Text: Luke 24:44-53
Today is the day that we celebrate our Lord’s victorious ascension. Forty days after our Lord rose triumphantly from the grave for us, He was parted from the Apostles by the clouds so that He could resume His position at the right hand of the Father – the seat He once set aside when He became man for us. From the right hand of the Father, Jesus now rules over all things for our good, He prays for us and His whole Church on earth, and He ever sustains us with His gracious presence in the Word and the Sacraments. Jesus’ ascension is not a sad parting, but a joyous occasion to celebrate, as we witness from the action of Apostles in our Gospel text. Even still, the show must go on – as they say. The work must continue.
This is the goal of our Lord’s final message to His disciples. His work of our redemption is done. He came as the fulfillment of all His promises through the prophets to atone for all the world’s sin with His precious blood. Risen from the dead, our salvation is complete in Christ. That work is done. What isn’t done, however, is the spread of the Gospel to all the world. In our text, the Lord opened the disciples’ mind to understand the Scriptures and commissioned them to preach repentance and forgiveness in His name to all the world. Today, He continues to equip and call us, His Church, to do the same.
“These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you,” Jesus said, “that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:44 English Standard Version) In our evening devotions, we’ve been working our way through St. Luke’s Gospel. His Gospel is very organized, and that includes mentioning at various points the passage of time. But after our Lord’s resurrection, that stops. It’s almost as if Jesus’ rising from the dead brings with it a new order, a new way of doing things, a new way of looking at the world and ourselves. Up the point just before our text, the disciples were locked away for fear, but Jesus appeared among them to speak peace to them. His work is complete.
Specifically, His work of winning salvation for the world is finished. All that was promised through Moses and the prophets – that He would suffer, die, and rise for the forgiveness of sins is done. Having preached this Good News to the disciples, Jesus opened their minds to fully understand that all of Scripture is about Jesus and His work for us. But, as we said, that work is now done. Now, a different work is to continue. Jesus said, “It is written…that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in [Christ’s] name to all nations…you are witnesses of these things.” (vv. 47-48) Here Jesus again commissions His Apostles to go preach. This time they weren’t to stick just to Israel, but to go into all the world. Apostles, by the way, means those who are sent. Although Christ’s necessary work of our redemption is done, this necessary work continues: the preaching of repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name to all the world.
The Holy Spirit says, “Then He led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up His hands He blessed them…[then] He parted from them and was carried up into heaven.” (vv. 50-51) After completing His work and commissioning His Apostles to continue the preaching of His Gospel, our Lord was parted by the clouds to resume His position at the right hand of the Father. We spoke more in-depth about the doctrine of our Lord’s ascension last year, but we should remember some key things about it. When we say that Jesus ascended into heaven, we confess that He truly is in heaven but that He also remains with us. He is able to do this because He is now in what we call His state of exaltation. His humiliation was the time, beginning with the Incarnation, when our Lord set aside the full use of His power. Beginning with the descent into hell, our Lord no longer limits Himself. In His exaltation, He makes full use of His power at all times. As such, He can be and is with us at all times.
From the Right Hand of the Father, which is truly everywhere, our Lord watches over all things and rules over all things for our benefit. At times we may not see it that way; but how could it be that Jesus would suffer and die for us and then not direct all things for our good? He orders all things for our benefit and He intercedes for us; Jesus prays for us, it says in Hebrews. He does these things all while sustaining us with His gracious presence among His Church in the Word and the Sacraments. Because He again makes full use of His power, Christ is able to be with us in the Sacrament of His body and blood. His presence will continue among us until His ascension becomes our own in the Resurrection.
The show must go on, the work must continue. The world we live in now is not so different from the way it was during the time of the Apostles. In fact, with every passing day the similarity grows. Paganism and atheism – which are both idolatry of self – are becoming as popular today as they were then. So also are fear and anxiety. Many people throughout our country and the world have always lived in a quiet fear and concern about the future, about death and what’s to come. The present coronavirus pandemic doesn’t necessarily bring new fear, it brings hidden fear to the surface. Is there a better time than now to proclaim the hope we have in Christ?
You see, we, too, have had our minds opened to the Scriptures. It happened in our Baptism and by the faith we received through the Holy Spirit that our minds were opened to understand that the Scriptures are about Jesus. We recognize from His preaching and Word that we are sinners, worthy of condemnation and eternal punishment in hell. Our Lord promises, however, grace and every blessing to those who repent of their sins and look to Him faith. To those who trust in His name, He gives forgiveness and the gift of an eternal life where there is no sin and there is no suffering. In Baptism and by faith, we have received the mind of Christ and, as with the disciples of old, He sends us out, too. It’s time for the work of preaching repentance and faith in Christ to the world to continue. God grant us the love and the boldness to preach His Word in our lives until we behold His face in glory together with those of all nations who have loved His appearing.