THE ASCENSION OF OURLORD – celebrated June 1, 2014

SCRIPTURES – Ps. 47;Acts 1:1-11; Eph. 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

 

[God]raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenlyplaces, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and aboveevery name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. Andhe put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to thechurch, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.  (Ephesians 1)

 A question that is used again andagain in our Catechism is, What does thismean? It is a question that invites us to consider God’s work and will forus.

 Today we celebrate again a greatevent that took place forty days after Jesus rose from the dead. On that 40thday, before His disciples, Jesus began rising up into the sky until He washidden by a cloud. He ascended to the right hand of His Father in heaven. Ok,so: What does this mean?

 It doesn’t mean that Jesus has goneaway from us. Quite the contrary; He is closer to us than He was when He walkedon this earth! For, what is the right hand of God? Consider these words ofPsalm 139:7-10:

“Where can I gofrom your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to theheavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If Irise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, eventhere your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”

The right hand of God is His presence everywhere! More thanthat; it is His powerful presence everywhere. Moses, standing at the waters ofthe Red Sea and seeing God drown Pharaoh’s mighty army in it, cried out: “Yourright hand, Lord, was majestic in power. Your right hand, Lord, shattered theenemy.” (Exod. 15:6) His words are echoed in many places in the Bible,such as in Psalm 118: “Shouts of joy and victory resound in thetents of the righteous: “The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things! TheLord’s right hand is lifted high; the Lord’s right hand has done mightythings!” I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done.” (15-17)Jesus ascends to God’s right hand to exercise His mighty power everywhere.

 Today’s Scriptures emphasize this. “[God]seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule andauthority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not onlyin this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feetand gave him as head over all things,” says Ephesians 1. All power isgiven to Jesus. Nothing in all creation – no person or kingdom or government ormovement, nor Satan and his hosts – can overcome Him. He now rules as Masterover all things! But, listen closely to what Jesus tells His disciples beforeHe ascends: “Behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay inthe city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Jesus doesn’tascend to His Father’s right hand, the position of all power, for Himselfalone. He assumes this position of power that He might share it with us. Hisascension means power for us.

 In Christ you are powerful! InChrist you rule as lord over all things! In this world there are none so great andmighty as us Christians. Wow!

 Ok; so: what does this mean? It isvery important that you ask and consider this question. For, if Jesus’disciples were prone to thinking that they were now going to be rewarded withworldly power – “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”they asked Him – then how prone are we, who have not been in Jesus’ presencenor seen Him with our own eyes, to desiring worldly benefits. We are by natureselfish, after all. We don’t like to be without. We don’t want to suffer. Wedon’t want to be rejected and opposed and spoken against. We don’t want tofail. We want to succeed and have good lives! Since Jesus has ascended to rulefor us, and since we rule with Him as lords, can’t we expect good andprosperous and successful lives?

 Consider again Jesus ascension. Whowas with Him when He ascended? Who saw Him? Were those who rejected Him andcried out for His crucifixion there? No. Was Pontius Pilate, the Roman governorwho sentenced Him to death, or Herod, the King of the Jews, there? Was Caesar,the greatest of the world’s rulers at the time, there? No. Only His discipleswere present to see Him ascend. His ascension, and the promise of the HolySpirit, was a message to them, not to the world. It is a message to you.

 You rule over all things! Youpossess all things, for everything is under your feet! But, this is only inChrist, who is right now unseen and seemingly absent. In this world we live byfaith, not by sight. This means that the same sufferings that afflict people inthis world will afflict us, also. And if while suffering them you still believein Jesus and in what His ascension means for you – that you are ascended withHim and so rule over all things and possess all things – then your belief willbe scorned by those who do not believe in Jesus and even laughed at asself-evidently ridiculous. How laughable seems belief in your power and rulewhen you are burdened with bills that you struggle to pay or a sickness thatafflicts you with weakness. Where’s our power? Where’s our rule? Where’s ourvictory?

 It is hidden in Christ, waiting to berevealed when He returns from heaven in glory. Until that glorious day comes,see and accept that Christ has given you the power of His Holy Spirit to serve,not to rule, and to witness by a life of contentedness and faith in the midstof every earthly trial.

 For, you see, Jesus did not come toseize power or force submission. The devil does this. When Satan comes hisdesire is to possess people and make them his puppets. When we hear in theBible of a person who is possessed by a demon, that person is controlled andforced into evil behaviors. He cries out in misery and anguish because of hisaffliction.

 Jesus does not come to possess, butto fill. Ephesians 1 tells us that the Church is “His body, the fullness of Himwho fills all in all.” Our Lord fills us. He fills us with His love,His mercy, and His assurance that God is our Father who loves us and directsall things in our lives for our blessing and the blessing of others. He doesnot force and move us, as though we were chess pieces or puppets, but frees usfrom our sins so that we can gladly follow Him and embrace His will for ourlives.

 This is the power we have inChrist: to not only endure but even to rejoice in hope while in the midst ofsufferings; to know that we are forgiven and loved by God when sin and guiltburden us, for Jesus died for them on the cross and by His death freed us fromtheir condemnation! We have the power to be witnesses to God’s good rule andblessed presence to those who do not believe in Him. Therefore we pray: O Lord,ascended in triumph and ruling over all things, grant us the power of Your HolySpirit to witness in our lives to Your good rule and blessed presence, to theglory of Your name and the blessing of the weak; through Jesus Christ, ourrisen and ascended Lord. Amen.