Cruce Tectum

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

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

The Ascension of Our Lord


The Ascension of Our Lord (observed)

June 1, 2011
Text: Acts 1:1-11; Eph. 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

We often live and act as if, in the Ascension of our Lord, Jesus has left the building, as if He is no longer present with us in any real way (only “in spirit,” which really means not present at all), as if we’re left on our own to muddle through this earthly life as best we can with whatever scraps He’s left to us in the Bible, and primarily with our own resources, our own reason and strength. We live and act as if Christ is confined in some sort of heavenly prison, at least in His body. This is the official theology of much of Christendom. And for all practical purposes, many Lutherans adopt this theology as well, as if Jesus is somewhere up there, and we’re down here, and in this earthly life, never the twain shall meet. This, dear friends in Christ, is to entirely misunderstand the meaning of our Lord’s ascension. Rather, in His ascension and session at the right hand of the Father, our Lord Jesus now fills all things and is present with His Church in His body, for in His incarnation at Christmas (His taking on of human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary), He is no longer only spirit. Jesus is a flesh and blood God!

The Church confesses that 40 days after our Lord’s bodily resurrection from the dead, He bodily “ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty” (Apostles’ Creed). We confess this in all three creeds. We confess this because it is clearly revealed to us in the Holy Scriptures. And it means something for us and for our salvation. Our Lord doesn’t ascend into heaven so as to twiddle his thumbs until it’s time to come back on the Last Day. He ascends into heaven for the purpose of sitting at the right hand of the Father where He rules all things for the benefit of His Christians. This is the three-fold Kingdom you learned about in Catechism class: The Kingdom of Power, His rule over all things in the whole universe, seen and unseen, even over the devil and the demons; the Kingdom of Grace, which is the holy Christian Church on earth, the Church militant, which He rules by His Word; and the Kingdom of Glory, the holy Christian Church in heaven, the Church triumphant. And let us note with great care that He ascended bodily and sits at the right hand of the Father in His body. Our flesh is fallen and corrupt in the sin of Adam, but now it has been exalted and perfected in the flesh of our new Adam, Jesus Christ. His human flesh has been exalted to God’s right hand. That means that humanity itself has been exalted. And He goes to prepare a place for us (John 14:2-3), for where He has gone, we will go. We, too, are given a place in heaven, a place not just for our souls, but for our bodies in the resurrection. As God and Man, two natures in one person, our ascended Lord is our Mediator with God, our Advocate. He prays for us. The Father hears Him. The Father hears us for His sake. And our ascended Lord sends His Spirit who calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, gathers us into the Church, sanctifies us, and keeps us in the one true faith of Jesus Christ.

But all of that doesn’t mean Jesus has left the building. Far from it. He has not left us! In fact, He has promised to be with us always, to the very end of the age (Matt. 28:20). And where Jesus is, He is there in His whole person. Jesus is one person with two natures, divine and human. But we dare never divide Him into two persons, as if there are two Jesuses, one divine and one human. He is never with us strictly according to His divine nature, anymore than He could ever be with us strictly according to His human nature. Ever since the incarnation, wherever the Son of God is, He is there as God and Man. That means that Jesus promises to be with you in His body. And this is so important, because a god who is not flesh and blood, a god who is so above you and removed from you, is finally not helpful to your salvation. He is either the God of Christianity, who is one with you, and you are flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone, thus He intimately cares for you, or He is the god of all the other religions, Islam for example, a god who is not love, who would never become one with you, a god whose favor you must earn.

But that’s not Jesus. Jesus is one with you in the flesh. He conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. In the flesh. And He gives Himself in the flesh. He gives Himself to death in the flesh on the cross, the punishment for your sins, that you might be forgiven. He suffers hell in the flesh, that you may be set free. He is buried in the flesh, sanctifying your grave as a bed of peaceful rest. He has been raised in the flesh, that you may awaken in your own flesh, fully healed of sin and all that ails you on the Last Day. So He ascended and is seated at the right hand of God in the flesh, where He continues to be present with you in the flesh, bodily washing you with His own blood in Baptism, really speaking to you in His Word, really forgiving you in Absolution, and giving His very body and blood to you in the Supper. His flesh is for the life of the world (John 6:51). Our texts this evening don’t say that Jesus has gone away in such a way that He is no longer present. No, a cloud has taken Him away from our sight (Acts 1:9). But He is not gone. He is with us, as He promised. He is with us right where He has promised to be. Don’t stand there like fools gazing up into heaven, as if He’s however many trillions of miles that direction, up in the sky. Look where He’s promised to be for you, really present, in His body, God and Man. Go to His Word and Baptism and the Supper. He’s present right here in the midst of His Church in His gifts, as St. Paul writes, He has been given “as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23; ESV).

Of course, He will come back visibly on the Last Day. He will not be removed from our sight forever. Then we will see Him eternally with our own eyes. But even now we see Him by faith in the means of grace. So we can live and act as if He’s right here, because He is right here, delivering forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation. And this, beloved, is cause for great rejoicing. “God has gone up with a shout” (Ps. 47:5). But He has not left us. He takes us with Him in His bodily exaltation. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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