Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Ascension of Our Lord

The Ascension of Our Lord
May 21, 2009
Text: Acts 1:1-11; Eph. 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

Beloved in the Lord, in the Creed we confess that after His resurrection, our Savior Jesus Christ “ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty” (LSB, p. 159). We confess this in all three of the historic creeds of the Church, the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian, and yet we rarely stop to consider how important Christ’s ascension and session at the right hand of God the Father are for our salvation. What do these events mean for us? Why are they so important that we confess them in each of the creeds? Clearly the ascension of Jesus into heaven and His session at the right hand of the Father are major articles of faith, and if that is so, we should meditate upon them and their significance for the Church. That is why it is good, right, and salutary that we commit ourselves to keeping the festival. In the past we have not had the tradition at Epiphany of celebrating Ascension Day (with the exception of last year), and I suspect that this is because we have not understood the significance of this holy day. And the significance is this: Jesus reigns! Jesus has ascended to the right hand of the throne of God. He rules over all things in His three-fold Kingdom for the benefit of those He has redeemed. He rules over believers and unbelievers alike, and everything that has been made, including the devil and his evil angels, in the Kingdom of Power. He rules over His Church on earth in the Kingdom of Grace, sustaining believers in their earthly pilgrimage as they suffer the attacks of the devil, the world, and their own sinful flesh. He rules over the blessed dead in His Kingdom of Glory. The saints in heaven feast their eyes upon Him in the beatific vision, knowing and believing that Christ will one day raise all who have believed in Him from the dead to live forever, body and soul, with Him in His glorious Kingdom.

Jesus Christ has ascended into heaven and reigns at the right hand of the Father. He possesses “God’s omnipotence, omnipresence, dominion, eternality, and divine majesty.”[1] But let us not forget who this King is who now reigns over all. It is the eternal Son of God who has possessed this throne from eternity, who nonetheless emptied Himself of His divine glory and became a Man for us men and for our salvation, was born of the virgin Mary, fulfilled God’s holy Law for us, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried, all for our forgiveness, and was raised again by the Father for our justification. This is the One who has now ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. This is the One who reigns over all things. God became a Man, and thus He redeemed mankind. And God is still a Man, in Christ Jesus, and has exalted our human nature, taken our humanity with Him, to the right hand of God. Jesus ascended, that we, too, might ascend. He has gone to prepare a place for us. And since He has gone to prepare a place for us, He will return to take us to be with Him where He is forever.

In the meantime, He prays for us. He intercedes for us before the Father. He has the Father’s ear. The Father loves us and has been reconciled to us on account of Christ. Therefore He always listens to His Son’s pleas for His people. And at the request of Jesus, the Father has sent the Holy Spirit to His people. That is what we will celebrate a week from Sunday on the Day of Pentecost: the coming of the Holy Spirit. It is this Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth, the truth about Jesus Christ, the Truth that is Jesus Christ… who calls us by the Gospel, gathers us into His Church, enlightens us with His gifts, sanctifies us, and keeps us in the one true faith with Jesus Christ. Because Jesus has ascended into heaven, we no longer see Him with our eyes. But the Holy Spirit gives us faith to hear Him in His Word, to know He is present with us with His true body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar, to trust that all our sins are washed away in Holy Baptism, that by His wounds we are healed, and that He is with us always, even unto the end of the age.

Yes, Jesus Christ is with us always. That is what He promised in the last chapter of St. Matthew, right before He ascended into heaven. After commanding His apostles to make disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching, Jesus gave them and us His sure promise, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20; ESV). But wait a minute! Didn’t Jesus leave when He ascended into heaven? This is unfortunately the belief of many Christians, particularly our Reformed brothers and sisters, that when Jesus ascended bodily into heaven, He was removed from us and confined to the locality of heaven, wherever that happens to be. As a result, according to those who teach this false doctrine, He can be with us in spirit, but not in the body. Beloved in the Lord, this could not be more wrong! Jesus didn’t leave when He ascended into heaven! It is just that He is now hidden from our sight! “And when he had said these things, as [the disciples] were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). But He is still here. He is still present with us. And wherever Jesus is present, He is present in His entire being, in both natures, not only as God, but also as Man. His flesh has been exalted, glorified in the glory of the eternal Son of God, and so can do things that no other human flesh can do. Therefore He is with us not only in spirit, but in the flesh. And that is important, because remember who it is that reigns over you… It is the God who became flesh and made His dwelling among us! It is the one mediator between God and men, the Man, Christ Jesus. It is the God who gave Himself into death for the life of the world. It is the God who has not only redeemed our flesh, but exalted it in His resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven. None of this is possible if God is only bodiless spirit. But it is the blessed reality when God is in the flesh. And so He is in Jesus Christ.

Since this is true, there is no better way to keep the feast of the Ascension, than to gather where Jesus has promised to be for us, as God united to our flesh, here in His Church, speaking to us in His Word and feeding us His body and blood in the Sacrament. We keep the feast by feasting. We have been invited by the King to His own Table, to receive His gifts, to behold the Father in the person of the Son through the gracious working of the Holy Spirit. All this because the Father has exalted the Son and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:20-23). Come then and feast at that altar as your risen and ascended King Jesus fills you with His forgiveness, life, and salvation. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] C. F. W. Walther, God Grant It: Daily Devotions from C. F. W. Walther, Gerhard P. Grabenhofer, trans. (St. Louis: Concordia, 2006) p. 429.

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