Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I’m writing this letter to you on the day after the Festival of the Ascension, which celebrates the day that Jesus ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father. It occurs 40 days after Easter (which always ends up being a Thursday), and then 10 days later we have Pentecost. There are many Lutheran church that will have a special service on Ascension Day, and some that will bump the festival to the next Sunday and skip the Seventh Sunday of Easter. Why would they do that? Why is Jesus’ ascension into heaven so important that we might consider having an extra service or bumping a Sunday of the Easter season in favour of Ascension?
Jesus puts it this way: “In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2-3). And then in His High Priestly Prayer He says, “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, may be with Me where I am, to see My glory that You have given Me…” (John 17:24). The Holy Spirit also teaches us that God “raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6). Jesus ascends into heaven to prepare a place for you where He is, to prepare a place for you in the heavenly places at the Father’s right hand for you. Where Jesus is, that’s where you will be. In your baptism you’ve been joined to Christ’s death, you’ve been joined to Christ’s resurrection, and at His return you’ll be joined to Christ’s ascension to gain the same place that He now enjoys, to receive the same glory that Jesus has received. You, yes, you, will get to be with Christ where He is, all of Jesus’ glory gets reflected in you. That’s Jesus’ promise as He ascends into heaven.
Jesus’ ascension also gives us the comfort that we have our own advocate, our own defence attorney who has the perfect record of justifying His clients to the Father for the sake of His suffering and death. In First John the Holy Spirit teaches that “If anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (2:1-2). Right now your Jesus is at work for you, standing in the divine courtroom, standing before the Father who is the judge, standing against Satan, the accuser. The accuser hurls your sins onto the floor as evidence for your damnation, he pulls no punches, every sin, every time you could have loved your neighbour but didn’t, every time you excused your loveless heart, all of it is admitted as evidence against you, even who you are, your sinful corrupt nature is submitted against you. It seems like an open and shut case, you’re doomed, certainly damnable. Then your Advocate steps forward, and He gives only one sentence, “This has all been paid for by My own suffering and death on the cross. He is forgiven, he is holy, he is just.” This your Advocate does for you, even now, from His spot at the right hand of God, He speaks to Father for you, intercedes for you, justifies you right there from the right hand of God.
But by no means is Jesus absent from the earth. He says, “I am with you always to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). He is here with you, He is with you in His Word, speaking to you through the Holy Spirit to forgive you your sins here and now, to forgive you as you hear the Absolution from your pastor, as you hear the forgiveness of sins in the sermon. Jesus is here with you, giving you His body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins, to strengthen and feed your faith in this valley of tears. Jesus is here reigning over you, and over His church, with His gospel, with the forgiveness of sins won for you freely by His own suffering and death.
Just like everything else He does, Jesus’ ascension is for you. That’s why we confess it every week in the creeds, and why we so many will remember this event 40 days after Easter.
Your servant in Christ,
Pastor Tim Schneider