“Ascended and Still Present” (Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:15-23)

The Ascension of Our Lord
Thursday, May 21, 2020

“Ascended and Still Present” (Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:15-23)

Where is Jesus, and what is he doing? That’s a good question to ask on this Ascension Day. Where did Jesus go when he ascended, and what is he doing now? Alright, you say, I know the answer to that; we just confessed it in the Creed: “He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” OK, fine, but what’s the big deal about that? Is that enough to have a whole special festival service, to come out and have church on a Thursday? Well, I would say, yes. But I want you to be able to say yes, too. I want you to know why the church historically makes a big deal about this day–more than just, “Well, it’s forty days past Easter and that’s when Ascension falls on the calendar.” Today then, let’s find out where Jesus is, what he’s doing, and what this means for us, under the theme: “Ascended and Still Present.”

In the Ascension account at the end of Luke, it says that Jesus “parted from them and was carried up into heaven.” Likewise, in the account at the beginning of Acts, it says that Jesus “was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight,” and the angels tell the disciples that this Jesus “was taken up from you into heaven.” The reading from Ephesians says that God “raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.” Alright, well, there you have it: Jesus ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. What we say in the Creed is simply restating what the New Testament tells us. But that still leaves us wondering: What does all of this mean, and why is it so important?

What does it mean that Jesus ascended into heaven and sits at God’s right hand? Does it mean simply that Jesus is up there taking a break, like he’s on vacation for a couple thousand years until he comes back? Does it mean that Jesus has been taken away from us? Oh, if only we had been so lucky to have been with him for a few years, like those disciples were. Oh, well, now he’s gone, and we’ll just have to muddle through somehow. Is that it? Does Jesus’ ascent into heaven mean that he is absent from us now? He’s up there in heaven, we’re down here on earth, and so I guess we’re on our own. Jesus, missing in action. Out of sight, out of mind.

Nothing could be further from the truth! First of all, let’s understand what it means that he “ascended into heaven.” To be sure, it does mean that Jesus rose up into the sky, bodily, in view of his disciples, on that day long ago, some forty days after Easter. Jesus had told his disciples that he would be going away. “I’m returning to my Father,” he had told them. Jesus said that the Father would glorify him upon the completion of his saving mission. And that’s what’s been taking place. Starting on Easter, Jesus appeared to his disciples over a period of forty days. He met with them. He taught them. He let them touch his hands and his side, which bore the marks of his crucifixion, those holy wounds by which he won our salvation. So the Ascension is part of the exaltation of Christ, his glorification. It shows the Father’s approval of what the Son has done in dying for the sins of the world. God is saying yes to that. It shows the victory of the cross. Ascension Day is Christ’s triumph day. He is being received into heaven with a “Job well done!” “Welcome home, Son!” And the angels are rejoicing.

But there’s more. Christ ascends into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. “The right hand”: In the biblical way of thinking, to be seated at the right hand of a great king means to exercise royal authority. It is to be the king’s “right-hand man.” Why the right hand? Because for most people, the right hand is the dominant hand, the hand with which we do stuff. So for Christ to be seated at God’s right hand means that he is exercising authority–divine, heavenly power and authority. That’s where Jesus is right now, and that’s what he’s doing.

Now this is great! This is tremendous! Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ right now is ruling all things in heaven and on earth. He is Lord of all! And this is what the reading from Ephesians is saying: that God raised Christ from the dead and seated him 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, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

So Jesus Christ now is ruling all things for the sake of his church. That’s us! Christ is ruling all things for us, for our good. We as the church are Christ’s body. We are intimately connected to him. He is the head, we are his body, and he is head over everything. All rule, all authority, all power and dominion, belong to our risen and exalted Lord Jesus Christ. And he is graciously exercising his rule on our behalf. Along those lines, I came across this quote that I really like: “The Ascension is not Jesus going away; it is Jesus assuming his position as leader of the Church’s life.”

What’s more, when Jesus ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of Father, he went there as our brother and our high priest. Christ is both true God and true man, and so now, with him ascended to the throne room of God, we have a friend in high places. Jesus knows our weaknesses, and he is interceding for us. Christ is praying for you. He is on our side, he has the Father’s ear, and he’s able to help in every time of need. Jesus is our heavenly high priest. Like the high priest of old who went into the Holy of Holies with the blood of the atonement, so Jesus enters heaven and presents his blood as the perfect sacrifice for our sins.

Our ascended Lord is seated at the right hand of God, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion. But does his being “far above” mean that he is “far away”? Does Jesus’ absence from our sight mean that he is somehow distant and detached? Triumphant, yes. Transcendent, yes. But is he rather cold and aloof, being so far removed from us, way up there in heaven? Is that the meaning of Christ’s ascension? By no means!

You see, it is not a contradiction to say that Jesus is both “far above” and “here and near.” Both “far above” and “here and near”! Think of the Great Commission, in Matthew 28. There the risen Lord meets with his disciples and says: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Do you see? There it is, both sides of the coin. “All authority”? Yes, Christ has it. He is exalted, and he will sit at the right hand of the Father. There’s the “far above.” But then, in the very next breath, he says: “And behold, I am with you always.” “With you”! Jesus is here with us! There is the “here and near”! You see, they’re both true! Our ascended Lord is both “far above” and “here and near.” These are two sides of the same beautiful gospel coin!

Think of it. Remember what Jesus said? “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” You see, Jesus is here, present among us, right now, for we are gathered here in his name. Christ is here, present among us, present to save, present to bless, here to forgive your sins, here to give you life, for this is where his name is.

Oh, and one more thing. Think of Jesus’ words, “This is my body, this is my blood.” Those words are still true, even as we celebrate our Lord’s ascension into heaven. That Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father does not mean that he is limited to one small area of space off in some distant galaxy somewhere. No, Christ is here. And in particular, he is here in his sacrament. Jesus gives us his body and his blood at this altar, for us Christians to eat and to drink. And so in the Lord’s Supper we receive his benefits of forgiveness, and life, and salvation. Yes, Christ’s true body and blood are here, really present in this sacrament, for you.

Where is Jesus, and what is he doing? Our exalted Savior has ascended into heaven and is seated now at the right hand of his Father. This shows us that he has won the victory over death for us, and he will come again one day to bring us to himself. We share in his resurrection and eternal life. Jesus now is at the right hand of the Father, interceding for us. He is our brother and our sympathetic high priest. Jesus right now is ruling all things in heaven and on earth for the sake of his beloved church. All of this is very good news!

Jesus is “far above.” He’s far above all other rule and power, exercising divine, heavenly authority for our good. And at the same time, Jesus also is “here and near.” He is here among us, present with his church, present to bless you, God’s children. Yes, your Savior is here, with you in your trials and difficulties. He is walking with you all the way. And Jesus is here with his church, seeing us through the days ahead. Christ could not be any closer.

Where is Jesus, and what is he doing? He is both “far above” and “here and near.” He is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he is also here among his people. This is Jesus, this is our Savior, continuing to bless and guide us. Yes, on this Ascension Day, we rejoice to know that Christ is both “Ascended and Still Present.”

Published in: on May 20, 2020 at 10:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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