Ascension Observed| Mark 16:14-20| Pastor James Preus| May 29, 2022
St. Luke tells us in Acts 1 that when Jesus ascended into heaven, a cloud took him out of their sight. I wonder then. Where did he go? Had the cloud not obscured their vision, for how long would they have seen Jesus ascend? And if they had aviation back then, could they have followed Jesus up into the sky and found out where he went? St. Mark tells us that Jesus sat down at the right hand of God. Well, where is the right hand of God? Will we someday develop a spacecraft so advanced that it could find Jesus sitting on his heavenly throne?
Well, of course, these questions are silly. No one can take a spaceship to the right hand of God. Jesus ascended beyond this physical world where mortals cannot go in this life. Yet, if Jesus’ heavenly dwelling is beyond this physical world, how did Jesus go there in his physical body? The same Jesus, who lived and spoke, ate, slept, and wept with his disciples before he was crucified, died, and buried; this same Jesus showed his disciples his hands and feet and side, pierced by the nails and spear as he hung upon the cross; this same Jesus ascended to heaven and sits at the Father’s right hand. Yet, why can Jesus’ body go where our bodies in this life can never go?
Because while Jesus is indeed truly a man, he is also true God. And where ever he is and whatever he is doing, he does as both man and God. This is why Jesus was able to exit the tomb before the stone was rolled away; why he was able to vanish from the two disciples’ sight at their dinner in Emmaus; why he was able to enter the room where his disciples hid even while the doors remained locked. By virtue of his divine nature, Jesus’ human body is not limited by the laws of physics that our bodies are. This is how Jesus is able to ascend bodily to the right hand of God in heaven, where rockets and airplanes cannot follow him.
It is of the utmost importance that we believe that Jesus is both God and man wherever he is and in whatever he does. First, because the Bible clearly teaches it. Secondly, because if this were not so, we could not be saved. If Jesus is not God as he hangs on the cross dying for our sins, then his death is just the death of an innocent man, and by no means a sufficient price for the sins of the whole world. But since Jesus is both God and man as he dies on the cross, his blood washes away all sins. If Jesus only ascends into heaven as God and not as a man, then he cannot make intercession for our sins before God the Father in heaven. Then we have no confidence that we will be raised to be with God in heaven. But since Christ Jesus is the man who mediates between God and mankind (1 Timothy 2:5), and who indeed intercedes for us today (Romans 8:34), then we know that we have a Redeemer in heaven who is preparing a place for us (John 14:2).
And this also means that although Jesus has bodily ascended far beyond human reach, yet, he is still with us today. In fact, Jesus is closer to us now that he has ascended. This is why Jesus said in the Great Commission, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) Jesus is with us. Not in a sentimental way. We don’t simply hold him in our hearts or in our memory as we do our dearly departed loved-ones. Jesus is with us body and soul, as true God and true man, today.
Some think that Jesus is with us here on earth only in his divine nature, but his human nature is as far from us as the heavens are from the earth. But if that were true, then he would not be with us as our crucified and risen Savior. But Scripture makes no illusion that we have only half of our Lord Jesus with us here on earth. Rather, Jesus says in Matthew 28, “I am with you always.” And St. Mark declares, “The Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.” St. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4, “He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.”
The God-man Jesus Christ has ascended far above all worlds and heavens. And the God-man Jesus Christ is with us here today. He has promised us, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20) That means that he is with us her and now, in body and soul. When Jesus commanded that the Gospel be preached to every creature with the promise that whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, he was not giving instructions on what to do in his absence. Rather, he was telling his Church how he would continue to be with them and work with them. St. Mark makes this clear when he writes that after the Lord Jesus sat down at the right hand of God, “the Lord worked with them.” He worked with them all the way. And the Lord is working with us here today as well.
When you say your morning and evening prayers, when you do your Bible reading, when you pray before and after you eat, Christ Jesus the God-man is with you. When you were baptized into the Holy Name according to Christ’s command and promise, Christ Jesus the God-man baptized you. When the pastor declares that your sins are forgiven, it is Christ your risen Lord who is present forgiving you. When you confess the Gospel to your friend and when you teach your children about Jesus, Christ Jesus in body and soul, as man and God is present with you.
This is why we insist that we eat the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar. Our Lord clearly says, “This is my body; this is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Most say that this is impossible. Yet, we have a Christ who is able to be with every Christian as both God and man, throughout the world at the same time, while also being enthroned in heaven, without dividing his body. He’s God. He can do all things. He can even feed us his very body and blood. And we receive it for our forgiveness, life, and salvation, so that we may be stronger Christians, believe in God more earnestly and love each other more fervently.
A bitter pain sunk into the pit of every American’s stomach this week when it was revealed that an evil man killed 19 children and two teachers in an elementary school in Texas. We know the world is very evil. We know that evil dwells in each of us. We’re born with original sin, depraved of God’s righteousness until we are born again. Yet evil is not this static thing that always remains the same. There are greater and lesser evils. This mass murder is especially evil. And that it isn’t an isolated incident tells us that we have a serious problem with evil. Young men in our country are becoming increasingly violent, sadistic, and callous to the pain of others. Yes, evil always exists. But where evil is permitted to grow unabated, it grows worse. That is why the first use of the Law is the curb, which punishes and resists outbreaks of evil.
And so, these outbreaks of evil in our land show that our nation has forsaken God’s Law. Our nation as a whole must return to him. We must repent for ignoring his commandments. Fathers must teach their children at home how to behave and exemplify for them what it means to be an adult. They need to bring their children to church and teach them to pray. We need to stop pretending that destroying the family, rejecting marriage, and glorifying the passions of the flesh have no negative effects on our neighbor. How many of these mass shooters or gang-bangers in the inner cities actually have fathers married to their mothers setting an example for them. Not many. Our country needs good fathers, who fear God, love their wives, and set good examples to their children, who teach young men not to sit around mindlessly on the internet, playing violent video games, viewing pornography, and doing drugs, but rather to work hard, serve others, and to fear God.
Above all, what our nation needs is Jesus. If the citizens of our country would forsake their licentious ways and try to follow God’s Law, then we certainly would have less of these violent outbreaks. But that wouldn’t and never could be enough. We need Jesus. Only Jesus gives us the will to love our neighbor and truly do what is right. And only Jesus can heal the wounds of violence. Every gang member and twisted young soul fantasizing about inflicting suffering on others needs Jesus. They need to be rescued from their slavery to sin and to hear of the forgiveness and love God has won for them.
This national tragedy teaches us how fragile life is. Parents lost their babies. What can we do to protect ours? You’d do anything, right? You’d run into the face of gunfire to rescue your kid. I would! Yet, we can never keep our children one hundred percent safe. Parents who lose their children don’t love them less than parents whose children are kept alive. Tragedy strikes. Cancer, car accidents, drownings, and yes, maniac killers. Yes, the vast majority of our kids will make it to adulthood. By God’s grace they’ll live long lives and have children and grandchildren of their own. Yet, they’re still going to die. If this tragedy has taught us anything it is that we do not have a grip on death. With all our smart phones, fancy cars, and best medical care in the world, we still can’t keep ourselves alive forever. We’re sinners. We are born with the same evil that matures to commit murder and other heinous crimes. The wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23) And those wages get paid to everyone. We need him who conquered death. Our children need him.
You’d do anything to save your loved one when death draws near. We’re living in the valley of the shadow of death now. Yet, we have him who conquered death. He’s not far away. He’s at the right hand of God the Father, which means that he is right here with us. Where you have the Gospel of Jesus Christ, you have Christ the God-man, body and soul with you. And so, your children, after praying their nighttime prayers with you sleep with Jesus watching over them. When they say, “Come, Lord Jesus be our guest,” before eating lunch at school, Christ Jesus sits with them. When they carry in their heart the Gospel preached to them at church on Sunday, they walk with Jesus all the way. And when Jesus is with you, no harm can come upon you. Even if you die, Christ Jesus takes you from death to life. Amen.
Let us pray.
I walk with Jesus all the way,
His guidance never fails me;
Within His wounds I find a stay
When Satan’s pow’r assails me;
And by His footsteps led,
My path I safely tread.
No evil leads my soul astray;
I walk with Jesus all the way. Amen.