Sunday, May 24, 2020

Sermon - Ascension Day, transferred (May 24, 2020)

Some parts of this sermon were gleaned from a sermon by Rev. Jonathan Hein, director of the Commission on Congregational Counseling and the coordinator for Congregational Services of the WELS. 



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

In the name + of Jesus.

      The Gospel reading and the history from the book of Acts focus on Jesus' ascension into heaven and the mission of his disciples until his return.  Our epistle has a slightly different focus.  While St. Luke highlights, “He ascended into heaven,” St. Paul teaches us: “He sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.”  Both are significant.  And while both confess the glory of Jesus, both are for the benefit of you.
     Everything that Jesus was first sent to do and everything that Jesus continues to do are for the benefit of you.  For your benefit, God became a man.  He has bound himself to you by becoming a man.  As a man, Jesus is your perfect substitute.  For God has commanded man must keep his Commandments.  This man did.  And God said that man must suffer the curse for disobedience to the Commandments.  So, this man suffered in your place.  But since Jesus is also true God, his perfect life covers all sinners, and his sacrificial death pays for the sins of all sinners.  On the third day, Jesus rose from the dead.  He did not leave his humanity behind when he did this.  If he had, then we would have to believe that being a human being is a bad thing and God's desire is that we escape it.  Rather, Jesus became a man in order to restore humanity to what God intended it to be.  This man, Jesus, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, paving the way for the people he has saved.  Even more than that, this man, Jesus, has been given all authority over everything.  And since he is a man, he still remains bound to you.  Therefore, everything Jesus was first sent to do and everything that Jesus continues to do are for the benefit of you.  Jesus lives and reigns for the Church.
     This means that nothing goes on in this world apart from the authority of Jesus.  Jesus told this to his disciples after his resurrection: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18)  This man reigns over all things.  St. Paul wrote that God “seated (Jesus) 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.  And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church...” (Ephesians 1:20-22) 
     Jesus lives and reigns for the Church.  Nothing goes on in this world apart from the authority of Jesus.  While this is intended to supply is with unending comfort, it usually results in confusion and questions.  If Jesus is in total control of all things, why do we have so many problems?  Why are there wicked people who are violent, abusive, heartless, and bullies?  Why must we contend with a virus and the harsh restrictions which take away so many joys from our lives?  Why do we see world-wide problems and endure personal tragedies?  The harder life gets, the more intense these questions get.  If Jesus has authority over all things, we would hope that our prayer, “Deliver us from evil,” means that we would actually be spared from all evils.
     The Bible gives us reasons why we endure the evils we do.  Go all the way back to the  Garden of Eden to learn about the consequences of sin in our world.  God told Adam, “In pain you shall eat of (the ground) all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.  By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17-19)  Life is hard.  That should not surprise us, but it always does.  This hard life is the consequence of sin.  And even though Jesus has rescued us from the condemnation of our sins, it does not result in paradise on earth.  Jesus warned us, “See that no one leads you astray....  Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.  … And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.  And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.” (Matthew 24:4,7,11-12)  When we see the evils in this world, it is not because Jesus is indifferent, inattentive, or incapable.  Never has Jesus lost control to the devil, to governments, or to anyone else.  Jesus lives and reigns, and what is even more remarkable—Jesus lives and reigns for the Church.
     But the devil warps our thinking.  He leads us to believe that we know better than our Lord.  If we had all power, we would simply wipe off the face of the earth everything that makes us sad or afraid.  That sounds simple enough, doesn't it?  But if you had the power to remove from your life everything that makes you sad or afraid, what would happen?  Consider the destructive floods suffered in mid-Michigan.  Many families have lost homes, possessions, and security.  As difficult as it is to see and know people who have to contend with this, I don't think this flood has made my wife cry.  But I have.  And I don't think the breaking of the dam in Edenville caused my wife to lose sleep.  But whenever they were sick, our children have.  So I and my children should never have been allowed to exist to ensure we would not cause my wife to cry and lose sleep.  No matter how great we think our plans are to fix everything, we would likely cause greater harm and heartache if they were carried out.  Repent; for you and I are not as wise as we think we are.   
     Jesus lives and reigns over all things.  His love for all things is greater than ours.  Jesus actually does provide deliverance from every evil for all people.  His pain and sorrows and torments were endured to deliver you from a world full of pain and sorrow and torment.  His resurrection from the dead shows you that there is a glorious life to come when you will be raised from the grave as Jesus was.  Jesus ascended into heaven to prepare a place in God's presence for you.  And when he comes again, he will take us to be with him where we will be forever free from sorrow, grief, and sadness.  Jesus indeed will deliver us from every evil, and that deliverance is everlasting.
     Jesus lives and reigns for the Church.  Jesus uses even the evils that we must suffer now for our eternal good.  In his wisdom, Jesus knows what is best for us.  In his mercy, Jesus knows what we need.  Why does he let evils go on?  Why does he allow sickness and disease to harm our bodies and our families?  Why does he send disaster?  And why does it seem like he is piling on in the year 2020?  It is because he is calling sinners to repent of their sins and to long for salvation.  C.S. Lewis once wrote that pain is God's megaphone.  It is what he uses to get people to realize that they are helpless and that they need a Savior.  So Jesus uses the evils in this world to call sinners to repent.
     Now you may wonder why Jesus is having you suffer and endure these hardships if you already confess his name.  Simple.  It is because you need to repent too.  You and I still have a love for this world that we need to cast off.  We want ease.  We want money.  We want to have a clean bill of health that won't get threatened by anything.  We want to life to be without stress, without pain, without sorrows, and without troubles.  The problem is we want it here.  We yearn for paradise on earth.  But that is not where Jesus promises we will find it.  Instead, he teaches us to long for the heavenly home he has prepared for us.  Until he chooses to bring us into that heavenly home, he wants us to rely on him, call on him, and hope in him.  We don't feel a great need to do that when life is easy, but we sure do when life gets hard.  The fact is, we don't need money or health or freedoms.  They are nice, but they are not to be trusted.  All that we need is Jesus; for he alone supplies forgiveness and salvation, comfort and peace, hope and life.
     Good news: Jesus lives and reigns for the good of the Church.  Whatever he has you enjoy or endure, he does for your eternal good.  He either blesses you with times of refreshing in which you give thanks, or he blesses you with times of difficulty in which he disciplines you for your good.  Do not despair over a world that seems to be unraveling.  You have a Savior who lives and reigns for you.  He has enlightened “the eyes of your hearts” so “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, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe.” (Ephesians 1:18-19) 
     The Lord Jesus is in complete control of all things.  Even if you don't know how he works for your good, you have his word that he does.  He has redeemed you.  He will not forsake you.  He has bound himself to you and will come again for you.  He lived for you.  He died for you.  He rose for you.  Now he lives and reigns—for ever, and for you.

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

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