Ascension Day (Observed) and Confirmation Sunday
Mark 16:14-20 and Acts 1:1-11
Pastor James Preus
Trinity Lutheran Church
May 21, 2023
Imagine you lived two thousand years ago in a village in Israel, going about your daily work. And then, you saw a great crowd come into your village. The multitude was following a man, Jesus of Nazareth, who healed the sick, raised the dead, even forgave sins, and proclaimed the way of salvation for all people. Would you follow Him? Would you drop your work and go to Him and listen to His words and become His disciple?
Of course, you would! What Christian today would say no? But too bad we can’t follow Him today, right? Jesus has ascended into heaven. He is out of our sight, sitting at the Father’s right hand. Jesus is as far away from us as the heavens are from the earth. So, we can’t follow Him anymore, right? Wrong! Yes, Jesus ascended into heaven, so that we cannot see His physical form anymore. Yet, Jesus is still with us on this earth, even as He is in heaven at the right hand of God the Father.
Yet, how can this be? How can Jesus be both at the Father’s right hand in heaven and here on earth? Because Jesus is true God and true man. His human nature and His divine nature have been inextricably joined in a personal union, so that wherever Christ is, He is there as both God and man.
Some claim since Jesus is a human, His human body must be restricted to space and time as our human bodies are. Therefore, Jesus cannot be with us here on earth in His human nature, but only in His divine nature, while His human body remains as far from us as the heavens are from the earth. But this teaching draws a monstrous Jesus, which the Bible does not teach! A Christ, who is in some places a man and in other places as God. They resurrect the ancient condemned heresy of Nestorianism, which separated the divine and human natures of Christ, so that one could exist apart from the other.
But if Christ is here on earth only in His divine nature and not in His human nature, then He is not with us as the crucified one! And if He is not with us as the crucified one, then we are still in our sins! No, we hold that Christ is true God and true man everywhere He is. Being true God, He can be anywhere and everywhere at once. And anywhere and everywhere He is, He is also true man. Jesus did not ascend to the Father, so that He would be kept away from us. Jesus ascended to the Father’s right Hand of power, so that He can be with us always, even to the end of the age. Jesus has ascended to the Father’s right hand, so that He might be for us here on earth our Prophet, Priest, and King.
From His glorious throne in heaven, Jesus serves as our Prophet. A prophet speaks God’s Word. Jesus is the Prophet of prophets, the very source of God’s Word. And being at the Father’s right hand of power, Christ makes clear to us that He is with us here on earth through His Word. In Matthew chapter 28, after giving the command to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching the to observe all that He commanded them, Jesus says, “And behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” And in our Gospel lesson, it says that after Jesus ascended into heaven, “they went and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them…” The Lord worked with their preaching! In another place Jesus says, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:20)
So, Jesus promises to be with us through His Word. Even more, He tells us that if we do not have His Word, then we do not have Him. Jesus says in John 8, “If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” And again, Jesus says in John 14, “If anyone loves Me, He will keep My Word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love Me does not keep My words.” And St. Paul tells us that saving faith comes through hearing the words of Christ (Romans 10:17). This is why our confirmands promise before God and the congregation that they will continue to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully.
So, you certainly can be Jesus’ disciple today. You are Jesus’ disciple by hearing His Word and believing it. And when you believe Jesus’ Word, you are not a disciple of an absent Christ, but of a Christ who actively works through His Word. Jesus says, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” Baptism is not your work, but Jesus’ work. When you were baptized, Jesus baptized you. This is a powerful work, which has given you the Holy Spirit and joined you to Christ’s death and resurrection. And when you receive the Lord’s Supper, it is not the words of the minister that make the bread and wine Christ’s body and blood. It is Jesus’ words, which the minister repeats. Christ’s Word is powerful to forgive your sins and sustain you in the faith.
And this is all possible, because Jesus has ascended to the Father’s right hand. after having suffered and died for all your sins, conquering sin, death, and Satan on your behalf. Christ’s ascension gives you certainty that His Word is powerful, because He has accomplished everything for your salvation.
From His glorious throne in heaven, Jesus serves as our eternal Priest. A priest makes intercession to God on behalf of people. He does this by offering sacrifices, as the Levitical priests did in the Old Testament. Jesus offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sins, once and for all, as the apostle writes in Hebrews chapter 9, “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) He entered once and for all into the holy places, not by the means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”
Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross did what countless sacrifices of bulls, goats, and sheep could never do, even if they were sacrificed everyday for the rest of eternity. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross made atonement for the sins of the whole world, which means your debt is paid. God’s wrath is taken away. And not only did Jesus make this payment on the cross, but now as He sits at the Father’s right hand, He is constantly making intercession for you as your High Priest. St. Paul writes, “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who is indeed interceding for us.” (Romans 8:34) Christ Jesus at all times shows His Father His pierced hands and side and tells Him of His spilt blood for your sake, how He has paid for your sins. And the Father agrees with His Son. Again, St. Paul writes, “There is one God and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 2:5)
In the Old Testament, the priests and the priests’ families were fed the food offered on the altar. All who partook of the food were holy. Jesus, our High Priest offers us Himself as food and drink, spiritually and sacramentally, so that we have fellowship with Him and are holy. Jesus says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35) This shows that whoever has faith in Christ partakes spiritually of the sacrifice offered for all sins once and for all. This means that when you hear the preaching of the Gospel and believe it, you are feasting on holy food from the altar of the cross, which only members of a royal priesthood may eat. Jesus also said, “Take, eat. This is my body. Drink of it all of you, this cup is the new testament in my blood which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” In this way, Christ feeds us His sacramental body and blood as a pledge of the forgiveness of sins, which He won for us on the cross. Through faithfully believing Jesus’ Word and receiving His Sacrament, you are communing with the great High Priest and are made holy.
And through faith in Christ, you are a member of this royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). Which means that you offer up your own sacrifices to the Lord. These are not sacrifices, which pay for your sins. Only Jesus’ self-sacrifice on the cross pays for sins. The sacrifices you offer are sacrifices of thanksgiving and prayer. And because of Christ’s intercession for you, you have certainty that God hears all your prayers and accepts all your sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving.
From His glorious throne, Jesus reigns as our King. Jesus’ disciples thought that Jesus was going to establish an earthly kingdom. They didn’t know what they were talking about. Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). Yet, Christ does establish His heavenly kingdom on this earth, His kingdom of grace. Jesus’ kingdom of grace is His Holy Christian Church on earth. People live in Jesus’ kingdom of grace by faithfully hearing and believing His Word and receiving His Sacraments.
Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, He cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5) Again, Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” We enter the kingdom of Christ here on earth through Baptism and faith in Christ. Christ rules over us as our King by teaching and preaching to us. He corrects us and brings us to repent of our sins. And He forgives us and gives us certainty of our salvation. And He prepares a place for us in heaven, where we will leave His kingdom of grace and enter His kingdom of glory.
On the Last Day, Jesus will come in glory and rule. He will no longer rule through faith, but we will see Him as He is. Only those who lived in His kingdom of grace will enter His kingdom of glory. Yet, every rule and authority on earth will be abolished forever. Christ will reign, and He alone.
Jesus ascended into heaven, so that He could be your Prophet, Priest, and King while you live here on earth. He ascended into heaven so that you could be His disciple now. By recognizing Jesus as your Prophet, the one who teaches you God’s Word, as your Priest, the one who makes intercession for you to God the Father, and as your King, the one who rules your heart and mind, you will remain Jesus’ disciple, until He grants you everlasting life. May God grant you His Holy Spirit, so that you will remain Christ’s disciple here on earth and into eternity. Amen.
Let us pray.
Praise to Thee and adoration, Blessed Jesus, Son of God
Who, to serve Thine own creation, Didsts partake of flesh and blood.
Teach me that I never may From Thy fold or pastures stray,
But with zeal and joy exceeding Follow where Thy steps are leading.
Let me never, Lord, forsake Thee, E’en tho’ bitter pain and strife
On my way shall overtake me; But may I thro’ all my life
Walk in fervent love to Thee, In all woes and comforts flee
To Thy birth, Thy death, and Passion Till I see Thy full salvation.