“And He Ascended into Heaven”
Sermon Theme: Ascension Day is right up there with Christmas and Easter in its importance.
Text: Luke 24:44–53
ESV Luke 24:44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” 50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.
(Luk 24:44 ESV)
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our risen and ascended Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Feast of the Ascension is one of the most important feasts of the Church Year. We might not realize that because it’s been rather neglected among us. The fact is, though,
Ascension Day Is Right Up There
with Christmas and Easter in Its Importance.
On Ascension Day our Lord takes our flesh with him into heaven, where he sits at God’s right hand with all authority.
Is that relevant? I mean, does it matter and help me in my day-to-day life? I’ve got issues here! Right here! Right here in this world! How important to me, really, is a pie-in-the-sky ascension of Jesus into heaven? You have a family member dying. You have a chronic illness. You have lost your job and the bank is foreclosing on your house. Your kid is acting up and getting in trouble with the law. How much does Jesus’ ascension mean for all that?
Very much, if our eyes are open to see what Jesus himself has done for our day-to-day life. Very much, if you understand that in your Baptism, you are the Body and Jesus is the Head. Wherever the Head goes, the Body goes. Jesus rose from the dead bodily. If a believer is dying, then Jesus is there to give resurrection and life in his resurrected body. If you are ill, then Jesus is the head of this body and will restore it to perfect health for all eternity. If you have lost my job, Jesus will take care of his body. If your kids are acting up, Jesus loves them more than even you do. If Jesus has risen from the dead, and he has, so will you. If Jesus ascends into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, so will you. You see, it matters, and the ascension of Christ to the throne of God is a feast to celebrate.
If we don’t always see that, no worries. Before he ascends, Jesus has to teach his apostles too. The text says, “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (v 45). As we read in the Gospels, these eleven men seem to have had a hard time understanding what Jesus meant. Time and time again, even at the ascension, as recorded in Acts, they were looking for Jesus to establish his political kingdom. Prior to Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection, they seemed even to ignore Jesus’ notices that he was going to Jerusalem to suffer and die and be raised on the third day.
Jesus opens their minds so they see that his suffering, death, and resurrection were prophesied in the Books of Moses, the Psalms, and the Prophets: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead” (v 46). In fact, the whole of Old Testament Scripture is about and points to Christ on the cross—recall, for example, the temple sacrifices and the story of Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac. It is this, Christ’s atonement on the cross, that assures us of God’s care in all those day-to-day stresses, because the cross has reconciled us to, brought us back together with, God.
So be open, ears, be open, minds, for what Jesus teaches on this Ascension Day is relevant, is pertinent, to you. Jesus suffered and on the third day rose from the dead. Now, in addition, he teaches that “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things” (vv 47–48). This is Jesus’ commission to his apostles, his established the Office of the Ministry—to proclaim repentance for the forgiveness of sins in his name.
The Office of the Ministry is all for the Means of Grace. It is the preaching of the Law that accuses you of sin and the preaching of the Gospel that shows us where to receive forgiveness; that’s the purpose of this sermon and every sermon preached. How important is that to you?! (Give concrete examples of sins and sins forgiven.) Notice the purpose of the sermon or proclamation is not to help you live a better life, to make you healthier, wealthier, or wiser, or to extract worldly rewards.
Jesus told his apostles, “Behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in [Jerusalem] until you are clothed with power from on high” (v 49). In other words, Jesus will be sending the Holy Spirit. This he does by the authority given him at the right hand of the Father.
“Then [Jesus] led [the disciples] out as far as Bethany”—to the Mount of Olives—”and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven” (vv 50–51). This is what we celebrate: the Son of Man is now ascended into heaven. Jesus will always be our Savior and our God both in office and in essence. But he has also elevated mankind so that you once again have fellowship with God. Jesus is the man the Father intended man to be, and yet he is the only begotten Son from all eternity.
Jesus’ ascension into heaven does not mean he is physically restricted. Just because the senses cannot perceive him does not mean he is not present. We know he is there, and to assist our feeble faith he does provide something tangible, bread and wine, to accompany the promise of his Word. (Give examples of doubts we may experience and declare assurance of Jesus’ presence in the Sacrament.)
So Jesus is present here as he as promised when we gather in his name. He did not leave us to run things in the Church as we see fit. That would be a decapitated Church. And there are lots of those. No, he is here where his Word is preached and his Sacraments administered.
This oft-neglected feast, the Ascension of Our Lord, is the great coronation of Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, in heaven. The angels and host of heaven marvel as a flesh-and-blood man receives the crown and is given all authority in heaven and earth. His rule is now of grace and mercy, where repentance for forgiveness of sins is preached. Perhaps our neglect betrays the fact that we are still under the cross, that glory really goes no further than Jesus hanging on the cross. Even though he reigns in heaven, he still carries for you the marks of his crucifixion. He is the Lamb who was slain. Sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, behold your King! Amen.