Sunday, June 2, 2019

Sermon -- The Ascension of our Lord, transferred (June 2, 2019)

LUKE 24:44-53


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

In the name + of Jesus.

     When Jesus was about to ascend into heaven, his apostles asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)  They had seen Jesus correct the evils of this world by bringing sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf.  He had cleansed lepers and even raised the dead.  It seemed that Jesus was going to make everything right.  Jesus is the Son of David.  So the apostles were hopeful that Jesus would take his place on the throne of David and rule the world.  Was this the time?  In other words, would Jesus bring order and sense to a corrupt and chaotic world?  Would Jesus make everything right? 
     It is an appetizing thought.  Many challenge the Christian faith with it: If God really is all powerful, then why doesn't he put an end to wars and rumors of war, earthquakes, famines, and tornadoes?  If God really is love, then why doesn't he put a stop to broken homes and abusive fathers?  Why doesn't he empty cancer wards, cure Lou Gehrig's disease, and eliminate the need for children's hospitals?  If all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Jesus and if he has established the kingdom of God, then why doesn't Jesus make everything right?  We, too, long for these things.  We pray for them, because we long to be free from sin and every evil.  So, will Jesus bring order and sense to a corrupt and chaotic world?
     In a word, Jesus answers, “No.”  Not as the apostles thought, and not as you might think.  Jesus said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8) 
     Much to our dismay, Jesus is not going to make this world Paradise.  Jesus has established a kingdom, but Jesus' rule is not based on finances, health, or diplomacy.  Jesus does not promise these things either.  These promises come from politicians and advertisers.  We vote for the politicians who offer the biggest prizes, and we throw money at the companies whose product features laughing people on sunny beaches.  Even though we know better, we still think that Paradise can be achieved.  So, our priorities and prayers are devoted to an easier life, a fatter wallet, better health, and a perfect world.  But no matter how many prizes the politicians deliver and no matter how slick the advertisements are, the world is still corrupt and chaotic.  The Scriptures give you this warning: “Do not love the world or the things in the world.  … The world is passing away along with its desires...” (1 John 2:15,17)  God's grace is not given through finances, health, and diplomacy.  Those who trust in them will perish with them.
     Just before Jesus ascended into heaven, he told the Church what its mission is: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:46-48)  The apostles were to proclaim what they had witnessed concerning Jesus.  Jesus does establish a kingdom, and our ascended king rules by grace.
     So, what did the apostles witness?  What grace did they see?  They saw that God loved his creation enough to become man and dwell among us.  They saw Jesus fulfill all the promises God had made about the Christ, so that they could attest without doubt that Jesus is the Messiah-King.  They heard Jesus declare that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but shall be raised up on the Last Day for eternal life.  They had witnessed John the Baptist point to Jesus and declare, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)  They had witnessed the public slaying of that Lamb so that no one could deny he had died.  They saw his blood shed as the payment for the sin of the world.  They had witnessed Jesus' resurrection from the dead, just has he had foretold them, proving that all his claims and all his promises are true—particularly his promise that whoever believes in his name will receive forgiveness of sins, new life, and salvation.
     Jesus, therefore, did not tell the apostles, “Go out and make the world a better place.”  He did not send them to be financial planners, to hand out prescriptions, or to negotiate treaties among kings.  Jesus commissioned them: “Repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in (Jesus') name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:47-48)  Our ascended king rules by grace.
     After Jesus ascended into heaven, his apostles would go forth to declare what they had seen and heard.  They would call people to repent and declare that forgiveness of sins is found in Jesus Christ alone.  They would make the death and resurrection of Jesus known so that people could believe in him, become part of his kingdom, and receive the benefits of his grace.  For, the kingdom of God is founded on Jesus—that he is the Messiah-King, that he is the Savior, that he is the sole source of forgiveness, that he alone is the way to the Father, and that he is the resurrection and the life.  Our ascended king rules by grace. 
     He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. (Apostles' Creed)  This man, Jesus of Nazareth, now rules heaven and earth.  He who became a man to unite himself to you in order to redeem you now dwells in the presence of God and rules over all things for your good.  He lives and reigns for the good of his Church.  Our ascended king rules by grace.  So no matter what you must face in this world, your ascended king is overseeing all of it.  Everything that happens he does for your eternal good.  For the moment, it may not feel good.  It may, in fact, seem to be the evils that you pray to be delivered from.  But if what you endure causes you to pray to the Lord, and if your prayer is that you would finally be delivered out of this world of sin and brought into the glories of heaven, then even the evils you suffer and serving your eternal good.  This is part of your ascended king's gracious rule.
     No matter what evils may come, they do not change that Jesus is in control, that Jesus is merciful, and that Jesus is doing all things for your good.  Once again, what we think of as good and what is actually good for us are often two different things.  Our Lord Jesus teaches you not to trust in wealth.  Riches are easily lost.  Sometimes Jesus has to prove that to you by draining your wealth with expenses.  Wealth cannot be trusted and it should not be loved.  The kingdom of our Lord, however, is unfailing and invaluable.  The Lord Jesus has shown you not to trust in your health.  All men are grass, and all their glory will pass away.  The grace of our Lord, however, endures forever.  And while we are all grateful for a peaceful world, we know that the promises of men are not reliable.  Treaties are often broken, and nations go to war.  But the peace that Jesus has secured cannot be nullified by anything.   Your forgiveness cannot be canceled.  Your new life cannot be killed.  Your salvation cannot be stolen.  These are all based on the death and resurrection or Jesus.  They are given by your ascended Savior who cannot be removed from his throne.  His kingdom endures forever, and the ascended king rules by grace which always brings forgiveness, always delivers from death, and always marks us for heaven. 
     He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. (Apostles' Creed)  Just as we have a man who has conquered death, giving mankind victory over the grave, so now we also have a man who dwells in the very presence of God.  Since he has united us to himself, we will also dwell with him.  There we will finally have our Paradise.  For, in the everlasting kingdom of God, there will be no more wars or rumors of war, no famines, no earthquakes, no tornadoes, no blind, no deaf, no temptation, no sin, and no death.  There, Jesus will make all things right, and will even make sense of whatever it is you had to endure in this world.  But until that day, do not fear.  For, your ascended king lives and reigns.  He rules by grace.  He lives and reigns forever.  For you.

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

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