Ascension Day Observed – May 12th and 13th, 2018 – Luke 24
Christ is Risen – He is Risen indeed, alleluia!
Christ is Risen – He is Risen indeed, alleluia!
So, this is how Luke's Gospel ends, how the book of Acts begins – Christ Jesus wraps up His teaching to the disciples and ascends into heaven, there to “be seated at the right hand of the Father”. That phrase is an old fashioned way of saying that Christ Jesus has ascended to heaven and rules all of creation – being seated is the ancient sign that you are ruling and in charge – a judge sits today, or a king sits and makes pronouncements from the throne. And at the right hand of the Father – well, your “right hand man” is the one who actually does all the stuff for you. Jesus' Ascension does not mean that He has gone far, far away and left us all alone; it means, it is a confession that right now, this moment, Christ Jesus – True God and True Man actively rules the entire world. That He has the whole world in His hands. That He remains the LORD of history, that in fact (as Matthew's Gospel ends), all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him.
So... now what? Jesus has had His great triumphal ascension, but what about us? Right now? Here we are, living in Illinois in 2018, what does Jesus ascension years ago have to do with the price of tea in China, much less the price of gas in Herscher? The answer, my friends, in reality is everything. Jesus tells the disciples two important things before He ascends, and these shape everything in our lives – both what goes on in here, in this place, in the church – but also what goes on in our lives outside those doors. But before we get there, let's consider Jesus' lesson to the disciples and us.
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.” Jesus starts with a basic, fundamental assertion – that He has done everything, that the entire Old Testament drives to the coming of Christ Jesus to win salvation. The Word of God by whom all things were made would rescue and redeem His creation, His people, His world. And everything would drive to Christ. In fact, Jesus sums up the point of the Old Testament thusly – Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures and said to them, “Thus is it written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead....” Everything in the Old Testament is driving to that point, rushing towards Good Friday. Christ Jesus, the Word of God, will redeem creation. He will enter into the suffering caused by sin and death and the fall, He will take it all up, even die – so that He can defeat it, fix it, and rise from the dead. And all the Old Testament is about that. Why does Abraham become the father of many nations – that's how the Messiah could come. Why does God deliver Israel from Egypt – that's how the Messiah would come. Why does David defeat Goliath – that's how the Messiah would come. All of it – whether it's wickedness smacked down or the lowly raised – all to ensure the coming of Christ Jesus. And all the prophecies, the foreshadowing – that was so that we would recognize His coming. The Scriptures point to Christ Jesus. And even the New Testament Scriptures, written after Christ's ascension, they all point and drive back to Christ's coming, His death and resurrection – with just a touch of a reminder that He will come again. The scriptures are fundamentally the story of Christ Jesus winning salvation for you. That is fundamental. That is lesson one.
And since the Scriptures are the story of Christ – since Jesus has risen from the dead, what happens? 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 in Jersusalem. Jesus has done all that He has done so that repentance and forgiveness would be proclaimed. This is the point and purpose of the Church – this is why Jesus calls the Apostles, this is what the Apostles do come Pentecost, this is what the Christian and Apostolic Church does even to this day and by the grace of God will continue to do until Christ Jesus returns. Preach repentance and forgiveness. Repentance – this is the preaching that points out that you are out of alignment, that you are crooked, that you are sinful. Preaching repentance deals with sin. So why preaching repentance – well first, because sin is bad. How's that for an earth shattering statement – sin is bad. But it is. To engage in wickedness doesn't really work out right. There are all sorts of stupid things that we are tempted to do, and they don't really work out right in the end. Some we can laugh off – ah, Pastor Brown was tempted toward gluttony and more cake – look at his belly. Laugh... until it become diabetes. Cause sin often tends to spiral out of control when left unchecked. And then, of course, there are the things that aren't funny at all. The things Pastor doesn't mention off-handedly in a sermon – the anger, or jealousy, or lust, or greed that pops up. The things that left unchecked bubble and boil up and really do serious damage, that ruin relationships and opportunities and lives. Things that get you fired, kicked out of the house, and cut off from family and friends. That's what sin, our sin, unchecked leads to. We acknowledge that – we confessed it – we confessed that we “justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment.” Temporal – now, in time, I know my sin and it has led me into some lousiness right now – I got out of line and the chickens have come home to roost. And yeah, eternal punishment – if left to my own devices that's where I'll end up. And so repentance is proclaimed, because we need repentance, we need to see our sin for what it is – because the worst sin is the one where you don't think you're sinning, where you think you're right and you just keep charging on and doing it without remorse and without a second thought – and it gets worse and worse. That's not what God wants for you, so repentance will be preached.
But not just repentance – also forgiveness. Forgiveness won by Christ Jesus. When we actually think about our sin, what it's like – we can get scared. That's why most people don't actually think about sin, that's why most people just brush it aside, or it's always someone else's fault, or society's fault. If I'm the donkey and the tail is pinned on me, that is terrifying. And so the Church is to proclaim forgiveness, the forgiveness won by Christ Jesus. How does God view you – does God view you with hatred and disdain? No. He doesn't like sin, He wants you kept from it, He knows how bad it is – and that is why Christ Jesus came, to take up your sin – the things that tempt you, the things that you have done, the things that mess with the life that He has given you – and He takes it all to the Cross and puts it to death and kills your sin. He does away with it. The Father doesn't choose to smite you – He takes your sin and places it upon Jesus instead and smites Him. Jesus can take it. And Jesus will have forgiveness proclaimed. Your sin is actually and truly done away with in the sight of God. It's not your sin anymore, it is taken away. This doesn't mean sin is now good – no, its still stupid and painful – but God's not going to get rid of you or cast you off into hell, He's not going to abandon you. He is going to love you... steadfastly and firmly and resolutely, because you are forgiven. You are washed in the blood of the lamb, you are baptized and clothed with Christ's righteousness, you are His spotless bride to whom He gives everlasting life in a new heavens and a new earth, because this old one just will not do for such a bride as you. And so, you will die and rise to be with Christ. You do that daily, as you fight against your sin day by day – you will do it for good and in full on the day Christ Jesus comes back and you are raised to new and eternal and sinless life.
And that is what the Church proclaims. Repentance and forgiveness. Repentance so that you would not ignore sin and wander into great shame and vice and destroy your faith, forgiveness so that your sin would be removed and your faith increased, your love renewed. That's the pattern – repentance and forgiveness, confession and absolution, crying for mercy and God giving Himself to you. That's how Christ Jesus runs and rules His Church – it's for your good, to see you forgiven.
But I would have you remember something, lest you look at this repentance and forgiveness thing and blow it off, “oh well, it's just one hour of the week, what about the rest of my life out there?” Do you think that repentance and forgiveness doesn't apply out there, isn't relevant there? Remember that Jesus is at the Right Hand of the Father, ruling not just the Church, but the world itself. And here is the reality – in His Holy Church, Jesus not only forgives you much but He also makes you Holy. He fills you with Himself, with the Holy Spirit – and then He sends you out into the world as His holy people. He sends you out as His own agents of holiness in the world. He does good to the world and the people therein through you. Holy and good things. And most of these are just the simple every day things that we do – rightly caring for our friends and family, moms being moms and doing mom things – us all being kind students or faithful workers or gentle bosses. Being patient with people when in their folly they sin (like getting you a really lousy mother's day gift or forgetting it all together) and forgiving them as Christ has forgiven you. These are holy things, these are godly things that Christ Jesus works in us and through for the sake of the world. If we could see or understand the mighty workings of God through even the simplest things in our lives, we would be dumbstruck is awe. And yet, as we are not yet to our own resurrection where this all will go utterly smoothly, we run into sin – other people's sin and our own sin. And we get battered and bruised when we fight the good fight – you bang a couple of swords against each other and the edges get chipped and dinged and dulled. And so our Lord calls us back to His Church, and you guessed it – repentance and forgiveness. The dings are straightened out, they are rebent, repented – and you are polished and good as new and sent out again to live your holy life, precious and loved by God. You still belong to Him and He still puts you to His good use – to love, to serve, to pray, to care for others and to receive care from them – to show forth all the fruits of the Spirit that He brings forth in you over and against your sin. Because your life is in Christ Jesus.
And so my friends in Christ, our LORD's ascension does not mean that He has left us, or forgotten about us. Nope – He still comes to us in His Word, in His Supper, and He deals with our sin in love, forgives us and makes us His servants, servants who show forth His love. And this is all going on around us all the time, even though now we only see this dimly as through a foggy mirror. But your LORD who ascended will return, and you will rise and you will see this all clearly and face to face for all eternity. Of course you will, for Christ is Risen – He is risen indeed, alleluia.