There is a typo somewhere that makes a sentence say the opposite of what I meant. I fixed it while preaching, but couldn’t find it when I read through it again before posting. So, when you get to that, make it right in your own head. Otherwise, enjoy.
Update: The Typo was found by Helen J. Thanks!
This is one of the few days in the year when the Epistle and Gospel reading both contain a record of the deeds of our Lord. Usually the Gospel is a record of the words and deeds of Jesus – that’s why we stand for it – and the Epistle is commentary on those deeds. Today, the Epistle contains a record of Jesus ascension. It’s one of the few times outside of the Gospels where we have the words of Jesus himself in the Epistle reading. Both readings record the same events. The Epistle reading has more detail. The Gospel reading offers encouragement to us as well.
Jesus goes out from Jerusalem with the disciples. He speaks to them. He is taken up into heaven. He is hidden from them. Two angels tell the disciples that he will return. In the Gospel reading, Jesus promises them miraculous deeds. The sick healed. The demons cast out. He does not say that those gifts will continue forever. They are given to the apostles specifically. But the whole creation will have the Gospel proclaimed to them. Salvation will be given to all who believe and are baptized. And then, we are told, “Jesus was taken up unto heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.” The Lord worked with them.
He had not abandoned them. He has not abandoned us. We are tempted to think that today is the day we celebrate Jesus going away. But that’s not true. He is hidden. He has not gone away from us. He is in heaven – seated at the right hand of the majesty of the Father. But that is not a location, as if he has gone to Omaha. It is a position of power and authority. When Jesus walked the earth, he was in this place or that place. He moved from here to there. But He could be in only one place at a time according to his human nature. Now his Human nature has been glorified – raised from the dead in his body, he has ascended in that body to heaven. And so, he is now without restraint. He is not only here or there. But he is everywhere he has promised to be. His body and blood are even offered here for you for the forgiveness of your sins, so that you would take eat and take drink of his body and his blood. Jesus is nearer now than he was before he ascended.
The Lord continued to work with the disciples. He continues to work in his church today. Even here, far away from Jerusalem, far away from the mount of ascension. All these years later, and he continues to come to us. The miraculous signs as the apostles did them may have ended. But the Word is still preached. Jesus is still present where he has promised.
We can not see him as they once did. We see so little with our eyes in this world The disciples looked up until they no longer saw him. He was hidden from their sight. They, like us, see only what God has made visible to us – and that is precious little. We don’t see the angelic hosts attending and guarding Christ’s church. We don’t see Christ enthroned in glory. Oh there are brief moments – scripture records a few cases of the heavenly breaking through, and our earthly brethren being given a glimpse of that glory – Saint Stephen as he was stoned saw Christ enthroned. Saint Paul as he was on the road to Damascus saw the light of Christ break through. Saint John the Evangelist saw Christ enthroned, he was granted visions of Christ and the angels and the entire church, and the heavenly conflict with Satan. But for the most part, we see only the ordinary with our eyes. We have to see the rest with the eyes of faith. And that is not easy. It isn’t easy to see the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven singing with us, even though we are few in number. It isn’t easy to see the glory that will soon be revealed when we look around this world of change and decay. It isn’t easy to see the spiritual struggle that goes on in this world between the Word of God and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. But that is what is going on around us at all times. Satan knows his time is short, and so he rages, and he foams, and he works to destroy all that he can, while he can. The sinful world, and even our own sinful flesh, are his agents of destruction. They would destroy all that God calls good. It seems as if we, weak and few in number, can not overcome the wealth of resources that Satan has at his command. The church is old and shrinking. The world doesn’t even bother ridiculing us anymore. We are a non-entity to most of them. Christ seems so very small compared to all that we see around us. The worldly powers are so great, so wealthy, so well armed. What can we do against that?
And yet, do not be fooled by your eyes. The lifeless body of God hanging on the cross was actually the victory (over) Satan. The scared women running from the tomb was actually the announcement of that victory to His chosen apostles. And now, he has ascended into heaven. Christ reigns. There is no crisis, no emergency, no panic for those who hear and receive the word. Christ rules over all, what can the world do to us? Christ has defeated death, what can the grave hold over us. Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father, he has died and been raised for our salvation, and now is exalted above all other names. What more can the world offer, what can our own flesh seek that is not placed under him and his authority? What can happen that would separate us from his love?
Even with the rampant immorality all around, with gross violations of God’s Law allowed yet for a time, with the idolatries of the age swirling around, seeking to overcome Christ and his church, threatening to drown us, our Lord reigns. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. There is no defeat for those who are saved by the lamb who was slain. Even in death, we triumph, for we follow in his footsteps.
The Lord has been crucified, he has been raised. Now he is exalted above all other names. Now, the kingdom, the power and glory, are His, forever and ever. Amen.