Ascension Observed – June 1st and 2nd, 2019 – Luke 24
Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen
In the Creed, we confess that Christ has not only risen, but that He has ascended, and is at this moment seated at the right hand of the Father, that He is exercising His divine power on our behalf. This past Thursday was ascension day, 40 days after Easter. This morning, we will look at our Lord’s Ascension, and in particular what Words He speaks to the Disciples in the Gospel of Luke just before He ascends, and we will see how He shapes His Church on earth until He returns again on the last day in Glory. Let us dive in.
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.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. So, here we are today, almost 2000 years after the Ascension, and I want you to notice, dear friends, that what we end up doing here is exactly the same as what Christ Jesus our Lord and the disciples were doing right in our text. Our eyes are focused upon the Scriptures, and by the Holy Spirit, the Helper, God opens our eyes to understand them, to see Christ Jesus and His Gospel. We don’t simply look to the Scriptures for rules or advice; in the Scriptures we behold Christ Jesus our Lord. We are focused upon and shown Christ in God’s Word – be it the Word of the Old Testament which points forward to Christ, which declares what the Christ would do – or be it the Word of the New Testament, which declares what Christ has done. Whether the text is pointing to what the coming Messiah would do or whether it declares what Christ Jesus has done, what our Lord says is true – 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. There it is – the point, the entirety of Scripture summed up. What is the point of God’s Word? What is the point of our time spent together in that Word, be it here in worship, or be it in study, be it at home in private devotions? That Christ Jesus suffered, died, and was buried, and on the third day rose again from the dead – and because of this, we have forgiveness.
This is what Christ gives the Apostles – this is what He tells them to preach and write as He sends them out into all the world. So, isn’t this what we proclaim even unto this day? You see dear friends, the Apostles went out and preached, they did come down off the mountain, they stopped staring at the sky, and Christ and Him Crucified was preached throughout the world. Indeed, because Christ and Him Crucified was preached, this congregation came into being, formed by people who wanted to see that Christ and Him Crucified would be rightly preached in Herscher. And this is and shall remain our focus here in this place.
But how to keep that focus? We live in a day and age of great distractions, of continual promises of the new and improved. And the temptation is even for folks in the Christian community to go off and find new and novel spiritual quests or programs or the like. Here we need to listen to Jesus, for He tells us how He is to be preached and proclaimed. And that repentance and forgiveness should be proclaimed in My Name to all nations. Repentance and Forgiveness. So, let us do that again today. Is repentance a part of your life, dear friends? For you, as an individual, is repentance a part of your life? Do you pause, do you think where you have erred, where you have sinned, and do you strive to turn away from that sin, to repent of that sin? Is repentance a part of your life?
Repentance isn’t popular. Well, actually, it is if we think the preacher is telling other people to repent. It’s quite popular if the preacher rails on the person next to us, or the people out there. But the message that each one of us needs to take a good hard look at our own lives, needs to see where we sin and beat that down. Daily. Continually. None of us really likes that. We don’t want to deal with sin – don’t tell me I have to struggle against sin – rather just give me a few easy, simple things to do that prove that I’m a good person. Thing is – scripture says that we are sinful, sinners through and through, sinners in need of forgiveness. Scripture says that we are to turn away from our sin. Luther says that Baptism is to lead to daily contrition and repentance – more thought should be given to your struggle against the sins and temptations that hound you other than just breezing through the general confession at the beginning of service. Our lives are to be ones of repentance.
And there is a reason for this. God isn’t just some meanie, He doesn’t like to brow beat you over the head – rather He wants to give you forgiveness, He wants you to cherish your forgiveness. Repentance and forgiveness are to be preached in the Name of Christ. We are people who need forgiveness, forgiveness is the cause and the source and the content of faith. But what happens if we ignore repentance? We stop wanting forgiveness, and if we stop wanting forgiveness – faith dies. Think about it – in your own life, think on the times when you have been the most smug, the most confident in how good you were and in your own works – the times when your own sin was something that you never thought about. Did you look to Christ Jesus? Did you ponder the wonders of the Cross, that God Almighty would die to give you life? The old Lutheran hymn proclaims “faith clings to Jesus Christ alone” – and when you were so sure that you were a good person, were you clinging to Christ, or were your hands busy patting yourself on the back?
This is why there is the need for repentance – for when we do not see our sin we see no need for a Savior. When we do not see our sin, we see no need for the Cross. Give us other things, God – just make things easy here – after all, I’m a good person, don’t I deserve it? We lie to ourselves and lie to God. Our focus is shifted away from Christ, and we forget who we are. We see no need for Church. But think on what we teach here. Although you are a sinful being, God gives you forgiveness and life and salvation here in His Word. He gives you His Body and Blood for the remission of your sin. God is active for you here. Could there be anything that we would see as more important? And yet, what is the temptation that arises? To push Christ and His forgiveness to the side, to treat it as something that we don’t need.
That is why Christ and Him Crucified is preached. We see our need for a Savior, and then our Savior is proclaimed to us. This is the pattern, this is what we have done as the Holy Christian and Apostolic Church. And they worshiped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God. Why? Why the continual blessing? Why the continual thanksgiving? Because their eyes were focused on Christ and not only what He had done in the past, but what He continues to do, what He continued to give to them each day in His Word and Sacraments.
We must not think, as some Churches teach, that with the Ascension our Lord leaves us behind. He has said that He is with us until the end of the age. And He is. He is present in His Word. He is present in His Supper. He has bound Himself to you at your Baptism. The reality of the Christian faith is that God Himself is present. He wants this truth preached – but we are to remember another thing – and this is the particular joy of the Ascension. Christ desires that He be preached so that we know that He is with us – that He gives us forgiveness and salvation – that He is indeed Emmanuel – God with us. That is true. That is the truest thing in your life. Christ is with you – and you are with Christ. As Christ has ascended, as Christ has risen to heaven – where will you be, O Christian, you who are forgiven and attached to Him? You will be where He is. The fact that God is here for you now on earth in His Word and Sacraments is the proof that God desires you to be with Him for all eternity. And God desires that nothing distract you from this truth. Throughout our days on earth our eyes are pulled away from the earthly, the mundane, the nice worldly advice, and rather placed upon Christ Jesus who has died, risen, and ascended – so that we might be sure of our salvation, that we might be sure of our eternal home.
This is what we see Christ Jesus doing in our Gospel. He anchors the Church, He ties the Church to His Word, so that we might always know His forgiveness and be tied to Him – so that for eternity we might be with Him as well. This is why the disciples departed in joy, this is the same joy which we proclaim to this day as well. Christ has ascended to the Father, and so too shall you, for Christ has claimed you as His own and given you His forgiveness. Cling to Him, rejoice in His forgiveness, and know that as He is in Heaven so shall you be as well. Amen. Christ is Risen, He is Risen indeed – Alleluia.