Ascended for Us
Friday of Easter 6
11 May 2018
Christ ascended bodily, disappearing from the sight of His disciples and entered the presence of His Father and our Father (Acts 1:9-11). The act of ascension was of no benefit to Christ Himself. It wasn't as though He needed to "go up" so that He could get to heaven, because from eternity He lived in perfect fellowship and substantial unity with God His Father (Jn 10:30). He didn't need to go anywhere to be with His Father. In any case, heaven is not an "up there" phenomenon. While very real, heaven is not at the "top" of the physical universe, wherever that "top" might be. So Jesus does not ascend for the purpose of getting there, like Harry Potter gets on the Hogwarts train by entering platform 9 ¾. There is not a secret door to heaven, just above the Mount of Olives, through which Jesus slips while the disciples stand gaping. The ascension of Christ the eternal Son of the Father was only and absolutely for our benefit, not for His. Like everything Christ did and does, He ascended visibly for our instruction and salvation.
He goes up, ascends on high, and disappears from the sight of the disciples for their benefit and for ours. He disappears from their sight, not from His world, nor from His church. His eternal righteousness remains the stuff of the church's daily life, even though we cannot see our Lord. He is here among us according to His divine nature, which cannot be circumscribed here or there or imprisoned in heaven, no matter what those captive to a Newtonian world view might say. People should not act as though they are unaware that that little physicist with the funny hair-do has changed all of that. You know, Einstein pointed out that time, energy, and matter are in a fluid relationship among themselves. If that is so, then not appearing by being present isn't quite so impossible as some people think.
Christ is now seated at the right hand of God the Father, as our creed confesses. There He dwells with the Father to assure us that all righteousness has been given to us through the events of His earthly, life, death, and resurrection. He has entered the heavenly realms bearing the body, which he shares with us, born of the Virgin Mary. The heavens themselves have been decisively broken open for our sakes by His visible ascension to His Father. As the righteous man, Jesus has preceded us to our heavenly home, to which, if He goes, all men who share His righteousness shall also go. As the righteous Son of God, all those who have been counted righteous by His work, He calls sons of God, whose home in heaven beckons; as it must to those who know where their home is (2Co 5:1-10). Christ ascends to lead us into the presence of God. We shall look forward to his return in the same way that He went: visibly and for us.
All the activity of the Son of God was accomplished for us men and for our salvation. His work assures us of and gives us the righteousness we need in the presence of God. His actions are all done for us. This is why Christians so aggressively reject work righteousness, because when we claim that our works gain righteousness in the presence of God, we call into question the sufficiency and fullness of the work of God's Son. He is our righteousness, not we ourselves. The ascension of Christ means that we should confidently await and hope for the return of our Savior to rescue us from this world to take us to Himself. We have no fear of His return because what He does, including return to judge, He does for us, for our benefit. We shall hear His voice when He returns visibly saying, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Mt 25:34). How could we hear anything else from the One who ascended to be our righteousness.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Martin Luther
"Now Christ did not go to the Father for His own sake or for His own Person. For this would not have helped us and could not be called our righteousness. But just as He came down from heaven for our sakes and became our flesh and blood, so He also ascended into heaven for our sakes after conquering sin, death, and hell and entering into His dominion, by which He redeems us from all this and gives us forgiveness of sin, power, and victory over the devil and death. Such is the nature of His reign that His kingdom is called and is 'righteousness,' that is, the righteousness which abolishes sin and unrighteousness and makes man righteous and acceptable before God.
"This righteousness, however, is completely concealed, not only from the world but also from the saints. It is not a thought, a word, or a work in ourselves, as the scholastics fantasied about grace when they said that it is something poured into our hearts. No, it is entirely outside and above us; it is Christ's going to the Father, that is, His suffering, resurrection, and ascension. Christ placed this outside the sphere of our senses; we cannot see and feel it. The only way it can be grasped is by faith in the Word preached about him, which tells us that He Himself is our Righteousness. Thus St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1: 'whom God made our wisdom from God,  righteousness and  sanctification and redemption' (1Co 1:30), in order that before God we may boast, not of ourselves but solely of this Lord.
"This is a peculiar righteousness; it is strange indeed that we are to be called righteous or to possess a righteousness which is really no work, no thought, in short, nothing whatever in us but is entirely outside us in Christ and yet becomes truly ours by reason of His grace and gift, and becomes our very own, as though we ourselves had achieved and earned it. Reason, of course, cannot comprehend this way of speaking, which says that our righteousness is something which involves nothing active or passive on our part, yes, something in which I do not participate with my thoughts, perception, and senses; that nothing at all in me makes me pleasing to God and saves me; but that I leave myself and all human thoughts and ability out of account and cling to Christ, who sits up there at the right hand of God and whom I do not even see.
"Faith must lay hold of this, must be founded on it, and must take comfort from it in times of temptation, when the devil and man's own conscience argue with him as follows: 'Listen. What kind of Christian are you? Where is your righteousness? Do you not see and feel that you are a sinner? How, then will you pass muster before God?' Here again he must base his words on this verse and say: 'I know very well, and I am sorry to say, that I am a sinner and that in me there is no righteousness that will be valid before God. And I must and will not look for or know of such righteousness in myself, for with it I could never come before God. But in this verse I hear Christ say that my righteousness consists in His going to the Father and in His ascension into heaven. There my righteousness has been deposited, and there the devil will surely have to let it remain; for he will not make Christ a sinner or reprove or find fault with His righteousness. If I am a sinner and my life does not pass muster before God, and if I find no righteousness in myself, I have another treasure, which is the righteousness of which I boast and on which I rely. This is Christ's going to the Father, which He has presented to me as a gift.' What does this righteousness lack, or what flaw can you find in it? You surely do not see or feel anything of it, do you? Answer: 'Indeed, Christ Himself defines and describes righteousness by saying that I will not feel it but must take hold of it by faith in Christ's Word 'you will see Me no more.' But why would I need faith if I could perceive and feel this righteousness in myself?'"

Martin Luther, Sermons on John's Gospel, 16.10
John 16:5-15

Now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, 'Where are you going?' But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
"I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (ESV)
O Christ, You are our righteousness. Keep us firmly in this faith, that we might never slide into self-righteousness and away from the gift of righteousness that comes from You. Help us to honor and worship You because You have done all this for us poor sinners. Give us a lively hope as we live out our days in Your care and as we await Your glorious return. Send Your Holy Spirit, that we might daily be convicted of our sin and convinced of Your righteousness. Amen.
For Pastor Ian Pacey as he serves God's people, that the Lord of the church would strengthen him for this service
For President Matthew Harrison of the LCMS, that he would continue to confess the truth into the world
For our catechumens, that they would be able to make a good confession before many witnesses, as they undergo public questioning tonight
Art: GAROFALO  Ascension of Christ (1510-20)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2018
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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