The physical & the moral question.

Acts 1: 1-11; Ephesians 1: 15-23 St John 24: 44-53

The Ascension of our Lord Jesus into heaven as too the coming down from heaven of God’s Son in the Incarnation at Bethlehem creates for those thosegordon5 outside the Christian faith, who are many members of our community here in Port Macquarie, these central Christian articles of faith create real questions which pose significant barriers for them in accepting the Christian faith. Today I want to clarify what these may be. Unless we take these issues seriously, they remain seemingly impenetrable barriers to their accepting the Christian faith as true and relevant to their lives. Firstly, there is the physical question; the idea of an ascension and the location of heaven in time and space. This is a basic question about the nature of the physical world in which we all inhabit.

Secondly, there is the moral question about the Lordship of Jesus as seated on the right hand of the Father, to whom thereby is given all power in heaven and earth. The question here is; how is this is true when the world in which we live is subject to so much that is contrary to the rule of a good and gracious Lord?

Firstly, the physical question about the Ascension. This maybe formulated in a classical way in the words of Nikita Khrushchev who in 1961, when Yuri Gagarin, the first man was sent into space aboard the space craft Vostok 1 returned. He said on Gagarin’s return, “He didn’t find any angels up there.” Meaning that there is no such thing as a spatial heaven inhabited by celestial beings, confirming the atheistic and nihilistic ideology of the Soviet communist party and, at the same time, denying the truth of Christian belief. The idea that space is something that can be conceived as up and down. But Christ ascended “up” into heaven. According to Luke in the Gospel and the Book of Acts.

This idea of space is something that, of course, is a common assumption of the Biblical writers. They inhabited a three storied universe, earth, heaven and the netherworld of hell beneath their feet. Some of you will possess old family Bibles with illustrations of this kind of world depicted in its illustrations. But such a view of space and time is no longer tenable post Einstein and the development of modern physics. Space and time are now understood as relative to the velocity of light and the mass of an object. Also, that space and time can be warped not only by speed and mass but gravity too. We no longer live in a universe with static conceptions of space, time and matter. There is no such thing as up or down in terms of the universe of space, time and matter. We inhabit a universe of the relativity of space, time, matter and anti-matter.

So, what are we to say of the Ascension of our Lord Jesus into heaven? A famous, or infamous, depending on your belief, German theologian called Rudolf Bultmann wrote in an influential essay in 1941, “in the age of the electric light bulb and radio, we cannot expect rational people to believe in a literal resurrection and ascension of Jesus.” He believed, as a consequence, the New Testament accounts of these events needed to be demythologised.

Bultmann had the same view of space and time as Khrushchev. A static view of space, time, of up and down. Such a view is still the most held view of our experience of life on earth and its structures of space and time. It is for example a common feature of football matches that when players perform some fantastic feat of skill or endurance or kicks a remarkable goal their celebrations include pointing to the sky, acknowledging a deceased friend or loved one who, supposedly is in heaven, looking down on them. We all live with the view that space is understood as up, down and across three dimensional. We experience life in this three-dimensional way. It is for most people on earth it is the way we come to terms with the reality of our life’s experience.

So instead of stripping away and describing the way the Bible speaks of the Incarnation and Ascension of the Lord Jesus as mythological and therefore false, we must hold on to the space time constructs that the writers use and seek an understanding of God that their words intend. We must see that the way in which they describe the Incarnation of Jesus as coming down from heaven and the Ascension as a going up into heaven tells us something critically important about the God who is revealed in Jesus. Though this God is not contained in the space time constructs of the universe, God in inconceivable freedom deigns to become involved in the space time of this world. Solomon says in his prayer at the dedication of the Jerusalem Temple, “But will God in very deed dwell with men on the earth? behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house which I have built!”2 Chronicles 6:18

The God of the Bible cannot be contained in our thoughts about God. God is inconceivable by the very nature of God’s being who God is. That we may come to know who God is is only possible if God gives God’s very self to be known. God can only be known by God’s action towards us. The central claim of the Bible is that God has accommodated God’s own self to be known to us in the forms and thought structures that we have based on our experience of being earthly creatures. Instead of being a hindrance to our coming to know and believe in who God is for us the earthly constructed language we use of space and time becomes the vehicle of our knowledge of God who, though not contained by our thoughts or our language, nevertheless graciously condescends to make God’s own self known through them. This is precisely what God has done in the descent of God’s self in His Son Jesus to be one with us in our humanity and to take that humanity into the mysterious life of God’s own eternal life. This inconceivably free action of God’s grace is the basis of all that the Bible has to say to us; as it speaks to us in the limited structures of our language and minds so that we may come to know and love the Creator and saviour of the world in all His glory.

The second question follows form the first question about the physical nature of the Ascension and our understanding of it. It is if the Lordship of the ascended Jesus as seated on the right hand of the Father, to whom thereby is given all power in heaven and earth, what do we say when the world in which we live is subject to so much that is contrary to the rule of a good and gracious Lord. The question posed by the world to Christians is framed like this:

How, does a God as powerful and good as revealed in Jesus allow such a thing as war and disease to happen to good people? If he is good then he cannot also be all powerful, for a God who has both these attributes and cares for the world would have been been able to prevent such catastrophes.

These are all questions we all, together with detractors of Christianity in the newspapers and television commentators ask. As Christians we are called upon to give a response to these urgent questions. And the first response is that we must not accept the assumptions made here about God are true. For in fact the God who is understood to be God by these questions is the unreal abstract God dreamed up by our human imagination.

The Christian creed says of the ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven that by it He “is seated at the right hand of the Father.” This is how the Christian confession expresses the meaning of the ascension of Jesus Christ. It uses the language of metaphor taken from the protocols of a royal court, of someone who sits at the right hand of the King. The Kings right hand man who is endowed with the authority and power of the monarch. We still use this metaphor in every day language. We say so and so is “his or her right-hand man.” Thus, when the Christian church says that by means of His ascension Jesus Christ’s place is at the right hand of the Father it intends that the power, the sovereignty and might of God is to be understood in terms of this One. That Jesus Christ rules the world on behalf of God the Father: He it is who both reveals and inaugurates the Father’s kingdom on earth. God the Father’s rule is the kingdom and rule of Jesus Christ.

But, if this is so, it turns upside down our normal understanding of power and majesty, of authority and lordship. For the one who sits at God’s right hand is the crucified risen and ascended Jesus. The One who bears in His body the mark of the spear and the nails: Whom Thomas recognises because he bears in his body the marks of His continuity with the Him who had been “crucified, dead and buried.”

The God then of whom the Christian gospel speaks is not some abstract idea of power or almightiness; but One who as God’s “right hand man” shows that God’s power and authority is such that it can be denied and pursued all the way from Pilates judgment hall to the cross of Golgotha. God’s power and authority is such that not only can it be denied but also that God himself can be killed.

(We could go on and talk about Holy Saturday and the hiatus between Jesus’ death and Easter Sunday, Jesus’ resurrection: indicating what it means for God’s godness that Jesus God’s Son was killed!)

When we say therefore, that the ascended One is the crucified One, the meaning of the mystery of the ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven is that we cannot forget that this One who reveals the Father’s majesty and glory allows Himself to be edged out of the world and suspended between heaven and earth on a cross. That if we own this One as Lord then it should not be seen as strange or incongruous, but entirely consistent with the truth of His being who He is as Lord of the church, that we say that God’s power is so great that He can accept the path of pain and weakness in the world as the way, the means, by which He rules the world.

Christians who know this Lord’s power will confess His truth in the midst of their own struggle with evil in  personalised and in institutionalised form; for they experience in Jesus Christ God’s absence from the world and in their own lives. And it is precisely there, not apart from this experience, but in the depths of their alienation and loneliness that they know the power of the ascended crucified Lord. For it is as the godforsaken One, The One who was abandoned above all by God who lives and reigns at God’s right hand. This is the heart of the mystery of Christ’s ascension into heaven. So that we may know and experience the majesty of God’s grace for us as a reality; not divorced or separated from the world in which we find ourselves albeit abandoned by God here and now in places where God is silent. We live our lives in a world in which we experience both the heights of human achievement, of joy and human love, but also  the depths of human depravity and the blind fury of nature.

The Ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven teaches us that God is so free as not to be bound by our abstract ideas of divinity and power but that at God’s right hand lives the crucified One. That God’s godness includes the possibility to empty Himself of all but love for the sake of the weak and threatened human creature. This is the gospel, the good news, that the ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven and His session at the right hand of the Father proclaims to us today.

The One who rules the world saw and experienced the human condition as it really is; and as we have seen and experienced it in the space of our own lifetimes. We have come to know  humanity and its capabilities through the likes of Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Vladimir Putin, world wars, revolution, famine, genocide, terrorism, cancer and tsunamis. Jesus saw and experienced the human condition as claimed and imprisoned by the actuality of the visible and invisible powers of darkness and death. He understood human beings to be possessed by the negative power of evil and corrupted by it, and delivered up to the meaninglessness of so many of life’s circumstances.

But the Christian confession of the ascension of crucified One is that the real goodness of the real God is that the contradictions of creation are not alien to himself, not external to whom He wills to be as God. This God demonstrated this at the cross of Christ when He triumphed over the evil of the creatures’ rejection of God’s grace, that God’s rejoicing and sorrowing precedes our rejoicing and sorrowing. Before light could gladden us and darkness torment us, He was aware of both, separating and expressing His lordship over both. Before life greeted us and death menaced us, He was the Lord of both life and death. And He did not do this through mere superiority, He made His own both creations menace and hope. He did not spare himself but gave Himself up for us all.

This is the great gospel news of the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ into heaven.

So, to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be all honour power and dominion to the ages of ages. Amen,

Dr. Gordon Watson.

Ascension Sunday

The Text: Acts 1:15-17, 21-26        

                 In order to run a successful business or organization you need to have8f5d0040f261ddb1b3f281e00e1385f0 a well-thought out succession plan. People are not going to remain in their positions forever. In past generations it was more common to have the same career throughout your life. But these days it is estimated that the average person makes a career change approximately 5-7 times during their working life. There are also changes in jobs that happen within a particular career. So the statistics suggest that a third of the workforce changes jobs every 12 months.

Because of this rate of turnover the task facing any business or organisation is to identify and develop people from within who have the potential to fill key leadership positions. They need to be suitably prepared beforehand so they can step in and fill any gaps when they occur. This kind of succession planning can reduce the disruption caused when people happen to leave key positions.

Last Thursday was the festival of the Ascension, where we celebrate the crowning glory of Jesus who ascended to the right-hand side of the Father to take his rightful place in the heavenly realms. This occurred 40 days after the resurrection and 10 days before the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Church.

This Sunday in the church year recognises a strange, in-between time for the disciples. They found themselves hanging around in Jerusalem after Jesus had ascended into heaven waiting for the promised Holy Spirit. But they weren’t just twiddling their thumbs during this time. They met for prayer and worship and they also had some house-keeping matters to attend to. In the Acts reading we heard that:

“In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) and said, ‘it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us — one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection’” (v15, 21-22).

The Apostles encountered an unexpected vacancy in their number with the Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and his subsequent death. They now numbered eleven rather than twelve. Judas needed to be replaced. The disciples ended up nominating two contenders for the position: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias” (Acts 1:23).

They then prayed to God to help them make their decision before they cast lots. This wasn’t like the proverbial ‘flipping a coin’. It was basically them casting their vote. We do the same thing in the church when we select people for certain positions when there is more than one candidate to choose from. In this case the lot fell to Matthias and he was added to the eleven apostles to complete their number. 

God’s succession planning also includes each one of us. We are selected by name to join the community of faith, and this was done in baptism. When we were baptised into God’s family we received the call to follow Jesus. If that happened as an infant, then that is a calling we have from the cradle to the grave. If it happened later in life, then it is a calling from that moment on to the day we die. We don’t retire from being disciples, though we may be called to perform all sorts of different roles throughout our lives as disciples.

Some aspects of this discipleship calling are ones we all have in common. There are things we should all be enacting in our lives, regardless of our individual gifting. This includes the call to love one another and to forgive each other. These things are not optional extras for disciples but come with the job description.

Then there are other callings to serve in the body of Christ that revolve around particular gifts and offices. In our Acts reading it dealt specifically with the office of Apostle. That was a unique role in the early church placed upon those who had witnessed the life and ministry and resurrection of Jesus. The Apostles were responsible for helping to establish the church through their witness and teaching.

These days it could be the office of pastor or evangelist or teacher or some other leadership role. What succession plan do we have for these positions?

Is it simply a matter of us identifying those individuals in our community who have the potential to take on extra leadership responsibilities? Is it then a case of mentoring them and giving them the opportunity to grow in their role?

Sure we can do this and should do this. But there is a fundamental step that needs to be in place before any of this can happen. Look at the criteria that were used in order to narrow down the list of potential apostles to Joseph and Matthias.

They needed to have been with the group of disciples for the whole time Jesus had come in and gone out among them; from the time of his baptism in the Jordan River until the time of his ascension into heaven. No mention is made about any leadership qualities or abilities the men themselves had displayed.

The only thing that qualified Joseph and Matthias to succeed in the prospective position of apostle was their experience of Jesus and his ministry among them.

That is the fundamental thing we need to remember when it comes to planning in the church. If we simply want to run a congregation as a business or organization then we will be content to settle for identifying those with leadership skills and abilities. We will prepare people and give them opportunities to take on certain roles in the church, whether it is in finance or management or some other task.

But if we want to be a community that lives out the ministry and mission that our Lord is calling us to, then we are going to approach things differently. 

It is not only a select few of us who are being called to serve in God’s kingdom. That calling is upon all of us as God’s Church. We’re being equipped for whatever roles we have to play as Jesus ministers to us in our midst. 

It is in our relationship to Jesus that we are being prepared for his ministry and mission in our lives and in the life of his church. As we hear and read and reflect on his word, as we live in the grace of our baptism, as we receive his life-giving body and blood in the Lord’s Supper and as we gather as his people in worship for prayer and praise, he continues to be at work, coming and going among us.

As the ascended Lord, Jesus remains the head of his church. The apostles did not succeed him and none of us have succeeded him. The living Lord Jesus remains at the heart of the succession plan of his church as he comes in and out among those who gather in his name. It is Jesus who continues to inspire us and call us and equip us to serve in his church. If we continue in our relationship with him then we will be guided by him as to how we are to exercise our gifts and abilities.

In the body of Christ we should keep an eye out for those with certain gifts and abilities to serve in different capacities in the church. But we should be far more interested in seeing that we belong to a community where we are all seeking to grow as disciples of Jesus. If that is happening, then the ministry and mission our Lord wants us to engage in is already happening. As the head of his church the Lord Jesus will provide. So may we gather around him, grow in him and go with him wherever he is calling us to serve. Amen. 


Ascension Sunday

Readings for Ascension Sunday 

Once again, we are reminded by the Psalmist of the glory of God on this Ascension Sunday, ‘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 has ascended amid shouts of joy, the Lord amid the sounding of trumpets.  Sing praises to God; sing praises.  For God is seated on his holy throne.  He is greatly exalted.’   (Ps 47)bible


Gospel Reading:  Luke 24:44-53  Jesus commissions and blesses the disciples
24  44‍ Jesus spoke with the apostles, ‍‍“These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” ‍45‍ And ‍‍He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.  ‍46‍ Then He said to them, ‍‍“Thus it is written, ‍‍and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, ‍47‍ and that repentance and ‍‍remission of sins should be preached in His name ‍‍to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. ‍48‍ And ‍‍you are witnesses of these things.   49‍  ‍‍Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city ‍‍of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.”

‍50‍ And He led them out ‍‍as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. ‍51‍ ‍‍Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven. ‍52‍ ‍‍And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, ‍53‍ and were continually ‍‍in the temple ‍‍praising and blessing God. ‍‍Amen.  1


First Reading:  Acts 1:1-11 Jesus’ ascension, promise and commission

1 1The former account I made, O ‍‍Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, ‍2‍ ‍‍until the day in which ‍‍He was taken up, after He, through the Holy Spirit, ‍‍had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, ‍3‍ ‍‍to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many ‍‍infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.

4‍ ‍‍And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have ‍‍heard from Me; ‍5‍ ‍‍for John truly baptized with water, ‍‍but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” ‍6‍ Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” ‍7‍ And He said to them, ‍‍“It is not for you to ‍‍know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. ‍8‍ ‍‍But you shall receive power ‍‍when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and ‍‍you shall be ‍‍witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and ‍‍Samaria, and to the ‍‍end of the earth.”

9‍ ‍‍Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, ‍‍He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.

‍10‍ And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them ‍‍in white apparel, ‍ 11‍ who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, ‍‍will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”   2


Second Reading:  Ephesians 1:15-23 Christ is the supreme Lord over all things

15‍ I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, ‍16‍ and I ‍‍do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: ‍17‍ that ‍‍the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, ‍‍may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, ‍18‍ ‍‍the eyes of your ‍‍understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is ‍‍the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, ‍19‍ and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, ‍‍according to the working of His mighty power ‍20‍ which He worked in Christ when ‍‍He raised Him from the dead and ‍‍seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, ‍21‍ ‍‍far above all ‍‍principality ‍‍and ‍‍power and ‍‍might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.

‍22‍ And ‍‍He put all things under His feet, and gave Him ‍‍to be head over all things to the church, ‍23‍ ‍‍which is His body, ‍‍the fullness of Him ‍‍who fills all in all.  


Sermon for Ascension Sunday

The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Luke writes that Jesus ‘opened their minds to understand these many Scriptures. And Jesus said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah must suffer and die and rise again from the dead on the third day. With my authority, take this message of repentance to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who turn to me.’ ” ’

Let’s  join in a word of prayer: Loving Lord, Jesus Christ; on this Ascension Sunday we turn our hearts to you, to be touched with the message of your majesty and glory, and to be encouraged to believe and share the reality of salvation in You, even in our imposed isolation.    Bless our time together in our homes as we wait for the full lifting of restrictions, as we hold onto our faith that You are always with us.  We pray in Your name, Lord Jesus, because You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever.  Amen.


  Rick Warren in his booklet, ‘What on Earth Am I Here For’, tells us that the ‘purpose of our life is far greater than our own personal fulfilment, our peace of mind, or even our happiness.  It’s far greater than our family, our career, or even our wildest dreams and ambitions.  If we want to know why we were placed on this planet, we must begin with God.  We were born by his purpose and for his purpose’.  I was reminded of these words this past week, as I sat overlooking the ocean at Town Beach.  Just enjoying the opportunity to be out and about, although with appropriate distancing.  It was wonderful.

Christ Jesus expressed to the Disciples why he was born into humanity and lived among us.  “Yes it was written long ago that the Messiah must suffer and die and rise again from the dead on the third day.  …  There is forgiveness of sins for all who will turn to me.”

Sometimes, I think we get a bit confused about the purpose of our lives, especially separated from our Christian brothers and sisters of our Worshipping Community at St Peter’s.  Just why God has set us on the journey of faith that we find ourselves. We do have lots of purposes while on this journey – to earn a living, to be a good son or daughter, to be a caring  mother or father or spouse, to be a responsible citizen and member of our worshipping community, to be an active retiree – those are all good purposes.

To look for ways to help other people, and to make this world a better place – those are good purposes too.   But, as Rick Warren tells us, there’s something deeper. Something more spiritual that is keeping each of us engaged on our journey.    In that thought, I would expand on the words of the Angels who encountered the Disciples at Bethany. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? 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 occurs to me that we should look to the ascended Christ.  That we should keep at least some of our attention devoted to Christ Jesus, at the centre of the Kingdom, present in our lives and revealed in his purpose for our lives.   The other purposes we devote ourselves toward are good, and they reveal God’s  blessings as we seek to fulfil them.  But our deeper, more spiritual purpose can be found in the reading for today: We “are witnesses of these things.”  As Peter encourages us, ‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.’  (1 Peter 3:15 NIV84) 

We do this with our attitudes, actions and words that demonstrate the love that God gives us to share with each other.  Having conversations with people who are open to listen and to hear about the deeper things of life. The reality that Jesus Christ entered humanity for us. That He died on a cross for us. That He has taken away our sins.  That He ascended to the right hand of God the Father, as our intercessor.  That someday he will come back, to usher in a perfect eternity.

That’s amazing stuff to share. God wants us to be witnesses of those things to others.  The bad news is that so many in this world will never want to know or even hear this.  The better news is that God’s Holy Spirit will lead us to someone in our lives who will want to listen and to hear.  The best news is that Christ Jesus is with us to give us courage when this happens.

After talking with his disciples, Christ Jesus performed one last visible miracle for them. ‘He lifted up his hands to bless them. And then he ascended into the sky, right before their eyes, and eventually, he was hidden by a cloud.’  

And so what did the disciples do? We are told in the Gospel that ‘they worshiped Christ Jesus, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God.’  

How wonderful this is. The disciples who would have been hiding in the upper room, afraid. Now, are out in public, worshiping Jesus, filled with joy. They had seen Jesus victoriously ascend to his heavenly throne. There was no doubt in their minds anymore that he was Lord of the universe, the King of heaven and earth. They had heard two angels tell them that someday, Jesus would return on the clouds, just as they had seen him go. They remembered the words of Christ Jesus, “With my authority, take this message of repentance to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who turn to me.”

I am convinced that’s what filled them with joy. Even the angry Jewish leaders couldn’t keep the disciples from displaying their joy in the temple courts.  After all, nothing ‘in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’  (Romans 8:39 NIV)

We’re all looking for a sense of joy in our life – a deeper, longer-lasting sense of joy. Especially after our long separation from family and friends.  We can all look where the disciples looked. Look to Christ Jesus.  Worship Him.  And get on with our other purposes of life with a sense of joy and confidence.  To be sure, there will be times in every life when we are upset. Things will happen that will frustrate us and drive us to anger; sadden us, even depress us. But for us, as Christians, underneath all that, we will find a layer of peace that the world can’t take away.  As Christians, we can say. “All my sins have been taken away by Christ Jesus. I know I’m forgiven. I know that by his Holy Spirit, God will work my problem out too.  I know that God will give me the strength I need for now. This world is broken, but I’ll be right.  Just let me trust in Jesus Christ, risen to life and ascended to the right hand of God the Father.”   

That’s Christian joy. The disciples had it after they saw Jesus Christ ascend. May God give that same kind of joy to each of us.  Jesus accomplished his mission among us, by his death on our behalf, and his resurrection for our victory.  Then He returned to his rightful place at the centre of God’s Kingdom.  To be the beacon that resets every sense of direction on our journey.

This celebration of the Ascension today reminds us that believers the world over are missing out on the privilege of knowing Jesus as he was known in history to his disciples.  At the same time, we are reminded that by his Holy Spirit, Christ Jesus is able to make himself known and vitally present to so many at the same time than would have been possible for Christ Jesus in human form.
So, even as our Easter season of celebration comes to an end,  the joy of our salvation continues each and every day, as we live out our new lives in Christ Jesus and cry out for the Holy Spirit to set our hearts and lives ablaze for Christ Jesus to the glory of God our Father.
So, the grace and peace of our Triune God keep our hearts and minds focused on our ascended Lord and Saviour.   AMEN.

Rev David Thompson

Sixth Sunday after Easter 13th May

TEXT:  Mark 16:19, 20

‘After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.  Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.’  

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As the evangelists record, on the day of his ascension Jesus was with his disciples in Jerusalem.  He gave them some final instructions during a meal, then when they’d finished the meal, he led them out to Bethany.  He continued his instructions on the way and repeated his promise to send them the Holy Spirit.  They should go to Jerusalem, he said, to wait for the Spirit to come.  Then he raised his hands in a final act of blessing, and as they watched, he was taken up from them until a cloud hid him from their sight.

Jesus’ ascension is the final act in God’s great drama of salvation.  God the Father received his divine Son back to the glory of his right hand, and in doing this, he gave his stamp of approval to everything Jesus had accomplished here on earth.

In his letter to the Ephesians, St Paul points out that the Jesus who ascended that day is the same person ‘who descended to the … earthly regions’.  The Son of God descended from the glory of heaven to the lowliness of earth as the infant of a young woman.  He descended into the sin, sorrow and suffering of this world, for us.

God had seen us in our need.  He’d seen us trapped in the tragedy of our sin.  He’d seen that, try hard as we would, we could never bridge the gap that we’d created between us and himself by our sin.  The only way we could be spared the punishment that sin brings was for someone to take our place – to keep God’s law perfectly on our behalf, and yet to suffer its punishment in full.

That’s why the eternal Son of God came from heaven to earth, from glory to humility.  That’s why he gave up his life on Calvary.  And God accepted this sacrifice of his Son, and raised him to life again on the third day.

To convince people that the sin of all humanity’s been paid for, Jesus showed himself alive on a number of occasions during the 40 days after his resurrection.  In effect, he was saying to his disciples, and us: ‘I’m alive!  I’ve taken all your guilt on myself … all your weaknesses.  I’ve suffered all your temptations for you.  I’ve been punished most cruelly for you.  But I’m no longer dead!  I’ve conquered death and Satan.  I’ve cancelled out all your sin.  Just believe this and you’ll have life with me and my Father in heaven.’

Jesus’ resurrection proves to us that our sin has been paid for.  But to make us even more sure, our Lord ‘was taken up into heaven’.  Because he was completely satisfied with what Jesus had done, God the Father received him back to his right hand side … restored him to the full exercise of his divine authority and power.

As St Paul says, ‘He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe’.

That’s why Ascension is a festival of joy.  It shows us that God’s saving work for us is complete.  There’s nothing more to be done.  Our sin’s been paid for – all of it!  You are forgiven!  Christ’s work is perfect.  No matter how many times we may still fall into temptation – even though we try hard to fight against it – God’s taken all this into consideration.  Jesus’ death has covered it all.

By faith you can be at peace with God – in spite of your many weaknesses and failings.  By faith you have God’s own assurance of a place in heaven, where your risen Lord’s now gone on ahead of you,  You don’t have to work for it; and you don’t have to have any anxieties about whether or not you’re worthy of it.  In yourself you’re not worthy, and you never can be.  But Christ has removed all your unworthiness so you can now have the certainty of faith to say with St Paul:  ‘I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord’.

Our text tells us that ‘after the Lord had spoken to [the disciples], he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God’.  What this means has been well described by St Paul in his letter to the Ephesians.  ‘[God] raised [Christ] from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms far above all rule and authority, power and domin-ion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age, but 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 fact that the ascended Christ is now at God’s right hand doesn’t mean he’s confined somewhere ‘up there’ beyond the stars!  The picture we often have of God the Father sitting on a shining white throne above the clouds is poetic imgagery.  Jesus himself described what’s meant by his sitting ‘at the right hand of God’ when he said: ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me’.  As ascended Lord, the God-Man Jesus Christ now fully shares in the rule of earth and heaven.

In a sense, his ascension was like a coronation, by which he was unmistakably declared almighty ruler over heaven and earth.  Within the eternal trinity of the Godhead, the ascended Christ now controls all things throughout Creation, according to his unlimited wisdom and grace.

Now … what does all this mean for you and me?

Think back for a moment to what St Paul wrote in Ephesians!  ‘[God] seated [Christ] at his right hand in the heavenly realms … and … placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church …’

Jesus Christ, the exalted ‘King of Creation’, who is both ‘Son of God and Mary’s Son’, as we sing in one of our hymns, now rules over all things in this universe.  He controls all the forces in this universe, and directs everything that happens in the interests of his church – and that includes you and me.

The ascended Christ is vitally concerned about his church here on earth, and about you and me who’re members of it.  He’s vitally concerned about his church because God the Father’s given him to the church as its Head.

There’ a wonderful reassurance in this thought for all of us who’re members of Christ’s church through faith.  We can have this very real assurance that our ascended Lord is directing everything that happens – on a global and national level, and in our community and our own personal life – he’s directing it all in our best interests.  We can confidently say with St Paul: ‘In all things God works for the good of those who love him’.

In spite of continuing unrest in various parts of the world, in spite of shootings, in spite of increasing drug use, in spite of road deaths, in spite of AIDS, the ascended Christ is still ruling at the right hand of his Father – channelling our lives in our best interests.

So … if you’re sick or have some disability, don’t despair!  Christ is still in control;  God is working for your good!

If you have financial problems, or you’re out of work, or your income’s taken a dive, don’t lose courage!  God knows!

If your children let you down, or your marriage has broken up or is under stress, don’t throw in the towel!  Christ is on your side, and he’s still in control.

So often when trouble comes we give in to despair.  ‘What’s the use?’ we ask.  ‘Where’s God?  Why doesn’t he help?’

Your heavenly Father is always there, and Christ is at his right hand.  He’s in charge, and he rules everything in this universe in the best interests of those who’re his.  He only has your good in mind in the way he deals with you.  You mightn’t always see it at the time, but you will … with the wisdom of hindsight!

And beyond this life he’s prepared a place for you in the never-ending glory of his Father’s presence.

So …you can face each day confidently, trusting in the almighty rule of your ascended Lord and King.

However, Jesus’ ascension to God’s right hand doesn’t mean he’s left his disciples – ancient or modern – to our own devices, to flounder around by ourselves in a world that by and large is antagonistic to all he stands for.  Shortly before he parted from his disciples he assured them: ‘I am with you always, to the end of the age’.

True, he did withdraw his visible presence from them, but as the ever-present God he continued to be with them, and he continues to be with his disciples of all ages.

As those early disciples went out to preach his gospel in all the world they realised more and more how close the ascended Christ was.  Mark tells us:  ‘The disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by signs that accompanied it’.

Those men were very much aware of the presence of their Lord, and of his Spirit, in their lives.  On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came to them, as Jesus promised.  They went out to preach and teach with new boldness … to witness and baptise. And as they did this, the ascended Lord himself worked through them.  He confirmed and strenthened their spoken word with signs – a lame man healed, Saul the persecutor converted to Paul the Apostle, lives changed, faith strengthened, deeds of love and service.  The mass conversion on Pentecost, and the spectacular growth of Christianity in spite of strong opposition – even persecution – all this testifies to the fact that the ascended Christ works mightily in and through his followers.

The same Lord is still close to each one of us today.  He’s put us into this world for a special purpose – just as the apostles had a special purpose.  His purpose for you is not that you should selfishly live just for yourself.  You’ve been called to live under Christ and serve him and witness to his love.  And he wants to work through you as he worked through his chosen 12.

There’s a story that tells of Jesus’ return to heaven.  The angels Michael and Gabriel were there to welcome him.  They congratulated him on his victory over Satan, and for having drawn so many disciples to follow him.  ‘But’, they asked, ‘what’ll happen now that you’ve withdrawn from the world?’

‘I’ve provided for that’. Jesus told them.  ‘I have Peter and John and the other Apostles to go out and preach in my name.’

‘But how will people of later ages come to know what you’ve done for them?’ Gabriel asked.

‘I’ve arranged for that, too.’ Jesus said. ‘ I’ve charged my people throughout history to be my witnesses and tell people about my love for them.’

‘But what if they let you down?’ Gabriel asked in awed tones.

‘I have no other way’, Jesus replied.

It’s just a story, but it makes a challenging point.  To each of us the Lord says, ‘Go into all the world, starting with your own home and community.  Go and preach and live my gospel, and witness to my grace.  And don’t be concerned about your weaknesses and inadequacies, because “I am with you …”

As you respond to this call as a member of Christ’s body and of this St Peter’s congregation, you too will see the signs of your Lord’s mighty presence, and of his power at work in and through you and your fellow members: children and adults drawn into the body of Christ through baptism; some friend or relative who comes to new life in Christ; growth in your own faith and in the love that expresses that faith; prayers answered; lives changed.  These are the kind of signs that show the ascended Lord is still mightily active in his church, and in you today.

Rejoice that your salvation has been completed, and that you are a forgiven child of God, with an eternal destiny in heaven!  Rejoice that the ascended Christ rules over all in his powerful, loving way.  Rejoice that he continues to work in and through his church on earth to draw people to himself!  And rejoice that he works also in and through you, in spite of your all-too-human frailties!

Rejoice, the Lord is King!

Your Lord and King adore!

Jesus, the Savjour reigns,

The God of truth and love;

His kingdom cannot fail,

He rules o’er earth and heaven.

He sits at God’s right hand …

Lift up your heart, lift up your voice!

Rejoice, again I say, Rejoice!


Rev Robert J Wiebusch