+ The Ascension of Our Lord – May 25th, 2017 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Texts: Acts 1:1-11; Ephesian s1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53
Note: Special thanks to Rev. Dr. Carl Fickenscher in the Series B, 2009 Concordia Pulpit resources (volume 19, part 2) for the theme and influence in this sermon.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
You can read The Lord of the Rings without reading The Hobbit or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn without first reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. And you can certainly enjoy watching Disney’s Finding Dory without having seen Finding Nemo first. But sometimes the sequel doesn’t make much sense until you read book one or watch the first movie in a series.
The story of Jesus is no different. Listen to how Luke begins the book of Acts.
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up,
Luke is directing our attention back to his Gospel, the first book. Perhaps, like many readers who get to the end of a good book, Theophilus wanted more. Well, here’s the sequel in the book of Acts.
In Book One, Luke records the details of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension. Book One ends with our Gospel reading for today, 40 days after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. And yet, Luke tells us, this is only what Jesus began to do and teach. Like all good authors, Luke left the story of book one open for a sequel.
The Book of Acts is Luke’s Book Two. If Book One is the story of the work Jesus began and accomplished for us on the cross, Book Two is the story of how Jesus’ work continues through us. If book one is the story of the Gospel, Book Two is the story of Jesus’ gospel in the lives of his people then and now.
And of course, to understand all that, Book One is required reading.
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.
Luke wants us to read and hear his books together. Because without Book One (Luke’s Gospel), Book Two (the Book of Acts) doesn’t make sense. Without Luke’s Gospel we wouldn’t know the main characters in the book of Acts – Jesus, Peter, and the apostles. Without Luke’s Gospel, there’s no Book Two.
Both Luke and Acts are about Jesus. It’s Jesus’ story. Jesus’ life. Jesus’ death. Jesus resurrection and ascension. All for you. Book One is the historical account of everything Jesus did for you. Jesus was born for you. Jesus lived a perfect life obedient to the Father for you. Jesus laid down his life for you. Jesus defeated sin, death, and the devil for you on the cross for you. Jesus rose again from the dead, assuring us of our resurrection from the dead.
In Book Two, Luke assumes we’ve read and heard this story before. 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.
Without Jesus’ teaching in Book One, there would be no Word to proclaim in Book Two. Without Jesus’ suffering and death, there’d be no reason to speak. And without Jesus’ resurrection there’d be no hope; the story would be over.
On the other hand, without Book Two, the meaning of Book One would have been forgotten long ago. Book One isn’t the end of the story. Luke’s Gospel isn’t the kind of book we can read and just let dust gather on the shelf. In Book Two, the story of Jesus’ work, word, and teaching for us continues – and it continues through us as well. Jesus’ ascension may end his public ministry on earth, however, it’s not the end of the story.
The story of Jesus’ death and resurrection continues in Book Two. 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.
For the disciples, “Jesus is risen from the dead” became their motivation. Jesus’ resurrection turned unbelieving, scared disciples into faithful, bold apostles who carried this message to the ends of the earth. And though Jesus’ ascension meant that he would visibly leave his disciples – his work continued through them.
And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
Jesus prepared the disciples for Pentecost, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They would be sent to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations.
The same story continues with us. The same Holy Spirit is poured out on us in the water and word of Baptism. And just like Jesus’ work he began in Book One of Luke’s Gospel and continued in Book Two, Baptism is God’s work he began in you on the day of your Baptism and continues in you throughout your life. In your baptism, the Holy Spirit is continually writing the story of Jesus for you, living in us, keeping us in the faith, calling, gathering, enlightening by the Gospel, pointing us to Jesus’ forgiveness, and giving us the fruit of faith in good works and love for our neighbors.
Though it seems like Jesus’ ascension is the end of the story, it isn’t. Jesus’ words are like the table of contents for Book Two. Jesus’s story of the Gospel spreads just as Jesus promised. It begins in Jerusalem and spreads to Samaria; by the end of Book Two it had reached what seemed like the ends of the earth in the 1st century.
Today, Jesus’ story continues. The ends of the earth have grown a bit since the first century. Book Two continues We’re part of the book of Acts. We each have our own Jerusalems and Judeas and Samarias: our children, friends, and family members; our coworker or neighbors you invite to Sunday School, church, and bible class. You don’t need to go to the ends of the earth to proclaim the Gospel, the ends of the earth are right here in Huntington Beach, in our soccer leagues, schools, and grocery stores.
Seems like an impossible, overwhelming task. Left to our own, it is. But Jesus promised to be with us in Book two. I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.
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.
The disciples saw Jesus leave, but he was really going away in order to be with them. At his ascension, Jesus took his seat at the right hand of God’s power, which really isn’t a place at all. It means Jesus is constantly exercising God’s power on our behalf. It means he’s everywhere, always with us – not just in his divine nature, but also in his human nature. Jesus – true God and true man – is here with you just as he promises. Jesus prays for us, intercedes for us, guides and protects us. Jesus is continuing to write the story of our lives, our Book Two, because he has already written our names in his book of life.
Book Two has continued far beyond the completion of Luke’s second writing. In fact, Book Two continues to the end of time. Even the end of the Book of Acts leaves it open for a third book. Some of the best stories, after all, are written in trilogies: Lord of the Rings and Star Wars.
Luke didn’t write a Book Three. But if he did, we could imagine how he might write the story, a never-ending story of Jesus.
And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Someday, there will be a Book Three, and it’ll begin like this, This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.
Jesus ascended into heaven to prepare a place for us and promised to return to take us home with him. And that is one book, one great story that will never end.
But I suppose that’s a story for another day, an endless day.
A blessed Ascension Day to each of you…
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.