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Sermon for the Ascension of Our Lord

May 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Augustana, 2010

25 Sermon for Ascension MP3 Audio

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon this evening is from the first lesson for today in Acts chapter 1. 

9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.”  This is our text.

We believe in Jesus Christ… “who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.  He suffered and was buried.  And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father.  And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.” (Apostles’ Creed)

Today we meet to be strengthened in the faith of our Lord.  Today is no less an event in the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ than Christmas or the Epiphany or Easter.  The Christian Church commemorates today so that we might hear and learn about this event and that it would strengthen our faith.  This is not the commemoration of “St. Umpty Squat,” but the festival of the Ascension of our Lord and we celebrate this festival for the sake of faith.  It is one of the core teachings of the Apostolic faith that our Lord ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God.  That’s why I began by reciting that portion of the Church’s Creed.  This is not a new thing.  This is a very old thing.  Many of you, no doubt will say, “This is a new thing; we’ve never done this before.”  But the festival of the ascension of our Lord is older than you and your memory.  It belongs to the memory of the Church which, thankfully, reaches further back than our own.  The earliest Christians began to keep celebrations of the significant events in the life and ministry of our Lord to strengthen the faith of the Church.  And specifically the article of faith that Jesus ascended for you, for your benefit and blessing.  Today is an important day in the life and ministry of Jesus and we meet to be strengthened in faith in the hearing of it.

The ascension of our Lord into heaven highlights the truth that all that Jesus does is not our work.  He does it.  As we confessed, “he came down from heaven,” “was made flesh,” he “was crucified also for us,” “He suffered and was buried,” “He rose again,” “and he ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father.”  All of this is the work of Christ for us.  All of it was for us and for our salvation.   We are not saved by what we do, not even by the act of believing this teaching; we are saved by Christ and his complete work of salvation for us bestowed on us by grace through the love of God the Father.  And yet, because we preach that we are saved not by anything we do, we fall under criticism by other Christians for not doing anything, ever.  I’ll admit we Lutherans are a strange bunch.  We preach that we don’t have to do anything to be saved and that Christ has done it all and then we have “extra” church services which to outsiders appear that we’re preaching that we have to come to church more, I guess to get or stay on God’s good side.  Hopefully, by now we know that this is the farthest thing from the truth for us.  We are gathered here tonight to be with Jesus and to receive his gifts.  Specifically what good is it to us that Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father because we are still here in the midst of suffering and distress?  Jesus has ascended just as we confess.

A popular show on television, so I’m told, I’ve never seen it, is CEO Undercover.  The basic premise is that CEOs from various companies assume identities of worker bees in their companies to get a different perspective on the work done by the company and to find out what their employees really think about them.  One show featured Larry O’Donnell, the President and C.O.O. of Waste Management, as he cleaned porta-potties, sorted waste at one of their recycling plants, and collected garbage from a landfill.  No doubt if you were working side by side with your boss for a week, what you say would have a tremendous impact on how future decisions were made in your company.  This is a very good illustration of what Jesus did by taking on human flesh and walking more than a mile in our moccasins.

We usually emphasize that Jesus did this to accomplish our salvation, and he did.  But consider Jesus’ thoughts toward us as he ascends back to the throne of God.  He knows our every weakness and frailty.  When we cry out to him hungry or filled with grief, he knows what we’re talking about.  St. Paul tells us in Ephesians chapter 4, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” 9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) (Eph 4:8–10)

Jesus Christ has ascended to the throne of God where he sits and rules both heaven and earth; now he is restored to his ultimate power and authority.  In his reign there is no more weakness, no more humiliation.  He has taken captivity captive.  He has enslaved our slavery to sin, death and the devil and by it he shows he has power and authority over our old enemies.  Now ascended he gives his power and might to those who believe in him so that you too are now masters over sin, death and the devil.  Sin can no longer force you to walk away from God or despair over your past because Christ has ascended and help you when you resist sin when you believe in him and call upon him in every trouble.  In Romans 6, Paul says, “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Ro 6:14)  Certainly we will still sin and have sin around us and even be tempted to sin but they can no longer control us.  Sin’s power, the devil’s power, death’s power has been broken.  Sin is like the criminal caught and locked up, still breathing murderous threats but unable anymore to do any real harm.  On the Last Day, it will be swallowed up in the lake of burning sulfur.  Upon his ascension, Jesus power and authority are restored in full force.

This brings us back to what good is any of this for us.  Well, if sin, death and hell are in captivity, it means that we can no longer say, like old Flip Wilson’s character, The Reverend Leroy Jenkins, “The devil made me do it.”  Ya’ll didn’t think I was old enough to remember Flip Wilson, did you?  It means we must live in such a way that jealousy and hatred and anger and other sins do not overpower us.  We have to fight against them and say, “No I will not give in to hating or lust or lying.  And if sin tries to make a sneak attack with fear then we must be ready to say, “Sin, you are in jail.  You cannot terrify me.  I am your master.  Haven’t you heard, Jesus ascended into heaven.  I believe in Jesus ascended and reigning.  You will be silent.  You are my prisoner.”

By his ascension into heaven back to the right hand of the Father, to his rightful throne, Jesus is reigning and bringing about his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.  Jesus wants this kingdom to come in us as well.  That sin would no longer have the control in our lives whether in attempting to accuse us before God or in tempting us to persist in sin.  Christ is working this in us from above.  We are to pay attention to his tugging on our hearts so that his ascension is not just something that rolls off our tongue in a creed, but become evident in each one of us by good works.  The ascension of Jesus is the bringing about of the kingdom of God.

Although sin may still trick us, we cling to our Lord Jesus Christ, incarnated, crucified, risen and ascended, and by it taken captivity captive and won for us the victory.  To this King of kings, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, let us give thanks and praise eternally.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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