SERMON FOR ASCENSION DAY, 5-14-2015 AT LMC
Reverend Dr. Brian German


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


“Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”

Forty days goes by pretty quickly when the calendar is packed. Again and again the disciples interacted with the risen Lord: they went fishing; they ate meals together; they heard him teach; they studied Christ in all the scriptures. True, the visits were unannounced, but sometimes those are the best kind. There were actually “many proofs” of the resurrection, Luke tells us somewhat cryptically—one thinks of the over 500 witnesses mentioned by Paul—and John adds that all the libraries in the world wouldn’t be able to hold the books that could have been written.


But in the midst of group discussions and broiled fish, the ascension was still a bit foggy. A good intensive leaves questions for further study, and the disciples wanted to follow up on the nature of the kingdom.


“Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”  When, exactly, should we expect you to act? There are, after all, wars and rumors of wars…an earthquake in Nepal and a tornado in South Dakota. We work with deadlines and due dates. If we had an idea of when you plan on making right what has gone wrong, it would help us cope with being away from you…


“It is not for you to know times and seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority,” our Lord says. It hasn’t been given to you to look into these things, lest you miss the point. It hasn’t been given to us to treat the book of Revelation like a secret timeline to be decoded, lest we begin to focus more on the details of the itinerary than on the destination that is already ours in Christ. Concerning the day and hour, not even the Son knows.

SERMON FOR ASCENSION DAY, 5-14-2015 AT LMC
Reverend Dr. Brian German


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


“Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”

Forty days goes by pretty quickly when the calendar is packed. Again and again the disciples interacted with the risen Lord: they went fishing; they ate meals together; they heard him teach; they studied Christ in all the scriptures. True, the visits were unannounced, but sometimes those are the best kind. There were actually “many proofs” of the resurrection, Luke tells us somewhat cryptically—one thinks of the over 500 witnesses mentioned by Paul—and John adds that all the libraries in the world wouldn’t be able to hold the books that could have been written.


But in the midst of group discussions and broiled fish, the ascension was still a bit foggy. A good intensive leaves questions for further study, and the disciples wanted to follow up on the nature of the kingdom.


“Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”  When, exactly, should we expect you to act? There are, after all, wars and rumors of wars…an earthquake in Nepal and a tornado in South Dakota. We work with deadlines and due dates. If we had an idea of when you plan on making right what has gone wrong, it would help us cope with being away from you…


“It is not for you to know times and seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority,” our Lord says. It hasn’t been given to you to look into these things, lest you miss the point. It hasn’t been given to us to treat the book of Revelation like a secret timeline to be decoded, lest we begin to focus more on the details of the itinerary than on the destination that is already ours in Christ. Concerning the day and hour, not even the Son knows.


“Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”  You did, after all, teach and preach very much about a new kingdom, from your parables to your passion to the past forty days with us. We, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, were hoping that you would be the one to redeem Israel. Perhaps you could assure us of this by inaugurating something of the kingdom described by the prophets, or at least bringing about a higher percentage of Christians in our land. The statistics are unsettling…


“[W]ait for the promise of the Father, which…‘you heard from me.’”  Then, “Go into all the world, and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”  It is the Lord’s church, and He will build it when and where He pleases. Luther once compared the spread of Christianity to the movement of a storm cloud: “[it’s] like a pelting rain that [goes] on from place to place. What it hits it hits; what it misses it misses.”  So, preach the word. You will be my witnesses to the end of the earth.


“Lord, will you at this time…take your human nature far, far away from us?”  This, after all, is what some churches even today teach about the ascension: that our Lord’s human nature would now be tucked away, almost imprisoned, in a distant corner of heaven. But this, too, only waters down the ascension to the point that it ends up diluting the very cup that we bless.


Lord, will you at this time…no longer hear us when we call to you? We can’t do this alone. The gospel will bring division. Even our own family members don’t believe the same things about you. Don’t turn a deaf ear to us now. Your servants are stressed. At times we don’t sleep well. Our past sins haunt us, too. We haven’t spoken up for you like we should – we continue to worry what others will think. We hit breaking points; we try to justify our actions. We see the stars at night and wonder if you even care…


“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?”  Sons and daughters of Adam, why do you so easily look for comfort in places outside of where our Lord has promised to give it?


Tonight we rejoice that our Lord has gone to sit at the right hand of God the Father almighty to rule all things in heaven and on earth as both God and man. Jesus now fills and occupies every aspect of the church’s life. You won’t find him in times or seasons or in a better government or in the lofty heights of empty philosophies or in any sort of release that this world has to offer. Don’t look for him in the distant heavens because He’s busy taking bits of heaven and placing them into the mouths of his people throughout the entire world. Christ ascends in order to be closer to us than ever before.


Or was it only a coincidence that “when he had said these things…a cloud took him out of their sight”? In the wilderness journey, the Lord’s presence was in a pillar of cloud. At Mt. Sinai, the Lord’s glory was in a cloud. With Moses, God’s speech came out of a cloud. When the tabernacle and temple were completed, God blessed the work with a cloud. If you would like to know where the presence and the glory and the blessings of the Lord now reside look to the person of Jesus. You’ll find him taking the moisture of the cloud and placing it in every baptismal font throughout the world. He’s closer now than ever.


Or should we suppose that Elijah’s ascension into heaven had nothing to do with our Lord’s ascension? After Elijah was taken up in a fiery chariot God was even more powerfully at work through Elijah’s disciple, Elisha, who was given a twofold portion—literally “a double mouthful”—of the spirit. So also the greater Elijah, our Lord Jesus, promised His disciples that they would do even “greater things” after He ascended. Those “greater things” would be accompanied by signs and miracles, yes, but even those can become idolized and did. The ultimate “greater things” happen when the church’s one Shepherd forgives sins and creates life through his undershepherds throughout the world. “[T]hey went out and preached everywhere,” Mark writes, “while the Lord worked with them….”  Things haven’t changed a bit. He’s closer now than ever.


Or should we assume that our Lord’s ascension removes him from what is going on in our lives? To ascend to the right hand of God is not only to deliver God’s gifts to the world but also to serve as our High Priest, standing in the holy of holies, as it were, interceding for us. He takes our weak and wavering prayers and voices them to Father on our behalf. He spends long nights praying that you would be kept in the baptismal name; that you may be one with him, that you may be made holy by the Word that enters your ears and purifies your heart. He asks our Father not to keep track of our sins but to look at the drops of blood shed for us. So what is it that weighs your heart down the most? Yes, He takes that too, and presents it to our Father, and He is heard. He’s closer to us now than ever.


It intrigues me that not every gospel writer mentions the ascension. Tonight we heard from the two who do mention it: Mark and Luke. But Matthew and John each have a way of telling us more about it without actually giving us an account of it. For Matthew, the point is that Jesus never left: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  For John, the language of the ascension, this being “lifted up,” is woven into the passion narrative; the two can’t be separated.


The ascended Lord is the crucified Lord, and this, dear Christians, is because…our pride cannot ascend to heaven with the Master of humility; the evil that we do cannot come close to the Author of goodness; our discord will not mesh with the Prince of Peace; our lust has no place with the Son of the Virgin; our sin just cannot be in the presence of the Holy One. “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”  He will return on the clouds, yes, but He will also return with nail marks in his hands and a gash in his side - as both God and man. In the meantime, he’ll be closer than ever.


“Therefore, brothers [and sisters in Christ], since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus…and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering…. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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