“Lifting Up His Hands He Blessed Them” (Luke 24:44-53)

The Ascension of Our Lord
Thursday, May 26, 2022

“Lifting Up His Hands He Blessed Them” (Luke 24:44-53)

Reading again from the Holy Gospel for the Ascension of Our Lord, from Luke 24: “Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.” Today we consider those hands of Jesus, the hands with which he blessed his disciples, as he ascended into heaven. For what Jesus did back then, he does for us, too. And so our theme on this Ascension Day: “Lifting Up His Hands He Blessed Them.”

But why did Jesus lift up his hands as he blessed them? After all, to give a blessing does not require the use of hands but of mouth. To “bless” means to “speak good things.” It’s a verbal action, in which words are spoken. The Old Testament priests spoke the Aaronic Benediction over the people of Israel. Here, the Lord Jesus, who is a priest forever, blesses his disciples by speaking words over them. He speaks good things upon them. To speak a blessing in the name of the Lord actually confers God’s blessing on the people being blessed. And to speak, you use your mouth.

So what’s up with the hands? Why did the priests in the Old Testament or Jesus, here, lift up their hands as they spoke a blessing? This gesture of the hands conveys what was really going on: The Lord God was bestowing his blessing upon his people. The blessing was coming down from heaven, from God, in his name. It was being poured out on, directed toward, conferred upon, the persons who were getting the blessing. The action of the hands matched the content of the words.

And so Jesus, at his ascension into heaven to sit at the right hand of God, the place of all authority–Jesus lifts up his hands as a sign of the blessing coming down from heaven. The blessing is conferred, as Jesus speaks his authoritative word, which bestows the blessing.

Well, that explains Jesus’ gesture of lifting up his hands as he blesses the disciples. But what sort of blessing does Jesus give? What are the good things that he speaks and bestows? His hands will give us an idea. What have these hands of Jesus been doing up to this point? How has Jesus used his hands during his ministry to bless people? Let’s find out. Let’s review Jesus’ ministry. Think of all the places where Jesus’ hands are mentioned, where he’s described as touching something or someone. The things Jesus does with his hands are the kinds of good things he bestows when he blesses us.

So, what has Jesus been doing with his hands from the start of his ministry up to his ascension? Right away, Jesus was using his hands to bless people. He was blessing people in every way, body, soul, and spirit. A leper comes to Jesus, pleading, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Jesus stretches out his hand, touches him, and makes him clean. Peter’s mother-in-law was sick with a fever. Jesus touches her hand, and the fever leaves her. That evening, all kinds of sick people were brought to Jesus. He lays his hands on every one of them, and he heals them.

Hands of healing, hands of blessing. Hands of life. Jairus comes to Jesus and begs: “My little daughter is dying. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” When Jesus gets there, the girl is already dead. But Jesus takes her by the hand and says, “Talitha cumi,” “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And she does. Jesus does the same thing when he touches the funeral bier of the widow of Nain’s son and raises him from the dead. “Young man, I say to you, arise.”

People are astonished at the things Jesus is doing. They wonder about him: “How are such mighty works done by his hands?” The authority of Jesus, in his word and in his touch, is amazing. These mighty works of blessing and healing and giving life–this man must be getting these things from God.

There’s more. A deaf man with a speech impediment–Jesus puts his fingers into his ears, spits, and touches the man’s tongue. “Ephphatha,” “Be opened.” And they are, his ears are opened and his tongue is loosed. People bring a blind man to Jesus. They beg him to touch him. Jesus spits on the man’s eyes, lays hands on him, and the man sees clearly. The hands of Jesus give people ears to hear, eyes to see, tongues to speak.

Jesus is out teaching the crowds. It’s late. They’re hungry. Jesus takes some food in his hands–five loaves, two fish. He speaks a blessing, and five thousand people eat and are satisfied. When Jesus takes bread in his hands and blesses it, great things happen.

The hands of Jesus rescue and lift up. Peter starts to walk out onto the sea. He’s afraid and begins to sink. “Lord, save me!” Jesus reaches out his hand and takes hold of him. The disciples are seeing just who this Jesus is: “Truly you are the Son of God.” Again, on the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John are afraid. The glory is too much for them. They fall on their faces, terrified. But Jesus comes and touches them, and says, “Rise, and have no fear.” A reassuring touch from Jesus. His words and his hands relieve their fear.

They come down the mountain. Jesus casts a demon out of a boy. The demon leaves him like a corpse. Jesus takes the boy by the hand and lifts him up. Likewise, a woman with a disabling spirit. Her body is all bent over. Jesus speaks a freeing word to her and lays hands on her, and her body is made straight. Jesus’ hands and his word have authority over the demonic realm, which wishes to cause us harm.

The hands of Jesus bless all who come to him, all who are brought to him, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem. People bring little children to Jesus, to have him touch them and bless them. “And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.” Two blind men sit by the side of the road. “Kyrie, eleison,” they cry. “Lord, have mercy on us.” Jesus touches their eyes, they recover their sight, and they follow him. The healing touch of Jesus.

Then to Jerusalem for the Passover meal. Jesus’ hands now are holding a towel. He gets down on his knees and washes the disciples’ feet. The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve. At the end of the meal, he takes bread in his hands and blesses it: “This is my body, given for you.” He takes the cup: “This is my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Later that evening, Peter cuts off the ear of one of those who came to arrest Jesus. But Jesus touches the man’s ear and heals it. We see the serving, life-giving, merciful touch of our Lord, in his hands.

What blessings Jesus bestows with his hands! Healing the sick from every kind of disease. Delivering people from demons, freeing the afflicted. Raising the dead with a word and a touch. Feeding the multitudes with the bread of life. Rescuing and reassuring fearful disciples. Blessing little children. What hands of blessing Jesus has!

But how can we know these hands of blessing are meant for us? I mean, that was then, but this is now. What about us? How can I know that Jesus lifts his hands in blessing over me? How can I be sure that Jesus wants to bless someone as sinful as I am?

Well, take another look at those hands. Where do we see them a little later, after all the healings and the miracles? We see his hands nailed to a cross. But, oh, what mighty works are being done by those nail-pierced hands! Jesus Christ is bearing all the sins of the world in his hands–your sins included. This is how you can know that all of Christ’s blessings are meant for sinners just like you and me. Take a look at his hands.

That’s what Jesus does when he rises from the dead. He comes to his fearful disciples and shows them his hands. He wants them to know it’s really him–it’s not a ghost. And those nail marks are not a sign of defeat. They’re a sign of victory. Our risen Lord always wants to be known by those nail marks in his hands. They show his finished victory over sin and death and everything that would harm you and cause you to fear. The hands of Jesus show that death is undone. Even the grave could not stop him or keep his life from bursting forth. Take a look at his hands. Here is life for you.

So now, at his ascension, when we see the hands of Jesus lifted up in blessing, we know the blessing that he’s bestowing, and that he’s bestowing it on us. It is forgiveness of sins, won for us on the cross. It is eternal life, guaranteed by his resurrection. It is reassurance for when we are afraid.

And it is his blessing resting on the church. The ascended Lord sends out his church in his name to take the gospel into all the world. Jesus is blessing the mission of the church at his ascension. Having ascended, Jesus now is seated at the right hand of the Father, ruling all things for the good of the church. The uplifted hands of Jesus at his ascension show that he will bless his church, as we carry out the mission he has given us.

Dear friends, our ascended Lord blesses us with every blessing. He speaks good things upon us. His hands are lifted up, bestowing every good upon us. The nail marks in his hands show that even poor sinners are included. And once again tonight, our Lord takes the bread and the cup in his hands to bless us with the bread of life and the cup of salvation. Yes, risen, ascended, and now seated at the right hand of God, our Lord Jesus Christ is lifting up his hands of blessing over you tonight.

Published in: on May 26, 2022 at 11:24 am  Leave a Comment  
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