The Ascension of our Lord
June 2, 2019
“But I Have Questions!”
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you in the name of God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. Today the Sermon is based on the First Reading from Acts chapter 1.
My dear friends in Christ,
You may not remember her name, but I bet you remember what she did. About 15 years ago she was kind of a “big thing”. Jennifer Wilbanks lived in Georgia and was supposed to get married in 2005 in front of 600 family members and friends with 14 bridesmaids and 14 groomsmen. Yikes. But Jennifer Wilbanks panicked. She fled her home, hopped a bus to Las Vegas, and ended up in New Mexico. Wilbanks made a distressed phone call home saying that she had been kidnapped. No one kidnapped her except her own fear, her own “cold feet,” and the event became national news. She became known as the “Runaway Bride.”
When an event like that happens, we are left with lots of questions. Why did she do this to someone she supposedly loves? Will she face legal charges for making a false report about the kidnapping (“false information to law enforcement;” 2 years probation and $15,000 in costs)? Since the wedding is off, what are they going to do with 14 tuxedos, 14 bridesmaid dresses, and all that cake? There certainly seems to be more we don’t know than we do know in this situation. Don’t know about the cake, but what do we know? The wedding was called off, her fiancée married someone else, and Wilbanks went bankrupt in 2010.
In a similar way, Jesus’ return to heaven creates as many questions as answers. Jesus, after spending 40 days on earth after His resurrection, visibly ascended right in front of the disciples. You can almost see the looks on the faces of the disciples right after it happened; looks of fear and wonder and amazement that masked the questions they were secretly asking themselves. You may have questions too.
Question…where did Jesus go? That may seem obvious, or is it? Our Gospel lesson from Luke 24:51 says that Jesus was “taken up into heaven.” Okay, that seems easy enough…He went up into heaven. Follow-up question…what and where is heaven? That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it?
Depends on who you ask. In 1998, a movie was released called “What Dreams May Come.” In that movie, heaven is portrayed as an individual fantasy world where everything is exactly the way you would want it. In the movie “Field of Dreams,” Shoeless Joe Jackson wonders aloud if Iowa is actually heaven. I have lived in Iowa, and as far as I could tell, it was nice and all, but it didn’t seem like heaven. We all have an idea what heaven looks like: big, billowy clouds surrounding a location above the stars and galaxy as we know it. But what or where is heaven?
What is Heaven? We have John’s description of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21 for starters (last week’s 2nd lesson). In Revelation 21, John gives us just a glimpse of what heaven will be like: “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them…and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (v. 3-4). Wow…we can only imagine what that will be like. As far as where? My friends, heaven is where Jesus is. Heaven is present wherever Jesus is present; it’s being in the presence of the great Triune God. That’s helpful, but when you get right down to it, there is more about heaven that we don’t know than we do know, and we will continue to not know until heaven is perfectly revealed to us on the Last Day and I promise you, you won’t be disappointed! God has never let you down before. Why would He now regarding Heaven? He won’t.
Okay, next question. Why did Jesus go in the first place? Why not just stay here on earth? Our First Reading answers that for us. Jesus had to ascend to Heaven for two reasons: so that He was not misunderstood, and so that the Holy Spirit could be given.
The misunderstanding was already apparent in the lesson from Acts today. The disciples said to Jesus, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Seriously!? Even those closest to Jesus STILL wanted an earthly king, a Savior who would free them from Roman occupation and oppression. They still wanted our Lord to flex His might and bring freedom from hardness and make everything perfect – a “heaven on earth.”
And that is the kind of Savior that many people are also looking for today. In the midst of our tribulations and trials and temptations, when human life gets downright difficult and depressing, we have questions like “where is God? Why isn’t He helping me?” It sure doesn’t feel like He’s there when every joint and muscle in your body seems to hurt and you have questions about your future or the relational/emotional pain is so great you feel as if you’re going to burst! But we are not alone. We don’t have an earthly Savior but a heavenly Savior – One who knows what suffering feels like and who never promised us freedom from suffering. In fact, we can EXPECT to suffer.
“Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). Additionally, “we live by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). We do not need to physically see Jesus to believe, and that’s what faith is. It is believing in Jesus Christ and his birth, life, suffering, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus ascended so He wouldn’t be misunderstood as an earthly Savior who runs around fixing all your life problems. He is a Heavenly Savior. He doesn’t always fix your temporary, temporal problems like you want, but He fixed the eternal problem of sin that we ALL needed to have resolved.
Jesus also had to ascend into heaven so that the Holy Spirit could be given to us. In John 16:7 Jesus said, “It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” If Jesus had not ascended, the Holy Spirit wouldn’t have come to us. And if the Spirit had not come, then no one could truthfully say that Jesus is their Lord and Savior for “no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). And if we didn’t have the faith the Holy Spirit brings and the hope and promise that faith brings, where would we be in this life? We would be forced to live this life in constant uncertainty and total fear. But by our Spirit-given faith in Jesus, we no longer fear because of faith and hope, and hope does not disappoint.
When it comes to the ascension of Jesus, we know that He has temporarily gone to Heaven where He holds ultimate authority and is preparing to come again. This knowledge shouldn’t cause us to have questions, but instead lead us to give all thanks and praise to God for what He has done for us. In times of trouble, don’t pull a “Jennifer Wilbanks;” don’t run away. Instead, seek His face until the day that He comes again and you will find the peace and comfort and hope that you need to make it through the day and the days still yet to be.