This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Ephesians 1:15 - 2:12
Sermon prepared by Rev. Ralph Wigboldus, Sarnia, Ontario
Theme: God's power which raised Christ to heaven also raises us for his glory
Goal: To teach Christians that God's power raises us up to Christ for his glory
Need: Christians need to fully understand the significance of Christ's ascension
Here we are. It's Ascension Day. Today is the day we remember that Jesus Christ, having conquered sin and death, appearing to his disciples repeatedly, finally came to the time when he was to return to his place of glory. Luke describes for us the events of Jesus’ ascension in Acts 1.... When we think of the ascension of Christ, we often tend to think of it as an amazing event, but we don't always understand its significance. We're like the disciples who stood staring into the sky in awe.
Imagine them there, looking intently up into the sky. "Wow!" They were amazed. They were baffled and bewildered. "Was that awesome or what?" They must have thought that nothing could be more amazing than that. They were so caught up in the fact that Christ ascended that they almost missed the significance of it all.
God had to send two angels to snap them out of their daze. The angels reminded them that this was not the last that they would see of Jesus. They told the disciples to quit staring into heaven. There was work to do.
Lots of Christians still get stuck in the trance of looking into the sky waiting for Christ to return. Books about the end times and prophecy seminars try to show how the events of today point to Christ's imminent return. Sometimes, when I listen to the local Christian radio station, I hear what sounds like warnings or even threats from pastors who are trying to convince the world that they need to take the return of Christ seriously. I don't know how often I've heard preachers going on and on about how things in Europe, Israel and the Arab nations prove beyond a doubt that Jesus will return any day now.
They keep on saying that we need to be ready for it. They admonish us not to be caught sleeping. They plead with us not to ignore the signs.
What they don't do, though, is tell us to get busy with the work of Christ's kingdom. They seem to overlook the fact that Christ told us to do something while we await his return.
Jesus didn't ascend so that we'd spend day and night wondering when he'd come back. He told the disciples that it's up to the Father to decide the date and the time, instead of wondering when.
The ascension of Jesus Christ isn't about waiting for him to return. It's about getting on with the work that he has given us to do.
Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, wrote about what it means that Christ was raised up to glory. He teaches us what the ascension is really all about. The Ascension of Christ is first of all, about God's Promise.
Second, it's about God's Power.
Finally, it's about God's Purpose.
Christ's ascension is about God's promises. When Jesus was on earth, he promised his disciples that after he left in bodily form he would still be with them. In John 16, he told them that he would have to leave so that the counsellor, the Holy Spirit would come to them.
When Paul writes to the Ephesians, he says that he is always praying that they will receive this Spirit. This is what God had promised from of old. He had spoken through his prophets that he would pour out his Holy Spirit on all people. In his prayers, Paul says he's asking that God give the Christians the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that they will know him better. He says he prays that they will be enlightened by this Spirit.
Enlightenment seems to be the one thing that people spend lots of time looking for but never seem to find. Buddhists spend hours meditating, looking for enlightenment. Enlightenment for them is the understanding of life's mystery, which will ultimately enable them to escape life's prison.
A little over a century ago, humanity thought it had found enlightenment. Science, it was believed, would solve all our problems. God was no longer needed. The result of that enlightenment has been seen in two world wars, nuclear bombs and biological weapons. The harder humans try to rely on their own abilities to find enlightenment, the worse things seem to get.
True enlightenment requires something more than meditation and science. True enlightenment requires God's Spirit. Paul says with God's Spirit we can know the hope that he has called us to and the inheritance he has prepared for us. When Jesus ascended, he went to prepare a place for us to inherit and he sent his spirit so that we could know his promises are true.
Another thing that God's Spirit makes us aware of is what Paul calls "his incomparable power." Christ's ascension is all about God's power. When humans think of power, they usually think of the sort of power that gets them what they want in life. Power comes from things like money and popularity. Some people are physically powerful but that doesn't really get you very far in life. The sort of power people really crave is the power to control your destiny.
The problem is, that kind of power doesn't exist. Some people think they have it, but who can really control what happens to them? The most powerful person on the planet can't prevent an earthquake or a giant meteor from striking the earth. The most powerful person on earth can't create life. Even with all our science and technology, we really have no power. Power is an illusion.
Except, that is, for God's power. The power Paul refers to is the power used by God to do some pretty amazing things. God's power is the power that raised Christ. It is the power to defeat death. But it didn't stop there. God's power also enthroned Christ. Paul says he seated Christ at his right hand. This power also appointed Christ ruler over all things.
This power, says Paul, is made available for us. In verse 19, Paul says that the power is for us.
The same power that raised Christ from death raises us from death. In chapter 2:1 he says we were dead in our sins. Through Christ we are given the power to defeat sin and death.
That power is also used to elevate us as it was used to elevate Christ. In 2:6 Paul says that God has raised us up with Christ, and seated us with him. Christ, who sits enthroned in heaven, is the ruler of all things. Paul tells us that we are also rulers with Christ.
Christ's ascension is about God's power – his power to make Jesus the ruler of the universe and the power to make us rulers with him.
Of course God wouldn't do all this if he didn't have a purpose. God raised Christ and made him king for a reason. He also raised us and made us rulers for the same purpose. In 2:7 Paul tells us God's purpose is to show off.
God did all of this to show his incomparable riches of his grace. That's why he has given us his power, in order to reveal to others what his grace is all about. When a builder builds a home he usually puts a sign out in front so that people who see the home being built might be impressed and want a similar home built for themselves. Christians are God's works of construction, and he wants us to advertise his abilities to change lives. He wants others to look at his work and say, "Hey, I'd like to have that, too."
To be good models we need to be doing what God asks us. Paul says that God has prepared works for us to do. That's why Christ ascended, so that we could receive his Spirit. Then we'd be able to do the work God has in mind for us. Christ didn't ascend because he was finished with his work. The first thing Luke wrote in Acts 1 is that his former book, which is the gospel of Luke, is about what Christ started. The Acts of the Apostles is all about what Christ continues to do through his church.
When Jesus came to earth he came to set sinners free. He brought that freedom by shedding his blood. Paul says it is by grace that we have been saved. But not everyone knows about Christ's grace. That's what God's purpose is for us.
Our job, people of God, is to show the world the incomparable riches of God's grace. It's not to stare into heaven and try to calculate when Jesus is coming back. Who knows? Jesus might come back tonight. If he does, Hallelujah. But who puts a kettle of water on and then just sits down to watch until it boils? Only people who have nothing better to do.
We have a lot to do. Jesus hasn't come back yet so we should be busy doing everything we can until he returns. Christ ascended so that we could receive his promise. He ascended so we could receive his power. He ascended so that we could be busy fulfilling his purpose, showing off our God to the world.
Order of Worship – Ascension Day Service
Leader: People of God, the Lord of glory, Jesus Christ, greets you today, "Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ through the working of the Holy Spirit." This is the greeting of Christ, who arose from the grave.
People: He died and rose that we might have eternal life. All thanks be to him!
Leader: This same Christ has ascended to the Father.
People: He ascended that we might experience God's presence and power.
All: Praise to him!
We Hear the Story of The Ascension of Christ
Reading: Acts 1:1-11
Hymn of Response: PH #406 "Alleluia, Sing to Jesus"
We Profess What We Believe (From the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord's Day 18)
Leader: What do you mean by saying, "He ascended to heaven?"
People: That Christ, while his disciples watched, was lifted up from earth to heaven and will be there for our good until he comes again to judge the living and the dead.
Leader: But isn't Christ with us until the end of the world as he promised us?
People: Christ is truly human and truly God. In his human nature Christ is not now on earth; but in his divinity, majesty, grace and Spirit he is not absent from us for a moment.
Hymn: PH #412 "Jesus Shall Reign"
We Listen to The Word of God
Text: Ephesians 1:15-2:12
Message: "Ascending in God's Power"
We Respond with Praise and Prayer
Hymn of Response: PH #410 "Crown Him with Many Crowns"
We Leave with Joy to Serve
Leader: He who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon."
People: Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!
Leader: The grace of the Lord be with all the saints.
Closing Praise: PH #504 "Holy God, We Praise Your Name"