Sermon: The Ascension Brings Us Joy

Text: Luke 24: 44-53 and Ephesians 1:15-23
The Ascension of Our Lord (obs.)
Listen to the Sermon here.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

No one likes saying goodbye. We have all experienced a tearful parting in our lives, whether in hospitals or airports. Sorrow fills our hearts as we bid farewell, knowing the time together has ended. Yet, when we have to say our goodbyes, we discover the weight of our love for the one leaving. Those tearful embraces remind us of the cherished memories we share. No one likes saying goodbye. It’s too sad.

Luke’s account of the disciples bidding farewell to Jesus should raise eyebrows. Instead of sadness from parting ways, the disciples “returned with great joy” (Lk 24:52). They had some reason for joy that overcame their sorrow. It was a joyful goodbye. Today we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord. To understand why the Ascension matters, we must examine why it brought such immense joy to the disciples.

…Because Christ Reigns As King

The Ascension of Jesus brings us joy because it means that Jesus reigns as king. The Father “exercised [his] power in Christ by raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens—far above every ruler and authority, power and dominion, and every title given, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Ep 1:20-21). The long-expected king, whom the prophets of the Old Testament foretold, is the man who was born of the Virgin Mary, nailed to the cross, and raised from the dead. He has defeated death forever. The victory over sin and Death is won. Death has lost its sting, and sin has lost its power. The Law is fulfilled.

Christ has triumphed; the King returned to His city and throne to sit and reign. What a coronation day that must have been! There never was before, nor will there be again, a coronation day like that! “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ,  and he will reign forever and ever” (Re 11:15). Jesus Christ is the king of the universe, and there is nothing Satan can do about it. But he will try to put the wool over your eyes so that a hundred things, which will all fade  away, seem to shine more brightly than Jesus. “Resist him, firm in the faith.” (1 Pe 5:9).

But the Ascension tells you that Jesus is King, and you owe him your love and loyalty. Jesus is the kind of King who deserves our obedience. He is the kind of King we acknowledge not only with our time and money but also with our adoration and worship. He is your greatest treasure — a King so good that you would gladly sell all that you have to be his servant (Mt 13:44). He comes first. Your first concerns should never be about money, convenience, or what you want. Your first concern should always be what Christ has commanded you to do.

The Ascension tells us that Christ is still in charge. He reigns. God “subjected everything under his feet and appointed him as head over everything for the church” (Ep 1:22). The same Jesus who welcomed the sinners, who suffered and died in shame and rejection by this world, is now exalted into the very presence of God himself, and he governs and rules everything in the interest of his Church, for your benefit. All things are under his control and will work out for your good.

That’s so important for us today. An uncertain future lies ahead of you, and that is already the cause of fear and stress. That’s not even including the chaos of living in this world filled with suffering, sickness, and death. But you can have joy because Christ now reigns over this mess. Jesus Christ is Lord of the Church. He reigns over every king, every authority, every premiere, every mayor, over the angels, the devils, you name it, he reigns over it. They are all under his feet, the same feet nailed to a cross to save you. He is ruling and governing all things for the good of his Church. For you, individually and for you collectively. When you hurt, he knows it. Your King Jesus knows your weaknesses and needs and will give you the strength to endure until the end. Precious souls are still being gathered into Christ’s Church and nurtured here. So take heart. Rejoice. Jesus Christ is Lord of the Church and knows what he’s doing. You do not need to fear the future, death, the devil, or the world with all its hostility. Christ has ascended into heaven, and He reigns!

…Because Christ Remains With Us

The Ascension of Jesus also brings us joy because Christ remains with us.   He is present among us through the ministry of the Church. Not only has he won your forgiveness and salvation through his death and resurrection, but his Ascension shows that he has not left you on your own. Jesus has not gone away and forgotten you. He promised, “I will never leave you or abandon you” (He 13:5). “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt 28:20). He ascended into heaven so that he could be with all his people, at all times, and in all places. He is “the one who fills all things in every way” (Eph 1:23). There is no place where he is not present.  Jesus Christ, always true God and true man, is still with us and present everywhere. He may be present everywhere, but he is not present everywhere for you.  He has promised to be present in a special way in and through the Church’s ministry.

You cannot see Him, but He can be heard in His Word preached to you. What word is that? Jesus commanded that “repentance for forgiveness of sins will be proclaimed in his name to all the nations” (Lk 24:47). This is why we have a church in the first place, so that sin would be rebuked, people may repent, and forgiveness of sins would be preached and heard and believed and lived. Repentance means acknowledging your sin and guilt and crying out to God for his mercy. And then Jesus wants you to hear that your sins are forgiven in his name. God has compassion for you through his Son. Jesus Christ has won forgiveness for your sins, all of them, by his death on the cross, and he offers you forgiveness free of charge through the preaching of the gospel. Christ wants you to trust him and then go into the world and tell others that they need to repent and that in Christ, there is forgiveness. 

You cannot see Him, but He can be recognized in the Breaking of the Bread. The true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ are present under the bread and wine, for us Christians to eat and to drink. You cannot see Him, but He is with you always, to the end of the age. What you now take on faith, you will see with your eyes one Day. But now you must trust what God has promised you in his Word. That is the essence of faith. Ever since Jesus ascended, we continue to encounter Jesus through the preaching of the Word and in the Sacraments. He dwells in our hearts by faith. Jesus is present where two or three are gathered in his name, even in the fellowship of the Church. He is present through pastors who are authorized to preach, absolve, baptize, and give out his body and blood in his name. He is present in your neighbors for you to love and serve. Jesus is still present with us. There is nowhere in heaven and on earth where he is not because he “fills all things in every way.” 

No one likes saying goodbye. But the Ascension of Jesus brings us joy. It brings joy because Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords and shall reign forever. The Ascension also brings us joy because Christ hasn’t left us. He is still present in Word and Sacrament, calling us to repent and be forgiven. The Ascension assures us that Jesus has gone to heaven to prepare a place for us. In the meantime, the Church throughout the world continues his work of proclaiming “repentance for  the forgiveness of sins” in Jesus’ name until he comes.

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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