Paul's Ascension Prayer
Dear Lord Jesus—my risen and ascended Savior and Lord—I come before You this evening to praise Your saving name! You have delivered me from my sin and its consequence—death! You have given me the promise of Your presence here in this life and my presence in Your home throughout eternity. Be with and bless me and my fellow believers as we worship this night. Amen.
Jesus spent forty days after His resurrection and before His ascension preparing His disciples for their kingdom work. After promising them the Holy Spirit, He was “parted from them and carried up into heaven.”
1st Meditation: Ephesians 1:15-18
Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints….
In Christ Jesus, our risen and now ascended Lord and Savior, dear fellow redeemed:
John Philip Koehler was a theologian in the Wisconsin Synod one hundred years ago. He served first as a pastor, then a Professor, and finally as the President of the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. He was a prolific writer and among his books was one on Ephesians called: Ephesians—Paul’s Rhapsody in Christ. It was while reading this volume that I first came to appreciate so greatly the first chapter of this epistle, including our sermon text this evening.
After his introduction in which Paul greets the “saints” in Ephesus and extends to them God’s “grace…and peace” (cf. Eph. 1:1-2), he goes on to complete the rest of the first chapter with just two sentences. In our English Bibles that encompasses twenty-one verses of Scripture! The first sentence is a hymn of praise to God in view of His gracious love for us in connection with Jesus Christ! Jesus is referenced at least twelve times in this one sentence as Paul reveals the depth of God’s love for us. It is a love that extends back into eternity, as He “predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ in Himself” (cf. Eph.1:5). It is a love that brought Jesus down to this world in order to secure our redemption (cf. Eph. 1:7). It is a love that led the Holy Spirit to bring us to faith, to claim us as God’s own, and to “guarantee” us “our inheritance” in heaven (cf. Eph. 1:13-14). The second sentence is a prayer, which we will identify this evening simply as PAUL’S ASCENSION PRAYER! It is comprised of two petitions, in the first of which Paul seeks for us this blessing—that we might know the hope of His calling and the riches of His inheritance!
Paul writes: “Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers.” Paul spent nearly three years in Ephesus during his third missionary journey—longer than in any other city—helping to establish that congregation. He knew these people well and took great delight in the growth of their faith and the demonstration of that faith in the form of love for one another. He could not stop thanking God for the many blessings that He had poured out upon His saints in Ephesus. It made Paul want even more to hold these fellow Christians up to God in prayer.
What did he desire most for them? It was not financial prosperity, nor was it external peace in their time—although both of those things may well have been desirable. Rather Paul prayed “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened.” Above all Paul wanted the minds and the hearts of the Ephesians to be enlightened and their faith strengthened by a complete understanding of the gospel message of God, for that would be the key to success both in this life and with regard to the life that was to come.
How so? Paul goes on to explain: “…that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.” The key to success in this life is to understand the hope that we have as we identify and fulfill the individual callings God gives us. Each one of us has several common spiritual callings by virtue of our faith in Jesus Christ. We are called into fellowship with God and each other—our calling as Christians. As such, Paul later in this Epistle urges us to walk in unity, to walk in love, to walk in light, and to walk in wisdom (cf. Eph. 4:1; 5:2, 8, 15). We are called into the family of God, and so we are God’s sons and daughters given the privilege of access directly to Him through prayer (cf. Galatians 3:26-27). We are called to represent God as His ambassadors in this world, sharing with others a message of spiritual reconciliation through Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:18-21).
My dear friends, these are not small matters, for they provide a basic framework for our individual lives and establish the overall purpose and meaning for our existence here in this world. We are not here simply to entertain ourselves and satisfy our own needs—both of which occupy the time and energy of many in this world and often at the expense of their fellowmen. We are not here simply to make a living for ourselves and our families, although that aim and purpose will be accomplished along the way as we fulfill our God-given callings. We are here for much greater purposes, and it is in the discovery of those purposes that God gives us great hope. Beyond our spiritual callings, God has specific callings for each of us. They will be related to the talents and abilities He bestows. They will be fulfilled within the families and societies of which God has made us a part. They will enable us, when pursued with diligence and faithfulness, to honor God and to bring blessings to those people around us. I had an interesting conversation about this with one of our members yesterday at the Red Cross Blood Drive. I asked her how things were going for her in her chosen profession and whether or not she liked her work. She indicated that there were times she questioned what she was doing, but that she was quite content where she was until the Lord directed her elsewhere. I mentioned the wisdom of blooming where the Lord plants you.
Sometimes we become discontented with our lives. We question what we are doing and where we are going. We can even begin to question what God is doing, and where He is leading us. At such times, let us turn to God and recognize two things—both our present and our future lie within His hands. His ultimate goal is to lead us through this life and into the glories of heaven—that inheritance the riches of which Paul prays we remember. Consequently, let us strive to fulfill our immediate callings to the best of our abilities where we are right now, trusting that God will open the doors He desires for us as the future unfolds. He is that great! He is that good! He will never forget us, but rather will place us where He wants us to be and enable us to honor Him with our efforts, while blessing others along the way.
Last night it was my privilege to share a devotion with the family of Jamie Hanel, who is currently afflicted with cancer. Jamie and his wife, Willa, mentioned that his roommate this past weekend at the hospital had died. On the evening before his death, I visited Jamie and shared a devotion with him and other family members about Jesus being the resurrection and the life (cf. John 11). Willa noted that the roommate throughout the devotion had quietly dismissed any nurse who approached so that he might concentrate on what was being said beyond the curtain. It may well have been the last devotion he ever heard. Jamie suggested that perhaps God had placed him in the hospital with his cancer for the very purpose of bringing that man a Christ-centered message just before his death. Paul prayed that we might know the hope of His calling and the riches of His inheritance! God will be with us throughout our calling in this life, and then He will bestow upon us an inheritance in heaven, which has riches far beyond what we can imagine!
Let us sing “Draw Us to Thee” (TLH 215:1, 3, 5)
2nd Meditation: Ephesians 1:19-23
…and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
Once again, in Christ Jesus, our risen and ascended Lord and Savior, dear fellow redeemed:
The second petition of PAUL’S ASCENSION PRAYER is that we might know the exceeding greatness of His power! Paul wants us to be fully aware of the extent of God’s power, for having been saved by His grace through faith in Christ, we are preserved and enabled through His power as concentrated in Christ!
Before ascending into heaven Jesus gave us, His Church, the Great Commission. He began that commission with these words, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). He did so in order to assure us both of His right to direct us, but also of His ability to help us. This is likewise the purpose of Paul’s petition.
Paul wants us to know the “exceeding greatness” of God’s power—a power that was demonstrated when He overcame death and raised His Son from the grave. He then placed Jesus “at His right hand in the heavenly places.” Paul then defines what Jesus meant when He said “all authority has been given to me.” God’s power far surpassed the power of every known thing in our universe—material and non-material, visible and invisible! Think about the power of our physical universe—the weather phenomena such as hurricanes and tornadoes, or the geographical phenomena such as earthquakes and volcanoes, of the physical phenomena such as nuclear reaction. God created all of matter and so is much more powerful than any of these. He created the unseen power of angels, and so is far greater in power than these. Consequently, as we live our lives we know that the same Jesus who stilled storms on the Sea of Galilee remains fully capable of stilling the storms of our lives; the same Jesus who healed the sick remains capable of doing so today; the same Jesus who cast out demons and demonstrated His power over Satan remains capable of protecting us from his devilish ways.
Everything has been placed under Jesus, whom Paul says God made the “head” of the church. He is, therefore, our head—the source of our every blessing and the leader whom we are to follow. As our Head He has provided us with the clear guidance of His Word, which assures us of our relationship with God, gives guidance so that we are prepared to live our lives in a good, godly, and productive fashion, and fills us with hope even in the face of the many challenges of this life.
Paul ends his prayer with a curious but deeply comforting statement. He refers to us—the Church as Christ's body, which is “the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” How can Paul say that the Church, which is made up of finite creatures, is the fullness of Jesus, who is infinite and who by His omnipresence fills all things. Yet, Paul here simply emphasizes the fact that Jesus Christ will inevitably fulfill God’s plan for our salvation. God chose us in eternity in connection with the redemptive work of Jesus Christ to become His adopted children. He sent Jesus to complete that salvation plan. He has brought us to faith, and He will not stop His work until the very last person chosen by God comes to faith and so is assured of enjoying the blessings of everlasting life! Paul prays, therefore, that we might know the exceeding greatness of His power! May we ever grow in such knowledge! Amen.
Pastor Paul D. Nolting
Soli Gloria Deo!