Why We Rejoice at Jesus’ Ascension. The Ascension of our Lord, 2015.
The Ascension of our Lord
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Luke 24:44-51
May 14, 2015
“Why We Rejoice at Jesus’ Ascension”
One of the hymns we sang today is an old one, written by an old English pastor in the 8th century.
A hymn of glory let us sing!
New hymns throughout the world shall ring!
Christ by a road before untrod
Ascends unto the throne of God!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Etc.
Now stop and think for a minute. Isn’t it strange that we praise God for the Ascension of our Lord Jesus? It certainly appears that way if we think according to the flesh. Why would we praise God that we no longer have Jesus visibly present with us? Wouldn’t it be better if we could see Jesus, hear His voice, touch Him? Wouldn’t it be better if He preached to us?
That’s what the disciples thought before Jesus died. When He told them He was going away, they were filled with sorrow.
I’m not sure if you can judge people’s appreciation of the Ascension of Christ by how many people go to church on the day of the Ascension. There are other reasons why people don’t come, probably mostly because they’ve never done it before. But maybe part of the reason is that to our flesh it doesn’t seem like something to celebrate. Most people think of Jesus’ ascension as His going away, and if they see it that way it’s easy to see why they might not want to celebrate it.
But you might notice: What did the apostles do when Jesus ascended into heaven? In the account from Acts they just stare into the sky with their mouths hanging open until an angel comes and tells them that Jesus will come back in the way they saw Him go. But in Luke’s Gospel it says, “They worshipped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.” The apostles were sad when they heard Jesus was going away before He died. But when He actually did go away into heaven after His resurrection, they rejoiced. They were not sorrowful, but full of joy.
So God willing, after hearing this sermon you also will rejoice with the apostles at the Ascension of Jesus. Because Jesus did not ascend into heaven to rob us of joy. He did it for the same reason He did all of His works—for us, for our salvation and comfort. Everything Jesus did, He did for us men and our salvation. And His ascension should bring us great joy, because it is the goal of our faith. We believe in Jesus not merely so that we may die with Him, or even rise from the dead with Him, but so that we may ascend into heaven and reign with Him.
First of all, the ascension of Jesus is a cause of joy to us because it means that our Lord Jesus is victorious. He is not being carried just anywhere. He isn’t going to outer space or to a waiting room. He is being exalted to God’s right hand. That means that Jesus, who is both a man like us and God’s eternal Son, is now lifted up to the highest place to rule over the universe and all creation. According to His divine nature, Jesus always had this glory and honor, but in His humanity He laid aside this glory for a little while. That’s why in His life on earth He was slandered, dishonored, spit on, made to suffer, made to die in agony on the cross. But now He is lifted up to sit on the throne of God and reign over all creation, over every living thing, whether humans or angels, rulers or devils. The same man who was crucified is exalted to the throne of God. And we should rejoice over this as Christians, because Jesus is ours. He is our Savior and our King, and He is mightier and more glorious than any king has ever been. He not only reigns over a portion of the earth; He reigns as king over everything—earth, sky, water, air, fire, over all the animals, over all people with all their wisdom and power, even over the angels and demons. All are subject to Him, and even though they might oppose Him, He reigns over them. Nothing can take our Lord off His throne.
Second, we should rejoice in Jesus’ ascension because He has defeated our enemies. He has knocked down everything that barred the way to heaven. He has opened heaven for us.
The devil’s reign.
Third, we rejoice in Jesus’ ascension because He has pioneered the way to heaven for us. He has blazed the trail to heaven. Not as though we try to walk the way He did in order to earn eternal life. But we follow the trail that He blazed for us, living in His death and resurrection through our Baptism into Him, trusting that His suffering has merited that we be counted not guilty before the Father.
Fourth, we rejoice in Jesus’ ascension because He did not go away from us but instead fills all things.
God is present everywhere in all power and knowledge. Because our Lord Jesus is exalted to the throne of God, He is present everywhere as both God and man. He is with us not in weakness but in glory and power.
That’s part of why the disciples rejoiced. The disciples knew that even though they couldn’t see Him, He was with them because He was at God’s right hand and God is present everywhere.
And He was with them not as judge and critic but as the one who had saved them. And since He was at God’s right hand He was reigning over the universe for their good. Nothing could slip through His fingers and harm them, nor can anything slip through His fingers and harm us.
Fifth, we should rejoice because He is present to do His work in the midst of the Church.
In preaching and witnessing it is not merely us talking about an absent Jesus, but Jesus is present in the preaching. He is speaking and announcing the forgiveness of sins through His death and resurrection. He is bestowing the forgiveness of sins from the right hand of God.
In Baptism it is not merely water and not merely our ceremony, but Jesus is present in the water through the Word giving salvation.
In the Lord’s Supper it is not merely bread and wine, not merely our activity of remembering a distant Jesus. But He Himself is present, giving His body with the bread and His blood with the wine.
That’s why Jesus keeps telling His disciples that they will be His witnesses to the ends of the earth, that “repentance and forgiveness of sins” must be preached to all nations.
Jesus is exalted to be Lord over the whole earth. He reigns over the whole earth. And He does this not simply by controlling the affairs of the earth. He extends His grace to the ends of the earth by proclaiming and distributing the forgiveness of sins to the ends of the earth. He does that by preaching His victory over sin, death, and hell, and whoever believes it has it.
But Jesus makes us reign with Him by putting His words in our mouths.
This is the reason we do not need to be afraid when Jesus’ Church seems to be a little, weak, easily scattered flock.
Jesus is exalted to the Father’s right hand. He is victorious over all enemies, even over sin and death. And He is with us, in our midst. Not only is He reigning on high, but He makes us co-rulers with Him as we proclaim His kingdom to the ends of the earth.
So we rejoice in our Lord’s ascension. He has not left us. His exaltation is for us. He is with us, and He will bring us to be where He is—at the right hand of God, not only in our spirits but one day in our bodies.
Soli Deo Gloria