Ascension Sunday

May 24, 2020

 

SERVICE OF THE WORD

This service offers the congregation a form of worship that focuses on the proclamation of God’s Word.  Believers respond to this divine gift with prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.  The service begins on page 38 in the front of the hymnal.

M:       We worship today in the name of our Triune God— God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

C:       Amen

Confession of Sins

M:       We have come into the presence of God, who created us to love and serve Him as His dear children.  But we have disobeyed Him and deserve only His wrath and punishment.  Therefore, let us confess our sins to Him and plead for His mercy.

C:        Merciful Father in heaven, I am altogether sinful from birth.  In countless ways I have sinned against you and do not deserve to be called your child.  But trusting in Jesus, my Savior, I pray:  Have mercy on me according to your unfailing love.  Cleanse me from my sin, and take away my guilt.

M:       God, our heavenly Father has forgiven all your sins.  By the perfect life and innocent death of our Lord Jesus Christ, He has removed your guilt forever.  You are His own dear child.  May God give you strength to live according to His will.

C:        Amen.

Prayer and Praise

M:       In the peace of forgiveness, let us praise the Lord.

C:        Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good.  Blessed are they who take refuge in Him.  Your Word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.  Your faithfulness continues forever.  Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good.  Blessed are they who take refuge in Him.

PRAYER OF THE DAY

M:       Let us pray.

Lord Jesus, King of glory, on this day you ascended far above the heavens and at God’s right hand you rule the nations.  Leave us not alone, we pray, but grant us the Spirit of truth that at your command and by your power we may be your witnesses in all the world; we ask this in your Name for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

C:        Amen.

The Word

FIRST LESSON – Acts 1:1-11

As Luke begins Acts, he opens by reminding his reader, Theophilus, of the ascension of Jesus.

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.”  (NIV1984)

 PSALM OF THE DAY – Psalm 47

Clap your hands, all you nations;

shout to God with cries of joy.

How awesome is the LORD Most High,

the great King over all the earth!

God reigns over the nations;

God is seated on His holy throne.

God has ascended amid shouts of joy,

the LORD amid the sounding of trumpets.

Sing praises to God, sing praises;

sing praises to our King, sing praises.

For God is the King of all the earth;

sing to Him a psalm of praise.

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.

 SECOND LESSON – Ephesians 1:16-23eba

Paul prays for the Ephesians that they may have the gifts of the Spirit in abundance.

 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.  I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.  I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.  That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.  And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.  (NIV1984)

 VERSE OF THE DAY

Alleluia.  Alleluia.  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia.  Surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.  Alleluia.  (Matthew 28:20b)

CAlleluia!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  These words are written that we may believe that Jesus is

       the Christ, the Son of God.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!

 

GOSPEL LESSON – Luke 24:44-53 (Sermon Text)

 The Gospel recounts how, after His resurrection, the Lord commissioned His apostles and was taken up into heaven before them.

 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you:  Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”  Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.  He told them, “This is what is written:  The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.  I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”  When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them.  While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.  Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.  And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.  (NIV1984)

 

C:        Praise be to you, O Christ!

 SERMON  The Festival of Ascension— What Does It Mean?

 Dear fellow worshipers of our living Lord and Savior,

He is risen!  He is risen indeed!

If I were to ask you to list your favorite church festivals, which ones would you include on your list?  Would you include the Festival of Christmas?  Of course you would!  Why?  Because the Festival of Christmas gives us the opportunity to celebrate how the true Son of God was born into this world as the true Son of Man— our only Savior from sin!  Would you include the Festival of Easter?  Of course you would!  Why?  Because the Festival of Easter gives us the opportunity to celebrate the fact that Jesus physically rose from the dead on the third day to guarantee that His sacrifice on the cross of Calvary’s hill (Pointing to the cross) was accepted by God the Father as full payment for all of our sins!  Would you include the Festival of Pentecost?  Of course you would!  Why?  Because the Festival of Pentecost gives us the opportunity to celebrate the “birthday” of the New Testament Christian Church when the gift of the Holy Spirit was given to Jesus’ disciples!  Would you include the Festival of Ascension?  Now you might pause for a little bit and say, “Oh, yeah, I guess so.”  Why the hesitation?  Because unfortunately we do not always celebrate the Festival of Ascension, do we.  In fact, the Festival of Ascension was actually last Thursday— the fortieth day after Easter.

It is with great joy then that we get to celebrate the Festival of Ascension on what is actually the last Sunday in the season of Easter.  With the joy of Jesus’ resurrection still wrapped around us like a soft warm blanket let’s see how our sermon text for today gives us the opportunity to focus on the question:  The Festival of Ascension— What Does It Mean?  There are two points we want to highlight today.  First let’s see what the Festival of Ascension means for Jesus.  Then let’s see what the Festival of Ascension means for us.

Look at the first portion of our text, Luke 24:44-49.  Luke writes, “He (Jesus) said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you:  Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’  Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.  He told them, ‘This is what is written:  The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations beginning at Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.  I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’”

When did Jesus speak these words to His disciples?  Jesus spoke these words to His disciples on the evening of that first Easter Sunday— just after the two disciples returned from Emmaus and told the other disciples, “What had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.”  And just as He had done for the two disciples on the road to Emmaus so also Jesus now “opened the minds” of the rest of the disciples “so they could understand the Scriptures.”

What did Jesus now enable His disciples to “understand”?  He enabled His disciples to “understand” how the entire Old Testament Scriptures, “the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” testified concerning Jesus!  Think about that.  Jesus gave His disciples the ability to see how God’s Plan of Salvation for this world was gradually revealed to this world in greater and greater detail.  From God’s command to Adam and Eve “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:16, 17) to God’s condemnation of Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15), from God’s promise to father Abraham, “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:2, 3) to God’s promise to great King David, “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16), from the miraculous birth of the Promised Messiah, “Therefore the LORD himself will give you a sign:  The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” to the horrific hellish death of the Promised Messiah, “Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet.  I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me.  They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing” (Psalm 22:16-18) — now the disciples were able to see and to understand how all the holy Scriptures, “the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms”  testify about Jesus the Christ!

How does the Ascension of Jesus tie in with all of this?  The Ascension of Jesus the Christ serves as the divine exclamation point to “the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms”!  Because everything that was necessary for our salvation has been fulfilled, because Jesus the Christ has finished the work that the heavenly Father sent Him into this world to do, Jesus could now return Home to heaven as the Victor, once again take His rightful place at the right hand of the heavenly Father, rule over all things in heaven and on earth for the good of His Church (See Ephesians 1:15-23)— plus fulfill His promise to “clothe” His disciples with “power from on high” by sending them the promised gift of the Holy Spirit.  (We will focus on this power-filled gift next week as we celebrate the Festival of Pentecost.)

That’s what the Festival of Ascension means for Jesus.  But what does the Festival of Ascension mean for us?  The answer to that question is also found in verses 46-48 of our text.  Jesus says, “This is what is written:  The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.”

Through the gift of the Holy Spirit with which our ascended Lord has “clothed” us we are “witnesses”!  What does a “witness” do?  A “witness” testifies concerning what they know.  A “witness” testifies concerning what they have personally seen and heard and experienced!  As “witnesses” for Jesus what do we know?  What have we personally seen and heard and experienced?  Jesus Himself gives us three answers to that question.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit we have “witnessed” the fact that the Lord our God has graciously fulfilled all of His promises concerning sending “the Christ,” the Messiah into this world to serve as our Savior.  Our own personal study of Scripture has led us to an even deeper understanding and an even greater appreciation for what God the Holy Spirit has recorded for us here in His holy Word— both the Old Testament as well as the New Testament.  As “witnesses” for Jesus we know the Truth, my friends!  We know the Truth concerning Jesus’ life, the Truth concerning Jesus’ death and the Truth concerning Jesus’ physical resurrection from the dead.  What are we to do with that Truth?  We witness!  We share!  We proclaim God’s Word to others with the full conviction that this— the Bible— is the Truth!

Through the power of God the Holy Spirit we are also “witnesses” of “repentance.”  As we read and study God’s holy Word— specifically God’s holy Law— we have seen how much we have sinned against the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth.  We know that we have not even come close to keeping “The first and greatest commandment”— “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).  We know how often we have put ourselves— our wants, our desires, our opinions, our priorities— first in our hearts and in our lives.  We know how often we have shattered the second greatest commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).  Pride, prejudice, racism are sins that we battle each and every day.  It is only through the power of the Holy Spirit that we are able to repent of these sins by first of all confessing, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13) and then by taking to heart the insight of wise King Solomon, “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).

How does this tie in with serving as a “witness” for our ascended Lord and Savior?  When we come into contact with someone who has sinned or someone who is sinning against either the first or the second “greatest commandment” we have a responsibility to humbly call them to repentance.  To simply let someone go through their journey here on this earth without warning them of where their life is headed would be like knowing that someone is speeding down the highway of life at night and not warning them that they are headed straight for a bridge that has fallen into the valley below.

And finally, through the gift of the Holy Spirit that our ascended Savior has given to us we are “witnesses” of the “forgiveness of sins.”  The Greek word that is translated here as “forgiveness” very literally means “to cancel” or “to send away.”  As “witnesses” for our ascended Lord we have the power and the privilege of proclaiming “in the name of Jesus” what we ourselves have personally experienced:  When someone repents of their sins those sins are “canceled,” those sins are “sent away” “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12)!  There are no conditions they need to meet.  There are no requirements they need to fulfill.  The cross on Calvary’s hill (Pointing to the cross) guarantees that purely by the grace and power of God alone their sins are “forgiven,” their sins have been “canceled,” the crucified, risen and ascended Lord Himself has taken all of their sins and “sent them away”!

“This is what is written:  The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.”  That’s what the Festival of Ascension means, my friends.  For Jesus His ascension into heaven is the divine exclamation point on His work of saving us from our sins.  For us Jesus’ ascension into heaven means that every time we wake up and find that we are still here on this earth we have work to do!  We are “witnesses” for Him!  (Pointing to the cross)

To God be the glory!

Amen

APOSTLES’ CREED

I believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.  He descended into hell.  The third day He rose again from the dead.  He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.  From there He will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.  Amen.

 OFFERING

During this time of uncertainty we still want to bring our thank offerings to our dear Lord and Savior.  We ask that you continue to set your offerings aside so that when we are able to come together again in God’s House we will be able to place our offerings on His altar.

PRAYER OF THE CHURCH

O Jesus Christ, our most merciful and ascended Lord, we praise you for the glorious victory you won in our behalf over death, the devil, sin and hell, and that you rose again from the dead to be glorified at God’s right hand in heaven.  From the depths of our hearts come inexpressible thanks for all that your great love and humility have done for us!  You have led captivity captive, freeing us from sin, and delivering us from eternal death!

O everlasting King, great is our need of your love and mercy and of your continual help in these evil times.  It is our confidence that when we seek you by faith we shall find you, for you have promised to be with us always and to hear and answer all of our prayers.  Help us to always remember that your Ascension into heaven guarantees to us that your work of saving us from our sins has indeed been completed.  There is nothing left that needs to be done.  Also help us to remember that your Ascension into heaven means that we still have work to do.  That work is to joyfully serve as your witnesses here on this earth.

As our nation pauses to celebrate Memorial Day we thank you dear Lord for the many men and women who have given their lives to protect and to preserve the freedoms and the blessings that we enjoy.  Their willingness to make this ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country and our fellow citizens all too often goes unnoticed and unappreciated.  May we always remember their example of sacrifice and courage as we strive to do whatever we can to keep our country strong and free so that our nation will always be a nation where your people can openly proclaim the greatest freedom of all— the freedom won for us on the cross.

LORD’S PRAYER

C:        Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever.  Amen.

M:       O Lord God, our heavenly Father, pour out the Holy Spirit on your faithful people.  Keep us strong in your grace and truth, protect and comfort us in all temptation, and bestow on us your saving peace, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

C:        Amen.

 

M:       Brothers and sisters, go in peace.  Live in harmony with one another.  Serve the Lord with gladness.

The Lord bless you and keep you.  The Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you.  The Lord look on you with favor and give you peace.

 

C:        Amen.