Sermon audio here.
Tonight we ponder the Ascension of our Lord, using Psalm 110 as our guide. The authors of the New Testament often used Psalm 110 to teach the Christian faith. They quote from it over 20x in the New Testament. And this is good, since the Old Testament is our story. We believe in the same God as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Our Lord Himself quotes Psalm 110 (Matthew 22) to demonstrate that while David was king, he acknowledged a King greater than Himself.
[Jesus] said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls [the Christ] Lord, saying, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?””
Here in Psalm 110, we witness King David paying homage to the King of Kings. David wasn’t like other kings. He didn’t demand, like Caesar, that his subjects worship him. [Discuss Polycarp/divinity of Roman emperor]
The demand: In “The Martyrdom of Polycarp”, the captain of police, ironically named Herod, said to Polycarp, “What harm is there in saying, Caesar is Lord, and offering incense?” (MartPol. 8). Polycarp knew of a greater authority than Caesar. Matthew 10.
[Same thing with Pharaoh/divinity; exodus as judgment on gods of Egypt]
Though he was king, David acknowledged an authority greater than himself, the authority of the Lord Jesus. And this was an authority he king gladly submitted to.
Kings typically use their power for their own benefit. Not Jesus; He uses His to serve. Nor does He show us a little charity out of His excess wealth; He serves us at great, personal expense, even to His own detriment. Recall His anguished cry in the Garden: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” Or again from the cross: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?”
No amount of gold or silver could redeem you. The price was the holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death of Jesus, and it was a price He gladly paid. But He who humbled Himself to the point of death did not stay dead; He was raised up and exalted by God to the highest place. As St. Peter says, “The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging Him on a tree.”
Like King David, Jesus is also commander of an army. “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Sabaoth” we sing in the Sanctus. A “Sabaoth” is an army; Jesus is the Lord God of the heavenly hosts (or heavenly armies). After drowning Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea, Exodus declares God “a man of war.” Jesus is no exception. He led His army in battle against Satan and the forces of hell, and it’s hard to imagine Jesus and His army facing a more humiliating defeat.
His friends betray Him, His nation hands Him over to Pilate, and He dies before the battle even gets started. That’s how winners and losers of a war are determined, right? You can hardly call it a victory when the leader dies and his army flees. But Jesus doesn’t play by the rules. He wins by losing; death was the moment of His triumph. Satan thought he had Jesus right where he wanted Him, but He was unwittingly doing God’s work all along. Had Jesus not died, you’d still be in your sin.
Jesus’ death wasn’t a bad thing and neither is His ascension. At the time Elisha thought it was a bad thing for Elijah to go away, but instead he ends up with a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. So it is with the ascension.
Because Christ has ascended, He now sits at the right hand of the Father where He serves as your High Priest. Unlike earthly priests, He has entered, “not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” There He intercedes for you, there He serves as your advocate before God the Father.
Earthly priests would stand daily at their service, repeatedly offering the same sacrifices. But Jesus sits, nor is there need of any more sacrifice, because it is finished: the Lamb of God has taken away the sin of the world. Until He returns to take you to His heavenly banquet, He invites you to receive His gifts: to abide in His Word and dine with Him at His table. As Scripture says:
“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives… and he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”
When Jesus ascended, He left gifts behind. He gave the Office of the Holy Ministry, though which the Ascended Lord continues to speak, comfort, and Absolve sinners.
But God wants to give you more than just gifts; He wants to give you Himself. God had always intended humanity to live with Him, not just by grace through faith, but in His presence. After the exile from Eden, we had to settle for the tabernacle and temple. And though we are invited into the holy of holies itself through the true body blood of Jesus in the Sacrament, His body and blood are only visible to the eyes of faith.
But at the ascension of Jesus, something remarkable has happened. For the first time since Eden, paradise had been re-opened to flesh and blood when Jesus, true man, took our human flesh back with Him to heaven. Flesh and blood are once again in the presence of God. By virtue of your baptismal union with Christ, your flesh and blood will be raised up on the Last Day to join Christ’s flesh and blood in the eternal presence of the Father. As we sing,
He has raised our human nature
On the clouds to God’s right hand;
There we sit in heav’nly places,
There with Him in glory stand.
Jesus reigns, adored by angels;
Man with God is on the throne.
By our mighty Lord’s ascension
We by faith behold our own. (LSB, 494; v. 5).
Jesus hasn’t promised to take us to heaven and give us some lowly place in the part of town nobody goes; no, He has promised to grant you to sit with Him on His throne (Matthew 19:28; Revelation 3:21).
Until then, we abide in the Word, flesh, and blood of our Ascended Lord. Gerhard said it well: “Christ, ascended [into heaven]… in order that He might seat our nature in the highest glory and dignity. For Christ is our Head, we are members of His body, bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh (Eph 5:23, 30). What now has been fulfilled for the Head, for that the members also may hope. As He says, “Where I am, there you may be also,” (John 14:3), Postilla, 425.
+Rev. Eric Andersen
The Ascension of Our Lord, 2015: The Return of Flesh and Blood to Paradise
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