Sermon – Acts 1.1-11 (Ascension – 2021)

Our Exalted King Is Near

Let us pray: O Jesus Christ, almighty Son of God, You are no longer in humiliation here on earth, but are seated at the right hand of Your Father, Lord over all things: We beseech You, send us Your Holy Spirit; give Your Church pious pastors, preserve Your Word, control and restrain the devil and all who would oppress us; mightily uphold Your kingdom, until all Your enemies have been put under Your feet, that we may hold the victory over sin, death, and the devil; through You, who live and reign with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.

Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,

 2 until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen,

 3 to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.

 4 And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me;

 5 “for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

 6 Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”

 7 And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.

 8 “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

 9 Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.

 10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel,

 11 who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”

These are Your words, heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the truth. Your word is truth. Amen.

Dear fellow redeemed,

What did Luke record as the content of Jesus’ teaching during the 40 days after His resurrection? He said that Jesus was “speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” His last words were about the kingdom of God. Mark records the summary of Jesus preaching, saying in the first chapter of his Gospel, “Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.

This proclamation of the Kingdom of God is to continue today in the Church and from the Church to the world. The preaching of the kingdom of God is the preaching of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. The angels told the disciples to stop gazing up into heaven, and recognize that Jesus will be returning in like manner. They ought to wait for the Holy Spirit to come to them, and then they will have plenty of work to begin preaching the kingdom of God beginning in Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. And so the Church continues preaching the kingdom today.

And that message today will specifically focus on two things related to Christ’s Ascension: The King is exalted. And the King is near.

After Jesus rose from the dead, He appeared to Mary Magdalene. She embraced her Lord, but Jesus said, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father” (Jn 20:17). Mary wasn’t doing anything wrong here. What Jesus is saying is that the visible relationship that she and the disciples had been accustomed to is over. He will not remain with them in this way, but it is good that He will go, and instead of clinging to Him, she ought to be glad to see Him ascend to the Father’s right hand.

It is good that Jesus ascend, because His ascension to the right hand of the Father is His exaltation in glory over all things. Jesus is seated “in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come” (Eph 1:20-21)

This is not just a seat of honor for Christ, but a seat of power, a power that is His, and power with which He rules over all creation. He is King over the earth, and all the nations are under His feet. The devil and all his horde is subjected to the conquering might of Christ. This exalted Christ is the same one who loves you. He once got dirty with your sins and paid the price for them. He’s the one who stretched out His hands on the cross for you. He’s the one who died your death for you and was buried in that tomb in the garden. You call Him Savior, Redeemer, Lord, and since He is true man and since He has made us children of the Father with Him, we also call Him Brother.

There is great comfort for us in this, but that is not all. The truth is that He is also very near to you. Though Mary embraced her Lord, and the disciples worshipped at His feet and conversed with Him, after He ascended into heaven, Christ’s presence with them became more intimate and more profound than ever before. We find this same thing in Jesus instructions to the Church. Before He ascended into heaven, He instructed the disciples to go make disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching. And though He will ascend and no longer be visibly present with His Church, He says, “I will be with you always, even unto the end of the age.” In such miraculous and mystical closeness, Christ is present with us also today.

He comes to us in the means of grace, the Word and Sacraments, bringing us His forgiveness and righteousness and His eternal life. And nothing depicts this closeness better than the Holy Sacrament of the Altar. There Christ is present with His body and blood for us. We receive Him upon our tongues in intimate communion with Him, and we are united to Him, to His forgiveness, and His life!

It is to Christ outside of us that we sinners look for our forgiveness and salvation. Within us we see that corrupted nature, the selfish and prideful flesh, from which come all our sins of thought, word, and deed. And so with repentant hearts we look to Christ outside of us—Christ on the cross who bore our sins. Christ who comes to us with His forgiveness and salvation in Word and Sacrament. And surely, Christ, your ascended King, forgives you and has assured you of eternal life! It is in His cross and in the promises of His gospel in Word and sacrament that we find the power that strengthens our faith, and the certainty of His love for us and His forgiveness and eternal salvation for us.

But there is another gift we have that comes to us through the Word and Sacraments. When we receive Christ with the gift of faith, He comes to dwell in us. The ascended King, who sits in all power, glory, and honor at the Father’s right hand, our Savior, our Redeemer, our Lord, and our Brother dwells in our lowly hearts. Jesus said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with Him” (John 14:23).

He is Your God and your exalted King, and He is near. He dwells in you.

John wrote in His first letter, “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). John is speaking of the Antichrist as the one who is in the world. Neither the antichrist, nor the devil, nor any other evil in the world can overcome you, for the ascended King, Jesus Christ, is in you. Yes, you are more than conquerors through Him who loved you and gave His life as a sacrifice for you. For the conquering Lord is in you. Through faith you are members of His victorious kingdom, and one day, you will join your exalted King in glory. Amen.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.

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