Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord
“At The Right Hand Of God”
Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
St. Mark 16.14-20
13 May 2021
+ In the Name of Jesus +
“So then the Lord Jesus, after He had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.”
Consider this phrase: to sit down at the right hand of God. We confess this truth about Jesus in every Divine Service: Jesus suffered and was buried, and on the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father.
The right hand of the Father is not a “confining, physical spot” or location. We teach our catechumens year after year that the right hand of the Father is to exercise the almighty power of God, which fills and rules heaven and earth. The Lord Jesus now fills and rules all things with His divine power and majesty, and does so wondrously in our human flesh, our human nature dwelling beyond time and space. Heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him.
“For this purpose did [Christ] sit down in heaven, that He might be near unto us,” Luther wrote of Christ’s ascension. “Thus we are with Him up there and He is with us down here.” This takes us beyond imagination. It is an article of faith. Since Christ defeated death and ascended, “He can be in touch with all, and reign in all, to preach to all and be heard by all, and to be with all.” While Christ was on earth before his ascension, “He was far away from us; [but] now [after His ascension] He is very near” to every believer.[i]
He is very near to us in all of the ups and downs of our life, when things change beyond our control, when we struggle with sin and temptation, when we are persecuted for our Christian faith, even when we do the seemingly mundane daily tasks we are given to do – “Lo I am with you always, even unto the end of the age” promises the risen, living Lord of all.
Jesus, crucified, resurrected, and ascended, is present in His one, holy Christian Church for you to save and deliver you from the tribulations of this world. He does so in His Gospel preached, in His absolution pronounced, in the saving waters of His Baptism into His Name, in His Holy Body and Blood given and shed for the forgiveness of sins.
It was necessary for Jesus to ascend to the right hand of God, that He might fill and rule His Church, Jesus coming near unto us graciously to forgive and rule us out of His love for us.
But a Jesus who never ascended to the right hand of God, or a Jesus who is stuck in some literal location in heaven, unable to move, is a Jesus who remains “far away” (Luther) from us. Life would be one of constant pilgrimage to find Jesus for ourselves, of constant wondering if we had indeed found Him, of constant attempts to please Jesus by our own obedience. It would be one of constantly trying to prove to Jesus that we loved Him enough by seeking Him out. There is no certainty and no comfort with such a far-off Jesus.
But think for a moment on the response of the blessed Apostles when the Lord Jesus “was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.” They do not try to follow Jesus up into heaven. No building a tower of Babel. They don’t go about trying to do enough good deeds to earn their way upwards or prove to God their place with Him. They don’t sit and sulk either, hoping for Him to come back to them, wondering if He indeed loves them.
They instead “went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.” The apostles knew the truth and that truth had set them free: they had seen and heard the risen Jesus ascend to rule over them – He is with them always, even to the end of the age, resurrected, glorious, and victorious over sin, devil, and death itself.
The apostles joyfully preached the living and ascended Christ, even unto their own death and martyrdom, because they knew that in beholding His resurrection and ascension, all believers in Christ behold their own resurrection and ascension. You, baptized believers in Christ, who hear and believe their preaching, have the same comfort and assurance. In the face of all that confronts you in this world, may your confession be this:
Since Christ returned to claim His throne, Great gifts for me obtaining,
My heart will rest in Him alone, No other rest remaining;
For where my treasure went before, There all my thoughts will ever soar
To still their deepest yearning. (LSB #492; stanza 2)
+ In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +
[i] Luther’s Church Postil, Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. 3, pp. 180-194 (Ascension Day Sermon 1523)