Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, our ascended Savior, we rejoice in Your power and greatness. We thank You that You have gone to heaven to prepare a place for us. Be with us in this life and rule our thoughts, words and deeds. We desire to be with You, the Father and the Holy Ghost in glory. Therefore, strengthen us in the faith and always point us toward heaven so that in the end we may be with You forever. We ask it in Your name. Amen.
Text: Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy. How awesome is the LORD Most High, the great King over all the earth! He subdued nations under us, peoples under our feet. He chose our inheritance for us, the pride of Jacob, whom he loved. God has ascended amid shouts of joy, the LORD amid the sounding of trumpets. Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises. For God is the King of all the earth; sing to him a psalm of praise. God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne. 7he nobles of the nations assemble as the people of the God of Abraham, for the kings of the earth belong to God; he is greatly exalted.
(Psalm 47:1-9, NIV
+In the Name of Jesus+
TODAY WE CELEBRATE A MOST WONDERFUL AND glorious festival. It is the capstone of Jesus’ victory and triumph of which the ancient writer declared, “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy. … God has ascended amid shouts of joy … God is seated on His holy throne” (47:1, 5, 8).
Yet when Jesus told His disciples on Maundy Thursday night that He was going to His Father, sorrow filled their hearts. They thought they were going to be left as orphans, as sheep without a Shepherd. If that was what happened on the Ascension, then this would be a sad day indeed and, by the way this festival is celebrated in the church today, I am afraid many people think that way.
But Jesus said to the sorrowing disciples, “I tell you the truth: it is for your good that Jam going away” (John 16:7). Only after the resurrection did they comprehend this. This we too must understand to celebrate this day as:
The Glorious and Joyous Ascension of Our Lord Jesus.
- First we consider its meaning.
During the forty days between the Resurrection and the Ascension, Jesus confirmed the fact that He was indeed alive through many appearances. In addition, He continued to teach His disciples, preparing them for their important work of being His witnesses in all the world.
Then on that fortieth day, He took them to the Mount of Olives on the way to Bethany. In a little garden on the side of the mount on Maundy Thursday night, He groveled in His suffering like a worm in the dust, sweating great drops of blood. Now from this very hill, He ascends triumphant. When He finished His last words of instruction and comfort, the Lord spread His hands over them in a blessing and slowly and majestically went heavenward from the earth higher and higher. Our psalm says, “God has ascended amid shouts of joy” (47:5). The angel hosts were in ecstasy. The same hands that were bore through with rusty nails would now hold the reins of the entire universe.
Finally, a cloud took Jesus from the Apostles’ sight as a heaven-bound chariot, which reminds us of Elijah’s chariot of fire. He then ascended to the right hand of power. In the ancient world after a king defeated all his enemies, he had a triumphant procession in his capital, making public spectacle of them. He made his enemies lay down before his throne. After this, he sat down on his throne using their heads as a footstool, showing he was completely victorious.
So, Jesus began His triumphant procession from Olivet, ascending to glory after glory. He then sat down at the right hand of the Father using the Devil and the powers of evil as His foot-stool, showing He was completely victorious as the Psalmist prophesied, “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet” (Psalm 110:1).
This triumph and victory of Jesus is our victory. Everything He did, He did for us. Therefore, when we see Him enthroned in glory, our Victor divine crushing the old serpent, the Devil under His feet, we know our salvation is certain. He has given us the victory over sin, death and the devil. Now, no one can say to you your sins are not forgiven, there is no place for you in heaven, because the Ascension makes these things certain for you.
Next, Jesus’ ascension shows that our path here should always be heavenward bound: bound for the promised land. The Christian’s citizenship is in heaven and he is traveling here only as a pilgrim (Philippians 3:17-21). Out of thanks for the salvation victory of Jesus, we will want to live as the citizens of heaven.
Yet far too often we live like illegal immigrants trying to cross the border into Satan’s pleasure kingdom, rather than being in this world but not of it. We continually lust after the cheap carnival pleasures of this world when God has prepared for us the greatest treasures in heavenly mansions. I’m afraid we sometime feel cheated that we aren’t supposed to do things contrary to the moral law and the people of this world.
Here we are living the humdrum goody-goody life; as God’s people we are not supposed to get drunk, have premarital sex, go out on our mate, use drugs, overeat, cheat, lie, steal or gossip. Anything that is considered “fun,” at least according to this perverted world, we are not to have anything to do with. Yet realize, dear believers, that any one of these things when done only leads to physical harm and spiritual death.
But oh how Satan make them look candy sweet. Therefore, thanks be to God that in Jesus we have the victory. Through His means of grace, He gives us the power to live as citizens of heaven. When we do fail, we are assured of his full forgiveness through the Ascension. Then may we each strive to live as though we were bound for the promised land.
- Now we consider the blessings of the Ascension.
As wonderful as the meaning of the Ascension is, if the Lord Jesus left us here, it still has a very somber note. Sad to say, there are many who think that way. All the Reformed, all those who follow the teachings of John Calvin, say that after the Ascension, Jesus’ human nature remained in some specific place in heaven reserved for the Second Coming.
Then when they say Jesus is present with us at all times they mean only His divinity because His human nature, His body, is in some location in heaven. Here they take away the comfort of the Lord’s presence, for it is not our loving human brother who is present who knows all our needs and concerns (Hebrews 2:18) but only the fiery all-consuming deity before whom man does not even dare to stand.
Luther said that he wanted to know no god except the God made flesh (LW 38:46). Here they rip Jesus asunder and destroy the comfort of His presence. Because they believe that Jesus’ human nature is now absent from us in heaven, they deny the real presence of Jesus’ body and blood in the Sacrament. If Jesus’ body is in one place in heaven, how can it be present on many altars when the Holy Supper is celebrated? Thus, Zwingli and Calvin said the bread and wine only represent Jesus’ body and blood, and we lose the wonderful comfort of the Supper.
Now back to the original question: did Jesus leave us in the Ascension? No, definitely not; He said before He ascended, “Lo I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20). He says, “I am with you, not just part of Me, the divine nature, but both natures.” For since the Incarnation, the divinity is never without the humanity in Christ. The visible Ascension was to show the disciples and all Christians that now Jesus would not appear visibly as He had done during the forty days until He appeared in the clouds at the Second Coming.
However, In His omnipresence, being present everywhere both as God and man, He is even closer to us now than when He walked among men. If Jesus was present here on earth in one place, say Jerusalem, to talk to Him we would feel a need to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. But now He is with all of us at all times so that we can talk to him at any time in prayer. He is present here not only with His fiery divinity so we must fear Him but also as our human brother who knows our needs and is always willing to help and forgive.
Because his humanity is present everywhere, we know that His body and blood can be present in the Supper as the Words of Institution say. Just think of it: a man, our human brother, is at the helm of the universe. Here He functions as our Prophet, Priest and King.
- As our Prophet, He continues to proclaim the Word through the preaching and teaching of the Church. Then through every proclamation of the Gospel, Jesus is speaking to His brothers and sisters. In every Baptism, Lord’s Supper, and absolution, Jesus is functioning.
- As our Priest, Jesus sacrificed Himself as the one atonement offering and now intercedes for us in He stands before the throne of the Father and says concerning you there, “The prayers of this sinner should be heard because I have washed him clean in My blood.”
- As our King, He rules all the forces of the universe for the good of His brothers and sisters, the Church. He allows nothing greater to come upon us than we can bear and always gives us in His Word and Sacrament the power to overcome. Even through the conflicts of life, He is working for our good.
Finally, because Jesus ascended into heaven, we know there is a place there for us. Jesus says, “In My Father’s house are many mansions, if it were not so l would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). He went to prepare that wonderful home for all His believing brothers and sisters in the Ascension. Therefore, we know that right now a place is waiting for us—our home—for heaven is our fatherland, heaven is our home. Then at His appointed time which is different for each of us, He will come again to receive us unto Himself that where He is there we may be also.
Therefore, as we await His appearing, we will live as the blood- bought children of God, citizens of heaven, longing to reach the Fatherland. May heavenly light and heavenly love shine through us to all men, the power for which we receive only from our Lord in Word and Sacrament as the hymnist says,
“Draw us to Thee, for then shall we
walk in Thy steps forever
and hasten on where Thou art gone
to be with Thee dear Savior.”
Go in peace. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria