“When Our Lord Ascends, He Also Sends” (Luke 24:44-53)

The Ascension of Our Lord
Thursday, May 13, 2021

“When Our Lord Ascends, He Also Sends” (Luke 24:44-53)

Today we’re celebrating the Ascension of Our Lord. Forty days after his resurrection, our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, and so it is on this day–forty days after Easter, always on a Thursday–when we have this festival. And what I want to focus on today for our Ascension theme is this: “When Our Lord Ascends, He Also Sends.”

When our Lord ascends, he also sends. What do I mean by that? I mean that when our Lord Jesus Christ ascends into heaven, at the same time he also sends out his apostles. He sends them out as witnesses, to deliver a particular message. In Luke 24, he tells them, “You are witnesses of these things.” And in Acts 1, likewise: “You will be my witnesses.” Sending out the apostles as his witnesses–that’s what Jesus is doing here when he ascends into heaven.

Jesus sends out his apostles as witnesses. But as witnesses of what? What is to be the content of their message? In Luke 24, we heard Jesus tell the apostles, “You are witnesses of these things.” But what are the “these things” he’s referring to? Well, he had just told them what “these things” are. He said: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” This is what Jesus means by “You are witnesses of these things.”

Jesus himself tells us what the church’s witness, our public testimony, will be. In fact, this is Jesus’ summary of what the whole Bible is about. The heart and core of the Bible’s message–and thus the center of the church’s witness–zeroes in on these things: 1) “that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead,” and 2) “that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” That’s it. That’s the Bible in a nutshell, according to Jesus. This then is the content of the church’s witness: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and repentance and forgiveness proclaimed in his name.

Have you ever thought about why the Apostles’ Creed includes the items it includes? I mean, when you look at it, it seems a little out of balance. There’s a lot more in the Second Article, about Christ, than there is in the First or Third Article, about the Father or the Spirit. And even in the Second Article, look at what’s mentioned and what is skipped over. It starts out: “And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.” OK, so far, so good. We’ve established who Jesus is, that he is both true God and true man. So we have gotten as far as Christ’s birth.

But then, where does the Creed go next? Look, it zooms forward, fast forward, all the way to the end of the story, if you will: “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried,” etc. In other words, it skips over a lot of material that could have been mentioned–all the miracles, all the teachings of Jesus, and so forth. The Creed zooms right past all that and hurries on to the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ.

But then, when you look at the four gospels, that’s just where the emphasis lies there, too. In each gospel, Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, out of all the years of Jesus’ life and ministry, a disproportionate amount of space is devoted to just eight days, really–Holy Week, Palm Sunday through Holy Saturday, plus Easter Day.

But isn’t this what Jesus is saying here in our text? He himself says that this is where the emphasis should lie: “that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.” Why put the emphasis there? Because this is why Christ came. This is how he won our salvation. You and I needed a Savior, someone to rescue us from our sin and the death that results from our sin. We could not free ourselves. Only God could do that. And so God sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, to be that Savior. God in the flesh, come down from heaven. Jesus kept the Law in our place, kept it as a man. He fulfilled what we have failed to do. Jesus kept the Commandments that we have broken. Yet even though he was innocent, sinless, righteous in God’s sight, Jesus willingly went to the cross. There he died a sinner’s death as the one representative man for all sinners. He bore the judgment, the punishment that the Law requires. The righteous for the unrighteous, Christ crucified shed his holy blood for the sins of the world. That’s what Jesus is talking about here when he says “that the Christ should suffer.” This fact is essential to the church’s witness. There is no salvation without a suffering, dying Christ.

That the Christ should suffer “and on the third day rise from the dead.” This too is essential to the church’s witness–the Resurrection of Our Lord. Christ rose from the dead on the third day. On Good Friday he died; then came Holy Saturday; and then on Easter Day, the third day, he rose from the dead on that glorious Sunday. Christ demonstrated the victory over death that his death on the cross accomplished. Death could not hold him, true, for he is the almighty Son of God. But Christ’s resurrection also demonstrates what is in store for us: that death has no hold on those who belong to Christ. We share in his resurrection. We have eternal life, victory over death and the grave, because of what our Lord Jesus has done for us.

Do you see now why Jesus zeroes in on his suffering, death, and resurrection as the central content of the church’s witness? Because this is where our righteousness lies. This is where our eternal life is located. This is the focus, the pivot point, of God’s love in action, in all of human history. This is the most important thing that God wants all people everywhere to know and to believe.

So the work of Christ is then delivered in the proclamation of Christ. It is delivered and applied to each person through repentance and faith. This is the other essential part of the church’s witness, where Jesus goes on to say: “that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name.” You see, it’s one thing to say, “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, suffered and died and rose again.” OK, fine, ho-hum. I mean, it’s amazing, it’s good for Jesus, but really, ho-hum. What does that have to do with me? This is why Jesus adds, “that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name.” The proclamation brings it home. This is the preaching that calls sinners to repent of their sins, to turn from relying on themselves, and to turn instead to Christ, in faith, for the forgiveness of their sins. And this is God’s word to each one of us here today.

Yes, what about you? Do you have sins to repent of? How have you sinned against God? How have you tuned him out? Where have you failed your spouse, your children, your parents, your neighbor? How have you made yourself your own god? Have you made your own decisions about what is right and wrong, rather than obeying what God says about these things? That is sin. Put a name on it. Confess it. Grieve over your sinful condition, that you can’t just shake this stuff off. That is what it means to repent.

But then receive the forgiveness of sins. Jesus Christ died for those sins of yours, for your general sinful condition and for all the specific ways that your sinfulness manifests itself. The good news of forgiveness is being proclaimed to you again this day. Jesus suffered and died and rose from the dead for you. Forgiveness of sins is being proclaimed right now in his name to you. And the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood is here to deliver and assure you of that forgiveness.

When our Lord ascends, he also sends. When Christ ascended into heaven, he made sure to send out witnesses with a very specific message. And so the church’s witness has made it all the way to here on this Ascension Day. Christ has sent out his forgiving, life-giving gospel to people who need it. Christ our crucified, risen, and ascended Lord is still sending out this joyful witness to people just like you and me.

Published in: on May 13, 2021 at 10:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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