Sermon for May 24, 2020 — We View the Ascended Savior
44He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
45Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
50When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”
The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion;
you will rule in the midst of your enemies.
The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind:
“You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”
The Lord is at your right hand;
he will crush kings on the day of his wrath.
He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead
and crushing the rulers of the whole earth.
He will drink from a brook beside the way;
therefore he will lift up his head.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and will be forever. Amen.
1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
It is a common scenario in superhero movies. A man finds out that he has a unique talent, he decides that he’s going to use that to fight crime, and then he goes and hides himself away from the world to train. Maybe the most obvious example of this is the movie Batman Begins. In that movie, Bruce Wayne decides to use his immense wealth to fight crime after he lost his parents to the hands of a criminal. He goes up into the Himalayan mountains and locks himself away from the world so that he can train at the hands of his guru. After the training is over, he returns to the world and reveals himself as the superhero Batman. The Apostle Paul tells us that we have been through the same kind of thing in our Christian lives. On this ascension day, we remember what our ascended Lord has done for us.
We See the Ascended Lord with Whom…
I. We died
II. We have risen
III. We will appear in glory
The Apostle Paul was writing to the Colossians at the behest of their pastor. The Apostle Paul had not established the congregation in Colossae, however he knew the pastor of that congregation, Epaphras, very well. The pastor was concerned that the people were being led astray by false teachers. These false teachers were encouraging the people to look either to Old Testament law or to Greek philosophy for their assurance of Salvation. Because of that, the people really had no assurance of Salvation. They could never keep the laws of God well enough to be sure; and they could never be sure that they had mastered human knowledge well enough to know that they were in the same ballpark as God. In writing to them, he wanted them to understand that all they needed for their Salvation was their Savior Jesus Christ.
This is a glorious little section of his letter in which he talks about the assurance that we have in Christ. The imagery that he uses for this really comes out of the imagery of the event that we celebrate today, the ascension of Jesus. We can imagine ourselves as we hear the Apostle Paul writing here standing in the crowd of disciples watching Jesus being taken up into the Sky and hidden by clouds. Remember, that before Jesus did this, he told his disciples that he would be with them always until the very end of the age. The Apostle Paul tells his readers to set their sights on things above. What do they see and what do we see when we look at the ascended Lord Jesus? We see our lives complete.
The Apostle Paul uses some very vivid language here to describe what we have in the ascended Lord. He tells us that we died. Think of that! Imagine saying that to someone who has just literally died. They’re not going to hear you. What does Paul mean when he tells us that we died in Christ? It means that our sins are dead. That when our Lord Jesus Christ went to the cross he took with himself every sin that we have ever committed or will ever commit and put it to death there. Those sins have no power to condemn us before a holy God anymore. Instead of being spiritually dead, we are dead to the power of our sins to condemn us.
He also uses a neat little picture here when he tells us that we died in Christ. He says that we have been hidden in Christ. A little Note to language nerds out there, the verb in the sentence is in the Greek perfect tense. In the Greek language, the perfect tense means that something has been absolutely completed in the past, but it has ramifications that stretch onward into the future. What picture is the Apostle Paul trying to give us when he tells us that our lives have been hidden in Christ? He means couple of things. He means that thank God is keeping us safe. It means that all the assaults of the world cannot get to us. He keeps us in a place, spiritually, where he can remind us of all of the things that he is one for us in Christ and all of the things that he is promised to us. This is something that gives us a safe harbor in this sin torn world.
What a comforting thought this is! As we live our lives in this world, unable to see the ascended Lord with our physical eyes, we know that we are in close fellowship with him. His loving care surrounds us and his instruction is meant to be whispered into our ears. Think of this church as kind of a safe haven in this world. We are here where our God can speak to us one on one. He can tell us that we are a part of his family. He can show us that he holds us as close to himself as he held his dearly loved Son in eternity. This is the life that we live out here in this world. A life where we are dead to the condemning power of our sins and we are hidden away in God’s Holy Family.
The Apostle Paul also tells us that we have been raised. Notice, again, that this verb is a Greek perfect verb. It refers to the fact that, since Jesus rose from the dead, we have the assurance that his work is completed. We have the assurance that our sins are completely paid for in Christ. It means that nothing has to be added to Christ work. Remember, the false teachers in Colossae were trying to convince the members of that congregation that they needed something else. Paul is letting them, and us, know that everything necessary for our Salvation is accomplished in Christ.
It also means that we have been raised up for a purpose. Again I refer to the movie Batman Begins. When he had gone through his intense period of training, he was ready to serve the citizens of Gotham City. I know, that’s just a little bit silly when we’re talking about these important truths of Christ, but there is a point of comparison. Since we have been raised up in Christ, Jesus has an ongoing influence in our lives. He is also raised us up to a mission in this world. We have not been raised up to spiritual life simply for our own personal benefit. Christ has made us his living ambassadors in this dead world. We have the ability to let people know what our Savior has done not only for us but for everyone in this world. We can do that by telling the story of Jesus, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension into heaven. We can also show Christ in this world because he has given us the ability to live according to his will. We become living ambassadors to Christ through everything that we say and do in this world.
What an amazing thing that is to keep in mind during this time when everybody has their mind set on the problems of this world. God has told us to set our minds on things that are above, not on the problems or the joys of this world. We have that unique ability now to point people away from all of the frustrations and problems of this world to the one who sits at the right hand of the father who guides all things for the good of his church. We have the ability to point people to the one who brings Salvation and meaning to every aspect of our human lives. God did not make us his people simply to hide us away, but to show us like a lamp burning in a house to all the people of this world who are living in darkness. It’s an amazing thing it is that our ascended Lord has done for us!
Finally, when we keep our eyes on our ascended Lord, we are reminded that he will bring us out of this world of sin and darkness to himself in heaven. That is one of the things on which we focus on Ascension Day. This was the promise that the disciples received from the Angels that appeared to them after Jesus was hidden by the clouds. They said to them, “This same Jesus, whom you have seen go up into heaven, will return in the same manner that you have seen him go.” Ever since that time, the Christian Church has literally been looking heavenward. The Apostle Paul encourages to do that in our text for today. In a way, he is talking figuratively. His stress is that we should keep our minds on spiritual matters rather than on earthly matters. However, on ascension day, we have our eyes focused at the skies waiting for Jesus to return as he promised.
We focus on the fact that our savior has prepared a place for us in his father’s heavenly glory. We look forward to that time when we, too, will be raised up into that glorious Kingdom. Then we will see the one who hid us away in the sinful world. We will also see all that he accomplished through our lives lived in his resurrection glory every day of our lives here in this world. What an amazing homecoming that will be! Amen.