The Ascension of our Lord
May 6, 2018
“What About The Ascension?”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
I had a friend of mine who had a call to leave my church and begin a new ministry elsewhere. We talked about this and how he was feeling about it. He was quite torn about having to make that choice. In quite a philosophical tone he said, “You know, you’ll make someone happy at least one time in your life – either when you come or when you leave.”
This coming Thursday, May 10th, is the Ascension of our Lord. 40 days after He was resurrected from the grave He left this earth. “After He said this, He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight.” (Acts 1:9) Why is this event such a big event? It finds its way into the Creed. Churches even have themselves named after that event. What about the Ascension?
I read this account recently – “We had a friend some years ago who had a reputation for falling asleep in certain group settings. Our observation was that, when she was at or near the center of attention, she was the most animated person in the group. But when we weren’t talking about her or things that involved her, however, she would fall asleep.” That sounds a little bit self-absorbed, doesn’t it? Look at me!! It’s all about me!! And when it isn’t, I’m just not very interested!!
Sometimes our faith can be like that. How does this doctrine touch ME? How does this service touch ME? How does what that preacher is hollering about, relate to ME? Sometimes the ME comes before the HIM. Maybe we have trouble in seeing the importance of the Ascension because it is about Him leaving. In what way does that relate to what I need?
What about the Ascension? First of all, it IS all about HIM. As it should be. In fact, everything begins with HIM. St. Paul speaks about the Ascension like this, “That power is like the working of His mighty strength, which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him 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 title that can be given, 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 1:19b-23)
The Ascension is first of all about Him – Jesus. He returns to His Father. He returns to the majesty and glory that is rightfully His. For 33 years He gave that up. He had humbled and emptied Himself, but on that day, that Ascension Day, He returned to His rule and reign. Later in Ephesians it says, “He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.” (4:10) At the end of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life these words of Jesus are recorded, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18)
So, what about the Ascension? First, it is not about you, or even how you can benefit from it. It is about Him. He holds everything in His hand. He is Master, Lord, the great I AM. His brilliance and greatness was on display for everyone to see on that 40th day following His resurrection. When He left, there were two men dressed in white who showed up – angels, I imagine – and they asked the question, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky?” (Acts 1:11a) Why? Didn’t you see what just happened? What goes up must come down, right? But He didn’t!! I think I would not only be looking up, but also had my jaw opened all the way to the ground. Psalm 47 says, “God has ascended amid shouts of joy, the Lord amid the sounding of trumpets.” (Verse 5)
The Ascension is about Him, as it should be. But, quite amazingly, He turns it back to us. He spoke about His leaving quite often. Of course, when His followers heard Him talk of leaving it made them sad.
The Ascension and Pentecost are related. On the fiftieth day after resurrection, just 10 days after the Ascension, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit. He said that He would not leave them as orphans. Listen, “Now I am going to Him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. But I tell you the truth: it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” (John 16:5-7)
Jesus, on the Ascension Day, I believe, gave them these words, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4-5)
His leaving was to bring us joy, not sorrow. The Holy Spirit, the one who brings us to a living faith in God, a sure confidence that we are God’s very own children, has immersed us. The Holy Spirit tells us that we are people of faith in a Lord who died for all of our sins and who rose from the grave. We are forgiven and restored and we are made strong and confident in God’s place in our life.
The Holy Spirit, this power from on high, is God’s power to live in a full way that we would not be able to live by on our own. He is God’s strength and God’s might coming into us, transforming us to be people who live, not to please self, like the self-absorbed person I mentioned earlier, but to please God. We live for a higher goal and have a higher standard. Jesus wanted us to be happy in His leaving because of what He would bring us – the very Holy Spirit.
John 14, read at many funerals, tells us about the purpose of His leaving. “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:2-3) He left, He ascended, to prepare a place for us. He’s in heaven and He is getting our wonderful little cottage, overlooking a stream, with a golf course just below us, ready. It is like Paul says, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (II Corinthians 4:18)
He was telling us that He actually brings joy to us in His leaving. Remember you do make someone happy once in your life – when you come or when you go. A month ago Marilyn and I were in Minneapolis to meet Abigail Rose, our Frozen Tundra two-month old Granddaughter. We got to the door of her house and before we even knocked her four brothers and sisters were waiting. “Grandma and Grandpa!!” They grabbed as high as they could go and were thrilled that we were there. We were too.
But within a few days that kind of reception was only a memory. On Thursday, just a few days since the coronation, I knocked on the door, and Micah and Eli, 6 and 8, came running. They looked out the window and said to each other, “Oh, it’s only grandpa!!” You see, that day was the day when UPS was bringing their new official size hockey net to their house. I was not the good looking UPS guy carrying that package. I was only grandpa. At least they opened the door for me!!
The Ascension tells us that another day, the day when He shows up at our door, is coming. His leaving actually brings us joy. But His coming, His return, will bring us a greater joy. “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11b) Jesus not only makes us happy when He leaves, He makes us happy when He returns. Again. “For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” (I Thessalonians 4:16-17)
So, what about the Ascension? Why is it a big event? If you’ve been reading our booklet, “Our Faith, After His Ascension” (2018, #6) you will read this this coming Thursday, “The Ascension is essential! Because: Jesus is alive and in heaven; He is our High Priest and advocate. Because: Until Jesus was seated at the right hand of God, He could not send the Holy Spirit. Because: Had He not ascended, He would have had to die a physical death or remain on earth for eternity. Because: Now we can exalt, praise and glorify our soon coming King from this side of eternity until we can worship Him in His glory with our knee bent and our tongues confessing: He is Lord. The Ascension is essential!!”
So, what about the Ascension? It was essential, first for Him and then for us. Amen!!