Jesus Ascended into Heaven!
Dear Lord Jesus, as we consider the words You spoke to Your disciples leading up to Your ascension into heaven, give us hearts desirous to hear and wills determined to act. You have called us to the great work, O Lord, of sharing Your Gospel with precious souls everywhere. Help us to see our opportunities to speak of Your love and lead us always to make a good confession of our faith. In Your saving name, we pray. Amen.
Luke here records for us the events and words of Jesus leading up to His ascension. We are to be His witnesses “to the end of the earth” until that time when He returns in glory—a return which is certain as the angelic messengers testified.
Paul prays that the Ephesians might receive spiritual wisdom, even as he describes the glorification of Jesus. Our Lord Jesus Christ is seated “at His (God the Father’s) right hand in the heavenly places” exercising all authority in heaven and on earth as the head of His Church.
Text: Luke 24:44-53
Then He (Jesus) said to them (His disciples), "These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me." And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Then He said to them, "Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things. Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high." 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 Lord and Savior, dear fellow redeemed:
If I were to ask you, "What happened at Jesus’ ascension," you might quickly respond by asking me, "Pastor, were you not listening to what you just read?" Luke tells us that, “While He (Jesus) blessed them…He was parted from them and carried up into heaven.” What does it exactly mean, however, when it says that Jesus “was parted from them and carried up into heaven”? After this service, for instance, you and I will be parted from each other and we will go to our respective homes. We will no longer be together, but rather will be separated by the space that lies between our homes. When Jesus ascended did He separate Himself from us? Is He now up in heaven, while we are here on earth? No, we know that is not what Jesus’ ascension means, for shortly before Jesus ascended into heaven He promised, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). He also promised earlier in His ministry, “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). Jesus is in heaven, but He is also right here, right now among us. Consequently, when we ask what happened at Jesus’ ascension, we can rightly answer that when Jesus’ ascended into heaven He simply withdrew His visible presence from us. We no longer see Him as His disciples had, nor can we touch Him as His disciples did. Yet, we can be confident that our Jesus is here and presence and watching over us even as He promised, and that He will one day return visibly to this earth in all of His glory to judge both the living and the dead! Yes, JESUS ASCENDED INTO HEAVEN! But He did so only after doing two things, the impact of which we want to discuss this evening. He ascended into heaven after completing His mission and after defining our mission!
Jesus told His disciples before His ascension, “All things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” What were those things? Jesus went on to explain, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day.”
“All things must be fulfilled…it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day.” We have been studying in our midweek Bible Class the biblical teaching of predestination. Very simply this teaching of Scripture informs us that God, in eternity before the world began, chose a certain number of us human beings to become His children through the redemption that His Son would accomplish. God’s plan, determined already in eternity, was then worked out in time through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That plan has continued as those individuals chosen by God have been called to faith in Jesus Christ through the preaching of the gospel. It is a plan, which will be completed only when all of those chosen by God are brought to heaven to spend eternity in God’s presence.
When Jesus said that, “all things must be fulfilled,” He had in mind His Father’s eternal plan. That plan was revealed in outlined form in the Old Testament Scriptures. God told our original parents after they had sinned that a Savior would come to crush the head of Satan (cf. Genesis 3:15), but that victory would not come without a painful struggle! The Psalmist David spoke of the Savior being forsaken by God, being mocked and ridiculed by His enemies, and having His hands and feet pierced (cf. Psalm 22:1,7-8,16). Isaiah spoke of the promised Savior serving as our substitute, enduring the punishment our sins justly deserved, so that we might be at peace with God—those sins having been forgiven (cf. Isaiah 53). Yes, JESUS ASCENDED INTO HEAVEN after fulfilling His ministry—His work of redemption, which served to reconcile us to God!
Why am I reminding you of these things? I am doing so, because they are important truths to remember for they have a direct impact on your life and future. They are necessary for you to know, for they help you understand your Savior and the relationship He wants to have with you. They also reveal the one and only way to eternal salvation. Jesus thought they were so important that He spent much of His time during those forty days between Easter and Ascension reviewing them with those first disciples.
It is important to review these truths and keep them fresh in our minds and hearts, for they are explicitly rejected by the world in which we live and increasingly rejected by those people in our world who share our Lutheran heritage. A recent survey of the religious beliefs of Americans taken by the Barna Organization revealed a frightening lack of understanding of biblical truth among Lutherans in America. Among the findings: only 34% of Lutherans believe the Bible is totally accurate; only 27% of Lutherans believe we are to share our faith with others; only 33% of Lutherans believe Jesus was sinless; and most tragic of all only 27% of Lutherans understand that works do not earn us a place in heaven.
My dear friends, let us not grow careless with our faith. Rather let us “abide” in Jesus’ word as He encouraged us to do (cf. John 8:31-32). Let us recognize that Moses was correct when he said that God’s word is our life (cf. Deuteronomy 32:47), for it reveals that JESUS ASCENDED INTO HEAVEN after fulfilling His ministry—a ministry intended specifically to provide us with eternal salvation!
We see, secondly, that JESUS ASCENDED INTO HEAVEN after defining our mission!Only 27% of Lutheran believe we are to share our faith with others? That being the case, it is important for us to review Jesus’ words, which define our mission—our purpose in life here in this world. Jesus said, that is it necessary “the repentance and remission of sin should be preached in His name to all nations…you are witnesses of these things!”
My dear friends, what is our God-intended purpose in life? To understand properly we must listen to our God. The Psalm suggested for your pre-service meditation begins, “The earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1). By virtue of the fact that God both created and sustains the world, we belong to Him. By virtue of the redemption of Jesus Christ worked out as He fulfilled His ministry in which He bought us back from sin, death, and Satan, we belong to Him. Jesus redeemed us, Luther states in his explanation to the Second Article, so that we “should be His very own, live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in eternal righteousness, innocence, and joy.” Our purpose in life, as Jesus defines it, is to serve as His “witnesses” and to preach “repentance and remission of sins.”
God has not given us life to squander it in the selfish pursuit of pleasure. God has not given us our talents, so that we can pursue our personal dreams and goals of financial affluence and material gain. Personal happiness is not to be our overall goal in life, although it often comes as a blessing from God as we pursue our real goal of faithfulness to our Savior, and our real purpose of sharing His gospel message with others.
That message, however, is not a wishy-washy expression that God is love and therefore accepts and tolerates mankind’s sinful desires and lifestyles. No, God has called us to preach His law—to reveal His will, which expresses what is morally right and morally wrong in His eyes. We are to condemn sin and lead sinners to repentance, which is a genuine sorrow over sin and a determined desire to abandon sin and embrace God. Together with that preaching of the law, however, must come the pure proclamation of the gospel to all repentant sinners. In our Bible Class this past Sunday, Pastor Eichstadt led us through a study of Matthew 18 and the topic of Christian church discipline. The purpose of Christian church disciples is to lead those involved in sin back to their Savior through repentance, so that they might be assured of God’s forgiveness and then live their lives with confidence and joy.
Our mission, as defined by Jesus, is not and will not be an easy one. Jesus knew that as He prepared to ascend into heaven. That is why He urged His disciples to remain in Jerusalem until He sent “the Promise” of His Father, who would grant them “power from on high.” That “Promise” of the Father was the Holy Spirit, who descended upon those early disciples on Pentecost. That same Spirit is present with us today to strengthen and encourage us as we study and meditate upon God’s word. The apostle Paul points out in Ephesians that when we come to faith the Holy Spirit “seals” us, that is He claims us as God’s own and places us under God’s protection (1:13). Paul goes on to say that the Holy Spirit will abide within our hearts to give us His fruits of “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control,” Galatians 5:22) all of which are needed as we fulfill our mission. Finally, Paul tells us that the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is to be considered “the guarantee of our inheritance”—God will ultimately preserve us in our faith as we seek to serve Him and then take us to heaven to live in His presence forever.
JESUS ASCENDED INTO HEAVEN! He withdrew His visible presence from us for a time, but not for an eternity. He did so after fulfilling His ministry and after defining our ministry! May we hold tight to the truths of our salvation, worked out by God’s grace and received as a gift by faith, even as we share those truths with others! Amen.
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting