In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.
Times of uncertainty, fear, and disappointment leave us grasping for something sure. Dr. Bruce Hartung highlighted this at a pastor’s meeting on Tuesday where he was addressing the effects of the pandemic on mental health. These kinds of situations leave people vulnerable to clinging to any confident sounding voice, or anyone who has a radical interpretation to offer.
That’s because as human beings we need something sure and certain. We’re not able to sustain in a constant state of flux, not knowing what to expect the next day. So if someone comes along saying they’ve got it all figured out, that’s what we want (and in a way, need) to hear.
The Ascension of Jesus was a turning point in the life of the fledgling Church. He had spoken about it many times in His upper room discourse. He said, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:18-19) And, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” (John 16:16) And finally praying to His Father, “And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name…now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” (John 17:11, 13) Now here it was, 40 days after His resurrection and time for Him to depart from their sight.
How would His followers know what to expect in the future? With such a fundamental change in their discipleship, how would Jesus continue His work among them and in the world? It would be by a sure and certain word from the One to whom “all authority in heaven and on earth” had been given (Matt. 28:18). So, He says,
“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.”
Everything that has happened thus far has been God’s eternal purpose, right down into the grave in which Christ laid, and from which God had raised Him. Now going forward, the Scripture with the preaching of His death and resurrection will bring forth the repentance and forgiveness of sins to its hearers. Yes, His Ascension means “a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9), but it did not leave them alone and without confidence. His words which He spoke to them would continue His ministry, not only for those who stood on the Mount of Olives that day, but for generations to come.
That’s what’s in mind as Luke begins the Acts of the Apostles,
In the first book [the Gospel of Luke], O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:1-3)
Jesus gave many proofs of His resurrection, and continued to teach His disciples, and that witness was to be recorded and handed down, from the Apostles and Evangelists, so that we would have an authoritative Word in ever more uncertain times. It’s no wonder that the Church has suffered false teachers through the centuries, who came claiming to have some special certainty previously unknown. But what has rescued the Lord’s flock from these wolves has always been the Scriptures.
It is that foundation that we still have in these days where our grasp on stability ebbs and flows. One of the lessons of this time is how fragile our lives and livelihoods are, yet even with that stark reminder, our Lord has given us something more sure. Think about where Jesus has been in this worldwide disaster? He is very present even if unseen, strengthening His disciples with His Word, using these circumstances to awaken the call for repentance, and continuing the forgive all of our sins—the ones which come ordinarily and the ones which flare up under pressure. His word of “Peace be with you” continues to sound in our ears throughout the Church this day. He is with us in that word of the absolution, and in His Body and Blood given and shed for you.
Unseen for now, Christ sits at God’s right hand, ruling over this creation and all that happens in it. He has the power to keep us through whatever comes in the future, because He has built a foundation for our life that nothing in this creation can overturn. But most of all, He is ruling there from God’s right hand for His people. He is present with us to forgive our sins, help us bear the cross, and navigate through the future to bring us to share in the Kingdom prepared for us from the foundation of the world. Christ, the Almighty, ascended Lord guard you always!
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.