May 13, 2010 at First St. John’s Lutheran Church – York, PA
[Jesus] said to [the apostles]: “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.
Jesus fulfills everything written about Him. That is what He declares to the Eleven gathered together to hear Him for a final time. All is completed, just as Jesus had said while suspended from
All is completed. All is finished. And because it is so, mankind can be in the presence of God. That is the central message of the Ascension. It is based in who Jesus is and what He has done. Think back to the beginning of Christ’s life. Remember what was said to Mary about her Son: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. . . .The child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” But as much as Jesus was indeed the Son of God, He was also truly the Son of Mary. His identity is what we confess in the Small Catechism: “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord.”
This true God and true Man reverses Adam’s sin and the curse it brought. Where mankind was imperfect and flawed, Jesus is not. This perfect Jesus acts for the benefit of all of Adam’s descendants. All of humanity is wrapped up in Him. So the Apostle writes: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one Man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” That is the effect of Jesus’ work. Adam brought sin and death into the world, but Christ has brought righteousness and life in their place.
Remember what happened when Adam sinned? He eats of the tree in the middle of the garden. And so the man who broke the Lord God’s command flees from His presence. In shame and fright, Adam jumps into the bushes of
Yet, the bushes could never cover Adam. Their shade could not conceal his imperfection. The Lord God knows the trespass which Adam has committed. His divine curse will soon be upon the man. Adam knew it, and so would all his descendants. Isaiah knew it when given a vision of heaven: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Peter knew it after seeing the great catch of fish: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” The same curse is spoken against you. Because of your transgressions, you cannot bear to be in the divine presence. Adam’s reaction, Isaiah’s reaction, Peter’s reaction: they are the same thoughts that you have when the demands of the Divine Law are spoken, when your righteousness is measured according to that standard and found lacking.
But something different is true with Jesus. For what does this true man do? You heard it in the Evangelist’s words: “While [Jesus] blessed them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven.” You also heard the Apostle’s description of this event: “[H]is great might He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His 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 one to come.” Note what took place: man is once again in the presence of God. The true man Jesus is brought into the presence of God the Father. But not only is that man in God’s presence, He is present “in the heavenly places.” And even more, that man is “seated at His right hand.” Think about that! All the negative effects of man’s sin have been overcome, so that mankind no longer must hide from God, but can receive divine honor.
Man stands at the right hand of God the Father. Why can this be so? Because that Man Jesus is without sin, without flaw. Adam’s run to the bushes cannot be repeated by Jesus, because He has nothing to hide. Isaiah’s words cannot apply to Jesus, since He is not unclean. Peter’s demand for God to go away from him is not spoken by Jesus, because He is not a sinful man. Remember what was said to Mary about her Son: “the child to be born will be called holy.” And so, that Man Jesus Christ can stand in the presence of God without any fear.
That is a great thing. But why should it be a cause for great joy among you? So Jesus can be in God’s presence: well, good for Him, but what does that have to do with me? And just why should I give up a nice May evening to sit in a wooden pew to hear something good about another person? Just what does Jesus’ Ascension have to do with me? Why is it so great? Those are honest questions that could be asked on this day. They are also the questions that the Apostle answers.
Think back to what Paul wrote to the Ephesian Christians: “For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.” The apostle wants his audience to know what Christ’s ascension has to do with them. So he tells them: “that you may know what is the hope to which He has called you, what are the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His great might that He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His 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 one to come.”
Paul connects the dots for you. The ascension of Christ—His being raised from the dead and seated at the Father’s right hand—is “the immeasurable greatness of [the Father’s] power” and the “riches of His glorious inheritance.” More than that, it is “the hope to which He has called you.” The ascension of Christ is part of the divine work of salvation for you, what the Father has designed for your profit. The great mercy that the Father displays in Christ’s ascension has benefits for you. What happens in Christ’s ascension has effects for your lives.
What are those effects? You can stand in the presence of God without fear. You can stand in the presence of God without any threat of condemnation and curse. You can stand in the presence of God and be with Him forever. That is what Christ’s work as true God and true man has accomplished for you. It is so because Christ Jesus has completed the way of salvation laid out in the Old Testament. That is the gospel of salvation which Jesus makes known to His disciples: “’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.” It is what you have been made to know.
All those prophecies and promises made by the Lord God had been fulfilled, even that promise made at Adam’s Fall: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” That is what Jesus reveals to you, His disciples. The head crushing and heel striking have been accomplished in Christ’s crucifixion. That long-ago-promised Offspring of Eve has been raised to life again. Perfection is once again found in a man. God’s image and likeness have been restored. No longer is man barred from passing through the entryway to
Jesus’ Ascension has changed all that. Man now stands eternally in God’s presence. And because you possess Christ’s righteousness as your own, because you have been given to know what He has accomplished for you, because you have been crucified and buried with Him, you now have the great hope and inheritance of everlasting resurrection and dwelling with your Eternal Father. Everything that Adam had ruined has been restored by Christ.
Humanity can dwell in God’s presence once again. That is the significance of Christ’s ascension for you. That is why you gather this day to worship Him. Where your Lord has gone, you shall surely go. So He promises: “I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also.” And so He will fulfill it, because it was written about Him and about you “in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms.” Look forward to that day when “this Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.” For it means that your own ascension shall take place.
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.