so that His body, His Bride, might be guarded from all evil as she goes forth mightily in His power to overcome every enemy lined up against her. The Son of God doesn’t need to ascend for Himself - not even according to His human nature. As very God of very God He has always been at the right hand of the Father. This reality remains hidden as He humbles Himself to suffer and die for us. But hidden things are still real, at times even more real than what we see with our eyes.
It is one of the deep mysteries of the incarnation, beloved, that even as the Son descends to us He never leaves Heaven. That’s just something that you can do when you are God. Being in more than one place at a time is not the impossibility for Him that it is for us. When the Son is made man, in that moment, God is on earth and man is in heaven. As man He is always in heaven, but in a hidden way, as He cloaks His glory and power that He might suffer and die to save us. As He openly ascends before the disciples and the whole of creation, then He does so specifically as the head of His body the Church. And what was planned for ages and hidden as He walked the earth is made manifest to all.
I know there’s a lot to wrap your mind around here, beloved. A lot to think about and ponder. Perhaps a bit much to get your head around. Which is why it is important, especially in our day and age, where truth for many is decided based on what they can figure out, that we remember that God’ s ways are far above our ways. It simply goes along with the whole God thing. A God to be God to you has to be above you in every way. If He’s at the same level or below you, then He’s simply not your God. God by nature has to be above you. If you’re on the same level, then He’s not God to you. If He’s below you, then you’re god to Him.
All this is important to keep in mind when you meditate on the ascension of our Lord. It is not something to be figured out but believed. There’s no question about the fact that it happened. There are far more than the two or three witnesses to it, required to establish its truth. The apostles all witness it. What’s important is what it means for the Church and so what it means for us. What we see with the apostles is that it fills them with great joy. Which is curious, since every other time the disciples are sorrowful when Jesus talked about leaving them. His ascension clearly is not a departure. The Lord is not leaving them by ascending. No, as He openly takes up His place at the right hand of God, they see clearly how He will be with them always even unto the end of the age wherever they might be.
And not only that, but that this One who is with them always is the One who beyond all question is the One who is greater than all things - the One who is greater than the universe. It brings a whole new depth to the truth, that He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world, when you ponder that doesn’t it, beloved. What indeed can come against us that the One within us cannot handle? He has overcome the world by His life, death and resurrection. Yes, His public seating at the right hand of the Father, His coronation as man, as head of the Church, as the head of you and me, leaves no room for doubt about that. No, it does not, beloved. The Lord through His Word showcases that truth for you today so that you won’t let anyone or anything deceive you into thinking otherwise.
Tribulation. Yes, we will have tribulation in this world, as the Church as a whole, and as individual Children of God. Jesus has told us plainly that this will be so. Many of you have had, while some are having and yet others still will have, trial and tribulation. That is just life in this world struggling under sin’s curse. The Lord ascends bodily into the heavens in full view of the apostles today, as through their eyewitness account, He does it before your eyes so that you might be comforted in the midst of that trial and tribulation, with the truth, about the One who is with you.
As He comes to you this day in His body and blood to leave no room for doubt that He is truly with you, the Holy Spirit is prompting you, beloved, to reflect on these truths about Him who unites Himself to you, so that whenever something should cause you trial or tribulation, even if it be the devil Himself, you would look up to the vastness of the heavens and know the fullness of what has been placed under Christ’s feet for your sake and be at peace in Him. Amen.