by The Rev. Dan Feusse
"Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven." Acts 1:11 (NKJV)
In the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed, you confess these things about Jesus: that He was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. You confess that on the Third Day He rose again from the dead, He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
Each of these things you confess about Jesus are important for you. That means that the Ascension of our Lord is every bit as important for you as Christmas, Good Friday and Easter. When Jesus was born, He accomplished something for you. The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us. And so we celebrate Christmas. When Jesus suffered and died, He accomplished something for you. The Lamb of God bled and took away the sin of the world. And so we celebrate Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. When Jesus rose from the grave, He accomplished something for you. Death was swallowed up in victory. And so we celebrate Easter.
When Jesus ascends into heaven, He also accomplishes something for you. He takes His resurrected and glorified Body and, as true God and true Man, He ascends into heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father. Christmas. Good Friday. Easter. Ascension. They all go together. And they all are important for your salvation. You know much about Christmas. You know much about Good Friday. And you know much about Easter. But what makes the Ascension of Jesus so important for you? Two things: first, that Jesus ascended bodily into heaven; and second, that Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father.
Where your Savior goes, so you go. Or, how it goes for Jesus is how it goes for you. Did Jesus suffer on account of the sins of this world? So will you. Was Jesus persecuted because He loved His Father and carried out His will? So will you. Did Jesus die? So will you. Did Jesus rise bodily from the grave? So will you. Did Jesus ascend bodily into heaven? So will you.
At the end of all things, after your mortal body has been buried in the ground, St. Paul tells you this from 1 Thessalonians 4: “…then the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.” Just as Jesus had His resurrection, so you will have your resurrection. But St. Paul doesn’t stop there. He continues: “Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.” Just as Jesus had His ascension, so you will have your ascension. And Just as Jesus ascended Bodily, so will you.
Jesus now sits at the right hand of the Father. But that doesn’t mean that Jesus has gone away and left you to fend for yourself. It doesn’t mean that Jesus is sitting up in heaven with His Father, the two of them side-by-side in big LaZBoy recliners, just passing the time and watching the world go by.
Many Christians think exactly that way. Many Christians think that because Jesus has now ascended to the right hand of the Father that He is no longer here. And because they believe that, they think and act accordingly. Those Christians who think Jesus is no longer here often live their lives in despair, wondering why God has left them to fend for themselves - wondering if any of God’s promises are really for them.
And those Christians who think that Jesus is no longer here also conduct their worship accordingly. For them, the Lord’s Supper is simply a memorial meal - a gathering together of Christians to fondly remember a time when Jesus was with us. But this is not what is going on with the Ascension of Jesus to the right hand of the Father. The “right hand of the Father” is not a place. It is a figure of speech. It is the position of honor, power and glory. And it is more. St. Luke tells you in Acts chapter 5: "God has exalted Jesus to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.” St. Paul tells you in Romans chapter 8: “Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.” The fact that Jesus now sits at the right hand of the Father is great news for you! Jesus and His Dad are not sitting in their recliners, taking it easy in some distant heaven far away from you.
Because Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father, He continually intercedes for you, and always bringing you before His Father. The right hand of the Father is also His merciful hand. The right hand of the Father is His helping hand. The right hand is the hand of blessing. And it is with His right hand that He feeds you and sustains you. To say that Jesus is now seated at the right hand of the Father is to say that mercy, help, blessing and nourishment now are all yours - because Jesus has now ascended to give them to you. And there’s yet one more thing about the right hand. In Holy Scripture, the heir to the kingdom always sits at His Father’s right hand.
Remember, where Jesus goes, so you go. In Holy Baptism, you have been joined to your Savior in His death and in His resurrection. But even more. In Holy Baptism, you have also been joined to your Savior in His ascension. Simply put, that means that just as Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father, so will you. And just as Jesus has been given the kingdom of heaven, so have you.
Yes, Jesus has now ascended into heaven. But that does not mean He is not here. His ascension simply shows that heaven - His proper place and home - is now your proper place and home. Jesus broke not only the gates of Hell that kept you in, but He broke down the gates of heaven that kept you out. He has now gone before you and paved the way into His Father’s kingdom.
Jesus, who was born bodily as a baby in Bethlehem, who was nailed Bodily to the cross, who rose bodily from the grave, and who ascended bodily into heaven - is still with you as He comes with that same body to you in the Sacrament of the Altar.
One final thought: whenever the angels appear, something important is happening. The angels were there the night Jesus was born. The angels attended to our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane. The angels were there at the empty tomb. Once again the angels are there when Jesus ascends into heaven. When you come to the Lord’s Table, guess who’s there - all the angels, arch-angels and all the company of heaven. Why then would you stand gazing up into heaven as if Jesus had gone away? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, is still here for you. And from the Father’s right hand He is bringing you mercy, help, comfort and every blessing. And from the Father’s right hand He is delivering to you eternal life.
Rev. Dan Feusse is Pastor of Concordia Lutheran Church in Clearwater, Nebraska. He also serves as editor for myHT’s Catechesis column.
Created: May 15th, 2007