Rev. James Krikava is the Regional Director of the Eurasia Region. In addition to his other duties, he is serving as interim pastor for the English-language congregation in Prague, Czech Republic. The congregation awaits their new pastor and his family, Rev. Clinton Hoff. Pastor Krikava shares with us the sermon he preached tonight for the Ascension service at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church, Prague, Czech Republic.
–By Rev. James Krikava
Sermon on Ascension 2016
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
The word of God, which will form the basis for our meditation on this blessed feast of the Ascension of our Lord, is the Holy Gospel (Mk 16:14‑20)
In the name of Jesus, our crucified, risen, and now ascended Savior, dear redeemed of the Lord:
Ascension Day seems to be dying a slow death in the USA. Fewer and fewer Churches celebrate the feast on the 40th day after Easter. In many churches, it is moved to the Sunday following. Some Lutheran parishes still join together for service on this day, but the attendance diminishes yearly. Is it really unthinkable that Christ’s people gather on a Thursday once a year? Even the number of Ascension Day hymns has decreased with each new hymnal publication. I suppose it was thought, “Why include many when so few will sing them anyway?”
Still, I often think, what a blessing that even though the first Ascension was attended only by a scant few on the earthly side of the service, still, it was overflowing with joy as the countless hosts of Angels and Archangels trumpeted the enthronement of Mary’s Son as their King and welcomed home the human flesh to the throne it was first created for. Maybe it has always been this way – heaven realizing the greatness of the day and earthlings mostly oblivious. But here you are. You will not to be deprived of the joy of this great feast! And you are not a small group gathered here tonight either. As the Ascension
Day preface before the Lord’s Supper says, “It is truly good, right, and salutary that we should … give thanks to you, holy Lord … through Jesus Christ our Lord, who after His resurrection appeared openly to all his disciples and in their sight was taken up to heaven (not simply as God, but as true Man) that He might make us partakers of His divine nature. Therefore with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Your holy name, evermore praising You …” And so, while we do that, let’s ask:
Why Celebrate the Ascension of our Lord?
Before our Lord’s passion, death, burial, descent into hell, and resurrection on the third day, Jesus prepared his disciples for what was coming, including His ascension into heaven where He would sit down at the Right Hand of God the Father almighty: “But now I go away to Him who sent Me, and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.” (Jn 16:5-7).
The disciples were sad over the prospect that Jesus would go away. His ascension would definitively mark it. From then on they would not see Jesus as before. They didn’t much look forward to this, because they didn’t understand what Jesus meant. Why? Because the Holy Spirit had not yet come to them with power.
But what about us? We have the Holy Spirit through the
Scriptures inspired by God, preaching repentance and forgiveness of sins, and the sacrament. Nevertheless, man is by nature obtuse and will not, by his own powers of reason and intellectual strength, hear what they say. Even so-called bible scholars close their ears to the joys of X’s Ascension. They seem to want to remain in the sorrow of the disciples.
One such example of this is found in the translation of one of Peter’s mission sermons. One translation renders it this way: Peter preached, “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before” (Acts 3:19-20 NKJV). “He must remain in heaven until the time when God makes everything new. He promised this long ago through his holy prophets” (Acts 3:21 NIV 1996).
He must remain in heaven? Really? As if He were locked up there like a bird in a gilded cage? But that just isn’t what the text says. The King James Bible at least renders it: “Whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things” (Acts 3:21 NKJV); not that He must remain there. But this too isn’t as strong as it could be, because it still only states that Jesus was accepted by heaven to dwell there until His return on the Last Day, without giving us any clue as to what kind of reception it was.
But what this text really says is captured only by Luther in his German translation, “He must take in heaven” (Acts 3:21 Luther Bibel 1545 “welcher muss den Himmel einnehmen), as in capturing it or taking it over like a king conquering a kingdom for himself! That’s different, isn’t it? He is not simply invited in and somehow trapped up there so that He cannot be with His people until His return.
You see, the verb in question in this verse is a little tricky to handle when translating it from the original into English. Whereas English has verbs, which are either in the active or passive voice, Greek has a third possibility called the middle voice. The middle voice can be translated either as passive, as in “Jesus must be received by heaven,” or as an emphatic active verb as Luther does with his “He must take over heaven,” and take it by right, authority, and power. So the translator has to make a choice on which way to go.
Grammatically, it could be taken the passive wimpy way. But theologically it has to be taken in this emphatic active way. Why? Because of what Jesus says about His Ascension: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Mt 28:18). This authority is not some permission Jesus has from His Father to send out His disciples to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” The word for “authority” here means “absolute power” in heaven and on earth, power over sin, death, and the devil; even power over time and space; and not just as God either – He was already that from eternity as the divine Word “in the beginning … with God, and … was God … through whom all things were made … in whom was life … the light of men” (Jn 1:1-4) – but also and especially as true man, the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us, seen by the Apostles, who “beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14).
That is what He won for us on the cross as Man in the person of Christ, the God-Man. This Christ, as Man, defeated the devil in his game of death. This Man rose from death, victorious over it. This Man now ascends into heaven because to this Man God’s absolute power is now given.
This means that as Man, Christ can never be separated from God, and as Man he will not be separated from us. He is the God-Man, the only God we truly know personally. We know Him not as pure deity and spirit, but on our terms as Man, like us yet without sin, our Brother, Redeemer, Friend.
Now this makes the Ascension of Christ more interesting – a lot more; exciting even. Christ’s ascension to the Right Hand of God’s eternal power and might does not mean that He removes Himself from His disciples, only to send them the Holy Spirit in His place. Sometimes people get the idea that God the Father, as Yahweh, was the way God revealed Himself to the people of the OT. “But,” as St. Paul writes, “when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5). During that period God revealed Himself through Jesus. The Epistle to the Hebrews seems to say this, too: “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son … who … when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hb 1:1-3). And then, after Jesus was taken up into heaven, God now reveals Himself through His Holy Spirit working through the Word of the Apostles and Prophets.
That may sound about right, but if that were the case, how is the New Testament era really any different than the Old Testament times? Or are they really just the same? They had God the Father and we have God the Holy Spirit. They didn’t have Christ yet and we don’t have Him anymore. That would be a sad Christianity indeed! And again Ascension Day would be sad and we, too, would find ourselves, “gazing up into heaven” with the disciples, watching in spirit, as it were, reminiscing how Jesus “was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight,” with only the future hope promised by those two angels in white, “This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”
It is true, as Jesus said, on the Last Day, all “will see the Son of Man
coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of earth to the farthest part of heaven” (Mk 13:26-27). But what in the meantime?
First, let’s not forget that the believers in the Old Testament also did have Christ present with them. It was God the Son who created the world with an audible word, “‘Let there be light.’ And there was light” (Gn 1:3), etc. God the Son also appeared to Abraham as “The Angel of the LORD,” calling off the sacrifice of Isaac and providing a ram caught in a thicket as a prefiguration of the Messiah, who should come. This same Angel of the LORD repeated the promise to him, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice” (Gn 22:18). And there are many other examples.
But He had not yet become Man. He had not yet come into the world to complete His mission as a Man. But He was there alright, and the faithful of Israel believed in Him. They believed the day would come when He would no longer appear in the form of “The Angel of the LORD,” but would come as a true Man, God and Man in one person, who, because of His humanity could be the true sacrifice for the sins of the world.
Now Christ has accomplished His mission. Sin is paid for once and for all. Death and hell have no hold on those who are in Christ, who trust Him for their salvation. And His humanity is now exalted to the Right Hand of God’s absolute power. This means that His humanity is just as exalted as His eternal deity. Just as God is eternal, able to fill all things, all-powerful, all knowing, all everything that God is, so now is His humanity. His Ascension, therefore, means that when He sends His Holy Spirit, He comes with Him. Ascension isn’t the end of the Jesus story. It’s the end of the chapter on His humiliation, but the book of His human presence with His bride, the Church, continues on.
Through the sending of the Holy Spirit, Jesus the Man is also not limited to some place far away in heaven. Nor is it some kind of abstract presence either. His human presence is tied to His own powerful Word and Command. In Baptism He is there, washing away your sins. You may see a pastor doing the pouring, but Jesus, your Brother and Savior is really the one doing it, in, with, and under the hand of the baptizer with that water used and connected with His command.
In the preaching of the Gospel or the word of forgiveness pronounced to you individually, you may hear the voice of a croaking minister doing the talking, but in with and under it is the very present voice of Jesus speaking these words to you.
In the holy Supper, it is Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, who says to our bread and wine, “This is My Body … This is My Blood … given and poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.” You may see, taste, and smell only plain bread and wine, but when He speaks His Word to them, they become Him! He is here not simply in Spirit, but with His humanity too. For there is only one Christ, and He is both God and Man in one person.
That may seem mysterious to us, but He can do this because He is risen and because He is exalted to the Right Hand of God’s absolute power and might. As our Gospel says of the apostles, “They went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs.”
Not only that, but He is no longer confined to Jerusalem and Galilee as He once was when He humbled Himself and did not yet make use of the full power of God given to His human nature. Now that He is ascended to the Right Hand of God, He can be in many places at the same time wherever His Word is preached according to the Gospel and wherever His Sacraments are administered according to His command and institution.
He still goes out with us as we preach everywhere. He still works with us, is present with us, and confirms His word through the accompanying signs He has given us. So, why celebrate the Ascension of our Lord? How can we not? What could keep us from such joy? The Ascension of our Lord is the answer to our every longing to be with Jesus, not only in heaven, but now, here, where we live and need His gracious presence more than anything else in life and in death. As pastor Preus expressed in his Ascension Day hymn:
O Christ, our God, Your flesh and blood
fill all of earth and heaven,
ascended now, still here below,
You speak our sins forgiven.
And Satan must now lick the dust
and Hell before you cower;
and we by faith will conquer death,
by Your own grace and power.
(Mark Preus, v. 1)
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.
- To see the full text and the music of Rev. Preus’ hymn, visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/lcmseurasia.
- If there is an Ascension Day service in your area, attend it tonight!
Tags: ascended, ascension, ascension service, clouds, Czech Republic, hymn, Jesus, Mark Preus, Prague, Rev. Clint Hoff, Rev. James Krikava, right hand, right hand of God, Sermon, St. Michael's Lutheran Church