The Ascension of our Lord
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
We know we shouldn’t focus on it. And yet whenever we see a person with a noticeable scar or some sort of disfigurement, our eyes are initially drawn to that. That first glance isn’t necessarily intentional. In fact, we feel a twinge of guilt when we realize what we’re doing. But before we can think about it, that’s where our eyes go–and not just with strangers, but even sometimes with the long-time acquaintance who lost part of a finger or the friend who has that burn scar or the relative who had to get all those stitches.
There’s a story behind every scar that will often tell you something important about that person. Of course we know, too, that many scars are invisible, and yet they run deep into the heart and soul of a person. Everyone has these scars. Even the prettiest woman, the most handsome man, the most self-confident people have scars that cause them hurt or anger or shame–emotional scars. If you really want to know a person and love them, very often those scars are what you need to pay attention to.
During this Easter season we have seen that Jesus, too, is known by His scars. That’s how the disciples first know the risen Jesus as the crucified conqueror. Even after His glorious resurrection, Jesus retains those scars in His hands and feet and side, because they are the everlasting signs of His sacrificial love. It’s the story behind those scars that tell us who Jesus is for us. This is how He wants to be known. These are scars we definitely should focus on.
And that point is emphasized in our Lord’s Ascension. Don’t let your picture of the Ascension get too sentimentalized and fuzzy with puffy clouds and flowing robes. For what did Jesus do as He was parted from the disciples? It says that He lifted up His hands and blessed them. In other words, He presented His scars, the wounds by which we are healed in both body and soul, the wounds that cover our scars and the disfigurement of our sin. It is from those nail-scarred hands that the blessing of forgiveness and life flows. That is the final visible picture that Jesus leaves us with before He comes again on the Last Day. He ascends to the right hand of the Father to bless us eternally, to present those scars forever to His Father and to us.
Always hold on to that truth of the Ascension, that Christ the crucified is Lord over all things for the blessing of His beloved church. For when we forget that truth, that’s when we can sometimes begin to succumb to doubt, to wonder if the Lord is even paying attention, that all of our troubles and difficulties are escaping His notice. When we stop looking to His scars, we start wallowing in our own. Or we can begin to behave as if the Lord doesn’t see what we’re thinking and doing at all, that we can pretty much get away with living as we please. Like a little child, we think that if we can’t see Him, He doesn’t see us. That is when the scars from what we’ve done and from what others have done to us multiply and fester. And then we meditate on the scars and become bitter.
Repent of all of that. Look away from yourself to the scars of Jesus that He presents to you with outstretched arms from heaven’s throne. God’s Word proclaims to you that right now, Jesus is speaking on your behalf with the heavenly Father by virtue of those scars, so that your scars and sins might be covered as with a beautiful garment, and healed and taken away. It is written, “Christ Jesus, who died, more than that, who was raised to life, is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”
You may recall that in ancient kingdoms, it was the job of the “right hand man” to receive petitions and requests and pass them on to the king. In the throne room you would not address the king directly, but would speak to the king through the “right hand man.” So it is with Christ. He is the Father’s “right hand man” who receives your prayers and petitions and intercedes on your behalf with the Father. And because of His Son’s righteousness, because of Jesus’ sacrificial scars, God the Father hears and acts upon your prayers according to His wisdom and mercy. It is written in 1 John, “If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.”
This is why Jesus’ ascension is so important. It means that your salvation is complete and secure in Him. It is written in Hebrews, “After He had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” You cannot purify yourself of your sins. No amount of “clean” living can do that in the sight of a holy God. But Jesus provided purification for you on the cross. As it is written, “The blood of Jesus, God’s Son, purifies us from all sins.”
And Jesus’ resurrection and ascension show that the Father has now accepted Jesus’ sacrifice for you. His being seated at the Father’s right hand demonstrates that Jesus accomplished the mission He was given. God the Father has embraced and honored His Son’s redeeming work and has received Him back to His side. Your human nature has been fully restored and exalted in the ascended Christ. Because Jesus has been received into heaven, so will you also who believe in Him. Jesus’ ascension has paved and opened the way for you to receive everlasting life. His death means that you have died to sin. His resurrection means that you have been given new life. And His ascension means that you also will ascend to glory in God’s presence.
In fact, the truth is that in Christ, you have already ascended into heaven. Ephesians 2 says, “Even when we were dead in trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ . . . and raised us up together and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Those are truly amazing words if you hear them clearly. Heaven is already yours, Paul says, because Jesus is already there, and you are baptized into Him. Colossians 3 puts it this way: “You died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” The baptized have died to the sin and Satan and the world at the font, Christ has now become the very life of those who believe. Therefore, what is true for Him is true also for you. Your flesh and blood is on the throne of God. Your blood brother Jesus is there, and therefore you who are members of His body are there, too.
That is your comfort and your healing for the wounds and the disfigurement that sin inflicts on you in this fallen world. When you begin to waver in your Christian hope, when you aren’t sure whether or not God loves you or has saved you, just remember Jesus’ Ascension; just remember that you are a member of His body by your baptismal faith and cling to that truth. You’ve already gone to heaven, for Jesus is at the right hand of God as the Mighty Conqueror. It is as Romans 8 puts it: “If God is for us, who can be against us? . . . In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, . . . nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The Lord, who has begun His good work in you, will bring it to completion in the Day of His return.
And even when life just seems to be random and chaotic, no clear sense of purpose, the Ascension of our Lord is a reminder that He is still directing all things toward the ultimate well-being of His people, including you. It is also written in Romans 8, “God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are the called according to His purpose.” That’s you, the called ones, the baptized. Therefore you may know and trust that the Lord will never forsake you. The Ascension of Jesus to the right hand of the Father is a call for you to believe that He is working even now for your eternal good. Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords for the Church, for you.
The two angels said, “This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come again in the same way you saw Him go into heaven.” Jesus ascended and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And Jesus said of His return,“They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” Your hope, then, is centered not in this world but in the one to come. Your life is in Christ. Therefore, the Scriptures exhort you, “Seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. . . When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.”
And all of that because of Jesus’ blessed scars, the signs of His love and self-giving which reconcile you to the Father and to one another. Pray, then, that the Holy Spirit would always give you eyes to see Christ’s scarred, sacramental hands raised in blessing over you. Fix your eyes on them. For in His hands are the marks of life.
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠