Acts 1:3-11; Luke 24:44-53
The Ascension or our Lord
May 26, 2022
Joint Service of Mt. Zion and Our Father’s Lutheran Church
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
Back in 1961 when the Soviet Union sent their first cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, into orbit in space, he is said to have remarked that he didn’t see Jesus when he was up there–implying that Christianity must not be true and there must not be a heaven. Later, it was revealed that this was actually just a propaganda statement from Kruschev and the Kremlin, and that Gagarin was in fact an orthodox Christian. But that old Soviet atheistic foolishness serves as a reminder that there is often a lot of confusion regarding what the Bible teaches about heaven and especially about the ascension of our Lord. For when Jesus ascended to the Father’s right hand, it’s not that He went from one place to another, as if He were taking a trip above the atmosphere, but rather that He was taking our human nature into divine glory.
We know, of course, that it’s not as if we could go up into space and find Jesus in some confined physical spot. For heaven is not simply above the clouds somewhere. Rather, heaven is that unseen realm where God is, an infinite and eternal realm that is not limited to space and time, that is beyond space and time. The Creator transcends His creation. That’s the point of Jesus going up–He is the Lord above us, ruling over all things.
But Jesus is not gone from us and far away. We know from the Scriptures that God is present everywhere, and therefore, so is His “right hand.” So when we confess that Jesus bodily ascended to the right hand of the Father, we are not saying that He left us, but rather that He is present everywhere, both as God and now also as man. His human nature shares fully in His divine omnipresence and glory. St. Paul writes in Ephesians that Jesus “ascended far above all the heavens that He might fill all things.” The ascension of our Lord, then, emphasizes not Jesus’ absence but rather His presence, especially for the church and in the church. Jesus is at the right hand of the Father as King reigning over all things for the sake of His people.
This glorified presence of Christ actually began already at Easter. Just consider His resurrection appearances: The disciples are gathered together with the doors locked, but suddenly Jesus is there and stands among them. He had been there all along, but now He reveals Himself to them visibly. They are given to touch His hands and side. Or what about His appearance to the Emmaus disciples? Jesus makes Himself known to them in the breaking of the bread and then simply vanishes from their sight.
Throughout the 40 days between His resurrection and ascension, Jesus came out of His glory to appear to His disciples and to eat, talk, and walk with them. He did this for their benefit to show that He had truly risen from the dead in the flesh. Jesus’ ascension is really no different from those other times when He then removed Himself from their sight. It’s not that He went away. Rather, He appeared out of glory, and He returned to glory. But His final removal from their sight had to be so convincing that they would no longer expect Him to return until His final appearing. Being lifted up from the earth and covered with the cloud, along with the message of the angels, was to convince the disciples that Jesus would no longer be visibly present among them.
You will not see Jesus until He comes again on the clouds in great power and glory on the Last Day. This age of the church in which we live is the age not of the eyes but of the ears. Although you can’t see Christ, you can hear Him whenever His Word is preached and taught in its truth and purity. Although you can’t behold Christ visibly, you can come into tangible contact with Him wherever His sacraments are rightly administered–in the watery cloud of baptism, at the throne of His altar. He is unseen and yet truly bodily present among His people, veiled behind words and water, bread and wine. He makes Himself accessible to you in His glorified flesh here in divine service. Faith believes His promise, “I am with you always, even to the close of the age.”
If we’re honest with ourselves, though, we must admit that we often struggle to believe this. For we sinners are people of the eyes, aren’t we. If we can’t see it, experience it, feel it, it doesn’t seem real or true to us. Out of sight, out of mind with the Lord. All the visually impressive and entertaining things of this fallen world, screens everywhere, distract us and catch our eyes and divert our attention.
And when we don’t see and pay attention to God, we then act as if He doesn’t see or pay attention to us. We’re usually better behaved when we know we’re being monitored or there are cell phone or security cameras recording us than we are when the only One who sees is the Lord. Too often we live as if Christ is absent, that He’s not a very present help in time of need. We can be tempted to doubt that He really is in control or that He really cares. We see the chaos and the violence in the world around us, we experience the disorder in our lives and even in our own bodies, and we wonder, “If Christ really is ruling all things, why is this happening?” We are like the disciples who got sidetracked with when the earthly kingdom of Israel was going to be restored.
Repent of such thinking. Turn away from your own wisdom and from merely what your eyes can see. Trust again in the sure and comforting truth of the Ascension that is spoken into your ears today. See by faith the last thing that the disciples saw of Jesus. It is written, “He lifted up His hands and blessed them.” That is how you should picture what our ascended Lord is doing even now, lifting up His hands to bless His people with the gifts He won for you in His death and resurrection.
At His ascension, Jesus entered a cloud–not an ordinary cloud, though. It was rather like the pillar of cloud that led the children of Israel through the Red Sea and in the wilderness. It is the very presence of God. Jesus has taken up your humanity into God’s presence and reunited you with God in Himself. You’ll hear it in the preface before communion today, that Jesus ascended in order to make you partakers in His divine life.
In a very real sense, then, you have already ascended into heaven. For you are baptized into His ascended body. Therefore, you also are at the right hand of the Father as sheep of the Good Shepherd. Ephesians 2 says: “Even when we were dead in trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ . . . and raised us up together and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” You’re already there, because Jesus is already there, and you are in Him. Colossians 3 puts it this way: “Your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
I know of nothing that can make you more confident in your faith than that. When you begin to waver in your Christian hope, when you aren’t sure about whether or not you’re going to heaven, when you wonder if He’s paying attention to your troubles and needs, just remember the Ascension; just remember that you are a member of Christ’s body by your baptismal faith. And He is at the right hand of God as the victorious Ruler of all. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him who conquered all sin and death by His cross and resurrection. You are more than conquerors through Him who loves you. Jesus is the Father’s right hand man. Therefore, He is truly able to work all things together for the good of those who love Him, for you who have been called according to His purpose. He cares for you. Even in the midst of the ups and downs of your life, He who began His good work in you will bring it to completion in the day of His return.
Until then, Jesus stands before the Father as your Great High Priest and ministers on your behalf. That’s what He’s doing right now. In the Old Testament, one of the special garments that the High Priest wore when he appeared before God in the temple was something called an ephod, an apron-like vest that hung from the shoulders and over the chest of the High Priest. Precious onyx stones were attached to this ephod, in which were engraved the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. So on his shoulders and over his heart the High Priest carried the names of God’s people. Every time he entered the temple into the presence of God, he placed the whole people before the eyes of the Lord. This one man embodied all of Israel as he carried their names into the Holy of Holies to offer sacrifice for them and plead their forgiveness.
This Old Testament High Priest and his ephod are a living prophecy of our ascended Lord Jesus Christ. He is the great High Priest who put on our human nature when He came to minister among us. But unlike the Old Testament priest, Christ didn’t just wear our human nature like clothing and take it off when He finished His work. No, He actually became flesh, became human, united the ephod of our humanity to Himself forever.
On His shoulders and over His heart Christ carries the names of God’s baptized people. Having made His sacrifice, Jesus is now ascended to the temple of heaven for you, where He places you and the whole Church before the eyes of His Father and prays for you. This one Man Jesus embodies all of you as He carries your names into the heavenly Holy of Holies. He intercedes for you and speaks on your behalf before the Father. And if Jesus says to the Father that your sins are forgiven and paid for, then you’d better believe your sins are forgiven and paid for. It is written in 1 John 2, “We have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous. He Himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.”
So then, brothers and sisters of Christ, take comfort in this ascension of Christ your King, who is working all things together for your eternal good. “Seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.” Come to the Sacrament today and enter heaven, the place of Christ’s bodily presence. And then on the Last Day, “when Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.”
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠