Gone Away to Be Closer Than Ever

by The Rev. Mark Buetow

St. Mark 16:14-20

The most important thing we can learn about our Lord's Ascension is that even though He has ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father, He IS NOT GONE. Most people seem to think that after Jesus' ascension, He's not around anymore. He's far away. Wherever the "right hand of God" is, it's not nearby. People suppose that Jesus is gone and that they're just sort of on their own, maybe with some help from the Spirit, until He comes back. But this is exactly what the Scriptures do NOT teach.

The Ascension of our Lord means this: Christ has gone to the Father so that He can send the Spirit and by the Word that the Spirit preaches be with His church. St. Mark writes this very thing: "After this He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And the Apostles went out preaching everywhere, the Lord working with them." Whatever else the Ascension means, it means this: Jesus is at the right hand of God and that means He's wherever His Gospel is being preached.

What is that Gospel? Jesus tells the Apostles to go and preach the Gospel to every creature. The Gospel is Good News. It's the Good News that Jesus has taken away our sins by His death on the cross and that He has conquered sin, death, devil and hell by that death and by His resurrection. The Good News goes on with our Lord's Ascension for He has taken to the Father all of our righteousness and salvation and the Devil can't take it away from Him. It's like the big kid who holds the ball up in the air so that the little kid can't jump up and get it away from him. Just so, the Devil would love to snatch us and our righteousness away from Jesus, but he can't do it. He's powerless now that Jesus has ascended and been crowned with glory. That's the Gospel. Your sins are forgiven. Jesus paid their price. Nothing stands between you and God anymore. And if the Devil wants to get to you, he's got the ascended and glorified Son of God Himself to deal with!

And Jesus sends the Apostles to preach this into the world since the world doesn't know anything like it. The world thinks that if you live a good life, God will love you. The world imagines some kind of religion about what you have to do to make up for your sins. But the world can't figure out the Gospel. Only the Lord can accomplish it and reveal it! The world doesn't know anything about grace or mercy or the forgiveness of sins won for us by another. So into that dead world, the Lord sends His preachers with the word of life, the Good News of the forgiveness of sins.

"Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved." So by the preaching of the Gospel and the water and the Word, the Spirit makes disciples out of sinners in the world. And just as the world knows nothing about what the Gospel is, so also the world knows nothing about faith. When Jesus says "whoever believes," He doesn't mean that we have some knowledge about things He did or that we can recite some names and dates about His life. He means a trust that clings to Him and to His gifts. The Bible says that when the Lord went on high, He gave gifts to men. These are the gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation, given through the preaching of the Word, the water of the font, the words of absolution and the body and blood of the Supper. To believe means to trust that you have nothing going for you but Jesus and those gifts which give you Jesus. To a world that is dead in trespasses and sins, Jesus doesn't just send some knowledge about a far away God, He actually delivers repentance and the forgiveness of sins through His preachers.

This is really what the Ascension is all about. When Jesus ascends to the right hand of the Father, what He's really doing is now going all over the earth through the preaching of the Gospel. While visible to our eyes, He's there in Judea. Now, hidden to our eyes, He is everywhere the Gospel is preached to the ends of the earth, to all creatures. There is an irony, there, I suppose, in that when He seems to be going away, He's actually getting ready to go everywhere. When it seems as if Jesus is leaving us behind, He's preparing to go all around the world wherever repentance and forgiveness are preached in His name. Listen again to those words of St. Mark: "He was received up and sat down at the right hand of God and they went out and preached, the Lord working with them." In fact, Ascension is your guarantee that where Christ's Word is preached and His sacraments given, there He Himself is forgiving and saving sinners.

And there's our Ascension repentance. Don't think that Jesus is just "far away" somewhere where He doesn't really do anything. Don't think that Christ isn't with you here and now. Don't let faith be just some facts that you happen to know. Rather, with all your heart trust in the this risen and ascended Jesus who has gone to the right hand and by His gifts raises you up to that same right hand with Him so that in all things, against all enemies, nothing can snatch you away from Jesus.

On this day, forty days after Easter, Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father. That doesn't mean He's gone. It just means we don't see Him with our eyes. But He's right here, where His Gospel is preached, where water and the Spirit are poured, where His body and blood are given to eat and drink. And with these gifts, Jesus makes us His own, raises us from the death of sin, seats us in the heavenly places and works all things for our good until He returns again, the same way He went on this day. Jesus died for you. He rose for you. And His ascension is for you too! We have heard of His Ascension today. Now, like His disciples, who went to the Temple, praising and glorifying Jesus, we too come to His house, full of joy and to receive His good gifts in which He is right here with us again. Amen.

 

The Rev. Mark Buetow is pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church in DuQuoin, IL, and the Internet Services Executive for Higher Things. He edits the Daily Reflections. He is married and father of three.

 

Created: May 3rd, 2008