Doctrines Bound Up in Jesus’ Ascension

Thursday, May 21, is when Jesus’ ascension into heaven was celebrated this year. Bryan Wolfmueller, a Lutheran pastor from Austin, Texas developed a list of important, relevant doctrines that are bound up in Jesus’ ascension.

Before we get to any of them, we need to point out, as Pastor Wolfmueller does, that Jesus’ ascension is all about his human nature. When Jesus ascended into heaven he did not leave his human nature here on earth. When he became human in the womb of his mother, Mary, it was the beginning of a permanent union of God and man in the person of Jesus Christ. So when Jesus ascended it was as God and man united in one person.

As the church has taught throughout the ages, the glory and power and dominion that Jesus always had as true God, he now, through his ascension, also has as a true human. So let’s take a look at these specific doctrines that are bound up with Jesus’ ascension.

First, Jesus now has complete power and authority over all things.

Paul says it best in the first chapter of his letter to the Ephesians. God raised Jesus from the dead, “and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, [21] far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. [22] And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, [23] which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:20-23, ESV)

Then there is Matthew 28:18: “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’” (ESV)

As Pastor Wolfmueller points out, this means not only earthly authority such as government, it also means the spiritual powers that are at work in the world. Paul identifies these spiritual powers later in Ephesians:

Ephesians 6:12 “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (ESV)

Our spiritual enemies are always trying to destroy out faith in God, our confidence in his loving care for us. They always want us to despair of God’s help and rely on ourselves.

As Peter says in his first letter: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (I Peter 5:8, ESV)

The past couple of weeks our church leaders have been wrestling with our earthly leaders. The leaders of our church body, The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, have joined with leaders from other church bodies to question the governor of Minnesota’s approach to reopening the churches.

The bottom line is that our church leaders did not agree with Governor Walz’s approach so they came up with their own and basically took matters into their own hands. They respectfully disagreed with the governor and came up with their own plan to reopen our churches. Stay tuned.

Our leaders did not take the approach of, “Our Jesus is far above your authority so we are just going to do what we want.” That is not what having Jesus ruling over all things means. We still need to respect our government but there are times we do need to speak out and disagree.

And as Pastor Wolfmueller points out, it says in Ephesians 1 that Jesus rules over all things for the church. The church is the body of Christ. Everything that happens, whether good or bad, is for the benefit of the church. We do not always appreciate that but it is true.

The second doctrine that is bound up with Jesus’ ascension is that, as our ascended Lord, Jesus is our advocate.

We like to make jokes about lawyers but they do serve a very important purpose. They are advocates. I know that if I am ever accused of something, especially if it is something I have not done, I want the best advocate I can find. It is even right in our constitution that we have a constitutional right to an advocate. If a person cannot afford an attorney the state will provide them with one.

Jesus is our advocate. He is not our advocate in a human courtroom but in the highest court of all, the court of heaven. And since he has now ascended into heaven he is at the right hand of God the Father almighty advocating for us.

1 John 2:1–2: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. [2] He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (ESV)

Romans 8:34: “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (ESV)

Sending is another doctrine bound up in Jesus’ ascension.

First, he sends us the Holy Spirit. We celebrate the fulfillment of that promise on the Day of Pentecost.

Jesus also sends us. On the day he rose from the dead Jesus appeared to his disciples and said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21, ESV)

Then shortly before he ascended into heaven Jesus told his disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8, ESV)

It’s true that he sends pastors to congregations to preach the Word of God but every believer in Christ is sent by Christ to serve in his kingdom. Once he ascended into heaven, Jesus was no longer visibly here on earth so we are his representatives. We may not feel like we are sent but what people see in us they see as a reflection of who Jesus is.

The last doctrine that is bound up in Jesus’ ascension is perhaps the most obvious: Exaltation. Jesus was exalted to the right hand of God the Father almighty.

This could not happen if he had not first humbled himself. Paul puts it so well in Philippians 2:

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, [6] who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, [7] but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. [8] And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

[9] Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, [10] so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, [11] and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”(Philippians 2:5-11, ESV)

Jesus has done something truly worthy of exaltation; he gave his life for us all on the cross.

As we celebrate Jesus’ exaltation we focus on our humility. This is what the Apostle Peter says: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, [7] casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (I Peter 5:6-7, ESV)

I like the way our humility and later exaltation is described in verse two of the hymn, “Behold a Host Arrayed in White”

“On earth their work was not thought wise, but see them now in heaven’s eyes,

Before God throne of precious stone, they shout their vict’ry cries.

On earth they wept through bitter years, now God has wiped away their tears,

Transformed their strife to heav’nly life and freed them from their fears.

For now they have the best at last; they keep their sweet eternal feast.

As God’s right hand, our Lord commands, he is both host and guest.”

(Lutheran Worship, CPH, St. Louis, hymn 191, verse 2)

So these are four doctrines bound up in the ascension of Jesus. He rules everything for the sake of the church. He is our advocate at the very right hand of God. He sends us to be his representatives and just as surely as he was exalted, someday we too will be exalted to heavenly glory.

To watch a video of the sermon I preached on this blog post click here.

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