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Posts Tagged "Acts 1:1-11"

Gone to Heaven; Be Back Soon!

May 30, 2019
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation this Ascension Day is our first reading from Acts where Luke records, [Jesus] said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 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. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

Hallmark’s business slogan is, effectively, “A card for every occasion.” In fact, if you Google that exact phrase, Hallmark’s website is the first hit. The card company has made a name for itself by providing pithy or heartfelt or silly sentiments on cardstock seemingly for every conceivable happenstance. It’s a wonder that they haven’t capitalized on all church holidays. From All Saints to Transfiguration, there’s incredible untapped potential there! Can you imagine them offering a greeting card for Reformation Day? For the record, I searched and couldn’t find any; odds are, all efforts to produce some have been suppressed by the Vatican. Or, how about St. Nicholas Day, also known affectionately to Trinitarian Christians around the world as “Punch-a-Heretic Day”? The humorous greetings practically write themselves! Well, how about Ascension Day? What would you put on an Ascension Day greeting card? What message would you write? “Up, Up and Away” … that’s a little “super-hero-y.” “Wishing you a Cloudy Day”… eh, dubious. “Every Cloud has a Silver Lining”… that almost seems irreverent. I’ve probably spent more time thinking about this than is healthy, but I think I may have hit upon the perfect Ascension Day greeting card. Try this: “Gone to Heaven! Be Back Soon!”

I say this only partially tongue-in-cheek. No, I’m not looking for any of you to write the CEO of Hallmark and demand any of these cards be made - in fact, please don’t; look what they’ve done to St. Patrick’s Day! No, I say this because this message, however pithy, is the core of the Ascension Day pericope.

We are nearing the end of the season of Easter, now 40 days after the news first broke that our Lord Jesus had been raised from the dead to the glory of the Father. During those 40 days, He’s appeared numerous times to many different people. He’s appeared to the apostles themselves at least three or four times. He’s appeared to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. He’s appeared to over 500 brothers at a single time. Whenever and wherever He showed up, He proclaimed His victory over sin, death, and the devil, and that the kingdom of God is at hand. Now those 40 days are over, and the time has now come for Him to depart.

Immediately prior to His departure, Jesus is staying with the disciples, and He gives them an order to not leave Jerusalem but to wait for the promise of the Father, saying that they “will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” It seems like everything the disciples have been waiting for was finally coming to fruition. It’s little wonder, then, that they ask, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus had risen from the dead, conquering death; it seemed only logical that the restoration of the kingdom of Israel would be the next step. They thought Jesus had more to do to truly fulfill the words of the ancient prophets.

But they were mistaken. Jesus reminds them that “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” He does, however, remind them of the promise of the Holy Spirit, saying, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” That will be coming, as He mentioned earlier, “not many days from now.” Then, in a truly miraculous fashion, we are told Jesus was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. Up and out of sight. Gone. To heaven. Aaaaaand … He’s not back yet.

Perhaps the disciples were expecting a mere momentary display of divinity like on the Mount of Transfiguration. Perhaps they were expecting Jesus to suddenly appear in their midst once again as He had done numerous times before these past 40 days. Perhaps they were expecting someone to come and tell them that Jesus was elsewhere like the ladies had done on the morning of His resurrection. Well, if they were expecting someone to show up and tell them that, they were not disappointed. Luke tells us that 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.”

In John’s Gospel account, on the night Jesus was betrayed, He told His disciples many things, preparing them for what was to come. One of the many things He tells them is, “In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

We are right there with the disciples, aren’t we? Gazing skyward, in eager anticipation. Awaiting the return of the Son of God to bring to completion His restoration of all creation. Hoping that He will return – soon – to do away with this vale of tears where robbers break in and steal, where moth and rust eat away, where tornadoes and cancer and terrorism take away the ones we love. We are eagerly waiting for Him to return and do away with the ugliness that our sin has wrought upon this world. Indeed, we rightly yearn for the return of Christ Jesus, our Lord. But that is not for us to know. The Father has things well in hand. He’s already provided for our greatest need, in the forgiveness of our sin through Christ Jesus. He’s given us His gifts of Word and Sacrament to strengthen our faith and service in the face of calamity and hatred. He’s given us His promises, and as we look through history at His track record, He has shown Himself to be faithful in all things. He’s kept His promises, and He will keep the promises that remain.

I doubt Hallmark would ever make an Ascension Day card, but if they did, I do think the right message is, “Gone to heaven; be back soon!” We see in this jocular sentiment the truth of Christ Jesus’s current ascended status, seated at the Father’s right hand, and His promise to bring us to where He is. This would be a card of encouragement, to remind you that Jesus is coming again, soon, and that all the world will see and know it! Ugliness reigns in this broken cosmos, but we hold to the same promise the two angels proclaimed to the disciples: This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven. Take heart, my friends. On account of Christ, your sins are forgiven, and though He has gone away from us into heaven, He will be back, even very soon.

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

Tags: Acts 1:1-11

Lessons of Ascension

May 10, 2018
By Rev. David French

 

There’s a lot to be learned about the Ascension of our Lord from our reading in Acts as well as our Gospel reading this evening.  Luke, who wrote both, tells us Christ’s ascension took place near Bethany.  He also tells us that the Ascension happened forty days after the Resurrection.  He records what the eye witnesses saw at the Ascension, that Jesus was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight.  Luke tells us a lot, but there are also things that Luke doesn’t tell us.

For example, many people just assume that once the cloud hid Jesus from sight that Jesus just kept going up and up until He reached heaven and so, is now far, far away.  They assume that Jesus is watching over us from wherever He is.  Some think that from that far-off “command center,” Jesus gets involved with the important things that happen in this world, but for the most part, He has bigger, more important things to watch over than you or me.

But when we read these inspired words of Luke carefully, we realize that Luke only tells what the disciples saw.  Jesus rose from the surface of the earth far enough for a cloud to literally “receive” Him.  After that, Luke says nothing.  Maybe the cloud hid a door in the sky that goes from time into eternity.  I mean, if all we knew about the Ascension was from Luke’s account, then the imagination is the limit once He’s “received by the cloud from their sight.”  But if we want to know what happened, then we need look elsewhere in the Scriptures.

In our Epistle reading Paul tells of the great works of God “that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”  With words we learn a few more things about the Ascension of our Lord.

First of all, Paul wants us to understand that the Ascension is not just Christ moving in time and space, but it’s also a recognition of authority.  When we hear that Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father, what does that mean? If we think about it from an earthly perspective, for example, the Queen of England sits on the throne in London, but that doesn’t mean she sits there 24/7.  It means that she reigns as Queen over all the United Kingdom and has the right to sit on that throne by virtue of her office.  Likewise, Jesus seated at the right hand of the Father doesn’t mean He just sits there, it means that He reigns with His Father over all things.  It means that Jesus, whose flesh never saw decay, has taken humanity into the Holy Trinity.

Another thing that Paul teaches us is that Jesus is the One who fills all things.  That is, Jesus is everywhere, and not just as God, He is everywhere as God and man.  That’s a teaching that’s technically known as the “genus idiomaticum” or what the catechism calls the communication of attributes from Christ divine to His human nature.  That is because Christ is one person who is both God and man.  Everything He is and does, He is and does as both God and man.

So, when we think about Christ’s Ascension, we shouldn’t think, up, up, and away, but more up, up, and out!  Jesus’s Ascension does not mean He is gone.  It means He’s always with us as both God and man. The truth is, Jesus is closer to each of us now than He would be if we could see Him with our physical eyes.

We’ve already seen this at work during the forty days Jesus appeared to His disciples after He rose from the dead.  He left the tomb without moving the stone.  He spoke with two of His disciples and then simply disappeared after He broke bread with them.  Twice He suddenly showed up in a locked room in the middle of His disciples.  He came and went, or more accurately appeared and disappeared, at will.  That was how Jesus taught them and us that even though they couldn’t see Him, He was always with them.

Jesus also made promises to His Church that He would not be able to keep if it weren’t for the communication of attributes.  Today we heard that Jesus ascended into heaven, but elsewhere Jesus made the promise, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age,” and “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”  Then there’s the promise that Jesus makes in the sacrament itself when He said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me,” and “This cup that is poured out for you is the new testament in my blood.”  How can Jesus make all of these promises to be with us if He is sitting on His throne in heaven?

If Jesus were just a man, these verses would make no sense.  But because Jesus is both God and man, He can fulfill these passages simply by being who He is.  The very body that carries the prints of the thorns, the marks of the nails, and the puncture wound of the spear is with us even though we can’t see Him.  In a way that we cannot understand, all of God’s forgiveness, all His love, all His comfort is always with each and every one of us in the crucified, risen, and ascended body of Jesus Christ.

I feel bad for those who reject the teaching of the exalted Christ’s communion of attributes between His divine and human natures. That one wrong turn, if you will, means they believe the bread and wine of the sacrament only represent the body and blood of Christ; that there is no forgiveness, only a symbol of forgiveness in His words.  It means they believe there’s no love from Christ in the sacrament, only a representation of His love.  It means they believe there’s no comfort in the cup, only a symbol of the comfort of Christ.  The truth is, when this teaching of Holy Scriptures is rejected, there is no real Gospel, there’s only a symbol of the Gospel.

But Christ has ascended to fill all things.  He is still, and will always be, Immanuel, God with us.  He’s with us through His love, His forgiveness, His comfort, His salvation, and the eternal life He offers to all.  The good news is that the day is coming when we shall see Him as He is.  As we read, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”  And as the Holy Spirit inspired St. Paul to write to the Corinthians, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

Until that day, we rest in the assurance that we are never alone.  Christ our Lord, true God and true man, is always with us.  The world will do all it can to separate us from Him.  It will discourage us.  It will attack us.  It will persecute us.  Jesus Himself warned us, “In the world you will have trouble.”  But then He adds, “But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  And He did that for you.

In His Name, Amen

Tags: Acts 1:1-11
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