The Ascension of our Lord - Acts 1:1-11 - May 14, 2015

Order of Holy Communion (pg.15)
Hymn #218 See the Conqueror Mounts in Triumph
Hymn #212 A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing
Hymn #216 On Christ's Ascension I Now Build

Collect

Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that like as we do believe Thine Only-Begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to have ascended into the Heavens, so may we also in heart and mind thither ascend and with Him continually dwell; Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. 

Sermon 
1)         Where is this right hand of God? We confess this article of the faith every Sunday in Creed. Today, forty days after Christ’s resurrection, we hear the historical event of Christ’s ascension into heaven, both from St. Luke in Acts 1 and St. Mark in the final chapter of His gospel. Being spatially minded people who are contained to a certain place at any given time, we assume that the right hand of God would be a spatial place, a location in heaven in which Christ now physically sits. But this is to think of Christ only in human terms and limit Him to a certain location. The Scriptures teach that the right hand of God is His power. Consider the following Scriptures. Exodus 15:6, “Your right hand, O LORD, has become glorious in power; Your right hand, O LORD, has dashed the enemy in pieces.” Isaiah 48:13, “Indeed My hand has laid the foundation of the earth, And My right hand has stretched out the heavens; When I call to them, They stand up together.” Psalm 74:11, “Why do You withdraw Your hand, even Your right hand? Take it out of Your bosom and destroy them.” And Psalm 89:13, “You have a mighty arm; Strong is Your hand, and high is Your right hand.” God’s right hand is always associated with His divine strength and power, that by which He rules over all things. Consider what Jesus tells His accusers the night of His betrayal in Luke 22:69, “Hereafter the Son of Man will sit on the right hand of the power of God.” The right hand of God, according to Scripture, is not a spatial place. It is not a location which can be circumscribed to say at one spot, “Here it is,” while at another spot one could say, “It is not here.” The power of God, His right hand, is everywhere because it is the strength by which God rules, orders, and governs all things. This is where Christ ascends to.


2)         But didn’t Christ possess all power and glory and dominion before His ascension? Wasn’t He fully God before He ascended into heaven? Of course. He is of the same substance as the Father as we confess in the Creed. St. Paul says in Colossians 2:9 that “in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” When Christ ascends He does so with the same body which He assume in the womb of Mary, the same body which suffered, died, and was buried. When Christ ascended it was with the same resurrected body which still had the imprint of the nails that Thomas had wanted to touch.   The ascension isn’t for the benefit of His divine nature. He possessed the full power of God by virtue of His divine nature already. The ascension is for the benefit of His human nature. For Christ never shed His humanity, having taken it up for our salvation. Nor will He ever shed His human flesh, for by assuming our flesh, and remaining in our flesh, He ‘brothers’ us so that our Advocate before the Father in heaven knows our weakness and thus intercedes for us. These two facts of the ascension are of utmost importance for our faith, first, that Christ ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God, that is, to be enthroned in the power of God and second, that He ascended into this as fully God and fully man.

3)         St. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:10 that He who descended is also the one who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things. And there’s the mystery of the ascension. Not mystery as far as “who dun it?” but mystery in the Scriptural sense of the word: something that is repulsive to human reason which is to be accepted by faith, not attacked by human reason. Christ ascended that He might fill all things. Since the two natures in Christ are inseparable, as we said a moment ago, that means that the human nature shares in the attributes of the divine nature, one of which is ubiquity, or omnipresence, or in today’s language, “He’s in all places at all times,” according to both natures. There’s the mystery. Christ is present everywhere according to both natures. He is among us according to His divine nature AND His human nature. Human reason scoffs at this because human nature is fleshly and carnal. Human reason cannot imagine a person who is not bound by location, a person who is not circumscribed to one place at a time. But this is why Christ can exit Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb without breaking the seal on the tomb or rolling the stone away. This is why Jesus, on the evening of His resurrection, can pass through the locked door which conceals His terrified disciples from the bloodthirsty Jews. Christ now fills all things according to His divinity and His humanity, because He is One Christ, not two Christs. He is one person with two natures and those two natures share their attributes with one another, just as they did during the days of His earthly ministry when He would heal the sick with word and raise the dead with the touch of His hand. This is the ineffable and unfathomable mystery of Christ’s ascension: Christ, according to both natures, is everywhere at the right hand of God.

4)         But we cannot rejoice that our Lord is everywhere. Christ does not wish to be sought everywhere in His creation, under every rock and in every sunset. A wise man once quoted another wise man, saying, “A God who is everywhere is as good as a God who is nowhere.” If Christ had left His apostles without instruction, they surely would have looked for Christ under every rock and in every nook and cranny of the world. St. Paul is true that in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28), but we cannot find Christ, according to either nature, in just any old place in all creation. People claim they can find God in all sorts of places. The golf course. The driving range. The church of St. Mattress of the Holy Pillowcase. And a host of other places. But a God who is everywhere is as good as a God who is nowhere. Christ is not to be found in any of those places. He is to be found in place where He said He would be, the place where His word is spoken over bread, “This is my body, given for you.” He is to be found in the place where His word is spoken over natural wine, “Take and Drink. This cup is the New Testament in my blood, shed for you for the remission of sins.” Christ is everywhere according to both natures, human and divine, and that precisely what allows His very body and very blood to be present on our altar this morning and every Lord’s Day.

5)         The ascension takes Christ away from us physically. The apostles experienced this as they gazed up into the heavens as Christ ascends into the clouds. But before His suffering and death Christ left His Word with them so that they would know exactly where to look for Him. The ascension of Christ is what makes is possible for Christ to say, “This is my body” and have that bread be what He says it is. The ubiquity, the omnipresence of Christ according to His human nature, makes is possible for Christ to be physically present in, with, and under the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. He does this so that He might always be present with His baptized ones to forgive their sins, to unite with them in the flesh, and to strengthen the faith He gives to them in Holy Baptism. In the Holy Supper Christ localizes Himself once again so that you know right were to find Him and so that you know exactly what He gives you. You don’t have to look under every rock of creation with uncertainty, “Have I found Christ, and if so, what can I be certain He is telling me in this rock, this sunset, this skyline, and the like?” There is no need to rush to and fro looking for Him, wondering what His will is for your life. In the Supper you see His holy will, how through the remission of sins He desires to break and hinder every evil counsel and will that does not want us to hallow God’s name or let His kingdom come. By giving you His true body and His true blood you see His will that He desires to strengthen you and keep you firm in His Word and faith until you die.

6)         A God who is everywhere is as good as a God who is nowhere. But a God who locates Himself in, with, and under bread and wine for you and your salvation, that is a God worth having. A God who would assume human nature only to shed it at His death, in His resurrection, or ascension, would not be a God worth having, for if He ever set aside His flesh He would cease to be our brother and advocate. But a God who assumes your human flesh so that He can bear all of your sin, your weakness, your fragility, and your sorrows, that is a God worth having for you know that He was made like you in every way, except without sin, so that He knows your temptations and still willfully forgives you when you confess your sins. Jesus is ascended to the right hand of the Father, but not for His own sake, but for your sakes. He ascends in triumph to be installed in the power of God the Father almighty so that His Words to you are true, the words which say, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age,” (Matthew 28:20) for your Jesus is not bound by location or time as you and I are. He is with you always, according to both natures, human and divine, and this is grasped only by faith. But He also promises to be with you physically in the Supper, for He has said, “This is my body” and “This is my blood.” Contrary to human reason, in opposition to fleshly imagination, and beyond all human explanation, your ascended Lord is present here today again in, with, and under the bread and wine to forgive your sins, to strengthen your faith, and to prepare your body for the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting. Amen.
 

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