Saturday, May 3, 2008

Sermon of May 3-4, 2008

The Ascension of Our Lord
May 3-4, 2008
Text: Ephesians 1:15-23

Dear Friends in Christ,
Christ raised Lazarus from the dead. Yet, presumably Lazarus later died again and was buried for the second time. He may have even died violently at the hands of the Jewish leaders. For in John 12 we read: “When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.” (John 12:9-11) We must consider here the implications of this. Lazarus had died and would die again. Why was that? Because He was a sinner. He continued to sin each day of his life. A physical resurrection and a return to this world of sin could not rescue Lazarus.
Many would make the same presumption about Christ. Even if He did rise surely He is now dead and buried in some tomb someplace. The latest conspiracy theory is that His body was discovered by the Knights Templar and brought back to France. They even have the supposed body. But as scholar Paul Maier has noted, finding old bones in the Holy Land is not terribly difficult. So what if the Knights Templar brought some body back from Jerusalem? Who can prove the identity of said remains? But surely it must have been somebody important to go to that trouble. Well, at least they thought so. They may well have been deceived by their find. Or it may have been somebody else’s bones that they deemed important. Of one thing we can be certain, there are no real Knights Templar left to ask.
In Scripture there are no accidents. We can be certain that the Holy Spirit knew that one day some idiots would come along and make such absurd charges. The Holy Spirit therefore led the Evangelist St. Luke to record a very important fact - what eventually happened to this Jesus of Nazareth. The answer? He ascended into Heaven. Luke assures us that we will not find a body. The body is gone from this earth in its normal visible form. The body of Christ is now among us in the Holy Supper. Only in the bread of the Supper can we see the body of Christ. For Christ is not like Lazarus. To kill Christ again is an absurd concept. It’s really an absurd idea that He died in the first place.
What is death? Our world has real problems understanding death. We don’t really know what it is. Death is the consequence of man falling into sin. Death is separation from God who is the source of life. Physical death and the decomposition of the body are really just symptoms of something far greater. Death and sin go together. Only those who are sinners can die. One who is without sin cannot die. Of course we are born in sin as we learn in Romans: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” (Romans 5:12) This is not saying that death spread because we each have committed our own sins, but if by chance someone didn’t sin they wouldn’t die. What this is saying is that when Adam sinned, we all participated in that sin. So we are all guilty of Adam’s sin. Our sins just compound our guilt. There is no chance of a person not sinning because we are all participants in Adam’s sin. That means we are all born into a state of corruption. As has been often noted you don’t have to teach a child to lie. They do it automatically. I know that was true of myself as a small child. I had to be taught to tell the truth. This is a symptom of our state of death.
Christ is without sin. So therefore, He should not have died. It should not have been possible. But He carried the sin of the world to the cross - that is our sin. For this reason He died. But having risen from the dead, He cannot die again. He does not have sin. So His resurrection is His permanent state. One of the ways this is expressed is in the book of Revelation where Christ appears as the victorious Lamb, eternally enthroned in heaven. Another way that this is expressed is through the Ascension of Christ. The Ascension explains in simple terms that Christ is still alive and has returned to His Father in heaven.
Already in the book of Daniel we have the idea of God the Son being given the authority to rule over this world. “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a Son of Man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14) Christ of course calls Himself “the Son of Man.” He reflects this same authority after His resurrection. “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’” (Matthew 28:18) And now we can add to this our text: “He worked 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 one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:20-23)
The fact that Christ now rules over all things is not an ivory tower academic issue. It is our great comfort and assurance. The One who paid the price of our sins in history, is still ruling today. He determines who will be saved and who will be condemned. We can approach Christ, the King of Kings, the ruler of all things, with great confidence, because He has assured us that all who trust in His death as the payment for their sins, will be given forgiveness and life. And He’s the one that calls the shots. Nor will this ever change. Christ will rule over all things forever. It will never change. So we have perfect confidence. The One who rules is also the One Who died for us. He will not abandon us now or ever.
Many people today act as though the resurrection of Christ is irrelevant. They further act as though it does not matter if Christ is alive today. The Holy Spirit didn’t think it was irrelevant. He gave us the Biblical texts that speak of Christ’s Ascension and His eternal rule from heaven. The Church didn’t think it was irrelevant either, for from ancient times the Church has celebrated the Ascension of Christ as we are doing here today. This is not just an interesting fact. The Ascension of Christ is our assurance that Christ is alive and ruling over all things. And that is something to celebrate indeed!

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