Friday, May 15, 2015

Homily for the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord

Forty days ago the stone was rolled aside. Jesus walked out of the grave into the morning light. The powers of hell cracked under his feet. “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” It is gone! Death is defeated. Life has won.

The grave could not hold him. He burst forth from the warm soil like a flower in the spring. Mary Magdalene mistook him for the gardener, and in a way, he was. 

Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

Risen and fresh from the grave he showed himself to the women, then to Peter, then to the two disciples on the Emmaus road. He showed himself alive to all the disciples and later to Thomas in the upper room. See and touch my hands, my side, and my feet. Thomas saw and believed, saying, “My Lord, and my God.”

Jesus then went fishing with the disciples on the Sea of Tiberias. He showed himself risen from the dead, alive, and victorious to 500 men at one time. They have born withness this. He continued to teach them, saying, “was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory.” He interpreted to them in the scriptures all the things concerning Himself – that all of the Scriptures bear witness to him. His death and his resurrection. He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

None of this is speculation! All these things actually happened. Jesus did not just briefly appear and disappear. He was teaching and preaching after His resurrection for 40 days. Men have born witness to this with their lives. Men do not suffer for the sake of preserving a lie. Men lay down their lives for the truth.    

Jesus said “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creatures. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

He then led them out to Bethany on the Mount of Olives and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. He departed from them and ascended bodily into heaven, and a cloud took him from their sight – to be seated at the right hand of God in power and glory.

What does this mean? Jesus said “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” God has highly exalted him and gave him a name that is above all names, that in the name of Jesus every knee that is in heaven and on earth and under the earth should bow.

While the disciples looked after Him as He went into heaven, two men in white robes stood by them and said, ‘You men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will come in the same way as you have seen Him go into heaven.”

He will descend from the clouds with a battle cry and with the voice of the archangel and with the blast of the trumpet of God at the end of the world, on the Last Day.

This is the meaning of what we confess every time we gather for the Divine Service. We confess with our mouths “He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. And He will come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead.”

All believers receive eternal life in body and soul and all unbelievers will be condemned and banished with all demons into the eternal fire. That’s what the Bible says.  

But He doesn't just come on the last day. We are living in the time of Pentecost, where He comes continually. And he comes in mercy and in love. In Word and Sacrament. Under a preacher voice – announcing the forgiveness of sins.  

For you who are baptized and believe in Christ, what have you to fear? He destroyed all of your sins at the cross. He ransacked the gates of hell. He has opened all your graves already. Heaven’s doors swing open. Cancer, financial ruin, death itself will not have the last word with any of us. Jesus lives and reigns victorious over all.

Sure we have tears and sorrow now, but these things will pass. Jesus has ascended into heaven, saying where I am there you shall be also.

Therefore we pray that our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally, when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end, and graciously take us form this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven. In the name of Jesus. 

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