Sunday After Ascension, 2016
The Epistle. 1 Peter 4:7-
The Gospel. St. John 15:26-
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
We have reached that time and place that Jesus promised would arrive. Over the last few weeks we have contemplated the words of Jesus that He spoke to His Disciples shortly before His crucifixion about being leaving them in a very short while.
Over the last week when I have mentioned that the Feast of the Ascension was coming to people there were two responses that stood out.
One was, “oh, too bad.” The other was “this is good.”
Both are actually correct responses.
But the “too bad” response has to be balanced with an understanding that it was indeed good. The Ascension was good.
Jesus said Himself a couple of times that it was good that He go away.
Recall we just heard Jesus say on the 4th Sunday after Easter this: “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:7-15 ESV)
Both of the comments I received reflect a different view of the same event. It was a sorrowful thing that Jesus was leaving the Disciples. It was too bad.
His departure as we know was not a joyous one. He was taken from them and killed.
After He rose again from the dead, He appeared to them from time to time over a 40-day period. Each appearance…at least the ones that were written about…included Jesus showing the people His wounds.
He showed them His hands, feet and side. He allowed them to touch Him…touch the wounds. Verify that it was in fact Him. He ate with them. He comforted them.
And the other response. The one that said, “this is good,” also sees the same event but from a different angle. And the more correct angle.
Recall again here. “It is good that I go away. If I don't go the Helper will not come to you.”
As we know, Jesus did go away, and the Ascension of Jesus back into heaven right before their eyes set in motion the goodness of the event.
It would now only be a matter of time before the Helper (The Holy Spirit) would be sent by Jesus. They just had to go back to Jerusalem, lay low, don't talk to anyone…be patient and the Holy Spirit would come very shortly.
Much attention is placed on the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but as our Prayer Book does, we need to see this fourth element of Jesus’ ministry as just as important as the other three.
The Prayer Book as you recall says during the Consecration Prayer….referencing “…His blessed passion
and glorious ascension...”
The Ascension of Jesus Christ was glorious not only in the fact the He was taken up into Heaven in their presence….before their very eyes… and angels appeared to them immediately and told them that He would return as He went and they would surely not miss His return.
It was glorious because it meant that in due time what Christ had started and instituted while present would continue in great power though He Himself would not be with them….or us…in a physical way.
Acts 1:1-2 tell us this. Luke writes to Theophilus these words:
“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.” (Acts 1:1-2 ESV)
The word began here signifies something important. It tells us that Jesus’ ascension was not the end of something, but the continuation of something.
The second book Luke wrote, called the Acts of the Apostles is volume II of Luke’s account of all that happened immediately after He ascended.
This book should be understood also as the Acts of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit’s power. Christ now works just as truly and really from Heaven as He did while here on earth.
The Ascension means that the Holy Spirit would, from now on, be active through the Church, which is Christ’s people…His body.
He said to them at the Ascension: “And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. (the promise of the Holy Spirit) But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49 ESV)
This happened also as promised. Recall Peter’s Pentecost Sermon. He said at that time: “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. (Acts 2:33 ESV)
Jesus has poured out the Holy Spirit and all of the activity you see here. It was also prophesied through the Prophet Joel… “I will pour our my Spirit on all flesh.”
Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit on His people.
This would be the empowering work that would take the Gospel to the four corners of the earth….to the entire world.
The Ascension is also glorious in that it would mean that He would re-take His rightful place at the right hand of God on high.
Jesus would re-take His throne and rule the world…as He continues to do right now.
Stephen recognized as the first martyr of the Church, while being stoned to death speaks of what he sees while being martyred.
He testifies to this very thing: “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:56 ESV)
Moreover, there is more to the image of Jesus’ enthronement:
“After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. (Hebrews 1:3-4 ESV)
The Father says to Him: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet” (Hebrews 1:13 ESV)
We even get this glorious account of the Heavenly throne room where Jesus reigns from The Revelation…. “And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.
And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
(Revelation 5:6-13 ESV)
The glorious Ascension of Christ also means for us that Jesus, whom we refer to as our Prophet, Priest and King, is exercising those offices right now for us. Special emphasis is placed on His office as Priest as well as King.
As King because He is rightly enthroned as we just heard. As Priest, He is mediating for us through and with the blood He shed for us.
The blood of bulls and goats profits us nothing. The Blood of Christ profits us everything. His precious Blood is now the sweet smelling offering to God the Father for our sins.
Our sins are covered and washed away by His Blood. His Blood is now the eternal offering to the Father, pleasing the Father for all eternity…interceding for us as the Perfect High Priest.
… Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Romans 8:34 ESV)
“This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant. The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he [Christ] holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.” (Hebrews 7:22-26 ESV)
The Ascension, unfortunately and strangely gets forgotten in the scheme of Christ’s work for us.
So we have to think more earnestly about this event, and recall all that it signifies and accomplishes.
So in light of the Ascension and all that we have heard this morning from the Scriptures, we might once again think about what Peter writes today and hopefully it will have a new and more profound significance to us… and influence on us.
Peter says: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:7-11 ESV)
Jesus ascends but does not leave us alone. The Holy Spirit is sent. He is with us now. He guides us into all truth. He leads us to be self-controlled and sober-minded.
These works that Peter encourages us to engage in are now the fruit we are to bare in light of the knowledge that Christ has ascended.
These are the fruits that Christ works in us through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Paul says that we are to now be “…steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord [our] labor is not in vain.”(1 Corinthians 15:58 ESV)
He is at the right hand of God right now interceding for us…preparing a place for us.
His presence is still real and active.
He is not gone in a way that He has left us. His power is just as effective and continues to accomplish all that He promised before He left.
Our prayers are still heard by Him. Our suffering is still known to Him.
The Ascension tells us that our future is secure because He has ascended and those who dwell in Him by faith will also ascend from the grave when He comes again at the end of time.
And we will live with Him forever.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.