Thursday, May 17, 2007

Why Ascension is a Big Deal

My sermon, in the previous post, was tightly focused on the text from Mark 16. Alas, it didn't say much about the article of faith we confess in the creed: that the resurrected Christ "ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty." Here are some key points to explain why this is such a big deal for Christians, and for the whole world.
  1. By ascending into heaven, Jesus temporarily withdrew His VISIBLE presence from the world. John 16:16 - "A little while, and you will no longer behold Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me."
  2. This apparent separation from Jesus may grieve His disciples, but Jesus promises to return and give us everlasting joy. John 16:22 - "Therefore you too now have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one takes your joy away from you."
  3. Jesus is not actually gone, but His presence with us is hidden. Matthew 18:20 - "Where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst." Matthew 28:20 - "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
  4. This hiddenness of Jesus is necessary, so the Holy Spirit and His gifts can come to us everywhere. John 14:26 - "The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you." John 16:7 - "I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you." Ephesians 4:8 - "When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men." See also Psalm 68:18.
  5. This hiddenness of Jesus is necessary, so that Jesus can live in us through His Word and Sacrament. John 14:23 - "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him." Galatians 2:20 - "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me." See also Matthew 28:18-20.
  6. Jesus' ascension means, as God and Man, He has been raised up to the Father's right hand (that is, wherever God's power extends). Philippians 2:8-11 - "And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
  7. So Jesus, the God-Man, rules over all creation and especially the church. Matthew 28:18 - "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth." Ephesians 1:20-23 - "[God] raised [Jesus] 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 every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all." See also Psalm 8:6; 1 Corinthians 15:25-28; Hebrews 2:8.
  8. Jesus' ascension does not limit Him to a certain point in physical space. As God and Man in one Person, Jesus is present everywhere and in many ways, especially through Word and Sacrament. Ephesians 4:10 - "He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things." See also #3 above.
  9. Jesus is preparing a home for us in God's presence, and He is coming back to take us there. John 14:2-3 - "In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also."
  10. Meanwhile, Jesus works through His chosen messengers to build us up in faith until we are perfected in the life eternal. Mark 16:15 ff - "'Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned...' So then, when the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed." Ephesians 4:11-13 - "He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints,* for the work of service [ministry], to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ."
*You may notice that I re-inserted the comma that belongs after the word "saints" in Ephesians 4:12. Recent, biased translations have omitted it in order to grind the axe of "everyone a minister," etc. It is a self-evidently silly interpretation in light of verse 11. He gave some as pastors, etc., to do the work of the ministry, which is equipping the saints, edifying the church, etc.

IMAGES: Ascension paintings by Paolo Veronese (1528-88), Benvenuto Tisi Garofalo (1481-1559), and Jean Francois de Troy (1679-1752).

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