Let Us Continue to Praise Our God!
Paul prays that we believers might be given the spiritual wisdom necessary both to see and understand that Jesus is ruling at God’s right hand. Our present is, therefore, secure and our future will prove glorious!
Text: Luke 24:50-53
And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven. And they worshipped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God. Amen.
In Christ Jesus, our risen and ascended Savior, dear fellow redeemed:
Critics of Christianity at times suggest that because we based our religious faith upon an invisible Savior, we are basing our faith upon that which is unreal. I read an account in a recent article referring to Elian Gonzales, the little Cuban boy found drifting off the Florida coast, describing how the government of Fidel Castro attempts to discourage faith in Jesus among the children of Cuba. Teachers in Cuba instruct the children to close their eyes and pray to Jesus for a piece of candy. They then tell them to open their eyes to find no candy. They will then instruct them to close their eyes again, while the teachers place pieces of candy on the children’s desks. The children are told that the candy came from Castro, their leader whom they can see and in whom they should place their faith. My dear friends, our religious faith is not based upon the unreal, just because Jesus remains at this time invisible. Our Christian faith is based upon the objective truths of the Bible and upon the historic facts of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. To deny that Jesus is unreal simply because He is invisible, is not only unnecessary, but untrue and unwise. This evening we wish to ponder the meaning of Jesus’ ascension, for that ascension brings us hope, courage, and confidence. We will do so on the basis of Luke’s historic account of Jesus’ ascension. In view of that ascension I would encourage all of us—LET US CONTINUE TO PRAISE OUR GOD!
For we, first of all, are blessed by Christ, not forsaken! On Easter morning, forty days before Jesus’ ascension, Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene outside His tomb. When she recognized Him, she knelt at His feet and held on to Him. Jesus told her, “Do not cling to Me (literally: “stop clinging to Me”), for I have not yet ascended to My Father, but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God’” (John 20:17). Jesus was letting Mary know that His relationship with His followers would be different now that His work had been completed as their Savior. He would not be there visibly among them to instruct them any longer. It was time for Him to return to His Father’s side in heaven and from there to control all of human history, while preparing a place for us in heaven. I would imagine that Mary’s first thought may well have been, “No, Lord, don’t leave us—don’t forsake us!” But, when Jesus ascended into heaven, He did not forsake His disciples. He had finished His work. They had been prepared for their work. Consequently, as He ascended, “He lifted up His hands and blessed them!”
That blessing assured His disciples of success in their calling, and it remains ours today. In what sense do we enjoy the blessing of Jesus? We enjoy that blessing because we have His Word through which He sanctifies us. Jesus says in His High Priestly prayer, “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth” (John 17:14-19). My dear friends, the Scriptures tell us that by nature we do not know and cannot know the one, true God, but that the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Word leads us to repent of our sins and brings us to faith in our Savior God. Jesus, Whom we cannot see, has not forsaken us, but has given us His powerful Word. He has done this so that while we are here in this world, we can and will fulfill our individual God-given purpose. Think about what that means—we are not here in this world alone, without support, without direction. No, we are by faith God’s children, under His protection, made holy through His forgiving grace, protected from Satan and his evil angels, and assured of His blessing through the promises of His Word. LET US, therefore, CONTINUE TO PRAISE OUR GOD!
For we are, secondly, parted from Christ, not abandoned! We are told that, “while He blessed them,…He was parted from them and carried up into heaven.” On Memorial Day, I walked the movie “Saving Private Ryan,” which was a reenactment of D-Day during World War II and a follow-up mission to find and return to safety the youngest son of a family who had lost three other sons in combat. When the assigned soldiers finally found the young private, he refused to leave his post for he did not want to abandon his buddies in the face of grave danger. There are some who might accuse Jesus of abandoning His believing followers by ascending into heaven, but this is not the case. When Jesus ascended into heaven, He did not abandon us. Rather He removed His visible presence from us, and so in that sense only was parted from us.
Jesus is true God. He is omni-present. He tells us in Matthew 28:20, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” There is not a moment when Jesus is not with us personally. He is always there for us in the times of our deepest depressions and at the moment of our greatest joy. What a comfort it is that Jesus, Whom the writer to the Hebrews says, “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” and Who, therefore, can “sympathize with our weaknesses,” is with us! He is here right now in our midst, for He has promised, “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).
As true God, Jesus is also omnipotent, that is, all-powerful and able to assist us. He has promised that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). God has a purpose for each of us as His believing children. He has already given us everything we need to know in His Word to fulfill that purpose. One might even argue that if He were here visibly how could we bear to leave His presence to fulfill that purpose. Jesus, in effect and in His wisdom, has assured us that while we cannot see Him He is here with all authority in His hands to help us fulfill His purpose for us. He promises that along the way, in spite of the opposition we face, as we lovingly seek to serve Him He will work everything out for us. Given those facts, LET US CONTINUE TO PRAISE OUR GOD!
For He is, thirdly, worshipped by us, not forgotten! When Jesus ascended into heaven, His disciples did not go into a state of depression. Rather we are told, “And they worshipped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God.” The reaction of Jesus’ disciples was so very appropriate, and it is a reaction we by grace want to share. Gone were the doubts that the disciples had experienced at earlier times—the doubts about Who Jesus was when He stilled the storm on the Sea of Galilee; the doubts about what had gone wrong when Jesus died on Good Friday; the doubts concerning the possibility of His resurrection experienced early Easter morning! Jesus was everything that He had claimed to be—the Son of the living God! He had accomplished everything He had been sent into this world to do—to work out the salvation of mankind from sin, death, and eternal damnation. The disciples now knew that their future life on this earth had a definite goal and purpose. They were to “preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15) and they were to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Jesus had promised that His Holy Spirit, Who would prove to be their Helper and Who would lead them into all truth (cf. John 16:7,13). He had told them to return to Jerusalem and await the Spirit’s arrival. They did so and in doing so they set the tone for the New Testament church—they worshipped their Jesus continuously praising and blessing Him! Ten days later on Pentecost, Jesus kept His promise and sent His Spirit, and that Spirit of God has worked within the hearts of believes down to this day!
My dear friends, let us never forget our Savior, but rather let us keep foremost in our minds His will as expressed in His Word! The apostle John says, “This is His (God’s) commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment” (1 John 3:23). Let us do that! Let us believe in Jesus and love one another! We can do so without hesitation and with full confidence for both our present and our future are secure in Jesus. Let us rejoice, let us be glad, let us worship our ascended Lord and Savior! Amen.
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting