44 [Jesus] 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.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God. (ESV)
Introduction: The Ascension of Jesus—A Very Big Deal!
Many, even within the Church, misunderstand the ascension of our Lord. Good Friday is clear enough: Jesus’ sacrificial, atoning death on the cross for the life of the world. Easter Sunday is clearer still: Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. But Ascension Day? That’s the odd one. At least, the world celebrates Christmas and Easter in some fashion. But there are no family feasts planned for Ascension Day. Let’s face it: Ascension does not seems to be much of a big deal.
But the ascension of Jesus is a very big deal, for the ascension is the coronation celebration of our Lord as He is proclaimed King of the universe. The Lutheran theologian C. F. W. Walther explains how Jesus’ ascension completes His resurrection: When Christ rose victoriously from the dead, the entire fallen world triumphed with Him, the sins of all [people] were erased, eternal righteousness won, hell destroyed, death disarmed, life and immortality brought to light, and deliverance by God the Father Himself sealed to all [people] in the most wonderful manner. All our enemies lay at the feet of Him who for us had entered the arena against them. Only one thing remained if Christ should be our perfect Saviour. After he had defeated all our enemies, He had to be installed as their absolute Lord. The scepter of omnipotence must be given Him; He must be crowned with heavenly glory; He must ascend the throne of divine majesty (C. F. W. Walther: The Ascension of Jesus Christ a Sure Foundation of Our Faith). Christ’s ascension, then, is the culmination of His work, the big tickertape parade down the streets of heaven, in which the conquering Christ strides across the heavenly throne room and takes His rightful seat at the right hand of the Father as the hosts of heaven sing out: worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing (Revelation 5:12).
The ascension of our Lord proclaims that the work of our salvation is finished and that our victorious Saviour now reigns over all things. The day indeed is coming when our Lord will return, but even now, Christ is seated at the right hand of Majesty. Even now, the kingdoms of this world are the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.
The Ascension is all about our Lord’s glory and also ours!
The ascension of our Lord is all about our Lord’s glory, but it is also about ours, for the ascension of Jesus also proclaims the glorification of our humanity. The words of one of our old Ascension hymns puts it like this:
Thou hast raised our human nature
On the clouds to God’s right hand;
There we sit in heavenly places,
There with Thee in glory stand. (TLH 218:5)
The God-Man, our Lord Jesus Christ, who humbled Himself to be born of a virgin, is now raised in exaltation far above all heavens with all things under His dominion. The flesh and blood that was born of Mary, crucified on the cross, and raised from the grave on Easter is now seated in glory at the Father’s right hand. The One who shared in our humanity now glorifies our humanity. He has raised our human nature on the clouds to God’s right hand!
In the ascended Christ, we are raised up from the depths!
What a contrast this is when compared to the depths to which our human nature had fallen. God created Adam and Eve in His own image and likeness. He created them in body and soul to live in perfect communion with Him. He made them to rule as king and queen over His creation, crowning them with His own glory and honour. Yet Adam and Eve wanted more. They believed the lies of the tempter and in unbelief and disobedience they made themselves enemies of the God who created them to be objects of His love. They fell into the pits of degradation, despair, and death itself. It is a pit out of which they could never climb. Adam and Eve and now all of their descendants who are born according to the course of nature find themselves in the depths, to use the words of Psalm 130. Our sin has made us fit only for hell.
But God, who had created humanity to receive His love, did not abandon us to the dust of death and the depths of damnation. He sent His Son to take on our flesh and blood from the womb of a virgin. Clothed in our flesh and blood, the Lord of heaven humbles Himself and becomes obedient even to the point of death on the cross. At every point where mankind had been unfaithful, the incarnate Son of God is faithful. This faithfulness leads Him to suffer and die in our place on the cross. He offers His own life; He sheds His own blood to redeem us from the pit of hell. Raised from the dead on Easter morning, He proclaims our sins forgiven. Ascended to the Father, He lives to bless us with His glorious life.
With our Lord’s ascension, our flesh and blood are raised up to God’s right hand. Our human nature, fallen in sin, is now redeemed and exalted by our Lord Jesus Christ. The ascension of Christ is the glorification of our humanity. This is not man become God, but God become Man to rescue fallen humanity and to bring mankind back to God. The apostle Paul, writing to the Colossians, views Christ’s ascension as our own: For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. In Christ you were crucified, in Christ you were raised, in Christ you are already glorified. And so, St. Paul instructs us to seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on heavenly things, and not on earthly things (Colossians 3:1-3). Yes, indeed, let us set our minds and hearts on the things above, where our life is hidden with Christ!
The Ascended Christ is still present to us!
The ascension of our Lord is truly a big deal, for now, Jesus truly fills all things, being present everywhere, not only as God, but also as man. Jesus rules from sea to sea and to the ends of the earth… [Jesus rules the universe] according to the way things are done at God’s right hand. “God’s right hand” is no set place in heaven…; [rather, it] is nothing other than God’s almighty power, which fills heaven and earth. Christ is installed [at the right hand of God] according to His humanity (Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord VIII 27-30).
With His ascension to the right hand of the Father, our Lord’s human nature is exalted above all creatures in heaven and on earth. And now, our Lord Jesus is no longer in one physical place (even though He still has a body). It is not at all that Jesus is gone from this fallen world; rather, He has embraced this place—this crazy, mixed-up world of war, terror, lies, lust, greed, and fear. As St. Paul writes: Christ fills all in all (Ephesians 1:23). Although our Lord no longer shows Himself visibly, He is truly with us always! The gift of the Ascension is Jesus’ abiding presence in His Holy Word, in the water of Baptism, in the Bread that is His Body, in the wine that is His Blood.
Our Lord’s ascension does not mean He is gone from us. Just the opposite! Jesus is all over the place, wherever His Word is preached and His Sacraments are distributed. There, Jesus is at work saving sinners and bringing you the comfort of that forgiveness and salvation
Christ’s ascension, like all of His life and work, is for us. By His ascension to the Father’s right hand, we ascend to heaven. For we are baptized into Christ. We are in Christ. He is the head and we are His body. Where the head is, there is the body also. This life that we now live, we live by faith in Christ. Our life—even though it is lived out here on earth—is a heavenly life because even now, as St. Paul says: we are seated with Christ in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6). And this Christ is here with us. Ascended far above all heavens, Christ fills all things. His ascension is not about His absence from us but His presence with us. Christ Jesus is not limited by time and space. In His exalted humanity, He is with us to wash away our sins in Holy Baptism, to strengthen us by his Word, and to feed us with His body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins.
The Good News of Ascension is that our Lord Jesus is seated at the Father’s side in glory everlasting, and that we are with Him and He is with us. Thanks be to God!