Sunday, May 24, 2009

Ascension Observed

In the Name of our Ascended Lord and Savior Christ Jesus, Amen
The Ascension of our Lord is one of those Christian Holidays that sadly in this country has become vastly overlooked. Today, no one thinks about the importance of the Ascension – we are still coming off of our Easter high, and we are maybe looking forward to Pentecost. The Ascension of our Lord seems as but a small speed bump on the way. It wasn’t always that way. Ascension is properly last Thursday – and you’d get as many people showing up on that day as you might for Maundy Thursday or Good Friday. It’s mentioned in the Creed – Who ascended into heaven and sits at the right Hand of the Father, from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. That’s a lot of the Creed for this day. And the Ascension hymns – today we sang “A Hymn of Glory Let us Sing” – one of the great hymns of Christian History. Though we seem to have abandoned it today, in the past there was such a focus on the Ascension – it’s even the picture we have on our Altar – such a focus on the Ascension.
Why? Why was this day considered so important? You just sang the answer – On Christ’s Ascension I now build the hopes of my Ascension. The idea, the importance, is that the Ascension is the proof that all that Christ has done, all that He has accomplished is good, is complete. See, He’s ascended into heaven – at this moment Christ Jesus, true God and True Man – note that, True Man – dwells in heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. Christ Jesus our Risen Lord, on the day of Ascension, strides through the gates of heaven. As He, as that True Man is in heaven now, we men, we folks here, know and have the proof that we will be brought through those same gates of heaven on account of Christ, that we will not only rise as Christ did on Easter, but we shall be welcomed into heaven as Christ entered the Father’s Kingdom on the day of the Ascension. That’s the importance of this day, and it spills out in what Christ teaches the Apostles in our text.
Then He said to them, “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.” The Old Testament constantly and continually shows two things – it shows the devastating results of sin, and it points to the Savior who would rescue us from that sin. The consequences of sin is all over in the Old Testament – from Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden, the Flood, the Tower of Babel, slavery, wars, exiles, affairs, murder – and all the pain and anguish. The Old Testament constantly shows how the world is evil and wicked, and how even those who fear and worship God fall into vice, are abused in this world, are in need of rescue. But whenever there is a focus on these things going poorly, God gives a promise as well. The Messiah will come. He will save. He will crush the Serpent’s head, He will reign forever. The Messiah will come and He will win salvation for His people, He will be their righteousness and their God. That is what is pointed to, that is the promise. And what does Christ say? Everything must be fulfilled – everything in the Old Testament that spoke to what Christ would do, from Genesis to Malachi – all of it needed to be done. Jesus is not going to leave the job half done – Jesus isn’t going to give things a good start and then leave it up to us to finish the rest. It must be fulfilled – otherwise Jesus still has more work to do, more things to accomplish.
Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” And it has been done, it has been accomplished. Christ has suffered, and Christ has risen. The work, the things needed for salvation, everything that is required, everything that pertains to Salvation – accomplished. Completed. Done. And the proof, the evidence of this – While He blessed them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven. Nothing more remains for Christ to do in order to accomplish salvation – the sins of the world have been paid for. Every sin, everything you’ve done, every lingering bit of guilt you have – Christ has paid for that already. Every sin you’ve suffered, every thing that someone has done to you, every hurt that you’ve received – Christ has paid for that already. Done. This is the reality that we see confirmed when we consider our Lord’s Ascension. There is no sin that Christ has not dealt with. Full forgiveness has been won – and there’s nothing more left for Christ to do regarding sin, regarding salvation. It is finished.
This can be hard to believe, sometimes, can it not? This is the way in which Satan attacks us, Satan tries to beat us down. Do you feel lingering guilt for your sin? Do the sins of your past loom large? That’s Satan working on you – trying to tell you that your sin is too big, that it still lingers on, that it’s not done away with. But Christ has ascended – and that means your sin is taken care of. Do you feel lingering grudges and hatreds? Do the wrongs of the past that you have suffer loom large? Again – that’s Satan working on you. That is Satan trying to tell you that what you suffer isn’t taken up by Christ’s suffering, that what others have done towards you is unforgivable. Yet Christ has ascended – and so there is no reason for us to bear any grudge towards anyone for anything – all sin is covered. Everything that Christ was to do – it is fulfilled. This is the idea of objective justification – that because Christ has died and risen again all sin of all time has been paid for – there remains no punishment for it. We need not live in fear of our sin – for Christ has saved us. We need not live in fear of what others have done or will do to us – for Christ has saved us. We need not hold on to hatreds – for Christ has died, even for those people who have wronged us. He has died for them, even if they don’t know, even if they don’t care. It is all fulfilled – see Christ has ascended. Nothing remains, no stone unturned, no sin left uncovered. Christ has done it all and He has done it well. Period. And whenever Satan tweaks us, as He so loves to do, we are to flee to Christ, see and remember what He has accomplished, so that we can have peace, so that we can live in confidence of our forgiveness, our victory in Christ.
And it is not merely a victory just for us. Christ won this victory for all, and He would have all come to faith in Him, would have us all be in Him. How are they brought to faith? Same way we are. This faith, this growth in the Christian faith, comes by the Word – the Word of repentance and the Word of forgiveness. We who are of the Christian faith – we need this Word preached to us. We need to repent – for we still daily sin, do we not? We still daily let the sins of others affect us, and we use their sin as an excuse or reason not to show love, and so we become even more vile and wretched than them, do we not? When Christ’s Word brings us to repentance – when He pulls us away from our selfish desires, when He cools the heat of our anger and closes the book on our grudges – we see what truly remains – that Christ has won forgiveness, and that Christ’s forgiveness is the highest reality in our lives. This is why we, we ourselves, need repentance and forgiveness preached to us. And seeing this, knowing this need for repentance and knowing the freeing beauty of forgiveness is what prepares us for service to others in this world.
Christ’s victory, Christ’s forgiveness isn’t just our prize, it is that which He won for all – and when we see it, when we know it – then we are able to speak it, to share it, to proclaim it to the people we know in our own lives. Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His Name to all nations. There is no great mystery to how this is done, how this happens. God works through His Word – and quite often it is His Word upon the lips and tongues of His people – not only Pastors – heaven forbid that Christ’s cross be spoken only in this place by me – but mothers and fathers teaching their children – that is God placing His Word upon His people’s lips, friends telling their friends – God at work, neighbors to neighbor – God at work. When you know, when you are focused upon what Christ has done for you, when you see what a benefit it is to you – then you are ready to speak, then Christ has prepared you and given you what is needed. The Word that you speak is not your own Word – it’s Christ’s Word, the Word that He has given to you, the Word that you have learned, have study, have grown in. You merely say what you yourself know – and the Holy Spirit will work in it when and where He pleases. And this is where we are at – we are those people who strive to grow in knowledge of God’s Word, grow in understanding repentance and forgiveness, and then God will use us to speak it to others. When we understand the depth of our own sin, how it traps and messes with us – we will have compassion upon our neighbor who is trapped in sin – and more importantly, in knowing how Christ has freed us, we will be able to point them to their freedom in Christ as well. And we can do this confidently – because we know that Christ has done everything, that all is accomplished – when we speak we speak with confidence – Everything is accomplished by Christ – we simply understand what that means more and more, and we speak so that others might understand more and more as well. We speak, hoping that they too will stride through the gates of heaven with us, all following our ascended Lord.
So thus today, as we celebrate the Ascension, we truly celebrate the security of the Christian faith – the fact that Christ Jesus has done all that is required for our the salvation of mankind – that we can live in that salvation confidently – that Christ will draw our eyes off of sin and unto Himself. The fact that this salvation is for all people, and that Christ will be with us when we share this saving truth with others. This is the hope that is shown on this Ascension day – the hope that is ours every day until the Christ who rose to heaven descends on the Last Day to call forth all believers to His side for all eternity. God, keep us in the faith and give us and our neighbors growth in the same faith until that day. Amen.

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