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Sermon for Ascension, 2022

Why are we here this evening?  We are here to celebrate the ascension of Jesus, the Son of God, to the throne of David in heaven, so that he might rule over all things until the final consummation of salvation history.  We make Easter perhaps the biggest event of the year.  Yet - as my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Levi at East Brainerd Elementary, would have put it - she loved the word "behove" - it behoves us to understand that the main reason Jesus's resurrection was important was that it was the means to his ascension.  The whole point of Jesus coming back alive was so he could go back to his Father and be our living, reigning King.  And the Bible, literarily, cannot seem to say enough' about it  - stretching the Greek language to its limits - in order to describe how important this ascension to the throne of David is.

Let us take a moment and just consider the trajectory of the history of Jesus toward this goal, so we can picture its importance to him and our salvation.  I can do this only by taking a few samples from the gospels.

When Gabriel announced to Mary who would be born of her, he said, Luke 1:31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.  32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:  33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

Mary's son was to be the King of Israel, the true King David, whom the former King David prefigured.

When the gentile Magi came looking for Jesus, who did they ask for?  They said, "Where is he who is born King of the Jews?"  They were looking for the king.

And what - in Jesus's mind - was this coming for?  What did Jesus himself preach to Israel?

Mark 1:14 ..., Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, 15 And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.  

Jesus came bringing his kingdom with him, that's why it was at hand.

When Jesus stood before Pilate, he confessed that he was a king with a kingdom.  Listen to the story in John 18: 33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 

Jesus knew himself to be the King of the Jews, the Jews knew he claimed to be so, because his claim to be the Messiah was a claim to divine Sonship, the right to the throne of David.

Thus, when Jesus rose from the dead, what was there left for him to do?  He had told his disciples on the night of his arrest that he was leaving and going back to the Father and they ought to be glad about it.  The whole of those 3 days of death, burial and resurrection were the means by which he would go back to heaven, return to his glory, shared with the Father, before his incarnation.  The resurrection was the means by which Jesus of Nazareth would be King Jesus.  

So let's stop there.  Do you see how all the story of the gospels is proceeding, step by step, to this event, the ascension?  Why do we not give it the weight and attention the NT gives?  Perhaps it's because of the 40 days between the resurrection and the ascension.  Maybe.

By the way, why did Jesus spend those 40 days with us?  We could say that, as he had spent 40 days in the wilderness preparing for his entry into his public ministry, oppressed by the devil and suffering in his body, so now he spends 40 days in triumphant celebration of the perfect accomplishment of his public ministry, his defeat of the devil, and the wonderful display to his disciples of his new body, as he filled his role as the first-born from the dead.  Those 40 days were also important as days of preparation for his disciples who were to carry on his work while he ruled heaven and earth from the right hand of God, until his return.  

So where are we today, friends?  This same Jesus has given himself to you - as we demonstrate in the Eucharist - to be your friend, your husband, your shepherd, your well of living water, your mannah from heaven, your Saviour and High Priest, and to be your king - to be all the things promised to you in Scripture - this very Jesus now holds and exercises his dominion as our King, higher than the highest heaven, crowned with glory and honour, with angels, authorities, and powers in submission to him, with everything - including the political powers of earth today - under his feet, and as we have read in Ephesians 1, having every title of power and dominion, and royalty that can be given, not only in this age but in the age to come, he is the head over all things for the Church, both universally and here locally, being the Head of His Body, of which we are members, indeed the fulness of him who fills everything in every way, even the whole universe with his power and lordship, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow in heaven and on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

And, as we read Paul's prayer in Ephesians 1, these facts about Jesus are to become living realities to our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of our hearts so we can know how true these things are, and more than that, so that we may "know him" in our personal experience, and knowing him, we may know the hope of his calling he has given, the riches of the inheritance he has given, and how great is the power he has given us to live it all out in this age.  

Let's look at these verses again, starting in v. 16: I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened....

My dear friends, do you know this Jesus?  Do you know his real, experienced presence in your life?  He says he is a friend to his disciples - is he your friend?  Jesus did not do all these things we have described and become all these things so that you might know things about him.  He did not become King so you can add some religion to your life-style or busy yourself in church life because you like socializing that way.  He did not die for you and rise to glory for you so that you can pride yourself in religious accomplishments.  He did these things that you might know him.  Why?  Because to know him is eternal life.  Eternal life is forever, respecting time.  It is the opposite of Hell.  It is the deepest fulfillment of all you are as a human being with respect to its quality, because you were made to find your life in Jesus.  That's why he spoke of himself as the true vine and his friends as branches living off of the vine.  That's why he is depicted as our head, giving life to us as his body.  True eternal life is found by being personally connected to Jesus by faith in him and by the power of the Holy Spirit to bring that union into effect.  And there is no way that you can be so in touch with the living Jesus and it not be something you know is real.

Do you know him?  If you think, "I'm not sure that I do", then look again at what Paul says here:  16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him....

Do you remember how Jesus told his disciples in the upper room that he was going to give them his Holy Spirit to take of the things pertaining to him and to show them them unto them?  It is the Holy Spirit - the third person of the Trinity - who brings home to our hearts, and who infuses our hearts, with the truth of Jesus and his kingdom.  He it is that enables us to hear the voice of our King.  If you want to know Jesus, then ask for the Holy Spirit to show him to you, for Jesus said in Luke 11: "If ye being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him."

And as Paul prays we will grow in our knowledge of the living Jesus, he prays the Spirit will also help us to understand three other things: the hope of our calling in Jesus, the riches of our inheritance in Jesus, and the power of God that is ours in Jesus.  

Look again at Ephesians 1, verses 18 and 19:  having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,  19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe

If we belong to Jesus, we have a calling.  Paul tells us elsewhere that when God calls us to salvation in Jesus, he is calling us into the fellowship of Jesus, into the union of life and companionship with Jesus.  And because we know God has called us to this fellowship, we have our hope of eternal life in him.  If we already have our life in Jesus, then we will have our life in Jesus at the resurrection as well.  And as Paul tells us earlier in the chapter, the same Spirit that makes these things real to us acts like a seal upon us, like a guarantee, that all the blessing we have in Jesus will never be taken away from us.  Boy! Do we need this hope!  With all the things we have to endure in this world we live in, it is such a comfort to know that our inheritance in Jesus is going to be fully ours one day, and this life will only be like a bad dream.  This hope is something that should encourage us in our daily duty and in our patient waiting for God to set all things to right in his time and way.

Paul prays we will know Jesus personally, he prays we will know our calling and the hope it gives us, he prays we will know how rich is the glory of what we inherit by virtue of our union with Christ.  Jesus is now enthroned in his glory, but in the meantime, he is looking forward to some day sharing that glory with us.  To know we have this inheritance is a big encouragement when the world brings shame upon us and hates us and cancels us.  There is coming a day when not only our Lord will be vindicated, but we will be vindicated with him.  Amen, the sooner the better.

And lastly, Paul prays we'll know, by His Spirit, just how great the power of God is toward us.  That we will know how great the power is, by seeing that power displayed in the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and then to go on to recognize that that power is ours to use, as we trust and obey him, to live out our lives in this world as subjects of our Lord's kingdom, and even, with all the intimacy intended, as members of his very Body on earth.  The same power that God exercised in raising Jesus to the throne is the very same power living in us by the Holy Spirit to enable us to live our new life in Christ, which we have by virtue of being born again as God's adopted children, as the branches in the True Vine, who is the Son of God himself.

Friends, we need these things made real to us by the Holy Spirit because, frankly, they are too amazing to believe.  How could a holy God be so gracious to such miserable sinners as we?  But he has.  It's true, and our King delights to shower upon us and fill us with these blessings.  Oh, how they should radiate through our lives, our families, our church, and our community.  Lord, ever more give us this Spirit of revelation in the knowledge of yourself.

On a final note:  Didn't this Jesus leave us with a prayer to pray?  How does it go?  What does he want us praying about?  "Thy kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven."  Notice: Jesus's kingdom is to be expressed on earth, not just in heaven.  What he's doing in heaven is to be done on earth, primarily through the Church, His Body, as the salt and light of this world.  This is a real kingdom, not some ethereal heavenly ideal and I think it is because we fail to realize this that the ascension is not more important.  As you sit here right now, you have a king.  Not, "You are going to have a king," but, "You have a king" now.  And that King has no failures and does all things well.  Just as ever, he is working all things out for the good of his people.  Just as ever, he rules over the governments and affairs of men to prosper our preaching and living out the gospel to this world.  Just as ever, he holds the nations accountable and judges them in his wisdom and righteousness.  Just as ever, he wars against our enemies and shepherds us safely to our reward with him.  

Therefore, my friends, as Jesus said, "Let not your hearts be troubled."  We are facing tensions and stresses in our lives which most of us have never faced before and they are not going to let up.  But let not your heart be troubled.  Why?  Well, why did Jesus say that to his disciples?  He said it because he knew that everything the disciples were troubled about, he was going to take care of it, he was going to work it out and everything would be all right.  And he still is doing so.

Friends, our King is working his purposes out.  Let us be patient, walk in the Spirit and the Spirit's patience, refuse to fear, make our requests to the Lord, and watch him work out his will from heaven.  Let's stay on mission; our king with all authority still goes before us, and he cannot and will not fail.  In the meantime we pray, 

Even so, "Come, Lord Jesus."  Amen.


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