Thursday, May 26, 2022

Sermon for the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord - Lk 24:44-53



                                                                                      Lk 24:44-53



          What does it say about a visit when there is joy after the guests have left?  Now we have all probably had visits that occurred at an inconvenient time or required a great deal of work.  Perhaps it would have been better if the visitors had not come at that time.  Perhaps we are a little worn out from providing hospitality while also taking care of our normal responsibilities.  We have probably been glad to have things get back to normal.  But I doubt that there have been very many times when we have had “great joy” that someone has left.

          Yet that is exactly how Luke describes the disciples after the ascension of Jesus Christ.  He says, “And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.”  Why did they feel joy at that moment after Jesus’ ascension?  And for that matter, why do we treat the ascension of Jesus Christ as a cause for joy?  This is what we need to consider tonight.

          Luke’s treatment of our Lord’s resurrection and ascension is different because he actually wrote a two part work.  The Gospel of Luke tells us about the conception, birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  The Book of Acts tells us about the life of the early Church as the Gospel began to spread out into the world.  The resurrection of Jesus serves as a kind of “hinge” that links the two works.  The Gospel of Luke ends with a brief account of Jesus’ ascension as it focuses instead on the events of Easter itself.  The Book of Acts tells us about Jesus’ time with the disciple during the forty days before his ascension, and then gives more details about the ascension itself.

          The first portion of our text describes what happened on the evening of Easter.  Jesus had died by crucifixion on Friday.  He had been buried in a tomb before sundown that day.  Now it was the evening of Sunday, the first day of the week.  It had been a confusing day with women saying that the tomb was empty and that they had seen angels who said Jesus was alive.  Some of the disciples had gone and found that the tomb was indeed empty.

          Prior to our text, Peter had encountered Jesus and reported this to the disciples.  Then, the two disciples who had met the risen Lord on the road to Emmaus arrived and shared what they had witnessed.  This culminated in the moment when the risen Jesus appeared in the midst of the room and said, “Peace to you.”

          During the course of his ministry, Jesus had stated repeatedly that he was going to suffer, die, and rise on the third day. We learn in our text that he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”  Jesus had fulfilled the Old Testament by his death and resurrection.

          Now that the resurrection had occurred, the disciples were in a position to be able to understand this.  So Luke tells us: “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.’”

          The Son of God entered into this world in the incarnation as he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.  He pursued a ministry that was always headed towards one goal – his death on a cross in Jerusalem.  But as he had told the disciples, God had raised him up on the third day.

          He did this so that repentance and forgiveness of sins could be proclaimed in his name. This is the Gospel that you have heard.  Jesus was numbered with the transgressors for you.  He took your place as the suffering Servant who received God’s judgment against your sin as he died on the cross.  Yet on the third day – on Easter – God raised Jesus from the dead.  You know that because the apostles and those with them have been witnesses.  In the face our sin we repent – we confess it as sin, and know that through Jesus Christ we are forgiven.

          Jesus said that his disciples would be witnesses. Then he added, “And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”  Jesus said that he would be sending the promise of the Father.  The disciples were to stay in Jerusalem until Jesus did this and clothed them with power from on high.

          Finally, our text tells us, “Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.”  Jesus parted from them as he was carried up into heaven – as he ascended.

          The disciples worshipped Jesus and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.  Why did they have great joy?  Well first, in the resurrection God had vindicated Jesus as the Christ.  He was not a failed messiah cursed by God on the tree.  Instead, he truly was the Christ – the fulfillment of all of God’s promises in the Old Testament for salvation.  More than that, he was the Lord – the Son of God who had defeated sin and death. 

          Yes, Jesus had been taken up into heaven and was no longer seen by them. But this event was an action by God that demonstrated his exaltation.  God had shown him honor and glory in this way. And then, they had Jesus’ promise that he was not done. He was going to send the promise of the Father.  He was going to clothe them with power from on high.

          One of the challenges of preaching on the ascension in Luke’s writings is that you can’t understand what the ascension really means without also talking about Pentecost – an event that is still ten days down the road.  On that day the ascended Christ fulfilled his word that he would send the promise of the Father as the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples.

          Peter confronted the people with the fact that Jesus had been crucified. But then he proclaimed the resurrection. He went on to say, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.”

          Notice how Peter describes the ascended Lord as “exalted at the right hand of God.”  In the resurrection of Jesus God vindicated him.  In the ascension Christ has been exalted as the Lord who has carried out the Father’s will.  As the exalted Lord, he is the One who has poured out the Holy Spirit.

          The ascension of Jesus Christ is not his withdrawal from us.  Instead, it is the declaration that he the risen One is indeed Lord of all.  It is the demonstration that he reigns as the One who has conquered sin and death. 

          Jesus has not left us because by pouring out the Spirit he is with us in a new way.  The Lord poured forth his Spirit – the Spirit of Christ, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit is the presence of the risen Lord with his Church everywhere. It is through the Spirit that the exalted Lord Jesus carries out the work of bringing the salvation that he won by his death and resurrection to us and every other individual who is called to faith.

          As we think about the ascension of Jesus, we also must remember what Jesus was like when he ascended.  At Christmas we celebrated the incarnation as the Son of God entered into the world when Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.  He was true God and true man.

          Jesus did not cease to be this in his resurrection.  Just before our text, our Lord had said, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?  See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." Jesus showed them his hands and his feet, and even asked for something to eat and then ate broiled fish in front of them.  The risen Lord is still true God and true man. The difference is that now he has a resurrected body that can never die again.  In his ascension, Jesus Christ has taken redeemed and restored humanity into God’s presence in heaven.  By doing so, he has shown that we will also one day live in God’s presence.

          Jesus Christ has been exalted in his ascension as the Lord who has defeated sin and death.  He is present now through the work of his Spirit who creates and sustains faith through the Means of Grace. Yet inherent in the ascension is the message that Jesus Christ is not yet done with the work that he going to do.  On Pentecost, Peter pointed the crowd to Psalm 110 as he said: “For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’”

          In fulfillment of David’s word, the Lord Jesus has been exalted and seated at the right hand of God. But note that this takes place “until I make your enemies your footstool.”  The ascension of Jesus Christ points us to his return in glory on the Last Day.  

        Christ has many enemies in this world – enemies who attack his people the Church. But this will only occur until they become his footstool – a metaphor that conveys the total victory that will be his.  That will happen when Christ returns in glory on the Last Day.  At that time he will raise us with bodies transformed to be like his – bodies that will never die again.  Just as the Father vindicated Jesus in the resurrection, so by his return and act of resurrection, Jesus will vindicate us for trusting and believing in him before the world.  The world will learn that Jesus is the exalted Lord who holds all power. 

            St. Paul told the Philippians, that Jesus humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. But then he went on to say, “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  Because of the ascension of Jesus Christ, we know that day is coming.







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