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Epistle Lesson: Ephesians 1:15-23
I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him 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 age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Gospel Lesson: Luke 24:44-53
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
“Christ is Risen!”
Christ is Risen Indeed!
Today in our church calendar, we are celebrating the last day of Easter which happens to be a feast day called Ascension Sunday. For many within the Church, this is a day in our year that is often overlooked and not really thought much about.
However, it was not always that way. To the early disciples in the first century, this day of ascension was so important that we find it in the Apostle’s Creed. I’d like to take just a minute to look at the Apostles Creed, we note that it is broken up into three parts: One part about the Father, One part about the Son, and another part about the Holy Spirit. Now, Within the part about the work of the Son, Jesus Christ it spends about 1/3 of the time on his birth, 1/3 of the time about the Passion of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection, and interestingly 1/3 on the Ascension. And yet for some reason unbeknownst to me, in our church calendar we spend about 6 Sundays on the Birth, 7 Sundays on Easter, and only one Sunday on the Ascension. As I said I am not sure why this is, but it is my hope that today as we reflect on Ascension Sunday, we may come to realize the significance of this act of Grace of God. I’d like to break this up into two parts. First, I want us to look at the significance of the Ascension in God’s greater story, and then I would like to look at how it affects you and I personally in the Church today.
As we begin to focus on what the significance of the Ascension of Jesus is in God’s greater story, let us first take a look at this passage that we have read from Paul’s letter to the Church in Ephesus. At first it seems like just a letter of giving thanks for the community of faith that is found in Ephesus. But in verse 18, Paul shifts direction. Let’s actually start with verse 17. Paul prays to the God of our Lord Jesus, the Father of glory that they, those who are in this faith community will be given a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him. Let me stop right here. I’d first point out, here we have a Christian member, Paul, lifting up intercessory prayer for another fellow Christian brother or sister of faith, that they may be given gifts of wisdom and revelation as they come to know Jesus. People in this community in Ephesus have already given their hearts over to Christ and have said they believed, we heard that in the beginning of this passage when Paul said “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love towards all the saints” and so on. But Paul makes it apparent that just having faith is not enough, we must continue in our pursuit of coming to know Christ. But let me continue on as to WHY Paul is praying for this spirit of wisdom and revelation. Paul says now, here in verse 18 and 19, the verses I have wanted to focus on….so that, with the eyes of your hearts enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.
WOW! WOW WOW WOW WOW and may I again say WOW. Look at this language in which Paul uses to speak about the calling of the Church. Riches, Glorious Inheritance, IMMEASURABLE Greatness of his POWER. These words are just incredible and overwhelming when we think about what it means for the calling that we have been called to. But how on earth, how in the highest heavens would we, be ever sufficient for this work, and this GREAT power that is spoken of by Paul. And this my dear brothers and sisters is where the importance of the Ascension of our LORD Jesus Christ comes to play its role in the History of the Cosmos and in the life of the Church.
GOD put this power to work in Christ when he raised him 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 age to come.
Now don’t you see, this feast day of Ascension is more awesome than God indwelling with us on Earth (which if I may say is pretty awesome indeed). It is so awesome that Paul aligns it equal with the Resurrection! God places Jesus above ALL NAMES, ALL AUTHORITY, ALL GOVERNMENTS. As we are beginning to approach another US Presidential Election year, may these words from Paul forever ring in your ears. The person to whom we seek help, the person who has authority and power in this age and the age to come is JESUS. Jesus is above EVERY name. Above Obama, above Romney. I don’t care who the candidate is, Jesus is LORD and Master over all. And this is why it was so important to the early Christians who were under the persecution of the occupying government of Rome at the time. The Christians in that day, knew and understood, and had the hope of their calling that Christ was their King and who on Ascension Day was placed there by God.
So if we understand that the power to which we are called is the same power by which Christ was raised and ascended, then what is our place compared to that of Jesus? This is where we get into the second part of our sermon today: What does the Ascension matter to Christians today? Let me finish this text from Ephesians, Paul says, And God has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Let me ask, did you catch our role in Christ being ascended into all authority? No? Well let me say it again…. And God has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
We, the Church of today, are his BODY, the FULLNESS of him who fills all in all. We, You and I, You (Name), and You, and you, and you, are the BODY of JESUS, the one who has been placed in all authority. WE share in the ruling with Christ as the BODY Of CHRIST. But how are we to do this? We, who are but just fallible, imperfect, weak humans. Well let me tell you how. Luke 24:50, Jesus’ last act while he was on earth in bodily form: Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. Jesus blessed them. The man with all authority, and all power, blessed them. Told them to wait for the power to come, but before the power of the Spirit comes, Jesus blessed the disciples. How, do we who are filled with evil, with sin, with things that are filled with greed and pride and envy receive a blessing from someone as holy and pure as Jesus? This is most certainly a difficult and heavy question to ask. But as I thought about this question this week, as many of you may have known, I was quite sick this past week, I began to relate this question to being sick. When we are filled with mucus, and snot, and are congested, how do we begin to feel better to be able to receive the goods that we desire? Well, to answer that, we have to first get rid of the yuckiness. We have to take medicines that get rid of the mucus, and the congestion in our lungs. Well the same holds true for our spiritual lives as well. How do we receive this blessing from God, this power that God has for us, that we are to hope and long for as we are called to be rulers with Christ? We must first get rid of the sin, the junk, the pride, the envy, in our lives. This we cannot do alone, but only by the cross. Just as we need to take something that is not from within us but the medicines that loosens up that congestion, The cross you could say is Christ being the awesome healer that he is, the medicine that cleanses us of the evil in our lives and allows for us to be ready, to be prepped to receive of God’s good blessings and power. And just as God did this for Christ, his only Son, he wants to do it for you.
Christ certainly lived the blessed life. Now we know that Christ’s life was not easy, and actually rather it was one that was filled with a lot of temptations and hurt but blessedness does not necessary mean a life of luxury. We often associate our blessings with comfort and ease. “When we describe our blessings, they often include our homes, our jobs, our health, and wealth”, but I’d like to offer a much fuller definition of blessedness if I may. A definition that I hope hits home with you like it has with me. To understand being blessed, we must first understand that all biblical sources insist that all blessings flow from one single awe-inspiring source, “God” the creator. And so to be blessed, as I understand it is to become a part of God’s plan. “To be used by God for God’s Kingdom.” This definition certainly entails what it means to be blessed, it certainly is blessed to be used by God. But it certainly does not mean a life of luxury.
And so, through the power of the cross, we are cleansed, and with the authority of the ascension, we are blessed, and by God’s grace and wisdom, we have the hope to which we are called. Amen.