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Ascension (observed) 2020
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
May, 23-24, 2020
Acts 1:1-11, Ephesians 1:15-23, Luke 24:44-53

Sermons online: 
Text and Audio:         immanuelhamiltonchurch.com   click “sermons”
Text:                            pastorjud.org   
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com 
itunes:                         bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:    bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

Sunday, December 1, was the first Sunday of Advent.  It was the beginning of the new church year.  The first half of the church year is the Festival half when we remember and celebrate big events in Jesus’ life.  During Advent, we look forward to the Jesus’ arrival in two ways; His first arrival as Immanuel, “God with us,” as that baby born in Bethlehem and announced to shepherds, and His second arrival when He returns in glory on the last day.  Then comes Christmas, the Christ Mass, celebrating Jesus birth; that little, normal-looking, baby in the manger is God in flesh.  “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail, incarnate deity.  Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel.” As you know, Immanuel is Hebrew for “God with us.”

Next comes Epiphany on January 6.  Jesus is revealed to the mysterious Magi from the East.  Jesus’ identity as “God with us” is revealed to Gentiles; non-Jews as well as to the Jews.  During the season of Epiphany we recall Jesus’ baptism, His 40 days in the wilderness and temptation, His miracles, and His transfiguration which brings us to Lent. Lent is the time we remember that Jesus has to suffer and die because of our sins and also that He suffers and dies to pay for our sins and give us forgiveness.  We learn that “God with us” is also “God for us”.  Maundy Thursday brings us to Jesus transforming the Passover meal into the Lord’s Supper as He offers Himself as the sacrificial Lamb of God whose body and blood is shed for us and given to us for the forgiveness of our sins. Good Friday brings us Jesus’ death and burial.  The dark sadness of Good Friday is tempered by the knowledge of what is coming. Resurrection Sunday soon comes with the great joy of knowing that “Christ is Risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia.” Jesus, God in flesh, God with us, dies for the sins of the world and He is raised from the dead.  He is still God with us.  He appears to the women at the tomb, to his disciples, to 500 others in Jerusalem and Galilee.  Jesus is with the people.  The resurrected God in flesh is still “God with us.”

And then comes the day of Ascension 40 days after resurrection which was this past Thursday.  Jesus is going away.  “God with us” is going away from us.  The disciples who have been with Jesus for three years are very concerned.  What are they going to do?  How can they go on without Jesus there with them?

Is “God with us” going far away to be “God away from us.”?  What is Jesus’ plan?  Luke 24:45-48 (ESV) 45 Then [Jesus] opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.[1] Jesus tells the disciples that His mission is not ending, but expanding. The message of repentance first preached by John the Baptist and by Jesus will continue to be preached, by Jesus’ followers.  It will begin with the Jews in Jerusalem and expand to the people of all nations.  The disciples are the witnesses, martyrion, in Greek.  This word is where we get our word martyr, someone who dies for the faith.  The eleven remaining disciples will dedicate the rest of their lives to being witnesses to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection even while it costs ten of them their lives.

This is a huge challenge, but Jesus is not abandoning the disciples.  He continues in Luke 24:49 (ESV) 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” [2]  And from Acts 1:8 (ESV) 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”[3]

On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit comes to the followers of Jesus to reveal Jesus’ presence with us in his Word, in His sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, in His body on earth, the Church.  Jesus remains “God with us” and we know this through the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. Jesus reigns over the creation in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus remains Immanuel, “God with us.”

Have you ever had a helium balloon and let it go accidentally, or on purpose, and then watched it rise into the sky, higher and higher until you have to strain to see it and then it is gone from sight.  That is not how Jesus ascended into heaven.  Acts 1:9 (ESV) 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.[4]

Jesus ascension, is essential to our Christian faith because, along with Pentecost, the ascension signals a shift for how God, in Christ, is continually present with His people, with the Holy Spirit illuminating this reality through the gift of faith.

Jesus ascends and a cloud hides Him from their sight.  In the Bible God’s presence is often shown with a cloud.  During the exodus from Egypt the people are led by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  When Moses is on the mountain to get the Ten Commandments from God, the mountain is enveloped in a cloud.  When the Israelites built the tabernacle, God’s presence was shown by a cloud.  At Jesus’ transfiguration a cloud covers the mountain when the voice of God the Father speaks.

The cloud shows God’s presence with us.  Jesus ascends in order to reign as Lord over all.  The Lamb who was slain has begun his reign.

Jesus ascension, is essential to our Christian faith because, along with Pentecost, the ascension signals a shift for how God, in Christ, is continually present with His people, with the Holy Spirit illuminating this reality through the gift of faith.

During the time of the reformation there were some theologians who taught that since Jesus ascended into heaven in His Body there was no way that Jesus’ Body and Blood could be present in the bread and wine of Holy Communion on countless altars around the world.  It does not make sense, therefore it must not be.  How can Jesus be at the right hand of God and also, in, with and under the Bread and Wine of Holy Communion?  It is because the right hand of God is not a set place.  The right hand of God is everywhere.  Jesus is omnipresent.  It does not make sense to us, but we are not called to limit God to our understandings.

There are those who believe they must seek God in their actions, in their feelings, in their meditations; so many are seeking God through being spiritual but not religious.  But you don’t need to seek after God, God comes to you.  Martin Luther addresses this in a sermon on Jesus’ baptism.

“God has given us Baptism, the Sacrament of the Altar, and absolution to bring Christ very close to us, so that we can have Him not only in our heart but also on our tongue, so that we can feel Him, grasp Him, and touch Him. God did all this for the sake of those shameful spirits who seek God according to their own pleasure, with their reason and their own ideas and dreams. To make it possible for us to recognize Him, God presents Himself to us perceptively and clearly in signs. But we do not accept these; nor are we concerned about the divine WordAt all times God has so governed His people that He could also be recognized visibly by them, lest they say: “If it were possible to find God, we would roam to the ends of the earth in search of Him.” If you had ears to hear, it would be needless to wander far in search of God. For He wants to come to you, plant Himself before your very eyes, press Himself into your hands, and say: “Just listen to Me and take hold of Me, give Me eye and ear; there you have Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar. Open your mouth, let Me place My hand on your head. I give you this water which I sprinkle over your head.”          —Martin Luther”[5]

Advent to Pentecost is the festival half of the church year and we remember “God is with us” by remembering and celebrating events in the life of Jesus of Nazareth.  From Pentecost until Advent we have the season of the Church, or ordinary time; a time we don’t celebrate major events in Jesus’ life, but continue to learn about Jesus and what He has done for us.  It is a time to continue to live and worship in the presence of God.  It is a time to receive God’s gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation.

We have been worshipping separately from each other’s presence for some time, being the Church in a different way.  It is wonderful that we are beginning to gather together again while remaining somewhat distant.  Know that no matter if we are physically together or apart, we are one in Christ through the Holy Spirit.

Jesus, Immanuel, “God with us,” ascends in order to be present everywhere for you.  Amen.

 

 


[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[2]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[3]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[4]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[5] LW 22, John 3:25

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