The Ascension of Our Lord
May 24, 2020 - Acts 1:1-11
Though it has lost its luster in more recent times, Ascension Day is one of the Church’s big festivals with Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, and Pentecost. The ascension of Jesus is important, because Jesus finished the work of salvation through His earthly ministry and ascended to the Father’s right hand to rule with all power and authority. Jesus ascended into heaven, but that doesn’t mean He’s absent from us here on earth.
THE LORD CONTINUES TO DO AND TEACH THROUGH THE GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
This is how St. Luke describes Jesus’ work, “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up, after He had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom He had chosen. He presented Himself alive to them after His suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” The salvation Christ achieved for you is proclaimed to you through the Holy Spirit. The purpose of Jesus’ doing and teaching is your very salvation from sin, death, hell, and the devil.
Luke’s Gospel reveals what Jesus began to do and teach. The book of Acts is actually the continuation of our Lord’s ministry. So, although Jesus ascended into heaven, He continues to build His Church by doing and teaching. We may not see Jesus as the disciples and others saw Him - by sight, but He still definitely fulfills His promise to be “with you always to the end of the age.”
The apostles received the Holy Spirit, who empowered them to do and teach. The apostles were ambassadors – official messengers of Jesus. They were inspired by the Holy Spirit to proclaim Jesus’ message. You can trust Scripture’s message, knowing that it’s God’s own Word. The pronouncement, “This is the Word of the Lord,” is met with, “Thanks be to God.”
Since Christ redeems us and teaches us His glorious salvation by the power of the Holy Spirit, this message of salvation is proclaimed in His name. There’s no other name, there’s no other work, there’s no other way by which we can be saved. Christ is Savior of all who believe.
The Holy Spirit takes the salvation Jesus won and delivers it to you and me through sure and certain means. Martin Luther explains this very well: “We treat the forgiveness of sins in two ways. First, how it is achieved and won. Second, how it is distributed and given to us. Christ has achieved it on the cross, it is true. But He has not distributed or given it on the cross. He has not won it in the supper or sacrament. There He has distributed and given it through the Word, as also in the Gospel where it is preached… If now I seek the forgiveness of sins, I do not run to the cross, for I will not find it given there… But I will find in the sacrament or gospel the word which distributes, presents, offers, and gives to me that forgiveness which was won on the cross.” When the free full forgiveness of sins on account of Jesus is proclaimed, the work of Jesus for our salvation continues in a magnificent way. That forgiveness is delivered to us through the Word and Sacraments. The Gospel, Baptism, and Holy Communion.
Through the Holy Spirit, you’re baptized into Jesus. The Lord said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Jesus tells the disciples to wait patiently in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father to be fulfilled. The promise was fulfilled ten days after Jesus’ ascension on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit fell on the gathering of believers.
You too, have been baptized into Jesus by the Holy Spirit, brothers and sisters in Christ. The name of God was placed upon you as you became dear children of God. When the water was poured on you and the Word spoken, the Holy Spirit washed away your sins with the precious blood of Jesus shed upon the cross.
Amazingly, in His grace and mercy Jesus bestows on us His forgiveness and salvation in abundance. Not only do you receive the benefits of His work through the forgiveness of sins proclaimed to you and the washing of Baptism, you also receive forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation through the Lord’s Supper. Jesus gives you Himself for your strength and nourishment, keeping you steadfast in the true faith unto life everlasting.
But what does all this have to do with the ascension? Some people misunderstand, thinking that Jesus ascended into heaven, and that He’s up there somewhere, and someday, He’ll come down again from up there. Some mistake the right hand of the Father to be speaking only of a literal place. But to be the right hand is to be in a position of power and authority. Jesus ascended to the Father’s right hand where He acts with full power and authority.
Jesus is God and man – which means He’s present everywhere as God and man. He fills all things. Where He has especially promised to be present with you and with all believers is Word and Sacrament. Thus, He is the author and finisher of your faith. He uses His power and authority for your benefit and for your blessing, having given you the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of your eternal salvation.
The apostles watched Jesus ascend into heaven. Two angels assured them that Jesus will come again in the same way He ascended. In the meantime, Jesus is with you always though in a different way, for your blessing. The Lord is present with you as the Holy Spirit works through the Word of God to keep you focused on Christ Jesus and His salvation. The Lord is present with you as the Holy Spirit makes you His brothers and sisters in baptism. The Lord is most intimately with you as He feeds you His very body and blood for the strengthening of your faith. Through these means, the Holy Spirit unites you to Jesus, and in uniting you to Jesus, you are adopted as children of His Father – your loving heavenly Father. Amen.