SCRIPTURES – Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53
“The God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 1)
What a wonderful hymn this is, “See, the Lord Ascends in Triumph!” (see the last page of this sermon). This hymn has much to teach us, and so I would like to have you look at it with me so that we can learn from it.
How is the Lord Jesus portrayed in this hymn? It begins by picturing Him as a mighty warrior returning from battle, a great king who has won a great victory. Jesus came down from heaven to enter into battle with sin, death, and the powers of hell. He “vanquished sin and Satan” (verse 2) and spoiled, or plundered, his foes. Ascension Day celebrates Jesus’ return into heaven as King, Ruler over all His foes.
But now consider how Jesus is portrayed in verse 4.
“Now our heav’nly Aaron enters with his blood within the veil;
Joshua now is come to Canaan, and the kings before Him quail.
Now He plants the tribes of Israel in their promised resting place;
Now our great Elijah offers double portion of His grace.”
Great and important people from the Old Testament are referred to:
Aaron His foes.
was the first High Priest of Israel. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, he would enter the temple and go behind the veil into God’s very presence in the Holy of Holies. He would bring with him the blood of a sacrificed lamb to make atonement for his sins and the sins of the people. God would then continue to dwell among His people and bless them.
Joshua led the people of Israel after Moses died. He brought them into the Promised Land of Canaan and defeated the kings and armies of Canaan.
Elijah was a great prophet who did not die but was taken into heaven in a whirlwind. His successor, Elisha, received a double portion of his spirit when he saw Elijah ascend into heaven.
Now, notice that the hymn does not refer to these great saints and leaders of old as simply examples or forerunners of Christ. Jesus is Aaron, Joshua, and Elijah.
Jesus is our High Priest. He enters into God’s presence in heaven itself, offering His own blood so that all of our sins might be forgiven and we might be blessed by His holy Father.
Jesus brings us into the Promised Land of heaven and makes it our home.
Jesus ascends into heaven, and pours out His Holy Spirit upon us.
By phrasing things this way, this hymn wonderfully emphasizes a reality that we need to keep in mind, especially when we consider Christ’s ascension to the right hand of the Father. That reality is this:
Jesus IN HIS body JOINs Himself TO His people
So often, when thinking about Christ’s ascension, we struggle to believe that He has not left us. We often feel alone, even separated from God.
Feelings of guilt because of our sins; anger because of injustices and sufferings; sorrow and depression; severe and lasting sickness or injury; or, just plain boredom with the routines of day-to-day life – such things at times make it seem as if God is far away from us and unconcerned about us.
Do not give in to such thoughts, for they are temptations from the devil! Cling in faith to the promise Jesus gave just before He ascended, “I am with you always.” But also take to heart what our Scriptures and hymns declare: that the Church – you – is Christ’s body, “the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” Jesus bodily identifies Himself with His people. He is in them and they are in Him. He ascended that He might fill all creation and be present with His believers, of every time and in every place. This means that you are not alone. You are never abandoned by your Savior. Jesus is not only “up there” in heaven; He is down here with you! He has joined Himself to you in a union that began in your Baptism and is constantly renewed as you hear His words and receive His body and blood. This we must keep constantly in our minds and hearts and proclaim with our voices.
And, there is another reality, another result of Christ’s ascension that we must also keep in heart and mind. Since you are Christ’s body, you are in heaven with Him right now, for Christ is “head over all things for the Church, which is His body.” Since Jesus, your Head, is “seated at [God’s] right hand in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1), you, His body, are there also! As our hymn puts it:
You have raised our human nature on the clouds to God’s right hand; There we sit in heav’nly places, there with You in glory stand.
Jesus reigns, adored by angels; man with God is on the throne.
Mighty Lord, in Your ascension we by faith behold our own!
Believe this, and hold firmly to it! Jesus has accomplished all things for our salvation:
He died for us on the cross; there our sin was judged and forgiveness was won.
He rose from the dead; our graves were opened and our death undone.
He ascended into heaven, bringing His body, and with it the bodies of His people, into heaven.
Your salvation is not simply a possibility, dependent upon whether or not you live a faithful and obedient life. Your eternal salvation has been accomplished! It is the work of Jesus from beginning to end, from His birth to His crucifixion to forgive your sins to His resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven. Since He has completed all things and ascended into heaven, you are in heaven, for you are in Him. St. Paul sums it up this way in the 2nd chapter of Ephesians:
“God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
This is “the hope to which he has called you…the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” Rejoice and be glad, and continually offer your praise and thanks to God in His holy house! For Christ is risen and ascended, and you are risen and ascended with Him!
See, the Lord Ascends in Triumph LSB 494
5 He has raised our human nature
On the clouds to God’s right hand;
There we sit in heav’nly places,
There with Him in glory stand.
Jesus reigns, adored by angels;
Man with God is on the throne.
By our mighty Lord’s ascension
We by faith behold our own.