Acts 1:6-11: Christ’s Ascension Doesn’t Mean He’s Now Trapped in Heaven

This was our pastor’s sermon for the pastoral circuit meeting (winkel)  on Tuesday, May 9, 2018.

 

The book of Acts tells us of the first Christians as they brought Jesus to others in their words and deeds.  The Scripture pictures for us the earliest Church, unfolding who the Church is and what she does, including who we are and what we do.

Those first converts came with their various worldviews.  So God needs, not only to bring them into His Church but to reshape and mold them.  Like you and me, they are far from perfect, full of sin, and plagued with problems.

In many ways, they are striving to learn what believing and following Jesus means.  Doesn’t this also describe us?  Yes!  For Jesus commanded His Apostles to instruct everything He commissioned them to teach.  So, on this side of heaven, learning all the truths of Christianity is a job never done.

The ongoing history of our Savior’s Church continues to progress, taking place following the time of the four Gospels.  After dying and rising, Jesus ascends to heaven, which is how Luke begins his second book.  For only after our Savior is ruling in heaven will He send the Spirit from the Father.

Soon to leave, Jesus tells His disciples how they will benefit when He departs.  “For if I don’t go away, the Advocate will not come to you” (John 16:7).  So, Acts unveils itself as the Gospel of the faith-bestowing Spirit, showing us how He worked and moved in the life of our Lord’s Church.

Like Jesus, the Spirit carries out the Father’s will.  Earlier, Jesus made clear, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).  Next, these words follow.  “The one who sees me sees the Father” (John 14:9).  To be with God, you must be in Christ.

Now, this puts us in a bind because our Lord is no longer here in a walking-and-talking body to take us to His Father.  So, are we left without any hope?  No!  For the Spirit’s task is to bring us to Jesus, and He, in turn, brings us to the Father.

Such is the functioning of the Trinity in our lives.  Here’s what’s different and better.  A pre-resurrected Jesus is only able to be in one location at one time.  The Spirit can be present in all the places He pledges to do His work, anywhere, anytime.  So, the sending of the faith-creating Spirit is to our advantage, as Jesus assured us!

Most of us are all about the Spirit living inside us.  This indwelling, however, isn’t something static, any more than the stirring of air is.  For the words for “Spirit” in the Hebrew and Greek of the Bible also mean “wind” and “breath.”

To sense the brush of wind, you must be somewhere the wind is blowing.  The receive another’s breath requires you to be where the person happens to be exhaling.  Otherwise, you are chasing after the rustling wind, a futile effort.

The Jesus-delivering Spirit comes to us in the Word, delivered through spoken words—something breathed out.  Not any only Word but only where Jesus, the incarnate Word, fills the content of what is said.  For unless the Word, who became flesh for our salvation, inhabits the breathed-out Word, the heaven-sent Spirit isn’t at work.  With One comes the other.

The Spirit is wherever the Word, Jesus, is.  For the Spirit points us to, and breathes in us, the confidence to believe in the embodied Word.  This Spirit, whom Jesus sent, and Jesus join at the hip.  The One is always working with the other for our eternal life and redemption.

After being breathed on by Jesus through the sermon, the ever-moving Spirit fills us with His breath, to live en-Spirited lives.  The life-bringing Spirit animates us with faith so we can be faithful.  The Spirit leads us into all truth, to Jesus who is the Truth, enabling us to walk in the footsteps of our Redeemer.  In these ways, we experience the renewing power of Christ’s Gospel and the reviving strength of God’s Spirit.

Some of us live far away from our children and their families.  Though we recognize this reality, this doesn’t help us understand Jesus’ going into heaven.  Remember, He said going away will be useful because of the Spirit descending to do His work.

Still perplexed are His followers.  Didn’t Jesus promise to be with them to the close of the age?  Yes!  So now they are confused.  With mouths agape, in almost an anticlimactic event, Jesus disappears before their eyes, rising higher and getting smaller.  How can He be with us if He’s no longer here?

The Spirit descends ten days later, filling them with power from above.  Now, they begin to understand.  The God-become-flesh went away so He can be with them always, and He achieves this by sending His Holy Spirit.

Such is true to this day.  Though gone away, Jesus is still with us as He said.  Though not here in a physical way, at least, not as before, through the indwelling Spirit, He is with us in a more-embedded way.  Now His presence is not limited by time and space.

After Jesus ascended, He returned, enthroned “far above every ruler and authority, power and dominion” (Ephesians 1:21).  The laws of space, time, and physics do not apply to Him for, as God, He is above them all.  Now, this reveals Jesus can be here when we gather in His name.  Ah, but He is also glorified.  So, Christ can now be with all Christians in every place and time—at the same time.

Here, He is with us in Word and Sacrament, again forgiving and filling us with life from eternity, which is how He is with us always.  Through these means, He “dwells in our hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:17).  “Never will I leave you or abandon you,” God comforts us (Hebrews 13:5).

The Lord’s presence for us and in us is not only to comfort us.  For faith in Him also leads to faithfulness.  Yes, God saves you by grace through the faith He gives you, which means salvation isn’t your doing.  Now, we are His handiwork, created in Christ for virtuous deeds (Ephesians 2:8-10).  To be saved by God’s doing enables us to recognize our works as a gift, an outgrowth of the trust God grants to us.

Consider how Jesus comes to us.  In ordinary spoken language, a sermon, Jesus is intertwined in those preached words when they enter our ears.  In the baptismal water, and in the Supper’s bread and wine, the proclaimed Word of Christ entwines itself, becoming present to do His saving work.

The usual method God uses to work in this world is through something physical.  To show this, Jesus became human, wearing our flesh, pulsing with blood, straining with muscle and sinew.  Behind the enfleshed frame of an ordinary looking man hid the eternal God.  The Sacraments and Word are similar to this.  For concealed in the familiar and everyday reality of substance and matter, Jesus draws near to us.

So, you are here, receiving Jesus by the Spirit’s work.  By His action, the divine river flowing from you begins.  How so?  The Jesus for you is how He approaches to live within you, all for Him to flow through you.  Now, sinful mortals like us become extensions of His incarnation to others.  Perhaps, you’ll explode from so much God-ness rousing inside you, radiating from you!

In a way, this does happen.  Like the Word and Sacraments are the “masks” Jesus chooses to use to come to you, you also become a “mask” of God.  Imbued with divinity, you become the face of Jesus, a flesh-wearing Gospel through your actions and words, a manifestation of God for another.

Now, God is working through you.  In your differing capacities and talents, you serve others when and where He places you to be, as His extended arm of love.

“Without God, we cannot; without us, God will not.”  Drink in what Jesus taught.  “Without Me, you can do nothing.  Once ascended, wait for my Spirit to come to you so you can do what I command you to do.  Still, I will not work without you, for you will be my hands and feet and voice.”

With Jesus dwelling in the core of your being, you are now a vehicle, bringing God to another.  How this is lived out may differ because God gives us different duties through which we serve.  Though the Lord doesn’t call your parishioners to preach or administer the Supper, don’t think what they do is somehow of less value.  Oh, no.

For being brought into the Royal Priesthood doesn’t make everyone into a church worker.  For God transforms all the tasks, which He desires His people to do, into sacred callings.  All our faculties and personalities become valued as gifts from our Father, who equips us with unique abilities for the vocations He wants us to do.

So your Father isn’t sending you another burden or something else for you to mess up or ruin.  Not at all.  Through your individuality, you experience God’s work through you.  Included in this are the blessings you receive from others as you tend to them in the way God decides to bless others through you.

So, we help in various ways, in different areas.  In our work, families, as citizens in the larger society, and in Christ’s Church, God give us many undertakings.  In water, the spoken Word, and in wine and bread, Jesus descends to earth for us.  Through you and me, He is doing something similar.  The Jesus in you now turns into an outpouring of your ascended Lord working through you, in your words, deeds, and doings.  Each day, lives transform as you bring Him to others.

All this is true since Jesus didn’t ascend to disappear, but to be in every place and every time.  All is now new because of Christ, here and in eternity.  How better for everyone because Jesus did ascend, not to diminish Himself, but to present for His people always.  Amen.

 

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