Sunday, May 8, 2016

Sermon -- Ascension, transferred (May 8, 2016)

ACTS 1:1-11


In the name + of Jesus.

     After Jesus had risen from the grave, he appeared to his disciples over a period of forty days.  During those forty days, Jesus spoke to his disciples about the work they had to do.  The kingdom of God was established by Jesus’ death and resurrection, but that does not mean that people automatically were in it.  The Scriptures teach us, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13)  So, if people are going to be saved, they need to know who their Savior is and what he has done for them.  And if they are going to hear about him, someone needs to preach and to tell them.  That is what Jesus gave his disciples to do before he ascended into heaven.  The ascended Savior kept them focused on his kingdom.
     The disciples did not get it—not entirely.  They were still clinging to the idea that Jesus being the Messiah meant a glorious kingdom on earth.  If Jesus is the Son of David, he should take his place on David’s throne and rule Israel in glory.  That is why the disciples asked, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)  Jesus dismissed their question.  He refocused them so that they were not concerned about worldly kingdoms or worldly glory.  The ascended Savior kept them focused on his kingdom.
     The disciples are not alone in their longing for a glorious life in a glorious world.  We still long for it, too.  We are gearing up to elect our next president.  Many people exhaust a great deal of energy, passion, and money so that the right person will be elected.  Perhaps you believe that one candidate has the best ideas and will fix the wrongs of our nation.  Or perhaps you worry that we will get the wrong president and are convinced that the country will be ruined if that happens.  Well, I don’t know what will happen to our nation no matter who becomes president.  Neither do you.  You may be confident of your theories, but you don’t know.  Even if you are convinced that your candidate will fix everything—let me ask you: When has our world ever been fixed? 
     I am sure that Jesus’ disciples had some valid complaints about the way things were being run in Palestine.  Even though Jesus Christ had been exalted as the Lord of Life and the King of the universe, he did not tell his disciples to march on Rome and overthrow Caesar.  He did not formulate a plan to get revenge on Pontius Pilate or suggest that they no longer had to obey King Herod.  The ascended Savior kept them focused on his kingdom.
     Dear Christian, that is the Lord’s role for you, too.  The ascended Savior keeps your focus on his kingdom.  The world that we live in is broken.  The people who live in it are sinners.  And you are one of them.  No president or politician or program is going to fix any of that.  Jesus Christ does.  The righteous Lord came into our world to save sinners.  He became flesh and blood to deliver us, who are flesh and blood, from our sins.  The Righteous One gave himself into death on behalf of the unrighteous in order to pay for all sins.  But now Jesus lives and reigns.  He lives to proclaim that your sins are, indeed, pardoned.  He reigns so that nothing can overrule his verdict.  Jesus Christ is risen from the grave.  He lives, and death no more can claim him.  He reigns to declare that you, who have been baptized into his name, will also rise from the grave with your bodies to live forever. 
     And now Jesus has also ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  In other words, a man has gone into the presence of God to rule heaven and earth.  If flesh and blood dwells in God’s presence, so will the flesh and blood people he has redeemed.  Through Jesus, you are redeemed from your sins and relieved of your guilt.  All regrets are taken away.  All shame is covered.  Through Jesus, your place in eternal glory is secured.  He is the first man to enter into the presence of God—for he is righteous.  And in baptism, Jesus has clothed you with his righteousness.  Therefore, Jesus will bring you into heaven, and the dwelling of God will be with men, and mankind will dwell with God.  This is the kingdom that Jesus has established, and your ascended Savior keeps you focused on this kingdom because it is the only place where you find forgiveness, salvation, and everlasting glory.
     The glory, however, is yet to come.  We still live in this world which is filled with tears and terrors and troubles.  Now, some efforts can relieve a few tears and troubles, but no fix is perfect or permanent.  It is good and right to provide aid to those who are in need and to comfort those who are suffering.  This helps to alleviate the miseries of a sinful world.  But no social program, no tax hike or tax break, no legislative act, no executive order, and no judicial decision will ever forgive sins or deliver people from death.  That is why Jesus told his disciples not to worry about the kingdoms of the world.  You have a much greater kingdom to rejoice in.  You get to proclaim a King who lives to have mercy upon sinners, to serve and to save them.  The ascended Savior keeps us focused on his kingdom.
     The Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven in order to take his place at the right hand of God.  The right hand for most people is the dominant hand.  It is a sign of strength.  God revealed his hand whenever he acted to save, as when the Scriptures say that the Lord delivered Israel out of Egypt with “a strong hand and with an outstretched arm.” (Psalm 136:12)  So, when Jesus takes his place at the right hand of God, it does not mean he has removed himself from us.  On the contrary, it means that Jesus is wherever God acts to save.  He is wherever the word is preached.  He is where baptism is applied.  He is where the Lord’s Supper is administered.  He is where sins are absolved.  And since he dwells in you, he is with you always.  If Jesus is with you, then all of his benefits are continually yours.  You do not teeter in and out of God’s kingdom throughout the day.  You are always blameless before God and beloved by God.  You are always redeemed and, therefore, ready for your final breath.  You are heirs of glory, prepared to receive a kingdom in which there are no tears or terrors or troubles … ever.
     The world longs for what you have.  And the world will only know of our Lord’s glorious kingdom if we tell them.  That is what Jesus gave his disciples to do until he returns.  The leaders of this world will jockey and fight for their moments of honor and realms of power.  It will always be this way.  It is not for you to worry about that.  But you—go and proclaim the kingdom of God.  That is where Jesus keeps your focus. 
     As Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples stared up trying to keep their eyes on Jesus.  Two angels appeared and gave the disciples a nudge.  They said: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?  This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11)  Jesus would not be seen by them or anyone else until he returns on the Last Day.  Until that day, there is work to do, and the time is short.  The world is dying.  People in it are dying.  We have the privilege and duty to confess Jesus’ name and proclaim his salvation—to comfort those who are afraid, to give hope to those who are ashamed, to encourage those who are struggling, to welcome those who are lonely, and to declare everlasting glory to those who are broken.  All people need Jesus, and we are the ones who have him.  We get to proclaim Jesus and his salvation. 
     The ascended Savior keeps us focused on his kingdom.  It deserves far more effort, time, and attention than any presidential campaign.  Only Jesus brings lasting joy, eternal hope, and everlasting glory.  He is not campaigning for anything.  He lives and reigns.  His kingdom endures forever.  His mercy endures forever.  And all who believe in him shall live and reign with him in glory forever. 

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

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