Holy Gospel – St. Mark 16:14–20
Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; He rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.
He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In My name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”
After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was taken up into heaven and took His seat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed His word by the signs that accompanied it.
We confess these words in the Creed: [Jesus] ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
We observe Christ’s Ascension this morning. We see from our text that closely associated with Christ’s Ascension was His disciples’ carrying out of Gospel ministry. He ascended, and then they began to preach, and to Baptize. You are beneficiaries of that same Gospel ministry. I invite you to find comfort and assurance this morning in knowing how Christ’s Ascension is part of the good news that is being preached.
Those who would be going into all the world to preach the good news to all creation weren’t perfect; that is clear in the first verse of our text. Jesus’ disciples didn’t have perfect understanding - even of Christ’s basic plans. They were confused with the Holy Week events. They acted inappropriately in just about every possible way
- first blustering (Luke 22:24; Matthew 26:33), then cowering (Matthew 26:56), then denying (Matthew 26:72-74), and then, as recorded in our text, doubting. Christ rebuked them, St. Mark tells us, for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. The good that would come from their ministry certainly wouldn’t be attributable to anything in them.
The same is true, of course, of today’s Gospel ministers. They, too, stand before God as those who need, daily, to repent of sins. They are prone to thinking more of themselves than is warranted, while at the same time paralyzed with fears. Trusting in the Lord can be as difficult for them as for anyone; they follow their predecessors the disciples in this. The ministers aren’t perfect, certainly.
And those ministers preach to sinners as well. The good news they share is the declaration that God forgives sins in Christ. You may hear this news with joy at this moment; but not at every moment, right? Other times when it has been preached you might have been sitting in the pew, self-righteously thinking that you wished that some others were hearing this message because they certainly need it! In that, you were calling God’s Spirit who accuses your own heart of sin, a liar, whose message was best brought elsewhere, and not to you. The listeners aren’t perfect.
Into the darkness of this human frailty shines the light of Jesus’ Ascension. Our Old Testament lesson gives a glimpse into its glory. Through the prophet Isaiah, God says: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.” Do you see God’s gracious intent toward you in those words, dear humble sinner? Though you stumble and stammer, He doesn’t push you away. In His glory, in His high and holy place, He accompanies you, He lifts you, restores you to Himself. That’s what we’re really praying in the Collect - that we might in heart and mind be with Him here, in that glory, even as we anticipate being with Him there, eternally.
The disciples might have thought that everything back to normal after the Resurrection would be most desirable. We read in our Epistle lesson from the Book of Acts, that Jesus appeared to them a number of times. We know that He ate with them. It might have seemed to them like things could get back to how they had been. Still confused, they asked Him, “Lord, are You at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Perhaps they could be in this world with Christ around them forever, they might have thought.
But an earthly kingdom hadn’t been part of God’s salvation plan. He wouldn’t make this corrupted world perfect again. Instead, the disciples would be preparing people, through their ministry, for a kingdom beyond this world. The Holy Spirit would work through them to bring to the world this message of salvation from sin through Christ’s sacrifice.
Like the disciples during the time of Christ’s Passion, you have been forced out of your regular routine as of late. This world’s concerns might have seemed, at times, overwhelming. You don’t feel like you’re in control of things like you had been before. You can’t just decide, and then do. You might be afraid of a number of things, and wonder what solutions could possibly be forthcoming.
We spoke earlier of the comfort that you can have from Christ’s Ascension. Think of how He responded to the disciples confusion, discomfort, fear, uncertainty: our text says, the Lord worked with them. But how could this be? He had ascended. They couldn’t see Him or hear Him speak to them anymore.
That is the joy of Christ’s Ascension! He hasn’t really left. He has positioned Himself so as to be of the greatest benefit to those Who have put their trust in Him - ruling in divine glory over all things for the benefit of His church - the Catechism says (ELS Cat. 2001, p.120). He prepares a place for you there (John 14:2). He intercedes for you there (Romans 8:34).
The Lord worked with them. Such a nice way for that to be put, isn’t it? It’s impossible to imagine the extent of the things Jesus is doing for you in His ascended glory. What does it look like when He intercedes for you before the heavenly Father? What is this place that He prepares for you in His kingdom? We know that our Epistle records that He sent the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles so that they could be His witnesses throughout the world. That same Spirit was present at your Baptism to open your heart so that you might believe and be saved. He is present through God’s Word for the same purpose.
So, what does it mean for you to, in the words of the Collect, in heart and mind to heaven ascend, and continually dwell with Him. Certainly, it means that you accept the rebuke and correction that come to you from God’s Law. You hear the Law’s preaching that condemns you in your sin - that of self-righteousness and of lovelessness, but also of all other sin. You come before God humbly in your prayers that He might revive your lowly spirit and your contrite heart. You pray that God give you strength to overcome sins that seem to persist in your life.
Also, it means that you hear and receive for yourself the preaching of the Gospel that Christ commissioned before His Ascension. You hear the Gospel through which, in His glory, He works with those who are preaching, enabling you to know Him as your own dear Lord and Savior.
Finally, it means that you receive Him according to His promise in the Supper of His true body and blood along with bread and wine. You receive Him; we say it again because it bears that sort of emphasis. In His Divine glory, seated at the right hand of God - this high and lofty One, this one who lives forever - places Himself mysteriously into these ordinary things that so that you might come in your own ordinariness to be present with Him for your eternal good.
[Jesus] ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty. The One Who came in lowliness, putting aside His high-ness and His loftiness so as to exalt sinners has Ascended for the good of all who put their trust in Him. In His glory at God’s Right Hand, He works with those who are preaching the good news throughout the world. He emboldens these imperfect ministers. He encourages them. He guides their speech. He corrects them. He rebukes them. He forgives them.
And He prepares the hearts of their listeners to hear this message of salvation. He lifts you; He restores you to Himself. He provides you in His Church, with the Means of His Grace that keep you in heart and mind with Him here, as you anticipate being eternally with Him in His kingdom. In His glory at God’s Right Hand He works with you in your weakness. He forgives your sins fully and freely. No wonder we have these words of the hymn writer: “On Christ’s Ascension I now build the hope of mine ascension.” A hope so built is on the firmest foundation. Amen.
Collect of the Day
Grant, we beseech You, almighty God, that just as we believe Your Only-Begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to have ascended into the heavens, so may we also in heart and mind to heaven ascend, and continually dwell with Him who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.
Old Testament – Isaiah 57:15
We Shall Live With God
For this is what the High and Lofty One says—He who lives forever, whose Name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.”
Epistle – Acts 1:1–11
Christ Ascends and Promises to Send the Holy Spirit
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day He was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles He had chosen. After His suffering, He showed Himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that He was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while He was eating with them, He gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift My Father promised, which you have heard Me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
So when they met together, they asked Him, “Lord, are You at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
After He said this, He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight.
They were looking intently up into the sky as He was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven.”