Mark 16:14-20; Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 110; 2 Kings 2:5-15
In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Christ’s ascension to the right hand of the Father. (Mark 16:19) We believe it. We teach it. We confess it. But as the catechism says: what does this mean? Well, you’ve likely heard the standard stuff. It means Christ sits at God’s right hand. Which is not a location in heaven but a position of power. (Ps. 110:1; Eph. 1:20-23; 4:10) He is the right hand man of the Father, ruling all the universe. Like the Psalm said, “The LORD says to my Lord: Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies Your footstool.” (Ps. 110:1) He is enthroned. And that’s good news for you.
But it is especially good news because now not only is God your saviour ruling the universe in mercy toward you, governing all things, incomprehensibly—even in the midst of this wicked world so that you will be saved—but it also means that a man is enthroned on God’s throne. On the throne of Israel. (2 Sam. 7:12-13; 1 Kings 9:5; Ps. 89:3-4, etc.) On the throne of spiritual authority over all things. It means that the 2nd Adam—the perfect, sinless Son of Man—has taken up the authority granted to the 1st Adam over creation. When God created Adam and Eve He gave them dominion over all life. (Gen. 1:26, 28) Satan usurped that authority becoming the power behind the throne (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) when he tempted them to sin. By sinning they snipped their lifeline to God Almighty. (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 6:23) He became their puppet master pulling mankind’s strings. But now mankind has been restored. Christ Jesus, true God and true man, sits ruling all creation. Mankind has ascended into paradise. Into the presence of God the Father. He walks in unbroken unity in the very presence of the Eternal Father, just as the 1st Adam did in the cool of the day. (Gen. 3:8)
And since Christ is the head of the Church—ascended to the right hand of the Father to fill all things (Eph. 1:22-23)—He now makes this glorious truth that mankind has unbroken fellowship with God known in and through His Church. (Eph. 3:10; 4:10-11) We are the city on the hill that all can see, the lamp on the stand which gives light to the whole house. (Matt. 5:14-15) His Word is given to His Church to proclaim to all creation. (Mark 16:15) And whenever that word is newly proclaimed in unbroken ground there are miracles that accompany that word to confirm its truth. (Mark 16:17-18) The apostles experienced this. And missionaries the world over throughout the last 2000 years have reported this whenever they go into lands where the Gospel has never yet been proclaimed. Demons are routinely cast out. The sick are healed. Miracles occur frequently.
So that as Ephesians 4:10 (Psalm 68:18) says, “When [Christ] ascended on high He led a host of captives and gave gifts to men.” Gifts: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation through Christ’s miraculous Word and Sacraments. And those gifts are distributed to us through people. (Eph. 4:11) Through the apostles of the New Testament who wrote down their eyewitness accounts of Christ our Lord and taught the Church what this means (Luke 24:48; Acts 1:22; 6:4); through the prophets of the Old Testament who wrote down God’s saving acts of old, his testimonies and promises; through the evangelists who wrote down the Gospels so that we might have an account of all Jesus said and did; and all of this has come to us through shepherds/pastors who proclaim Father’s forgiveness on account of Christ, and teachers who have taught us God’s word. Those teachers include pastors, and parents, Sunday school teachers, and spouses, friends and family in the Lord whom the Lord sent to you to point out way of truth more clearly. For Christ fills universe through His Church (Eph. 4:10) by sending out His Word of salvation through the Spirit inspired work of the Church. So that as you receive these gifts of Christ by Word and Sacrament they multiply in you and overflow from you to the ones Christ has called you to serve in home, church, work, and world.
This is what His Ascension means. That He in enthroned. That as king He gives out gifts through His Church. Those gifts are the gift of His Word, the gift of persons who speak that word, the gifts that that the Word gives: forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. These are the mightiest gifts there are. These gifts change the eternal destinies of sinners who deserve death and hell, so that they receive life and salvation. So that He fills the poor, hungry sinners with good things, (Luke 1:53) filling all things, (Eph. 4:10) calling many to eternal salvation.
And this has always been Christ’s intent. Christ accomplished your salvation. But He works the greater works (John 14:12) of calling MANY unto salvation through His Church whom He has left here below. (Eph. 4:10-11; 3:10) It has always been His intention to do so. Just look at the Old Testament type or foreshadowing of Christ’s salvation: Elijah, the great prophet of the Old Testament who also ascended. He did not ascend because he himself was God. Nor because he himself was worthy, but purely as a gift of God’s favour to Elijah. So that Elijah did not ascend of His own accord as did Christ, but was caught up by the horses and chariot of heaven. (2 Kings 5:11-12) Not in a cloud (Acts 1:9) but a whirlwind. (2 Kings 5:11) For Elijah was not God. He was not ascending in the glory of God, by his own power. He did not need a cloud to cover over this fabulous glory being revealed as Christ did, who of His own power ascended to the right hand of God. No, Elijah had this done to him, by God’s grace. But what is foreshadowed is the greater works of the Church. The double portion that Elisha received of Elijah’s spirit. (2 Kings 5:9, 15) For Christ died having accomplished the salvation of the whole world. But as of the day of His ascension, only some 120 had been called unto faith. But not 10 days later the preaching of the apostles would call another 3000 to faith. And throughout these last 2000 years millions and billions have been called to saving faith by the preaching of this mighty word of forgiveness in Jesus’ name. So that when Elijah ascended, greater things would yet be done. When Christ ascended greater things would yet be done. By Christ’s gracious gifts given from His throne of grace on which He now sits. On which you and all believers in Christ shall one day be seated also. (Eph 2:6-7)
In +Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock, Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, Regina, SK