Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sermon -- Ascension, transferred (May 12, 2013)

LUKE 24:44-53

In the name + of Jesus.

M:       Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Cong:  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

     In the Temple, the priests daily made sacrifices for the people.  A priest would enter the Holy Place every morning and evening and serve before the altar of incense.  After the sacrifice was complete, the priest would leave the holy place.  He would stand on the steps of the temple, extend his hands, and bestow the Lord’s blessing upon the Lord’s people.  You would be familiar with this blessing.  The priest declared, “The LORD bless you and keep you.  The LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you.  The LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26)  And with that blessing came God’s promise: “So shall (the priests) put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” (Numbers 6:27)
     Our Lord Jesus Christ had also completed his work of sacrificing.  His sacrifice, of course, was himself.  The Lamb of God had been slain for the sins of the world.  “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!” sing the hosts of heaven.  Emphasis on “was.”  He is no longer slain.  As foretold, Jesus completed all that had been written about him in Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms.  (Jesus) said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations.” (Luke 24:46-47)  Jesus fulfilled all that was written about him in the Scriptures. 
     Christ is risen.  His sacrifice is complete and perfect.  He has taken away your sin.  He has conquered death and vanquished hell.  He has rendered the devil powerless.  Jesus Christ lives and reigns forever.  And so, when he raises his hands and bestows his blessings, he does not merely wish blessings upon you.  He actually bestows what he has won for you.  As he has done for Mansour this morning, so also for you who have been baptized, Jesus has put his name on you.  You are his; and his blessings—ALL his blessings—are yours!
     Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them.  While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. (Luke 24:50-51)  Lifting up his hands, Jesus blessed them.  He had completed his saving works, and so he ascended into heaven.  While you might get the idea that Jesus’ ascension into heaven means that he is kicking back in heaven and has nothing to do with you anymore, that is not true.  “He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” (Apostles’ Creed)  That means Jesus lives and reigns and continues to bestow his blessings upon you.
     One of the reasons that Jesus’ ascension probably does not receive as much attention as it should is because we forget who Jesus is.  You hear that Jesus has ascended to the throne of God and rules over all things, and it is generally met with a yawn.  God reigns over all things.  Not really a surprise, is it?  But Jesus Christ is also true man.  He was born in the flesh.  He lived and died in the flesh.  When Jesus rose from the grave, he did not shed his humanity.  The man, Jesus Christ, ascended into heaven.  Your flesh and blood brother has all authority over all things.  God the Father 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. (Ephesians 1:20-21)  If Jesus Christ reigns, then the one who rules over the universe is man.
     If you find it hard to believe that man rules heaven and earth, it is because you are familiar with the hearts and minds of men.  You have seen man’s wickedness by observing how awful people are when they speak to one another or about one another, in the shameful way people use one another, in the jealous way we look at one another, and in the callous way we think of one another.  That wickedness rears its ugly, vicious head especially when men receive power and authority.  Men use power to crush enemies and destroy rivals.  You yourself get frustrated because you do not have the power or authority to get what you want—whether better behaved children, better pay, or a better parking space.  So if a man has been given all authority in heaven and earth, you tremble at the thought of how it will be used.  And it is probably because you know how you would use it.
     If you think evil of other people, it is because the same evil dwells within your own heart.  You know what it is to be petty and bitter.  You smugly look down on others, and then you are offended when others snub you.  You know just how wicked people can be, because you have seen it in yourself.  Your guilt bears witness against you.  Jesus reigns with an iron scepter, and you should be crushed by it.  Repent!
     But Jesus does not lift up his hands to wage war.  Lifting up his hands, he blesses you.  Jesus took on your human nature in order to bind himself to you.  For, the Lord does not despise mankind whom he has created.  Therefore, he became man to redeem it.  Jesus lived a holy life as man in order to fulfill the Commandments.  Though he had no sin of his own, he bound himself to your sin.  He bore your sin and guilt.  He lifted up his hands in blessing at the cross to pay for them there.  His gruesome death is for your highest good, for the forgiveness of your sins.
     On the third day, Jesus was raised from the grave.  He did not shed his humanity in his resurrection.  The flesh and blood he became he has redeemed.  In flesh and blood, he rose from the grave to show you that you, too, shall rise from the grave in your body.  Having set you free from sin and death, Jesus will raise you up glorious and incorruptible.  Lifting up his hands, he blesses you with this victory.
     Forty days after Jesus rose from the dust of the earth, Jesus ascended into the glories of heaven.  The flesh and blood, gloriously risen Savior entered the very presence of God.  Again, Jesus did this for you.  He shall exalt you to be what God had always created you to be—holy children of God who will dwell in the presence of the Lord forever.  The man, Jesus Christ, has paved the way.  If this man stands in the presence of holy God, you can be sure that you who are mankind shall dwell there, too.  For through baptism, you have been washed in his blood.  You have been marked in his name.  He lifts up his hands and bestows his blessings of forgiveness and salvation upon you.  Jesus Christ has exalted you to the status of children of the Most High God.  And he will exalt you even more to the eternal dwellings of heaven.
     Until that day, you still bear your status as God’s redeemed.  Christ has put his name on you to bless you and so that you will be little christs before the world.  Your whole life bears witnesses that Jesus is at work in you.  You are confessors of Jesus’ salvation.  You are evidence of God’s mercy.  You bear the name of Jesus Christ, and you bear the glad tidings of eternal life.  You get to speak of repentance and forgiveness because these have been given to you.  You get to reflect the light of Christ to show love to others, with the gracious words you get to speak to others, and in the prayers you offer up to others. 
     …And lifting up his hands he blessed them.  While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. (Luke 24:50-51)  Though Jesus has ascended to heaven, he has not abandoned you.  He lives and reigns at the right hand of God.  In other words, where God is at work to save, there Jesus is at work to bless.  Though his word, through the sacraments, and through his ministers, Jesus is at work.  There, he puts his name on you.  There, he lifts up his hands.  There, he blesses you.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.