Happy Ascension day! Ascension Day was May 17 Ð did you celebrate? We tend to overlook this Church holiday, probably because it is kind of a strange story and we really don’t know what to think of it. The idea of Jesus rising into the clouds puzzles us, and we’re not sure about it. But, is that really what the Ascension Day story is about?
Scriptures tell us that Jesus appeared to his disciples and instructed them for forty days after his resurrection. He instructed them on the scriptures to show them God’s plan. Then he told them to stay in Jerusalem where they would receive power from on high to be witnesses to the ends of the earth. And then he was lifted up from their sight into a cloud. Two angels standing nearby said, “Why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus, whom you just saw, will come again someday. He will come again.”
In the Apostles’ Creed we say, “On the third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.” This reflects the ascension. What is really happening in this little episode?
This story is not about geography, but theology. Actually, it is Christology. In the Bible, the cloud was often the very presence of God. It was not a spatial sort of thing, but the glory of God. Jesus entered into the very presence of his heavenly Father. This is a transformation of presence, not a withdrawal of presence. Transformation, not withdrawal.
Jesus appeared to his disciples many times so that they might be comfortable with the notion that he would always be with them. But now in this particular episode, Jesus is telling them that he will have visible visits with them. However, they will live in God’s presence until he comes again. And Jesus will continue to work in them and through them with the Holy Spirit.
The authors of Ephesians and Hebrews talk of him being raised to sit at the right hand of the Father. Again, that has nothing to do with locality. Instead it is a biblical way of saying that Jesus was given authority and power over the world. The risen Christ fills the universe with his presence, and he has been given final authority over it. Jesus told them that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him, and then he told them to go and make disciples.
What does all this mean? Dr. Kent Knutson, former president of the American Lutheran Church, wrote of the ascension in his book, His Only Son Our Lord. He said, “It all comes down to this: Jesus is Lord. He is Lord over me, Lord over the Church, and Lord over all. ÔJesus is Lord’ was the earliest Christian creed. And we see it referred to many, many times in the New Testament. Jesus is King; Jesus is Master; Jesus is God.”
This makes all the difference for us. It is more than a doctrine to memorize. It is a statement that ministers to us in our fear and hopelessness.
First of all, Jesus is Lord of all the universe. Things are not as out of control and hopeless as they appear. Christ is in control of history, not man. Jesus Christ holds this universe in the palm of his hand and all things are under his feet. All authority and power have been given to him. He has the final word over this world, just like the umpire at a ball game has the last word. Jesus has the last word over this world. And all history is headed toward the day when Jesus will appear again and every knee will bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord.
I found this story once about a lady who once worked as a temp at a local bank. Her team and supervisor were very unprofessional in their behavior and shunned another member of the team who had come on staff a week earlier and was a generation older.
Two weeks into the temp job, the lady walked into the office on Monday morning and was surprised to find a much different scenario. All the workers had their eyes riveted on their work, and the previous supervisor had been replaced. There was even a bit of fear in the eyes of the staff. The new supervisor was the woman who had been shunned and mocked. The bank had hired her to be their new supervisor, but concealed her true identity so she could see the true work style of the team.
In some ways, this story resembles Christ’s first coming to earth. Jesus revealed his true identity to his followers, but it was largely hidden by his humanity to those who didn’t believe him. After his resurrection, Christ ascended to the right hand of the Father, and one day we will all see him as he really is. On that day there will be no more mistaking who is ultimately in charge. All people will know that Jesus is Lord over all the earth!
As a child of God, you know who is in charge and holds the future. Trust in that. Some days when you feel overwhelmed and depressed, trust in the knowledge that Jesus is Lord over the universe.
Jesus is also described as the Lord over his Church. He is the head; we are the body. He is in our midst energizing us with his Holy Spirit. He feeds us with his word and comforts us with his presence. He leads us in the direction he wants us to go. We are his precious bride. Jesus promises that his Church will prevail even over the gates of hell. When we belong to Christ, we are on the winning team. The Church will prevail.
This is great news! In other parts of the world, where the Church is under persecution, people are actually being martyred for the faith. This is a great reminder for us in America that in order to impact the world around us, we need to do things his way and by His Word. Only then will we prevail.
Finally, when we say, Jesus is Lord, scriptures remind us that we are saying he is my Lord, my master. He owns me.
You and I have been bought with a price Ð the precious blood of Jesus Christ. When I turn my life over to him, I become his possession. I know him personally, and I can meet with him in the Word and in the sacrament of communion. I am his treasure and his possession, and he promises me that nothing can snatch me from his hand. I belong to him forever.
When Christ is not only my Savior, but also the Lord over my life, I find that is what leads to the ultimate joy in life that Christ promised. I have someone to turn to who knows what my life really needs and gives it joy, satisfaction, and contentment. As I turn to him, I find that it makes all the difference between unhappiness and joy, dissatisfaction and satisfaction.
As we hand over our energy, time, dreams, family, even our retirement, we soon discover that our greatest good is to be wholly owned by him. He knows what makes life work, and our greatest joy is to live for his good pleasure. To lay down my life for his sake means I will find my life.
Jesus is my Lord. On this Ascension Day, Jesus is Lord over the universe, Lord over his Church, and Lord over each and every one of us who call upon his name. In the end when he reappears, he will be acknowledged as Lord of all.
HAPPY ASCENSION DAY! Jesus is Lord! Hang onto that thought as you watch the news, worry about the church, or are fearful about your life. And remind yourself again and again, Jesus is Lord.