The Fifth Sunday after Easter (The Week of Christ’s Ascension) May 25, 2003
339(1, 5-7), 213, 216, 212(5-7)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
In Christ Jesus, our risen ascending Savior who sits at the right hand of the Father for us, dear fellow-redeemed:
In this information age of rapid communication it only takes a matter of seconds for the news from one part of the world to reach another part. This can be a good thing and a great blessing. As an example: There is a pastor who lives in Rome who has been in contact with the Church of the Lutheran Confession (CLC) for quite some time. The initial contact and ongoing correspondence has been through the internet. It is a wonderful tool.
The down side to this wealth of rapid information is that a great deal of unnecessary clutter comes along with it. When the information age allows you to hear about some little event in some far off corner of the world, you might be led to say: “Now I know it, but do I need it…do I care…does this affect me at all??!”
When things are removed from us, distant, and unrelated to our own lives then the news has little impact. But when news is closer to home it makes a difference. I can still remember the first bank robbery in my home town. It occupied my thoughts for a long time. We were always hearing about robberies, but they were far away in a big city. All of a sudden “bank robbery” had new meaning because it hit close to home.
Christ has ascended to heaven and there He lives and reigns over all things at the right hand of God. Jesus’ ascension is distant in time. In one sense, it is also distant in place because His glory in heaven is so far separated from anything on this sinful earth. Yet, Jesus’ ascension ought to also hit close to home because what took place is still important today. Although Jesus is in heaven, He is also right here with us—always. Christ’s ascension is not a distant, semi-important, “what-difference-does-it-make-to-me” event. CHRIST’S PLACE IN HEAVEN IS LIFE-ALTERING FOR HIS PEOPLE ON EARTH.
Jesus did not have to ascend into heaven to receive honor and glory. Jesus was exalted and glorified from the time of His resurrection even before ascending into heaven. After completing the work of redemption and being raised again, He no longer lived day-to-day on the earth—eating, drinking, sleeping, walking, and talking with the disciples as any other man would do. After His resurrection Jesus no longer limited Himself, but at times would all of a sudden appear and then disappear again until the next visit.
Jesus ascension into heaven was not necessary to accomplish salvation for us. The work of redeeming the world was completed on the cross when Jesus died and it was sealed when He rose again the third day. Salvation was accomplished, the work was done. Jesus could have quietly returned to His Father after showing Himself alive to the disciples and we would be no less saved. However, imagine if the disciples would have just suddenly stopped seeing Jesus. They (and we) would be filled with wonderment, doubt, uncertainty, and many questions like “I wonder what ever happened to Him?”
During the 40 days between Easter and His ascension, Jesus appeared many times to the disciples. Jesus made His appearances in order to fully convince the disciples that He was alive and to instruct them. During those 40 days of instruction Jesus was able to put the pieces together for the disciples by showing them how the events they had witnessed were the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophesies (cf: Luke 24:25-27). Jesus’ days of instruction before His ascension further prepared the disciples for the work of apostles which would begin in earnest once the Holy Spirit was poured out on them at the time of Pentecost.
After this period of instruction was complete, Jesus ascended visibly so that the disciples would have no doubt as to where He was and what He was continuing to do for them. Jesus’ visible ascension assures us that He is in heaven ruling, sitting on the right hand of God, and working for our blessing.
Mark’s account of Jesus’ ascension simply states: “So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19). In our text, Paul wrote, “Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God…” [v.1]
Christ’s “sitting at the right hand of God” cannot mean a physical throne at a physical right hand of God because God is a spirit and has no flesh and blood. It is, however, a term used to characterize Jesus’ authority and power and governance over all things as our exalted Savior. On an earlier occasion before His ascension Jesus told His disciples, “All authority has been given to me I heaven and on earth…” (Matthew 28:17).
This authority and power is not limited, but rather extends over all things. In Ephesians, Paul describes the same exaltation when he says, “[God] raised [Christ] from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church…” (Ephesians 1:20-21).
Knowing that Jesus has all authority and is using that authority to govern all things on earth and in heaven is wonderful news! It is wonderful because you are the beneficiaries of His gracious rule. Paul tells us that Christ’s headship is a gift from God to the Church—to you, me and all other believers! Christ’s place in heaven is one He uses for controlling all things for you!
Jesus’ place and work in heaven includes even more, and again it is for you. Not long before his death, Jesus said: In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. 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.” (John 14:2-3).
Jesus controls everything in heaven and on earth for your spiritual benefit. He works all things for your spiritual good (cf: Romans 8:28) so that you will enter eternal life and be with Him forever. While He is controlling all things so that you can reach your goal, Jesus is also preparing that goal—preparing a place for you in heaven. Having seen Jesus visibly ascend gives you and all other disciples the assurance that Jesus is truly preparing a place for you while you labor here on the earth.
There is one potential obstacle between us and our heavenly goal and that is sin. We do sin daily and that is the one thing that bars the door to heaven. Although our sin has been removed by Jesus’ death on the cross, if allowed, it has the potential to overcome us again. Through daily repentance of our sin, returning to the Word of the Gospel, and ever clinging to Jesus as our Savior we remain in His grace and the door to heaven stays open. Whenever we sin, our ascended Savior, sitting at the right hand of God, also pleads our cause before the Father. Paul wrote the Romans, “Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen… is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” (Romans 8:34).
Jesus’ place at the right hand of God has great significance for us on earth. It means that Jesus is working for us, ruling over us, and pleading for us with the same Savior’s heart that He demonstrated while on the earth when He gave Himself for our sins. Knowing Jesus’ place in heaven and what He is doing for us is further assurance of His great love for us and how salvation is fully accomplished and preserved in Him.
Christ’s place at the right hand of God reveals His power and His love toward us. This leads to an alteration in our lives on this earth. “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” [vv.1-3]
We have been raised with Christ through the faith which the Holy Spirit creates and preserves in our hearts. We were all born dead in our trespasses and sins (cf: Ephesians 2:1ff), lost, condemned, at odds with God. By God’s grace, all of that changed and we were raised to life when the Holy Spirit brought the forgiveness of sins to us through the conversion He effected in our hearts.
Paul says, “If” you have been so raised up through faith in Christ. Paul is not doubting that the Colossian Christians were raised, but is, rather, showing them an “if this…then this is what follows” scenario. “If indeed you have been raised with Christ…” or “since you have been raised with Christ, seek those things which are above where Christ is.”
Having been raised with Christ and joined to Him will lead us to seek those things that are above because that is where Jesus is. Our treasure is in heaven with our Savior. As a result, our thoughts, desires, and goals will likewise be directed heavenward. Paul says that Christ is our life [v.4].
Your life has been hidden—tied into—Christ! Your spiritual life right now—having peace with God, the confidence that you are God’s child and that your sins are forgiven—is tied up with Christ who sits at the right hand of God. Your eternal life in heaven comes through Christ. It is “hidden there” with Christ and through Him alone will you have that life.
Having Christ as your life also impacts your day-to-day life on this earth. In the verse immediately following the text, Paul writes, “Therefore (because you have been raised with Christ) put to death your members which are on the earth, fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). To the Corinthians Paul wrote, “He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again” (2 Corinthians 5:15). To the Galatians Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ; 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 gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
We are raised with Christ and as a result are no longer living as children of the earth, but rather as children of God! We are called upon to put away all the sinful desires and activities that our flesh so dearly loves and live for Christ instead of our selves. In this way, the place of Christ our ascended Savior has huge life altering impact, because a life lived for Christ is vastly different than a life lived for one’s self.
To set one’s mind on things above is to have your whole person focused on one thing: Christ together with His Word. It is to be heavenly-minded in everything. It is as if we had a filter in our hearts and minds through which everything came in and went out. We see everything with the light of God’s Word shining on it, all of our actions and words and thoughts are “purified” through the filter of having our mind set on things above. This is much deeper and more significant than simply seeking what is right. It is an attitude of the heart.
Ananias and Sapphira were outwardly seeking the things above…at least to some extent. They were members of the church, they sold property and brought part of the proceeds to the church for use among its members. However, Ananias and Sapphira were not setting their minds on things above, because they attempted to lie to God. They were hypocrites. They appeared to be righteous by seeking the things above, but were really self-serving with minds set on earthly goals (cf. Acts 5).
Judas Iscariot was seeking the things above. As a disciple of Jesus he followed Jesus, heard Him teach, served his Lord on the earth. But over time, his mind became set on money and not on his Lord which ultimately led to his betrayal of Jesus.
God wants our whole being to be centered on Him. “Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).
Setting our minds on things above can be an especially difficult challenge for believers of long-standing. We who have had the truth of God’s Word for so long may grow weary in well-doing, may grow tired of hearing what is right and wrong and having the wrong-doing pointed out to us. How many times can parents say this is wrong/this is good, or teachers, or pastors before someone says, “Oh, I know all that! Why do you keep bringing it up? Why do you keep saying the same things over and over and over…?” Yet, we need to hear those same things over and over because the temptations never end and we do fall into them. A danger lies in knowing what God says so well that we tend to dismiss it by saying “Oh, I know all of that…” and keep right on continuing in our sin. A heart that is heavenly-minded will take God’s Word to heart even when “I’ve heard it all before.” A heavenly-minded heart will do this because it desires to repent and to grow in love for its Savior.
Jesus’ place in heaven also alters our life everlastingly. “When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” [v.4]
After Jesus ascended and had disappeared from the disciples’ sight, they kept looking up to where Jesus had gone. Then two angels appeared to them and promised, “This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
Judgment Day will come (cf: 2 Peter 3:1ff) and on that day we will hear the sound of a trumpet (cf: 1 Thessalonians 4:16ff) and see Jesus Descending in full glory with all of the holy angels with him. What a glorious sight that will be! However, even that will not compare to living with Jesus in glory forever in heaven!
Knowing that we have an eternal life waiting for us with Christ makes all the difference in our lives here on this earth. Having the confidence that we will “appear with Him in glory” for life-everlasting is what makes it possible to say with Paul, “For me to live is Christ to die is gain!” (Philippians 1:21).
The wonders and joy of heaven cannot be fully grasped by our limited human comprehension. The fullness of that joy has not been revealed to us. However, in our ascended Savior we have the confidence that what is now unfathomable is undeniably ours. “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).
Having an ascended Savior who is ruling and working for us changes our lives here on this earth. It gives us confidence in this life and certain hope for the life that is to come. As we look heavenward and see our Savior ascend, our whole outlook on earth takes on a new appearance. Thus, the prayer of the hymn-writer becomes our prayer:
Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me save that thou art.
Thou my best thought in the day and the night
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence—my light.
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise.
Thou mine inheritance, now and always.
Thou and Thou only the first in my heart.
High King of Heaven, my treasure Thou art!
High King of Heaven my victory won
May I reach heaven’s joys, O, bright, Heaven’s Son
Heart of my own heart whatever befall
Still be my vision, O Ruler of All!
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.