Ascension Sunday May 21, 2023
221, 220, 223, 341
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Sermon Audio: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/ministrybymail
Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, as Your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, ascended into the heavens, so may we also ascend in heart and mind and continually dwell there with Him, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Dear friends in Christ,
There is no doubt in my mind that Ascension is the least appreciated, most overlooked, and underrated festival in the entire church year. It is easy to overlook. It’s understandable why we might bypass it, because typically when we come to the end of something—it’s just the end. The action is over, the mission has been accomplished, and there’s really nothing to commemorate or take note of. We can look at Ascension Day in that way.
We think of God’s eternal love. Before he even created the world, he loved you and me. He knew you and me and determined to rescue us. Already then, he wanted us to be with him in the glory of heaven, the new Jerusalem, forever. In time he sent his Son. Jesus became a man in our behalf. He fulfilled the law. He suffered on the cross, that horrible death. He endured the agony of hell and damnation in order to reconcile us to God. He brought us to himself and adopted us into his family through Holy Baptism. Ever since then he’s been working through the Spirit and the Word to preserve us in the faith, to nourish our faith through the Lord’s Supper.
When we think of Jesus coming to earth and how he suffered and died, rose again, ascended to heaven, it’s easy to think, “End of story.” Just like watching the credits run at the end of a movie. All done. Mission accomplished. In one way, that’s true. Jesus did accomplish his redeeming work once and for all. Nothing can change that. Nothing more is needed. Christ died for sins—once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.
But it’s by no means the end of his work. He ascended to carry on his work in even greater intensity and detail—that work of gathering more souls into his Holy Christian Church. We will be celebrating that on Pentecost and throughout the Trinity season.
Let’s take a look at Jesus’ ascension and just why he ascended. Why it was important for him and for us, too, from Luke 24:44-53—
He said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms.”
Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. He said to them, “This is what is written and so it must be: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. Look, I am sending you what my Father promised. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
He led them out as far as the vicinity of Bethany. He lifted up his hands and blessed them. And while he was blessing them, he parted from them and was taken up into heaven. So they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. They were continually in the temple courts, praising and blessing God. Amen. (EHV)
Why didn’t Jesus stay? He could have been visibly on Earth as he was before, teaching people, preaching, correcting, managing the church with a visible, hands-on presence. But he ascended. He left in order to reclaim his position of power at the right hand of the Father. Jesus has always been God, but when he came to Earth, he humbled himself. He still had all the power and authority of God, but he humbled himself. He didn’t make full use of all that power and glory in order to fulfill the law in our behalf, in order to allow his enemies to nail him to the bloody cross. But that’s accomplished—that’s done. He cried out, “It is finished!” He ascended to once again rule over all things at the Father’s right hand.
In Ephesians 2:1, it says, “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body….” Key phrases here are: “head over everything for the church.” We’re accustomed to having people in charge. We have leaders in government who are head over the government. An employer is head over his company or employees. Teachers are in charge, or head over their students. A doctor may be in charge over your medical care. But head over everything? Only Jesus can claim that. “Head over everything for the church,” in other words, for the benefit of his people. That’s incredibly comforting when we think of everything that’s going on around us and how uncertain the world is.
We have a magazine at home with a title in big, 50 point black letters: “The World In Chaos.” It seems that way, doesn’t it? War, viruses going through the earth one after another, a shooting in Texas—all those things are way beyond our control. Even the media has acknowledged that it seems as though there’s nothing much that we can do about it.
We can’t, but God can. Even though it seems as though the world is spinning out of control, the Lord assures us that he is at the right hand of the Father. He’s very much involved and knows what’s going on. He’s not going to let things go beyond what he knows or what he has planned, and everything that happens is always for the wellbeing of the church. It doesn’t mean that things are always going to be easy. It’s just the opposite. The Lord tells us that we must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God. There are hardships of worldwide magnitude and then there are also the more personal hardships which range from little annoyances to major, life-threatening crises.
You may be familiar with a children’s book called Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. It’s been around for fifty years. A favorite of children and adults alike. You probably recall the story. Alexander is a little boy, and everything goes wrong. He goes to sleep one night with gum in his mouth, wakes up with gum in his hair and everything goes downhill from there. Mom forgets to pack dessert in his lunch. His best friend abandons him. After school he goes to the dentist and has a cavity. He gets soap in his eyes at bath time. He has to wear the stupid train pajamas that he doesn’t like. The night light burns out. Even the cat won’t sleep with him.
It’s humorous, but the reason it’s so popular is because it’s relatable. All of us have days like that—or worse. One of the underlying lessons of that story is that those things happen. It’s part of life in the world. But in that story Alexander had a family, his mother especially, to back him up—to provide security. So, with our terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days, we have someone far better—we have the Lord Jesus who took care of our sins.
That’s the worst of every day—our sin. Today, too, you look back and I’m sure you can think of times where you had opportunities to show love for Christ in love for someone else and you just blew off the opportunity. Or you said things you shouldn’t have. You hurt someone instead of helping them. Maybe you let things come between you and the Lord as far as priorities.
We have horrible guilt, but the Lord is there assuring us that he died and rose again to prove his victory over sin and death; and that victory is ours by faith. Then everything else has to fall into place as well. We can bring all the trials to him and he promises that he has the power to overcome them. Whether it was a minor thing, such as providing wine for a wedding feast or a major problem like a death. Jesus was there during his ministry to provide the help that was needed.
He’s still there. Even though you don’t see him, he’s still there ready to help no matter what the situation may be. Whether it’s a worldwide crisis or whether it’s something more personal in your own life. The Lord says it doesn’t matter how little or how big. He knows every hair on your head, every thought in your heart, and he’s always ready to hear. The Lord ascended as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He ascended to be with us. He left to be with us. It sounds contradictory, but it’s very true.
It’s kind of fun to imagine what would have happened if Jesus had stayed on earth with his visible presence. Maybe he would have set up an office in Jerusalem. We have an ‘Education Sunday’ coming up and we have been looking for a speaker—we could contact him and ask if he wanted to come and be our guest speaker. It would be wonderful! But how many other tens of thousands of congregations would be asking the same thing for the same Sunday? You might want to have a personal counseling session with him. Again, you’d try to set up an appointment and the waiting list might be a thousand years long!
Instead, Jesus told the disciples, “It’s for your own good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine, and making it known to you.” Through the sending of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is with us always. He promised, “Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you.” At our baptism the Lord Jesus was there working through the Holy Spirit in the Word to give you faith. Whenever we turn to the Word today, he is there. He promises that where two or three are gathered together in his name—he is there among them. So, the Lord Jesus, himself, is here with us right at this moment.
He is also with our fellow believers in Middleton, Markesan, Eau Claire—where I imagine they are holding Ascension services as well. How amazing is that? How comforting is that, to know that the Lord Jesus is always there? Not only as a congregation, but later, when we go to our homes and have our evening devotions and our prayers. The Lord will be with each of us in our living rooms or our bedrooms. Tomorrow morning when you open up your Bible and have your cup of coffee for your morning devotion, the Lord Jesus will be there. When you say, over the breakfast cereal, “Come Lord Jesus, be our guest…” he is there and also with our fellow believers in Waukesha or Katmandu.
So why did Jesus leave? The short answer is for us. He left to ascend to the right hand of the Father, to exercise his full power and glory for us. He left to be with us day in and day out, to offer his comfort and counsel and protection. He left to prepare a place for us in the glory of heaven. It’s no wonder then that instead of the disciples trudging back to Jerusalem and saying, “Too bad the Lord had to leave.” We’re told that they went back to Jerusalem rejoicing, praising God for all the Lord Jesus had done and for all that he would do through his promises to them.
May that be our attitude, too. May we say with David, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23:6) Happy Ascension Day! Amen.
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The Holy Bible, Evangelical Heritage Version® (EHV ®) © 2019 The Wartburg Project. All rights reserved. Used by permission.