Ascension

May 13, 2018

Good Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church

Sioux Falls, SD

Rev. Norman F. Seeger

 

Ephesians 1:16-23

I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.  I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.  I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.  That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.  And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

 

Ephesians 1:16-23

“What is Our Ascended Lord Jesus Doing Today?”

1)  Applying God’s All-Surpassing Power, Jesus Prepares a Place for Us…

2)  Prays Forgiveness for Us, Protects Us from Every Evil; Directs Disciples’ Lives 

 

Dear faithful followers of Jesus, our eternal God, who humbled himself to become a human being, stepped down to earth to wrap us in righteousness by living God’s law as our Substitute & lowered himself onto a cross to save us from our sins by dying in our place…

Dear faithful followers of Jesus, a self-identified Son of Man God exalted, a Savior God raised from the dead three days after he sacrificed himself to atone for all sin & a Redeemer for every soul God lifted into heaven forty days later…

Dear faithful followers of Jesus, our humble Lord, our risen Redeemer, our ascended Savior seated at God’s ruling right hand, exercising all authority & power today & for eternity so every knee in heaven, on earth & under the earth can confidently confess Jesus Christ is Lord, my Lord,

Just as Apostle Paul prays he will, God keeps giving us ‘the Spirit of wisdom & revelation so we may know him better.’  Using Scripture, the Holy Spirit opens ‘our heart’s eyes to know the hope to which God calls us, to know our glorious inheritance as his holy people; to know his incomparably great power for us who believe.’  Being certain believers will live with God in heaven forever; as we live in Christ’s kingdom today, faith focuses on Jesus.  Today’s question:  What do we see as we look at Jesus?  A baby born in Bethlehem is a familiar picture.  Twelve years later, we see a child talking with teachers in Jerusalem’s temple after first celebrating the Passover.  Turning thirty, we see Jesus baptized in the Jordan River, we see Jesus preach on a mountainside, miraculously heal all sorts of sick people — cast out evil spirits; even bring the dead back to life.  Looking through disciples’ biblical eyes, we see Jesus arrested, innocently convicted by Jewish & Roman rulers who mockingly crown him with thorns, flog him; crucify him on a cross as darkness rules our earth. Easter Sunday, we see Jesus rise from the dead, as he promised he would.  Looking back, we see Jesus show disciples nail prints in his hands; a wound in his side.  We see Jesus again fill his disciples’ nets with fish at the Sea of Galilee.  Forty days after Easter, we see Jesus rise into the sky until clouds hide him from his followers’ eyes.

End of the story?  Is it time to cue the credits as Jesus ascends?  Shall we look for a new Lord, find a new leader for our life?  Absolutely not!  A pastor leaving is replaced by a new pastor coming, but Jesus ascending into heaven is irreplaceable.  In fact, commissioning his faithful followers to ‘Make disciples of all nations by baptizing & teaching everything I have commanded,’ Jesus promises, ‘I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.’[MT 28]  ‘I will always be with you’ raises a question:  ‘Did Jesus leave?’ or “Is Jesus still with us today?’  Yes!  We will accurately answer, ‘Yes.’  We rightly respond, ‘Yes, Jesus ascended from earth into heaven.’  ‘Yes, Jesus is here with us today; Jesus will be with us every day.’  We simply do not see Jesus in the present the way we disciples saw him in the past.  ‘Faith, the reality of what is hoped for, proof of what is not seen’[HEB 11] — faith flowing from the Scriptures — still sees our Savior.  Celebrating ascension, we ask:  What do we see as we see Jesus today?  Not a newborn baby!  Not a preacher on a mountainside!  Not a suffering Savior on a cross!  Jesus’ past pictures – photos snapped as he completely produced our righteousness & redemption – do not picture Jesus’ current activity.  What is reality right now?  What does faith rightly see?  What is our ascended Lord Jesus doing today?

Images are not as familiar as Scriptural photos from Jesus’ life, death & resurrection, but inspired apostle Paul clearly exclaims, ‘Exerting his mighty strength, God raised Christ from the dead; God seated Jesus at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule & authority, power & dominion; above every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.’  What does it mean for our ascending Savior & Lord to become his heavenly Father’s right-hand man?  Paul explains, ‘God placed all things under Jesus’ feet & appointed him to be head over everything for the church.Defeating the devil by refusing to sin, despite facing every temptation Satan will ever toss at us; overpowering death by returning to life the third day, Jesus is not kicking back in a heavenly recliner, simply savoring his victory.  Jesus is not some hall of famer always but only talking about what he accomplished in the past.  Jesus actively exerts power no force can successfully oppose, ruling this world in the best interest of us believers; intervening in our life so God’s will ultimately guides us into a home in heaven Jesus is preparing for us.

Applying God’s all-surpassing power, what is our ascended Lord Jesus doing today?  Jesus is preparing a place for us to live with him forever.  Pointing to what I often see as our ascended Lord’s overriding activity – a particularly important sight we share with souls as earthly death approaches – Jesus encourages his disciples, the night before he will be crucified, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God; believe also in me.’  Jesus promises, painting a very inviting picture ‘My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you I am going there to prepare a place for you?’  Jesus leaves no doubt about a last blessing he will bring us, ‘If I go & prepare a place for you, I will come back & take you to be with me so you also may be where I am.’[JN 14]  Thomas & others ask directions; ask for an address to plug into their GPS.  Jesus focuses faith’s eyes – previewing Peter’s assertion, ‘Salvation is found in no one other than Jesus Christ, whom we crucified (with our sins), but whom God raised from the dead (announcing forgiveness for our sins)’[ACTS 4] – Jesus assures, I am the way, the truth & the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.’

Applying God’s all-surpassing power, what is our ascended Lord Jesus doing today?  While Jesus preparing a place for us to live with him in heaven forever is an all-important activity – however I picture this in my mind – our ascended Lord also works God’s will in our life every day.  John writes, ‘If anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense — Jesus Christ, the Righteous One…the atoning sacrifice for our sins, for sins of the whole world.’[I JN 2]  Whenever we, in our weakness or in our ignorance, fall into sin, Jesus talks to his Father for us.  Jesus reminds God, ‘My death paid their penalty – on my cross I suffered the hell their disobedience deserves.  Jesus specifically prays for us, as he prayed on the cross, ‘Father, forgive them.’[LK 23]  Seeing our ascended Savior asking forgiveness for us every time we sin, we exult with Paul, ‘If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?  It is God who justifies.  Who then is one who condemns?  No one!  Christ Jesus who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God & is also interceding for us.’[ROM 8]

As faith sees Jesus patiently, persistently; mercifully ask God his Father to forgive us every time we sin, we also see our Lord, before the fact, remove barriers or repair potholes trying to push us off his path for our holy life.  We are warned, ‘If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.’  We are at the same time comforted with a promise, ‘No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.  God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so you can endure it.’[1 COR 10]  Applying God’s all-surpassing power, our ascended Lord proactively restricts or reshapes temptations the devil, the world & our own sinful self would use to turn us away from God, to detour us into hell rather than allowing our souls to enjoy heavenly glory.

Surrounded by wickedness, faith’s eyes see our risen Lord protect us from every evil – see a life-giving Good Shepherd, who ‘laid down his life for us sheep, only to take it up again,’ apply his promise, ‘My sheep listen to my voice; I know them; they follow me.  I give them eternal life; they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.’[JN 10]  As Jesus ascends to the right hand of his Father in heaven after conquering sin, death & the devil, confident disciples can confess with Apostle Paul, ‘We are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’[ROM 8]

Applying God’s all-surpassing power, what is our ascended Lord Jesus doing today?   Preparing a place for us, asking forgiveness, protecting us from evil, Jesus also directs our life as a disciple.  Not speaking face to face as he personally gave orders to Peter, James & John, Jesus still talks to us through his Word.  ‘If you hold to my teachings,’ our Lord explained, ‘you will know the truth; the truth will make you free.’[JN 8]  As Jesus’ gospel truth inspires us; compels us to live our life as a child of God, Jesus painted a picture, ‘I am the vine; you are the branches.  If you remain in me & my words remain in you, you will bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples’… ‘You did not choose me,’ Jesus clarifies, ‘but I chose you so you might bear fruit – fruit that will last.’[JN 15]  Knowing followers of Christ do not naturally understand God’s plan for our salvation, nor comprehend what Christian love will really look like in our life – anticipating emptiness disciples will sense when their Lord is crucified, rises; then ascends out of their sight – Jesus promised to send a ‘Counselor, the Holy Spirit, who will teach us all things; will remind us of everything Jesus has said.’[JN 14]  With his Word, our Lord Jesus will guide the god-pleasing life we children of God are to live today.  Who will not listen & learn to praise our Savior with our works, as well as our words, today; every day?

We ask once more, ‘What is our ascended Lord Jesus doing today?’  Inspired apostles accurately answer, enlightening faithful eyes:  Ascended, unseen by earthly eyes, our sin-conquering, death-destroying, devil-defeating Lord Jesus saves us – body & soul – allowing faithful followers to live for Christ today as we look forward to a time when our Savior will return, as promised, to also lift us from earth into heaven to celebrate with our crucified but risen, ascended Savior forever.

Amen.