May 23, 2020
For additional readings, please go to: https://sanctus.org/2020/05/21
So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs. ~ Mark 16:19-20
Jesus ascended to the right hand of God the Father, yet St. Mark tells us that he continued to work with his disciples. This is difficult for us to understand. If Jesus has ascended into heaven and is seated at God’s right hand, how can he be with his Church here on earth? Many try to reconcile this by saying that Jesus’ human body is up in heaven at God’s right hand, but his divine nature can be anywhere. So, while Jesus’ body must stay up in heaven, Jesus’ divine spirit can be with us down here on earth. This is the conclusion of many, because Jesus is a human and a human can only be in one place at one time.
Yet, this creates serious problems. We confess one Lord Jesus Christ, not one Lord Jesus who is human and another Lord Jesus who is divine. The divine Lord Jesus and the human Lord Jesus are one and the same Lord Jesus. John’s Gospel tells us that “the Word became flesh.” (John 1:14) The divine Word did not simply possess human flesh for a while, but became flesh. The Son of God assumed human nature, so that he truly is and always will be a human being. This is why the angel Gabriel told Mary that the child to be born to here will be called, “the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35) The Virgin Mary gave birth to God’s Son.
When we speak of Jesus Christ, we always speak of him as both human and divine. He is a man and he is God. Whatever he does as a man, he also does as God. And whatever he does as God, he also does as a man, whether that is being born, healing the blind, dying on the cross, rising from the dead, or ascending into heaven. This is why St. Peter tells the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, “You killed the Author of Life.” (Acts 3:15) The Author of Life is none other than God himself. God cannot die, yet Jesus Christ who is true God died. Therefore, we rightly say, “Our God died upon the cross.” And St. Paul, speaking to the pastors in Ephesus, refers to God’s blood when he says, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the Church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28) Now, God is a Spirit and spirits do not have blood. Yet, God became a human being, so God indeed has blood which he shed for us on the cross.
If Jesus Christ is not a human being, then he could not take our place under the Law nor could he die on the cross in our place. And if Jesus Christ is not God, then his death for our sins would not be a sufficient price to pay for our sins. Unless Jesus is both God and man, we cannot be saved. So, we need a divine and human Jesus Christ at the Father’s right-hand interceding for us at all times and we need a divine and human Jesus Christ working with us here on earth at all times if we are to be saved.
But how can Jesus be both at God the Father’s right hand and here on earth? Well, first you need to understand that God’s right hand is not a place up in the sky that you can find with a satellite. Rather, God’s right hand is his right hand of power (Luke 22:69; 1 Peter 3:22). That Jesus is at God’s right hand does not mean that he is stuck in one place, but rather that he is filled with unlimited power and authority. Psalm 139 emphasizes that God’s right hand is everywhere when it says, “If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” And St. Paul speaks of Jesus’ ascension in Ephesians chapter 1 when he says God raised Christ, “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 of all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” and again in chapter 4 he writes, “He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.”
That Jesus is at God’s right hand means that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. It means that he is with us always even to the end of the age. Jesus’ human nature does not limit him in any way. Jesus our God has the power to be in all places at one time in his body while remaining human. This means that Jesus can be and is indeed with us in his Church here on earth.
Jesus is everywhere, but he is not everywhere for you in the same way. St. Mark tells us that the Lord continued to work with them. What did he work with them to do? He worked to confirm the message he sent them to preach. Jesus said to them,
“Go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation.”
Jesus works with the proclamation of the Gospel. Where can Jesus be found? Where his Gospel is preached. The Gospel is the good news that Jesus died on the cross to save sinners. And where did Jesus send his disciples to proclaim this message of good news? He sent them into all the world. Every human being needs to hear this Gospel. This is an urgent command our Lord gives his Church before his departure and it is a task that He continues to work with in His Church even today.
That the Gospel is a message that God’s own Son had to take on our human flesh and die for the sins of the entire world and that it is necessary that this message be proclaimed to everyone in the world, tells us that the world needs this Gospel. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Everyone needs his sins forgiven. Everyone needs to be rescued from the wrath of God and eternal condemnation. This is the greatest problem we all face. And so, we all need this Gospel above anything else.
You might try to deny that your sin is such a big deal that you need this Gospel above all things. You can ignore your own sins by making excuses and justify everything you think, say, and do. You can ignore God’s Law, so that your conscience doesn’t feel guilty. You can cut people out of your life who make you feel uncomfortable, whom you’ve hurt or who’ve hurt you. You can take pills to take away the pain in your body that reminds you that you are indeed mortal. You can ignore the death around you by plugging yourself into Netflix or Amazon Prime and watch your shows, which distract you from reality. You can block out your conscience and God’s word from your heart with banal conversations about things that do not matter. You can do all these things and more to try to keep the reality of your sin from making you uncomfortable. But eventually the reality of sin will strike. You’re going to die. And judgment comes after.
Jesus’ final command to proclaim the Gospel to the whole world emphasizes to us what is most important. We need this Gospel. We need what Jesus gave his life for on the cross and what he continues to work to give us today: the forgiveness of sins and eternal peace with God.
We need to turn from our sins. In St. Luke’s account of this story, he says that Jesus declared that “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in [Christ’s] name to all nations.” To repent means to turn. When we think of repenting, we think of saying sorry for our sins. And that is good. We should be sorry for the wrong we’ve done. Yet, there is a misconception about repentance. Many think that when you repent you then try to make up for the wrong you’ve done in order to be accepted by God. But Christian repentance does not mean that you turn from your sins to your own works in an attempt to appease God’s wrath. Rather, repenting means that you turn from your sins to God’s grace for forgiveness for Christ’s sake. This is why Jesus declared,
“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
Jesus does not say, whoever does enough good works to make up for his sins will be saved. Jesus does not say, whoever lives a perfect life will be saved. Jesus says, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” What are we to believe? That Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose again for our justification. God forgives us and is at peace with us on account of Christ. This is the Gospel that Jesus commanded to be proclaimed to the whole earth.
There must be something else! Certainly, our eternal salvation cannot hinge simply on whether or not we believe a promise from God! Yes, indeed it does. When you believe the promise from God that your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, you receive forgiveness and eternal salvation. To make it abundantly clear that Jesus demands nothing else in addition to this faith for our salvation he then says, “Whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Not, whoever does not prove to be a good enough Christian will be condemned. Not, whoever is the worst criminal will be condemned. Rather, whoever does not believe will be condemned. Unbelief is the only damnable sin, because unbelief throws away God’s salvation, which he offers you through Christ. It is just as Jesus said in John chapter 3, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
So, it is irrefutable that faith alone saves. Yet, what is this talk about Baptism? Is Baptism some work required by us in addition to our faith to save us? No. Rather, Baptism is God’s work which joins us to Christ. And just as with the proclamation of the Gospel, Baptism does us no good unless we believe. Through faith we receive the benefits of Baptism, which include forgiveness of sins and rescue from death and the devil. Baptism gives us these benefits, because it is not just plain water, but water combined with the words and promise of God. Baptism carries with it the power and authority of Christ himself, who commands Baptism. When a child is baptized, although it looks like a pastor pouring on water, it is Jesus Christ himself from the right hand of God the Father who is cleansing that child of sin.
God lavishes the Gospel on us in multiple ways; through preaching, Baptism; also, through the Absolution and the Lord’s Supper. When the pastor forgives your sins in the stead and by the command of Christ, you must believe that Christ himself, who sits at the Father’s right hand is forgiving you with all the authority of heaven. When you eat the Lord’s Supper, you must not believe that this is mere bread and wine, but that Jesus who fills all things is present with his body and blood in order to forgive your sins and strengthen your faith. Baptism, Absolution, the Lord’s Supper, the preaching; these are all Gospel and their benefits are all received through faith in God’s promise.
Jesus seems far away from us, but at the Father’s right hand he is able to be with us in his Gospel with the authority and power to give us eternal life through faith. And he who worked with the first disciples to confirm their word with signs still works with us to produce fruits of faith that glorify God. Christ Jesus is at God the Father’s right hand; therefore, he is with his Church here on earth. Amen.