The Blessings of Christ’s Ascension - Seventh Sunday of Easter
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
Ephesians 1:15-23
May 16, 2021

Today is the seventh Sunday of Easter, but we are observing it as the Ascension of Our Lord. Ascension Day falls 40 days after Easter. This 40 days stems from the first few verses in the Book of Acts. There Luke tells us that the risen Jesus presented Himself alive to the disciples after His suffering by many proofs during a period of 40 days and then was taken up. As 40 days from Easter Sunday, Ascension Day does not fall on Sunday. So I thought we would observe it this Sunday.

Focusing on Christ’s Ascension can be important because it may be a part of the Gospel that we don’t think too much about. We talk a lot about Christ’s death on the cross and His resurrection. But His ascension is also really important. This is because it is directly connected to Christ’s resurrection, sort of completing it. And it has to do with Christ’s exaltation as the one who will judge the living and the dead. The Apostle Paul talks about this when he says that God worked His great might when He raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:20). Christ’s resurrection and ascension go together, and they both testify to the working of God in us to sustain us in the faith and bring us to everlasting life.

But what is the ascension about? In visual terms, it is when Jesus was taken up from the earth in the sight of the disciples, and then they did not see Him physically any more. The readings from Luke’s Gospel and Acts show us this Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:6-9). In Gospel terms, it is about Jesus ascending His throne and taking His rightful seat at the right hand of God; taking the Name that is above every name in relation to all created things. It is about Jesus being exalted to assume almighty power.

Indeed, the reference to God’s right hand means God’s almighty power. We see this if we go all the way back to the Exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt. After God had brought them through the Red Sea, and Pharaoh’s army was drowned in the Sea, Moses wrote: “Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power” (Ex. 15:6 ESV). It is God’s right hand that did all those things. And in Psalm 118 it says: “The right hand of the Lord is exalted; the right hand of the Lord does valiantly” (Psalm 118:16 ESV). The right hand of God is almighty power that works salvation. But where Moses spoke of the right hand of God in connection with the victory over Pharaoh and deliverance of the people through the Sea, Psalm 118 speaks of the right hand in terms of resurrection of the Christ, for it says: “The stone that the builder’s rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes” (Psalm 118:22-23 ESV).

From these things we see that the language of Jesus sitting at God’s right hand is metaphorical talk. It means His assumption of almighty power, not only as God the Son, but as the man who died and rose for us.

It is Jesus’s right to assume such power and take that throne and that Name, because He does so by first having made purification for sins (Hebrews 1:3). He suffered for sinners in faithful fulfillment of the mission that the Father had set before Him. And so the Father has exalted Him to His right hand.  If any other human were to think of being able to take such a throne and assume such power, it would be on the basis of power or privilege of some kind, and certainly would not involve suffering. But Jesus has assumed that throne and name through suffering; suffering in obedience to His Father; suffering for the salvation of sinners. It is profound comfort and grace for us that Jesus, the one who suffered for us, is seated there and has the Name that is above every name.

But what does Jesus do at the right hand? He is there to intercede for you in the very presence of God. He does this as your brother, your own flesh and blood, who has obtained atonement for you. He exercises almighty power to cause the telling of His Gospel to continue so you can hear and believe and have faith and hope. From there He and the Father pour out the Holy Spirit to be your life in God within, the strength and power of faith in you, and the source of your living hope, the hope that lives within you by faith. From there He fulfills His words of institution of His holy Supper and gives you His true body and true blood in the bread and wine for the assurance of forgiveness and to commune with Him, and He with you, and you with one another.

And then He rules in ways we probably do not most often see to protect us and guide us in the midst of a fallen world. In this world there are wicked people, and tyrannical behavior, all because there is the spirit that is at work in the sons of disobedience (Ephesians 2:2). This spirit was a liar and a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44).

And the human will has become corrupted by that spirit. And then from God’s right hand Jesus will come again in power in the same way the disciples saw Him go in power: He will come on the clouds. And He will be the judge of all the living and the dead.

Truly, we could not be Christians and could not survive as Christians if Jesus had not ascended and sat down at the right hand of God. This is why Jesus makes His ascension the basis of the great commission: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations . . .” (Matthew 28:19).

But there is another important aspect to Christ’s ascension. The focus of this aspect is not so much Christ, as it is you and me in relation to Christ. The Apostle Paul says it when he says that “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 2:5-6 ESV). Did you catch that? God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Christ in the heavenly places.

The Apostle speaks here in the past tense, not the future tense, as if this were already done, already accomplished fact. And so it is from God’s viewpoint. And so the Apostle encourages us to think of ourselves as seated with Christ there at God’s right hand, even now.

This kind of blows our mind a little. It kind of blows up our categories, so to speak. If I were to ask you: where are you sitting? You would say, right here in this pew, here in this building, located at 652 E. Fifth street in Rifle, Colorado; here in the physical confines of this time and place. And you might even chide me a little and say, pastor that is kind of a silly question; it is obvious where I am sitting.

But then I could say. Aw yes, this is obvious to physical sight. But it is not so obvious according to Christ’s work for you; according to God’s promise for you in Christ. It is not so obvious according to faith, taught by the Gospel, which often lives in a reality that we do not see.

And so in the light of Christ’s ascension, I can also ask you: where are you sitting? And you can say: I am sitting with Christ in the heavenly realms, even now.

We might think that a strange way of talking.  But it means that the ascension alters our perspective on our own existence. When I think about sitting here at 652 E. 5th street, I think of myself in the context of this world, where there are many joys, but where life is also fleeting and passing away, and can be so full of troubles. When I think of being seated with Christ, I can think of my life as safe in Him and eternal; where His triumph for me is the triumph that will last forever; where what I am as most real is most real even now in His glory and will become evident in my life in time one day. It means you and I live with Him there in life, fully alive as He is alive, even though it is difficult to conceive of this, as we are seated here in this time and place, beset by so much weakness, sin, and trouble.

But the Holy Spirit through the Apostle is speaking to faith here, not to sight. He is calling you to believe thus about yourself, no matter what being here in this time and place may mean; believe that you are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms; that your life is safe with Him; that His triumph is your triumph.  

This faith is deep down in the soul, where the Spirit works through the word. And so God’s mighty working in you is way down in the soul. And this comforts you and gives you courage, and gives you hope in the face of physical loss here, and teaches you to believe that your true and everlasting existence is with God, even now; and that you live in this reality by faith, even now.

Here is your rejoicing on this seventh Sunday after Easter, on this day we observe the ascension of our Lord; you are raised with Christ. It is done in terms of God’s promise to you. It is coming with respect to time, and so we must wait for the time in faith; but the time will come according to promise.

And you are seated even now in the heavenly places with Christ. And so you know yourself as alive in God, in the midst of the trial and difficulty of this time and place, for you are so alive in God even now, and forever, as Christ is alive in God and seated at God’s right hand, and you with Him.

So give thanks for Christ’s ascension, which is also your ascension with Him. For it is great comfort and hope and a profound blessing for you. Amen.


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