Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sunday of the Ascension Sermon -- Luke 24:44-53 (LSB Ascension)

May 24, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

[Jesus] said to [the Twelve]: “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.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.

The Christ’s own words give us the reason for His Ascension and for our celebration of it. This day that we celebrate is the fulfillment of the Old Testament—the Law of Moses, the testimony of the Prophets, even the mystical, poetic teaching of the Psalms. It is the culmination of the Christ’s work, mission, and life on earth. So it is an important day for us who bear the Christ’s name to remember.

What Jesus reveals to His disciples on the Day of Ascension is the heart of their faith, the hope to which they were called to believe and to declare to the world. That is what their Lord opens their minds to understand from the Scriptures that witness about Him. So He says: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.” This is what the Twelve had seen in Jerusalem with their own eyes, and it is what they would “proclaim in [the Christ’s] name to all nations.”

The completeness of the Christ’s work is seen in His Ascension. Remember that Jesus told the Twelve: “Everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Everything, no exceptions allowed. Yet, the Twelve question Jesus about His mission. They ask Him if everything really is fulfilled. Even forty days after the Resurrection, the Twelve seem to have doubts about Jesus, or at least some concern that something hasn’t been fulfilled by Him. They ask: “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”

But what they seek from Jesus isn’t going to happen. They have a mistaken view of what the Christ was to accomplish. And so, Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” The Christ instructs His disciples about what He had done, how “everything written” had been fulfilled by Him. And then He speaks to what has been accomplished, what the Twelve will bring to the nations: not a new government for the world, but “forgiveness of sins.” For that is what “the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms” had all testified about the Christ’s work.

What the Christ’s Ascension declares to the Twelve and to the rest of the world is that the prophesied work has been done. There is nothing left to accomplish. All has been completed. And with “everything written” being fulfilled, the Christ leaves this world, leaving what He had redeemed, purchased and won, with His innocent suffering and death and glorious resurrection. With the Scriptures fulfilled, Jesus takes up His rightful place: “seated at [the Father’s] right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.”

What we see in the Ascension is the public testimony that we have been redeemed, fallen man has been reconciled to God, creation has been restored. Everything that Adam had lost, the perfection he caused to spiral into discord, decay, and death has been reversed. It is what humanity had hoped for from the moment that the Lord God said the ancient serpent’s head would be crushed. It is what every man, woman, and child desired to regain from the moment that Paradise had been lost, its gates shut tight against us.

With the Ascension, Jesus says “it is finished.” The Lord God’s promise has been made and kept. What Adam lost has been restored. The captivity in which humanity had been bound is overthrown. There is nothing left to be done by Him to change mankind’s fortune, to deliver humanity from eternal condemnation. Rather, we begin to experience the fullness of what our Redeemer has accomplished for us.

During the Easter season, we often hear St. Paul’s description of Jesus as “the firstfruits of those who have died.” He is the first to experience the bodily resurrection, the physical eternal life that Adam had forfeited. St. Paul states: “For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being.” We also teach that with Jesus’ resurrection, mankind has been resurrected, restored to life. What Jesus does in His mission as the Christ, He accomplishes for corporate humanity to reverse what Adam had lost for the entire human race.

The same can be said regarding the Christ’s Ascension. With His human presence in Paradise at the right hand of God the Father, Jesus has restored the original condition of Eden for all humanity. Adam had dwelt in perfect communion with God, living with Him without any fear, without any flaw, without any barrier. All of that was lost with his fall into sin. But now, Man has the same once again, because Jesus does so. The One who is both true God, but also true Man, lives just like the first man Adam did. And He flings open the gates of Paradise again for all of us to walk through and enjoy for eternity.

That is the great hope that we possess as the disciples of the Ascended Christ. We are promised to leave this vale of tears, to depart from this world which is fatally flawed. We are guaranteed “a place in the Father’s house” to possess for eternity. This is “the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance among the saints, the immeasurable greatness of His power for us who believe,” as St. Paul described to our fellow disciples in Ephesus.

The greatness of this hope is seen in the use of divine power on our behalf in the events of the Resurrection and Ascension. God the Father raises the Dead to eternal life and seats Him at His right hand. What He does for the Eternal Son is what He does for all of us. Divine power is used to restore us to life, to breathe the Holy Spirit of life into us. Divine power is used to restore us to communion with God, to seat us in Paradise again. What happens to Jesus is the pattern of what will happen to us, as we who have been incorporated into His body the Church, baptized into His death and resurrection, follow in the path that He has laid out for us.

That is what makes this day not just about what happened millennia ago to one Man on a mountainside on the outskirts of Jerusalem. It is a preview of what we will experience firsthand. It is the story of our life as Christ’s disciples. It is the heart of the message of forgiveness that the apostles and their heirs have handed down to us. It is the full measure of what Luther described in the Small Catechism about the forgiveness Christ has brought to us: “where there is forgiveness of sins, there also is life and salvation.” And the life and salvation which is provided is not just for this world, but for eternity, just as we see in the Ascended Christ.

We do not know when it will happen for us individually. As the Lord Jesus says: “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.” But what the Christ promises, we believe. It is what we hope for. And we point to Him, to what He has achieved and what He has been given, and we say: “There is my proof. There is my pattern. There is my preview. I dare not doubt, but rather build my hope on what Jesus has done.”

The Ascension of Christ and His Session at the right hand of the Father shows us that He truly is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion.” He is victorious over the slavemaster Satan. He has conquered death. He has gutted the grave. They all must submit to His rule. Jesus, the Ascended Redeemer, demonstrates that His suffering, death, burial, and resurrection are a complete victory, fulfilling what the Scriptures had testified, leaving nothing for our salvation undone.

So we have the same “great joy” of the Twelve on this day. We worship with festivity and excitement, as our Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit “have opened our minds to understand the Scriptures.” We hear the story again, we hear the prophecies fulfilled, and we are glad. We need not “stare into the sky,” but rather follow Jesus the Way, the Truth, and the Life, anticipating our own ascension. In patience, endurance, and the full hope of our eternal inheritance, we await the return of this same Jesus, “who has been taken up into heaven.” For then, we will experience firsthand the fullness of what His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension all have accomplished for us.

So may it be for all of you who bear the Lord God’s name given to you: the Name of the Father and of the T Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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