Ascension Day, 2019

For The Epistle – Acts 1:1-11

The Gospel – St. Luke 24:49-53

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.

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This evening we are here to celebrate with great thanksgiving and awe, the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven.

 

In today’s Church, maybe not so much in liturgical Churches such as ours, with Liturgical Calendars and a greater amount of attention paid to the life of Jesus than others, …in today’s Church the Ascension seems to get overlooked and sometimes forgotten.

 

No Christian denies that Jesus ascended into heaven.

But many Christians don’t spend a lot of time contemplating His ascension either.

 

We have Christmas, where we celebrate the birth of Christ.

We have Good Friday where we delve into the depths of Christ’s crucifixion and all that it means.

We have Easter, where we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead…and all that miracle means for us.

 

But the Ascension is an important feast day on the calendar and must not be overlooked.

 

There is a flow to the process whereby God is saving us. We call it God’s plan of redemption.

 

We trace how it unfolds when we celebrate these events on our calendar.

We see God coming as He promised in the person of Jesus to save us.

 

We see His work of dying on the cross as a way to secure and then defeat the death of sin and satan.

The cross is where all of our sins are taken on by Christ and all of the punishment that was rightly ours was turned aside and meted out on Christ.

 

We then see that after He dies for the sins of the whole world and is buried, the miracle of miracles happens.

Jesus rises from the dead, signifying that death has no more dominion over Him….and it has no more dominion over us if we are in Christ.

 

But God’s plan of redemption did not end there.

Jesus, 40 days after Easter….40 days after He rose from the dead, ascended into heaven.

 

The Ascension HAD to happen…just as the Incarnation, Death and Resurrection HAD to happen in order to bring about the plan of redemption.

 

The Ascension is another vital and necessary link in a great chain of events that were set in motion to save us.

 

We see in both lessons today that this was told to the Disciples. Jesus told them plainly that He had to not only die and rise, but He had to return to the Father.

 

Jesus did not leave them suddenly. He prepared them for His departure.

 

He even opened their minds to understand what He meant. He told them all of these things HAD to happen. ..and they did just as He described.

 

He even promised them that they would be comforted despite His departure. He said that He would still come to them, but in a different mode.

 

He told the Disciples to stay in the city of Jerusalem until the arrival of the Holy Spirit.

He said that when the Holy Spirit would come, they would be clothed with power from on high.

 

They would receive the Holy Spirit who would empower them to boldly go out, not only from behind locked doors, but outside the limits of the city and even the larger area.

And they would proclaim this amazing event to people all over the region.


Some would believe and accept it.

Some would reject it.

 

His final act was to bless them. He lifted up His hands and blessed them and then was taken by a cloud up into heaven and out of their sight.

 

Notice a cloud takes Jesus out of sight. He didn’t just vanish. A cloud seems to appear and envelop Him and takes Him out of sight.

 

The disciples are said to be gazing up into the sky so we can assume that Jesus was taken in an upward direction and away from them.

 

 

This not like the magician who appears and disappears using special effects…the sudden pop and the cloud of smoke….and when the smoke clears…he is gone.

 

We rather should think here of an Old Testament event. This cloud is how God made His glorious presence to the people of the Old Covenant.

 

Notice how often it happens that when Jesus does something or says something there is a reference to the Old Testament and to God or to the people of God or to the Tabernacle or the Temple?

 

We have these occurrences again here in the ascension. This time it is the cloud of glory that God appears in.

 

 

This first appeared when the Israelites were leaving Egypt. God appeared in a pillar of cloud during the day and at night He was with them in a pillar of fire.

 

This cloud guided them. It went before them.

 

God would also come in cloud form and speak with Moses.

When Solomon finished building the Temple, recorded in 2 Chronicles 5:5

 

“They brought up the ark, the tent of meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in the tent; the Levitical priests brought them up. The ark was placed in the Temple.

 

 

 

 

Trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments are playing …it was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the LORD, and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the LORD,

We read….

            “For he is good,

                        for his steadfast love endures forever,”

the house of the LORD, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of God.” (ESV)

 

 

 

 

So here we have today that same cloud appearing, signifying and connecting Jesus with those past events and clarifying for us that Jesus is God.

 

Speaking of the Temple, recall the third and innermost place called the Holy of Holies.  This was the place that no one could go except the priest and only once a year.

 

It was a special “off-limits place” where access to the presence of God was denied to just any old person.  Inside was where the priest made sacrifice, sprinkled blood for the sins of the people and made atonement.

 

Now, we have the ascension of Jesus, who, upon ascending, enters into heaven itself.

 

Recall the letter to the Hebrews 9:24

 

“For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” (ESV)

 

Jesus never went into the Holy of Holies in the Temple on earth.

 

Yet by His ascension, he has entered into the most holy place of heaven, to appear in the presence of God as our Great High Priest. …to offer the blood that He shed on the cross to bring it or present it before the Father as an atonement for our sins and to intercede for us.

 

Heaven is now seen or understood as the Great and Final Temple of God, where Jesus acts as our Priest, to make intercession for us forever.

Those men who did this in the Old Covenant, were pre-figuring what Jesus was going to do for us… and is doing for us now.

 

The priest in the Temple was interceding for the people. Jesus is now the intercessor…our only mediator and advocate. He is the interceding priest on behalf of His people.

 

When Jesus ascended into heaven, He was also arriving at His coronation.

 

We read in the Psalms, Psalm 24:9–10

 

            [9] “Lift up your heads, O gates!

                        And lift them up, O ancient doors,

                        that the King of glory may come in.

            [10] Who is this King of glory?

                        The LORD of hosts,

                        he is the King of glory!” (ESV)

 

Jesus ascended into heaven as royalty. He is the King of glory. He is the exalted head above all.

 

He then sits down at the right hand of the Father. This imagery is not necessarily to understand Jesus as sitting down literally on a throne for all eternity.

 

Terms like “the right hand of the Father” mean that He is in the seat or that position of authority.

 

And from this position He rules, administrates His kingdom, and all creation, and presides as judge of heaven and earth.

 

This means further that as judge, He is the one who will judge the living and the dead. We confess this in our Creed each time as well.

 

Jesus says in John 5:22–23

 

[22] For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, [23] that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.” [24] Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment but has passed from death to life. (ESV)

 

Hebrews 4:14–16

Jesus the Great High Priest

 

Here is more of what the Ascension means to us…

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. [15] For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. [16] Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (ESV)

 

Jesus has ascended and entered into heaven, to be our great High Priest who intercedes between us and the Father and if we hold fast to our confession of faith…if we hold fast to our belief and trust in Him, then, we are told …encouraged…urged to draw near to the throne of Grace with confidence.

 

 

St. Paul urged us in this confession of faith this morning in the Morning Prayer lessons. Speaking of Jesus ascension into heaven, he said,

 

“There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—[5] one Lord, one faith, one baptism, [6] one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. [7] But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. [8] Therefore it says,

 

            “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,

                        and he gave gifts to men.”     

 

It was asked in the Bible Study, “Why couldn’t Jesus have stayed, rather than ascended….

…and brought the Holy Spirit down and we could have had both?”

 

And it would seem that the answer at least in part is here in the next verses.          

            [9] (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth?

 

If you are up high….like in heaven, you cannot ascend any higher. But Jesus descended to us.

 

And Paul says, “He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens,”…and here is why…“that he might fill all things.” (ESV)

 

Jesus’ ascension was in order to fill all things.

 

If he were to stay on earth in His human body, though glorified, it would not have been according to the plan of redemption.

 

He thought it better and more expedient and effective if He would ascend into heaven, fill all things in heaven and earth and do so by sending the Holy Spirit to then be the vehicle or the way by which He filled all things.

 

And because Jesus now fills all things. We can boldly come to the throne of grace and find grace to help in time of need. …not fearing that we will come into judgment.

 

Psalm 34:1–5. Words that we could use as we think on the ascension of Christ. As we too set our hearts and minds on where Jesus is now.

 

“I will bless the LORD at all times;

                        his praise shall continually be in my mouth.

            [2] My soul makes its boast in the LORD;

                        let the humble hear and be glad.

            [3] Oh, magnify the LORD with me,

                        and let us exalt his name together!    

            [4] I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.

            [5] Those who look to him are radiant,

                        and their faces shall never be ashamed.” (ESV)

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.

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