Text: Ephesians 1:15-23; Acts 1:1-11; Luke 24:44-53
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.
Luke’s Gospel ends where it began: in the temple.
God’s plan of salvation once announced to Zechariah and held in the arms of Simeon in the same temple has now been fulfilled. Already at age 12, Jesus knew he must be about his father’s saving business. For Jesus is the new temple, destroyed on Good Friday and raised up on Easter Sunday. And after Jesus ascends to the heavenly Jerusalem, his disciples return to the earthly Jerusalem, to the temple.
Luke says they returned to Jerusalem with great joy. Jesus’ ascension is not a day to hang your head and mope about like Eeyore, “Oh bother, Jesus is gone. Guess I’m all alone now.”
No! Jesus’ ascension is good news. That’s why Luke’s Gospel also ends how it began: in worship. Zechariah, Mary, Elizabeth, even baby John the Baptizer in the womb, the Shepherds, Simeon and don’t forget Anna – they all worshiped Jesus. And now at Jesus’ ascension, the disciples join in praising God for all he’s done: teaching, preaching, healing, saving, dying, rising and now ascending.
We know it’s a joyful day. That’s why we’re here: to hear Christ’s Word, receive his forgiveness, thank and praise him. But we still have questions:
“How did Jesus ascend?” Was it like Buzz Lightyear – to eternity and beyond!? No, Luke simply says he parted from them and was carried up into heaven; a cloud took him out of the disciples’ sight.
And where did Jesus go anyway? Is this some kind of hide and seek game? Or a Where’s Waldo book? “Look I think I see Jesus over there in the striped shirt. You’re so sneaky, Jesus!”
The Scriptures simply say, “He sits at God’s right hand.” You won’t find that on your smart-phone GPS or google maps; you can’t just go walking into heaven’s throne room at the right hand of God. Christ comes to you in order to bring you to him; because the Right hand of God is not a place. It’s a position of power.
But there are still two more important questions: Why did Jesus ascend? And what’s he doing there?
The Gospel of Luke brings us full circle, from Christmas to Ascension. When all was still and it was midnight, Your Almighty Word, O Lord, descended from the royal throne. At Christmas, God takes on human flesh. God becomes man. Heaven comes to earth.
Now at Jesus’ Ascension, the child of the manger returns to his throne, taking humanity back with him. Now we know the reason for Christmas. God becomes man to exalt mankind to the throne of God. You want to know why Jesus takes on human flesh and blood? Look to his ascension. Everything that he has, all that it is his is now yours. Inheritance. Life. Salvation.
God became Man to rescue fallen humanity and bring mankind back to God. Jesus came to earth alone. Born in a lonely feeding trough. The Son of Man walked the lonely way, no place to rest his head…and he died alone, forsaken by the Father, buried in a borrowed empty tomb. But Jesus does not go home empty handed. Oh yes, there are the scars. But there’s also a blessing for his disciples and you. Jesus doesn’t go to heaven alone. He takes you with him. Where Jesus goes you go.
Jesus returns home, but not alone. He takes his humanity with him. Think about that next time you have a crappy day or get depressed by the news or hear about loved ones falling ill or dying: The Lord who created the heavens and the earth by the Word of his mouth becomes human flesh, suffers, dies and rises for humanity and brings humanity back to God.
Christ is your Great High Priest and your brother in human flesh. He shares your humanity. He knows your sorrows, illnesses, fears, doubts, pain, your suffering and death – he who is like you in every respect, yet without sin, is on the throne for you. The God-Man Christ now rules all creation with the same human flesh and blood shed for you on the cross, the same flesh and blood that comes to you in the Sacraments.
The ascension did not take Jesus away, rather by his ascension, he brings heaven near. He goes away to be closer to us. He is as near as yesterday’s prayer, today’s fear and tomorrow’s sorrow.
That’s what Jesus is doing there. He’s praying for you. Interceding. Mediating. Always bending the Father’s ear to tell him how he died for you: “Remember the blood, the nails, the thorns. Remember the cross! For their selfishness I became the sacrifice. For their guilt I became the guilty. For their sin I became the sinner. For their death I died to destroy death.”
The disciples were often afraid of death and judgment. We’re no different. But who is sitting on the throne in Judgment? Christ. And he has already judged all things in his death on the cross. Jesus is judged for you. Who’s before the Father pleading for you constantly? Jesus. You have nothing to fear. You have an advocate, a defense lawyer who never loses. Your sin is paid for. Your death is conquered in Christ’s death. Your judgment sentence is already given: not guilty; you’re free. Heaven is yours. Life is hard, sin kills; death brings fear. Good thing salvation is easy. Christ has done it all for you.
In Revelation John peals back the clouds of heaven so we can get a glimpse of Jesus’ ascension from heaven’ perspective. Who is on the throne? The Lamb standing and yet slain. With Jesus on the throne, you have nothing to fear, not in his ascension, not in his second coming and not a day in between.
Jesus’ ascension is Good News, for He has taken to the Father all of our righteousness and salvation and the Devil can't take it away from Him. It's like the big kid who holds the ball up in the air so that the little kid can't jump up and swipe it away. The Devil would love to snatch us and our righteousness away from Jesus, but he can't do it. He's powerless now that Jesus is ascended and crowned with glory.
Jesus ascends to prepare a place for you. To make ready for your homecoming. And what a joy that will be. But your joy – like the disciples’ joy – is not limited to some day off in the future. It is good to pray, “come quickly, Lord Jesus. We long for your return.” And yet he comes to us even now. Jesus is ascended and hidden but he’s not gone.
Go back in Luke’s gospel a few verses from today’s reading and Jesus tells you where to find him: in the Scriptures and the Breaking of the Bread. That’s Luke’s way of saying, you want Jesus? Go to the Lord’s Supper.
You want forgiveness? Don’t go to Calvary. Go to the Lord’s Supper. For the forgiveness won for you on the cross comes to you here. Christ’s Life and Salvation won freely for you on the cross is distributed here freely for you in the Sacrament.
In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus is closer to his church today than he ever was with his disciples. There’s no need to stare at the clouds wondering where He is. Jesus is right where He promises to be for you: in the Scriptures, the Prayers, the Breaking of the Bread. Jesus is ascended and hidden, but not gone. He is risen. He is ascended. He is with you always.
Wherever 2 or 3 are gathered in Jesus’ Name, he’s there. Wherever sinners are Baptized in His Triune Name, Jesus is there. Wherever God’s Word is read, Jesus is there. Wherever you hear the declaration: “I forgive you all your sins,” Jesus is there. Whenever you eat and drink his body and blood, Jesus is there.
Rejoice! And join the angels and the disciples and all the saints in heaven in joyful thanksgiving: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain for all power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and blessing are glory are his.” And all that is his, is yours.