Ascension of our Lord
"The Right Hand of God”
May 8, 2005
We confess in the Creed
that Jesus ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God
the Father almighty. The
right hand of God can’t be found on a map.
Geographical limitations don’t apply to Jesus.
The fact that we don’t see Him walking down the street
doesn’t mean He is absent from us.
Christ ascended into heaven in order to sit down at the right
hand of God as our text says. The right hand of God is the biblical way of describing the
honor and glory and power that belong to God alone.
Jesus has all divine power and glory and He will never relinquish
it. He is King of kings and
Lord of lords. His name is
the name that is above every name.
Every knee will bow at the name of Jesus and the whole creation
will honor Jesus Christ as Lord. Even
today Jesus Christ rules over all nations with a rod of iron.
As the Father said to His only begotten Son in Psalm 2:8-9,
“Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and
the ends of the earth for Your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron; you shall dash them to
pieces life a potter’s vessel.”
Christ has ruled over this earth
for two thousand years and He will continue to rule over this earth
until He returns to judge the living and the dead.
Rulers of nations rise to prominence.
Their power looks impressive.
They command powerful armies with amazing weapons.
They rule huge empires. They
rise only to fall. They are
forgotten while Christ’s church remains Christ’s kingdom here on
earth until the end of time.
Jesus ascended to the right hand
of God. We are living here
on earth. He’s up there
and we’re down here. We
do not bring ourselves to where He is.
He comes to where we are. Christians
run into no end of trouble when they try to find Jesus by bringing
themselves up to there He is. The
ascension of Jesus does not teach us that we must rise up to heaven by
some kind of religious exercise or by putting into practice certain
spiritual principles. The
ascension of Jesus into heaven teaches us instead that the Jesus who
suffered and died for us is presently ruling over us by His grace
through His gospel and sacraments.
He who has all authority in heaven and on earth to do for us what
we need doing is pleased to be found by us wherever His gospel is
proclaimed and wherever His sacraments are administered.
We call these the means of grace because they are the means by
which Christ brings His grace to us and sends the Holy Spirit into our
hearts to establish in us a living faith.
Faith looks to heaven in
anticipation of Christ’s return.
But when we look to heaven we also look back to the cross.
Since we cannot fly back to where Jesus died and rose again, our
faith focuses on the gospel and the sacraments of Christ which present
Christ’s death and resurrection to us.
St. Paul said to the Corinthians that he determined not to know
anything among them except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
We come to know the true God only in the person of His Son,
Jesus. We come to know
Jesus in His suffering and death for us.
Look to His humility to see His true glory.
It is found in His mercy and His mercy is found in His deep
condescension to suffer and die for unworthy and undeserving sinners
like you and me. The
resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead proclaims that He won a great
victory on the cross. He
took away the sin of the world by bearing it in His own body. His death and resurrection signaled a radical change in how
Jesus would appear to the world.
Before Jesus died on the cross
He limited Himself in the exercise of His divine power.
He always enjoyed equality with the Father.
He has never been less than fully God, but from the time He was
born until the moment of His death He covered up His divine majesty
under the cloak of humility. He
did not take advantage of His divine powers to avoid the shame and
suffering of the cross. Whatever was necessary for our salvation was the fervent
desire of His heart. This
led Him to live a life of humble obedience that culminated in His
sacrificial death to turn God’s vengeance away from sinners.
But after He rose from the dead
Jesus made it clear that His time of humiliation had come to an end.
Before His crucifixion He chose to remain ignorant of certain
things. Now He makes full
use of His divine omniscience. Before
His crucifixion He did not always fully use all of His divine power.
Now He uses His divine power and He uses it for the benefit of
His church. His humiliation
has given way to His exaltation. His
disciples were hiding behind locked doors and Jesus appeared to them. He won’t be confined by any natural laws of space and time.
He is exalted. In fact, He was exalted even before He ascended into heaven.
His ascension is the divine exclamation point of His exaltation.
He ascends into heaven to fill all things and to be present with
His church here below.
This is why the gospel must be
preached to every creature. God
loves every human being in this world.
Yes, many people will be excluded from heaven.
Jesus says, “He who does not believe will be condemned.”
But this is not because God did not love them.
The gospel promise is intended for everyone and God does not
preach the gospel so that it will be rejected.
He preaches it so that we will believe it.
He wants it proclaimed to the whole human race.
The Gospels make this clear.
In St. Matthew’s Gospel Jesus tells the apostles to make
disciples of all nations. In
St. Luke’s Gospel Jesus says that repentance and remission of sins
will be preached to all nations. Here
in St. Mark’s Gospel Jesus tells the eleven apostles to go out and
preach the gospel to all creatures.
They were created by God and fell away from the image in which He
created them. The gospel
brings back the innocence that was lost in the fall.
The gospel is for everyone.
When we hear Jesus’ words,
“He who does not believe will be condemned,” we might think that He
is being too strict and severe. Think
of all the people who don’t know Christ!
Think of how many people die and go to hell every day!
The very idea is so terrifying that many people – even in the
church – deny what the Bible says about eternal condemnation in hell.
But Christ’s words here are not too strict or severe.
In fact, these words actually provide us Christians with a great
deal of comfort. Note
carefully what Jesus says: “He who does not believe will be
condemned.” He does not
say, “He who has sinned too much will be condemned.”
He does not say, “He who has failed to complete these spiritual
steps for success will be condemned.”
He does not say, “He who did not have a dramatic and memorable
life changing experience will be condemned.”
No, He says, “He who does not believe will be condemned.”
Since faith alone receives salvation from God, it is unbelief
alone that keeps sinners out of heaven.
The gospel is not a new law to
be obeyed. The gospel is
the good news that God, for the sake of Christ’s obedience, suffering,
and death, forgives us all our sins freely.
If it is faith alone that
receives this, why does Jesus also mention baptism?
He says, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.”
Is baptism the one thing we must do in addition to believing?
Is baptism a requirement that we must fulfill in order to do what
needs doing for our salvation? No,
it is not. Baptism is not something we do for God. Baptism is something God does for us. It is not the work of men.
It is the work of God. You
may see a man pouring the water and saying the words but it is not a
man’s work. God Himself
uses baptism as a means of giving to faith what faith needs to receive.
Faith cannot travel over time and space to find itself at the
crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus where our sin was washed away and
forgiveness was gained for us. But
Christ, in His exalted state, seated at the right hand of the Father,
brings His crucifixion and resurrection to us in Holy Baptism where we
die and rise with Him.
This same exalted Lord Jesus
comes to us in the Lord’s Supper where He feeds us with His body and
blood, given and shed for us for the forgiveness of sins.
The sacraments of Christ are not symbols of an absent Lord Jesus. They are vehicles of His gracious presence so that where we
have Holy Baptism and where we have the Lord’s Supper we have the
crucified, risen, and ascended Lord Jesus Christ who forgives us all our
sins and fills us with the Holy Spirit.
He is our Immanuel: God with us.
He has not left His church by ascending into heaven.
He has assumed His throne from which He governs His church on
In the first century Jesus did
wonderful signs at the hands of the apostles whom He sent out to preach.
They cast our demons, spoke in languages they never learned,
raised the dead, and healed the sick.
Once, on the Island of Malta, the Apostle Paul was bitten by a
poisonous snake and he suffered no ill effects.
This was just as Jesus said it would be.
But when Jesus spoke of these wonderful signs, He was just saying
what would happen. When He
spoke of preaching the gospel and administering the sacraments, He was
giving a divine command. We
aren’t commanded to seek out the spectacular signs.
If God wants to do a miracle, He’ll do a miracle.
How can we know what He wants to do?
On the other hand, we know that He wants us to preach the gospel. We know that He wants us to administer His holy sacraments.
We know that these means of grace bring Christ Himself to us in
our need. So we will always
seek Jesus where He promises to be.
And He will rule over us.
His rule is unseen by the unbelieving world, but it is
nonetheless a powerful rule. It
is a rule in which His forgiveness triumphs over our sin.
It is a rule that draws us to God.
It doesn’t force us. It
doesn’t terrify us. It
doesn’t shame us. It
brings us into holy fellowship with God so that in Christ’s ascension
we see our own. While we
live in our bodies here below we are joined in communion with God in
heaven. No power on earth
can break this fellowship because it doesn’t depend on our strength
but on the intercession of Jesus for us at God’s right hand. Christ is the church’s head.
Where the head is, there the body must be. While we live here on earth, our true home is in heaven with
our Lord Jesus.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus