Christ Jesus himself said, "I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you." (John 16:7) And so Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to comfort us with the Gospel. Jesus sat down at the right hand of God the Father. This means that Jesus is out of sight, but it does not mean that Jesus is far away from us. The right hand of God is not some geographical place up in the sky. It is God's right hand of power. It means Jesus has taken his rightful place as Ruler over all creation. He is still a human being, but he is no longer in his state of humiliation. He is not limited by his humanity in his ability to be with us and help us. So Jesus at the Father's right hand still rules his Church on earth, shepherding his sheep.
St. Paul writes to the Ephesians, "[God] raised [Christ] from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all." (Ephesians 1:20-23)
Christ Jesus rules his Church today. St. Mark writes that after Jesus sat down at the right hand of God, "they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them." You see, Jesus is out of sight, but he still remains with his Church, working with the preaching of the word. Where there is the preaching of the Gospel, there is Jesus, as he himself says in Matthew 28, "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, and behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
This is why St. Luke records that after Jesus was carried up into heaven, the disciples, "worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God." (Luke 24:52) Jesus is still with his Church. He is her head. Without him, she does not exist. He still causes her to grow. He still works with his ministers today in converting unbelievers and forgiving sins.
Through his ascension, our Lord Jesus showered gifts upon his Church. St. Paul again writes to the Ephesians, "When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.... And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints, for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God." (Ephesians 4:8-13)
From the Father's right hand Jesus rules his Church and causes her to grow. He still sends his Holy Spirit today, who works through Christ's shepherds and teachers for the building up of the body of Christ. And how does Jesus rule? Our risen Lord commanded his disciples before he ascended to his throne, "Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned."
By the power of the proclamation of the Gospel Jesus rules. When the pastor proclaims the forgiveness of sins won by Christ, he does not speak on his own authority. Jesus himself forgives the sins of the penitent. By the power of Baptism Jesus rules. When a pastor baptizes a baby, the child is clothed with Christ himself and becomes an heir of the kingdom of God. Jesus rules through the Sacrament of this body and blood. When the pastor says, "Take, eat. Take, drink. Our Lord invites you to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins. God's right hand does not keep your Lord from coming to you to feed you the food of immortality. Jesus does the work. Your faith receives the work.
Jesus did the work. "It is finished," he said from the cross. All sins have been washed away in his blood. God's wrath against sinners has been completely satisfied. And Christ's resurrection and ascension to the Father prove this. There is no work left for Christ to do in his bodily ministry on earth to save sinners. All is accomplished. There remains nothing for sinners to do to save themselves, Christ has accomplished it all. The only work left to be done is to gather Christ's sheep to him. This is done through the preaching of the Gospel, through Baptism, and receiving Christ's body and blood in faith. .
And see how successful Jesus' rule is. When he roamed around Israel he gathered crowds, sure. He fed 5,000 men, not including women and children. They all heard him preach salvation. To how many does Jesus preach today? The Missouri Synod alone has an estimated 2.2 million members. And the Lutheran church throughout the world measures in many more millions. And despite the devil's best efforts, the Gospel of the free forgiveness of sins for Christ's sake is still proclaimed even within heterodox churches throughout the world, adding millions and millions more to Jesus' flock. So when Jesus was on earth he preached to many thousands at one time. Now he preaches to millions. You tell me that Jesus' ascension isn't for the good of the Church or that Jesus doesn't rule from his Father's throne.
Christ's command to preach the gospel itself is a proclamation that Jesus has done all that is necessary to save every sinner. First, Jesus does not say, "Preach the gospel to Jews and Western Europeans." He doesn't say, "Preach to some nations, I'll tell you which ones to avoid." No, Jesus says, "Go out into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation." There is not a human being to whom Jesus does not intend his disciples to preach the Gospel. And this is a very important point. If Jesus does not exclude anyone from the proclamation of the Gospel, that means that there isn't anyone for whom Jesus did not die and rise.
So take yourself. Is the gospel meant for you? Well, are you in the world? Are you a creature? Did not Jesus command that the gospel be preached to you? Is the gospel not the free forgiveness of sins won by Christ's death and resurrection? Well, then the Gospel is for you isn't it? "But I've committed some terrible sins. I lust. I covet. I speak poorly about my neighbor. I've done and said and thought things that ought not be repeated." Okay, then repent. And believe the Gospel. Jesus commanded that the Gospel be preached to you. He would not have made such a command if he did not intend for you to believe that God finds favor in you through the blood of Christ.
And Jesus did not command his disciples saying, "whoever follows my law perfectly will be saved." But rather, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved." Jesus has accomplished all that is necessary for salvation. All that remains necessary for you to be saved is to believe the Gospel and be baptized.
You might say, "well, yes, I believe. But I still sin. I sin against my God every day!" St. Paul says in response, "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 indeed is interceding for us." (Romans 8:34) And St. John writes, "My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world." (1 John 2:1-2) While Jesus rules his Church from the throne of his Father's right hand, pouring his Holy Spirit into us through his word and Sacraments, even now he intercedes for us. He intercedes for you, constantly showing his scars of salvation to the Father, proclaiming your ransom paid, your innocence won.
The angels told the disciples that Jesus would come in the same way they saw him go into heaven. And so we confess today, "From thence he will come to judge the living and the dead." This is a message of urgency. No one knows when the master will return. And so we must repent now and believe now. St. Mark writes, "Whoever does not believe will be condemned." Just as the gospel is for all people, so the rejection of the gospel means condemnation for all people. There is not one soul, who does not need the forgiving blood of Jesus. And so we should not act as if our master is far away and won't return. He will return. And he will come with judgment. His winnowing fork is in his hand and he will throw the chaff into the unquenchable fire. Do not wait until tomorrow to repent and believe. Repent of your sins now. Believe in the Gospel now. And continue to hear God's word and receive his Sacrament, so that you will be ready at his return.
And while Jesus' return does give us a sense of urgency and it is a solemn warning to those who persist in their sins and unbelief, for you who have faith in Christ, it is a message of comfort. It means that the sins and temptations that beat you down every day will pass away. Your aches and pains will be a forgotten memory. When he returns Jesus says to lift up your head for your redemption is coming near. (Luke 21:28) And St. Paul writes, "Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing." (2 Timothy 4:8)
And so even as we rest assured that Christ does still rule his Church, even from his throne in heaven, we still look forward to that glorious day when he will return as he went. On Christ's ascension we now build the hope of our own ascension. On that day of his return our faith will turn to sight. Our sorrows will turn to joy. And we will see him as he is, for we will be like him in his righteous glorious state. And we too will ascend to meet our Lord in the glory of God the Father. (1 Thessalonians 4:17) Come Lord Jesus, come quickly. Amen.