The Sixth Sunday after Easter
(The Sunday after Ascension) May 16, 2010
Editor’s Note: This week’s meditation is a series of readings, hymns, and a sermon celebrating Jesus’ Ascension which took place 40 days after Easter (May 13, 2010) and ten days before Pentecost (May 23, 2010). Due to the nature of this service, the Scripture readings, hymns, and text are incorporated below in the order of service.
Luke 24:50-53 & Acts 1:8-11
When [Jesus] had led [His disciples] out as far as Bethany, He lifted up His hands and blessed them. He said, “…you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight…While He blessed them, He was parted from them and carried up into heaven. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God. Amen.
CONFESSION: Almighty God, heavenly Father: I have sinned against You through my own fault, in thought, word, and deed. For the sake of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, forgive me all my sin, and bring me to everlasting life. Amen.
ABSOLUTION: Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven! Jesus, God’s Son, became man and lived a perfect life to fulfill God’s law for you. He died on the cross and endured the punishment of Hell for your sins, giving up His life to buy you back from death. He has risen back to life in complete victory over death and has ascended back to heaven to give you the assurance that He is in heaven preparing a place for you and ruling over all things on earth. The blessings Jesus won through His life, death, and resurrection are yours! You are forgiven, go and sin no more.
He Is Ruling for You: Psalm 47
He Is Praying for You: Hebrews 7:23-28
Hymn: 737 (1-2) [TLH alt. 220]
He Is Preparing a Place for You : John 14:1-3
But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.” (Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
In Christ Jesus our ascended Savior, dear fellow redeemed:
Jesus is no longer visibly walking on the earth, and He hasn’t done so for thousands of years. For us, this is nothing new. Throughout our entire lifetimes we have accepted by faith that Jesus is present with us because He promises to be with us wherever two or three are gathered together in His name. However, once Jesus ascended it was a new thing for the apostles to not have Jesus walking with them and talking with them first hand. During the past three years they had grown rather accustomed to spending time with Jesus, hearing Him preach, seeing Him perform miracles and so forth. Now, Jesus had ascended and withdrawn His visible presence, but He had not left them without direction.
Jesus left the disciples with three significant truths: 1) He is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. Jesus had spent the 40 days between Easter and His ascension showing the disciples how He fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies and how He had accomplished all that was necessary for the redemption of sinners. 2) The disciples would be Jesus’ witnesses to the world. This witnessing would begin in Jerusalem and then spread rather rapidly from there. 3) Jesus would pour out the Holy Spirit upon them. The Holy Spirit would shore up their weakness, enlighten them further where there was still confusion and, in general, enable them to be Christ’s witnesses in Jerusalem and beyond.
Today, all three of these truths are still true. Jesus is still the fulfillment of all that was promised in the Old Testament. He is still the one who lived, died, and now lives again for us in order to redeem us and give us life. We too are to be His witnesses, starting in our home town and going out with whatever opportunity we have; and Jesus continues to pour out the Holy Spirit. This outpouring of the Holy Spirit is not accomplished in the same dramatic way as on Pentecost, but nonetheless the Holy Spirit still gives gifts to Jesus’ disciples on earth to enable them to accomplish the work that He has given us to do.
The gifts promised and given to the disciples were what they needed at that time. The Holy Spirit was poured out on Pentecost in such a way so as to give the Gospel ministry and the New Testament Church the initial “push” and explosion that it needed to then spread throughout the world. What we learn from our text is that our ascended Savior continues to pour out His Holy Spirit and give gifts to accomplish the work of the church. Jesus, our ascended Lord, gives MANY GIFTS WITH A COMMON GOAL.
Paul writes, “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.” [vv.7-8] Paul quotes an Old Testament prophecy from the psalms pointing to Jesus the ascended Lord who had first descended—He came to the earth, conquered sin and death, rose victorious, and then ascended. That ascended Lord having led captivity captive now gives gifts to His disciples. The gift-giving Savior gives gifts to each of his children. Paul writes: “to each one of us.” Each and every one of us has received grace that is given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
This brings to mind a parable of Jesus. A man gave three of his servants different amounts of money to manage while he would be away. He gave each man a different amount based upon his ability. Two of the three invested the money and managed it wisely, but one just buried it and left it sit.
The master in Jesus’ parable commended the two who used their gifts wisely, even though they received differing amounts and had differing return—they used what they were given and managed it wisely as faithful stewards. The master in Jesus’ parable condemned the one who did nothing. Jesus our ascended Savior gives to each one of us gifts of His grace according to the measure of His gift, according to His wisdom.
There is not one of us who can evaluate our lives and what we have and what God has given us in terms of opportunity and ability—not one of us who can look at those things and conclude, “I have nothing to offer.” There is not one of us who can conclude, “I have no gift with which to serve the Lord.” For some those gifts have perhaps been faithfully and exuberantly used through the years, but aren’t all available any more. Yet, each one of us, according to Christ’s measure has a gift or gifts from our ascended Savior.
Pause for a just a few moments and consider what your gifts are. What has the Lord given you to use? If we find ourselves wondering, then by God’s grace we do well from now on to evaluate and investigate our lives asking the Lord to reveal His gifts so that we are able to know them and use them.
If we are able to recognize the gifts the Lord has given us, the next question is, “How are we using them?” If we find that we are not using them in the work of God’s Kingdom, in the work of the ministry, and to the glory of God, we do well to first of all ask for forgiveness and then to seek the Lord’s blessing as we look for new ways to use those gifts. To each one of us grace was given according the measure of Christ’s gift.
Paul wrote similarly to the Corinthians, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant...There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit...But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills (1 Corinthians 12:1,4,7-11).
Paul emphasized to both the Ephesians and Corinthians that each one has received a gift, that it is measured to that individual by God’s grace and wisdom, and that it is given for the benefit of all and for the blessing of the church—the body of all believers.
In Ephesians Paul goes on to describe some of the specific gifts Christ gave to His church: “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers” [v. 11] These are various offices to which God gives gifts to individuals in order to equip the saints (believers) for the work of the ministry (cf. v. 12).
Paul mentions giving gifts to individuals to serve as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, but it is not only for these specific offices that Christ gives gifts. Christ gives many and varying gifts to each one of us, to be used in a variety of ways, but they are all intended to serve toward the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry. What is the work of the ministry? “the edifying of the body of Christ” [v.12]
Jesus gives each of us gifts to use for equipping one another to share the Gospel and thereby build up one another in Christ. As we serve one another and edify one another with the Gospel we become more effective in our witnessing to the world and that is the work we have been given to do.
Paul also explains that by building up one another we pursue the goal of unity in faith and knowledge. We edify one another with the goal of stability, not being tossed to and fro with every religious fad, not being pulled this way and that way by false teachers, not being blown this way and that way in our lives, but made stable in the truth of God’s Word, serving the Lord and serving one another in that truth. We edify one another with the goal of not being pulled apart by deceitful men, but “speaking the truth in love grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ.” [vv.13ff]
Our ascended Savior gives gifts so that we build up one another by using the Law and Gospel—exposing sin with the Law, but ready to heal with the Gospel—not in hatred, not speaking with envy or jealousy, not speaking in terms of revenge or vindication, but speaking the truth in love, in order to heal spiritually, to bring comfort to grieving souls, so that we all grow up in all Christ “from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”
Jesus our ascended Savior has given each of us gifts according to the measure of His grace to be used to equip one another to edify one another and build up and do the work of the ministry. So many believers! So many gifts across that population of believers! Many gifts, but one common goal: that we work together in the ministry of the Gospel.
Our ascended Savior rules over all things, He controls all things for the blessing of His Church. Part of that rule is to give gifts to His believers on earth—gifts to be used, gifts to each and every one of us, and to each and every one of His children across the world. These are gifts given to serve Him for the common goal of the work of the ministry. May our ascended Savior enable each of us to recognize the gifts He has given and to use them faithfully for the blessing of all. Amen.
Prayer, Lord’s Prayer, Benediction
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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.