Skip to comments."Ascended and Still Present" (Sermon for the Ascension of Our Lord, on Acts 1:1-11 and Ephesians 1:15-23)
Posted on 05/20/2020 9:12:22 PM PDT by Charles Henrickson
Ascended and Still Present (Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:15-23)
Where is Jesus, and what is he doing? Thats a good question to ask on this Ascension Day. Where did Jesus go when he ascended, and what is he doing now? Alright, you say, I know the answer to that; we just confessed it in the Creed: He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. OK, fine, but whats the big deal about that? Is that enough to have a whole special festival service, to come out and have church on a Thursday? Well, I would say, yes. But I want you to be able to say yes, too. I want you to know why the church historically makes a big deal about this day--more than just, Well, its forty days past Easter and thats when Ascension falls on the calendar. Today then, lets find out where Jesus is, what hes doing, and what this means for us, under the theme: Ascended and Still Present.
In the Ascension account at the end of Luke, it says that Jesus parted from them and was carried up into heaven. Likewise, in the account at the beginning of Acts, it says that Jesus was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight, and the angels tell the disciples that this Jesus was taken up from you into heaven. The reading from Ephesians says that God raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places. Alright, well, there you have it: Jesus ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. What we say in the Creed is simply restating what the New Testament tells us. But that still leaves us wondering: What does all of this mean, and why is it so important?
What does it mean that Jesus ascended into heaven and sits at Gods right hand? Does it mean simply that Jesus is up there taking a break, like hes on vacation for a couple thousand years until he comes back? Does it mean that Jesus has been taken away from us? Oh, if only we had been so lucky to have been with him for a few years, like those disciples were. Oh, well, now hes gone, and well just have to muddle through somehow. Is that it? Does Jesus ascent into heaven mean that he is absent from us now? Hes up there in heaven, were down here on earth, and so I guess were on our own. Jesus, missing in action. Out of sight, out of mind.
Nothing could be further from the truth! First of all, lets understand what it means that he ascended into heaven. To be sure, it does mean that Jesus rose up into the sky, bodily, in view of his disciples, on that day long ago, some forty days after Easter. Jesus had told his disciples that he would be going away. Im returning to my Father, he had told them. Jesus said that the Father would glorify him upon the completion of his saving mission. And thats whats been taking place. Starting on Easter, Jesus appeared to his disciples over a period of forty days. He met with them. He taught them. He let them touch his hands and his side, which bore the marks of his crucifixion, those holy wounds by which he won our salvation. So the Ascension is part of the exaltation of Christ, his glorification. It shows the Fathers approval of what the Son has done in dying for the sins of the world. God is saying yes to that. It shows the victory of the cross. Ascension Day is Christs triumph day. He is being received into heaven with a Job well done! Welcome home, Son! And the angels are rejoicing.
But theres more. Christ ascends into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. The right hand: In the biblical way of thinking, to be seated at the right hand of a great king means to exercise royal authority. It is to be the kings right-hand man. Why the right hand? Because for most people, the right hand is the dominant hand, the hand with which we do stuff. So for Christ to be seated at Gods right hand means that he is exercising authority--divine, heavenly power and authority. Thats where Jesus is right now, and thats what hes doing.
Now this is great! This is tremendous! Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ right now is ruling all things in heaven and on earth. He is Lord of all! And this is what the reading from Ephesians is saying: that God raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 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. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
So Jesus Christ now is ruling all things for the sake of his church. Thats us! Christ is ruling all things for us, for our good. We as the church are Christs body. We are intimately connected to him. He is the head, we are his body, and he is head over everything. All rule, all authority, all power and dominion, belong to our risen and exalted Lord Jesus Christ. And he is graciously exercising his rule on our behalf. Along those lines, I came across this quote that I really like: The Ascension is not Jesus going away; it is Jesus assuming his position as leader of the Churchs life.
Whats more, when Jesus ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of Father, he went there as our brother and our high priest. Christ is both true God and true man, and so now, with him ascended to the throne room of God, we have a friend in high places. Jesus knows our weaknesses, and he is interceding for us. Christ is praying for you. He is on our side, he has the Fathers ear, and hes able to help in every time of need. Jesus is our heavenly high priest. Like the high priest of old who went into the Holy of Holies with the blood of the atonement, so Jesus enters heaven and presents his blood as the perfect sacrifice for our sins.
Our ascended Lord is seated at the right hand of God, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion. But does his being far above mean that he is far away? Does Jesus absence from our sight mean that he is somehow distant and detached? Triumphant, yes. Transcendent, yes. But is he rather cold and aloof, being so far removed from us, way up there in heaven? Is that the meaning of Christs ascension? By no means!
You see, it is not a contradiction to say that Jesus is both far above and here and near. Both far above and here and near! Think of the Great Commission, in Matthew 28. There the risen Lord meets with his disciples and says: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Do you see? There it is, both sides of the coin. All authority? Yes, Christ has it. He is exalted, and he will sit at the right hand of the Father. Theres the far above. But then, in the very next breath, he says: And behold, I am with you always. With you! Jesus is here with us! There is the here and near! You see, theyre both true! Our ascended Lord is both far above and here and near. These are two sides of the same beautiful gospel coin!
Think of it. Remember what Jesus said? For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. You see, Jesus is here, present among us, right now, for we are gathered here in his name. Christ is here, present among us, present to save, present to bless, here to forgive your sins, here to give you life, for this is where his name is.
Oh, and one more thing. Think of Jesus words, This is my body, this is my blood. Those words are still true, even as we celebrate our Lords ascension into heaven. That Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father does not mean that he is limited to one small area of space off in some distant galaxy somewhere. No, Christ is here. And in particular, he is here in his sacrament. Jesus gives us his body and his blood at this altar, for us Christians to eat and to drink. And so in the Lords Supper we receive his benefits of forgiveness, and life, and salvation. Yes, Christs true body and blood are here, really present in this sacrament, for you.
Where is Jesus, and what is he doing? Our exalted Savior has ascended into heaven and is seated now at the right hand of his Father. This shows us that he has won the victory over death for us, and he will come again one day to bring us to himself. We share in his resurrection and eternal life. Jesus now is at the right hand of the Father, interceding for us. He is our brother and our sympathetic high priest. Jesus right now is ruling all things in heaven and on earth for the sake of his beloved church. All of this is very good news!
Jesus is far above. Hes far above all other rule and power, exercising divine, heavenly authority for our good. And at the same time, Jesus also is here and near. He is here among us, present with his church, present to bless you, Gods children. Yes, your Savior is here, with you in your trials and difficulties. He is walking with you all the way. And Jesus is here with his church, seeing us through the days ahead. Christ could not be any closer.
Where is Jesus, and what is he doing? He is both far above and here and near. He is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he is also here among his people. This is Jesus, this is our Savior, continuing to bless and guide us. Yes, on this Ascension Day, we rejoice to know that Christ is both Ascended and Still Present.
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. To them he presented himself alive after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
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; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.
So when they had come together, they asked him, Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? He said to them, It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 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. 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. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 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 1:15-23 (ESV)
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 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, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 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. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
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