The biblical texts for our consideration today are those appointed for ‘The Ascension of Our Lord,’ and we’ll read them as we go.
It’s a circuitous route our Lord travels in His mission to redeem the world. He who, from eternity, sat at the right hand of God the Father, came down from heaven and became man, and died on the cross, and rose again on the third day, and 40 days later, He went up into heaven to resume the position that always was, always is, and always will, be His.
Or as our Lord He Himself put it, “I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.” (John 16:28).
All of this He has done out of perfect obedience to His Father, to glorify His Father, and to redeem you and me and His whole creation. It had to be an ‘inside job.’ No ‘waiving magic wands’ and ‘magical incantations’ would do. But there was clearly no ‘insider’ either able or worthy of getting the job done.
So God sent His only-begotten and dearly beloved Son to be the ‘consummate insider.’ He DID NOT come down to dwell among us like an angel or a spirit-being. He went much further than that. He became one of us. He took on our humanity. Our very vulnerable and so easily wounded and battered and bruised humanity.
And sure enough, He was vulnerable to the point of being susceptible to all of the wounding and battering and bruising that we endure. He was vulnerable to the point of death, even death on a cross.
But then, He showed us who He REALLY is. He rose from the dead. That is something that we humans cannot do. Only God can raise the dead and only God can raise Himself from the dead. He who became one of us turns out to have been God all along.
And now, he has ascended into heaven. The final piece of evidence that reveals His true identity. He is the 2nd Person of the Triune Godhead who is eternally the One True God. He came down from heaven and became man and then He ascended into heaven.
FROM ALL ETERNITY, there was only the HOLY DIVINITY dwelling in heaven along with the Holy Angels. But now, He who took on our humanity and became man has ascended into heaven, and FOR ALL ETERNITY, our humanity dwells in heaven with God and the Holy Angels. Now, all mankind has an ADVOCATE WITH THE FATHER, Jesus Christ, the God/Man, the righteous one. This is the GOOD NEWS of the Ascension of our Lord.
It all happened 40 days after Easter. Luke writes, “…he led [His apostles] out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them.”
In his gospel, Luke places the ‘beatitudes’ immediately after his list of the 12 apostles, as if to say, the first thing that Jesus does when He chooses these 12 men is to bless them. Luke writes, “And he LIFTED UP HIS EYES on his disciples, and said, ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied…” And so on.
Now, as He is about to depart from them in the flesh, He “blessed them” again. But here, instead of “lifting up HIS EYES on his disciples,” “he lifted up his HANDS and blessed them.”
Unlike the beatitudes where the blessings are spelled out in detail, here they are not. UNLESS OF COURSE, we are to understand that they are spelled out in a different way – that is, by what is written on those uplifted hands of His.
These are the hands that touched the eyes of the blind and the tongue of the mute and gave sight and hearing and speech. With these hands, He reached out to touch the lifeless hand of a little girl, and a mother’s only son and gave them back to their parents.
We remember that moving scene when, after a full and busy day, Luke reports that “when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and HE LAID HIS HANDS on every one of them and healed them. And demons also came out of many.” (Luke 4:40).
These are the hands that reached out to grab hold of Peter as he was drowning in the stormy sea. With these hands, He took bread, gave thanks and broke it and fed 5000 and 4000. He held these hands out to Thomas and dissolved all his doubt.
And of course there were those holes in those hands, where the nails had pierced Him. By those hands uplifted and nailed to the cross, He took the punishment that was ours upon Himself. By those hands, He received the wrath of God that we deserved because of what we have done and not done with our hands.
“And WHILE He blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up to heaven.” Did you catch that? “WHILE He blessed them, he parted from them…” His ‘blessing them’ and His ‘parting from them’ was all one action. His “parting from them and ascension into heaven,” WAS and still IS, “His blessing upon them.” He is taking our humanity into heaven with Him.
“And they worshipped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.”
In all four gospel accounts of THE RESURRECTION, there is hardly a mention that those to whom Jesus appeared responded with “GREAT JOY.” At His resurrection, they were ‘amazed,’ ‘afraid,’ ‘frightened, thinking that they saw a spirit,’ and ‘disbelieving for joy.’
It’s only here, “as He parted from them and was carried up into heaven” that, for the first time, we hear that they were filled with that “great joy” that Jesus had promised they would have. “You will sorrow but your sorrow will be turned to joy.” “I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice and no one will take your joy from you.” (John 16).
He is taking their humanity into heaven with Him. And the great joy of the Apostles and the message that they will carry into all the world is that Jesus Christ has carried our humanity into heaven, and we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the God/Man, the righteous One.
In his Acts of the Apostles, Luke tells us that “as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and A CLOUD took him out of their sight.”
He could have simply ascended to such a height that He disappeared in the distance as a missile does when it’s launched into outer-space. But “A CLOUD took him out of their sight.”
It was ‘a cloud’ that led God’s people, Israel through the wilderness to the Promised Land – and God was in the cloud. As long as Israel saw the cloud they knew that God was PRESENT WITH THEM because God was TRULY PRESENT in the cloud – not symbolically or spiritually present as if the cloud represented the presence of God.
It was in the cloud, that God led His people through the wilderness to the Promised Land. “As they were looking on, he was lifted up, and A CLOUD took him out of their sight.” He is leading His people, His NEW ISRAEL to the Promised Land in a way that the CLOUD in the Old Testament only foreshadowed.
Now, we no longer follow a cloud. Now that He has taken on our humanity, clouds have become obsolete. Now that He has taken on our humanity, we follow Him by LISTENING to His voice as we hear Him speak to us in His Word.
We come to where He is present among us in the Bread and Wine – and He leads us to the Promised Land.
In the book of Acts, we read, “While they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold two men stood by them in white robes and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.”
It took the help of the holy angels to explain these things – just as it had at His conception and birth and resurrection.
The holy angels inform the Apostles that the ‘ascension of our Lord’ is closely connected to the second coming of our Lord. “He will come again in THE SAME WAY as you saw Him go into heaven.” As He ascended BODILY, so He comes again BODILY. Further proof and assurance that even now, before THE LAST DAY has come, our humanity is already in heaven with God.
Jesus will come again, in the flesh even as He comes to us in the flesh in His Holy Supper and His Preaching. Now in these last days, He comes to us in the flesh, proclaiming His forgiveness for all of our sins, calling us to repentance and faith.
On the Last Day, He will come down from heaven to separate those who have listened and repented and believed, from those who would not, “as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.” (Mat. 25:32-33).
He who ascended to the RIGHT HAND OF GOD THE FATHER ALMIGHTY, puts you, dear sheep, on His right hand and takes you to GOD THE FATHER ALMIGHTY.
“And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.”
Our Lord has taken our humanity into heaven. And we, together with Apostles and the Apostolic Church, with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, “worship Him with great joy, and are continually in the temple blessing God.”