But if we walk in the light, just as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:7

Ascension – 2024

Ephesians 1:15-22 – Ascension

In his Epistle to the Ephesians, St. Paul prays

“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, 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, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 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.”

In the Creeds we also confess regularly that Jesus is indeed currently seated at the right hand of the Father.

Usually, being seated is associated with resting and relaxing. If someone had been working, and then sits down, this would be because he is not doing his work any more, or is at least taking a temporary rest from his labors.

Is that what Scripture is suggesting regarding Jesus, when it teaches that he is now seated at the right hand of God the Father in heavenly glory? Is Jesus now relaxing, and resting from his work?

Well, in one sense maybe he is. He is no longer suffering, or doing the hard and painful work of redeeming the human race from sin through the sacrificing of himself on the cross. That work is indeed over and done with.

The Epistle to the Hebrews explains that Jesus, as high priest, made a sacrifice for sin “once for all when he offered up himself.”

This atoning sacrifice was full and complete. Through it, the human race has been redeemed and reconciled to God, so that the message of reconciliation can now be preached to all people.

That sacrifice is unrepeatable, and is not being repeated. So, Jesus is resting from such work.

But, this does not mean that his work is altogether finished. Jesus may be seated in glory at the right hand of the divine Majesty – according to the imagery that the Scriptures present to us – but he is not idle. He is still active. He is still working.

In the first lines of his Book of Acts, St. Luke speaks of the Gospel he had previously written:

“The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up.”

So, the events described in the Gospel of St. Luke were about the beginning of Jesus’ work and teaching. But the work and teaching of Jesus continue, and the Book of Acts is going to tell us about that continuing work and teaching.

Psalm 110 declares:

“The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.’ … The Lord has sworn and will not relent, ‘You are a priest forever…’”

Jesus’ priestly work continues, but he is not currently doing all of the things that an Old Testament priest did. As I have already noted, he is not offering any more sacrifices to propitiate God.

But he is continually interceding for those for whom his propitiatory sacrifice was offered at Calvary – just as the priests of the Old Testament prayed for the people of Israel, and asked the Lord Jehovah to be merciful to them and to forgive their sins.

Jesus is still doing that. In his Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul writes:

“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 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.”

And we read in the Epistle to the Hebrews that Jesus “is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”

The picture that Scripture paints for us is the basic lay-out of an ancient imperial throne room, where the potentate is seated in regal splendor on his throne, and his chief advisor is seated immediately to his right: so that when the ruler is having an audience with someone, the advisor can discreetly whisper into his ear suggestions about how to handle that person’s request, or information about that person.

That was important work for an ancient imperial counselor to be doing. And that, in essence, is the work that Jesus is continuously doing for us.

Whenever a penitent sinner presents himself before his Maker for an “audience,” as it were, and implores God to be merciful and forgiving, our advocate and intercessor is always able and willing to whisper into God’s ear:

“Forgive his sins. Give him another chance. Her sins have been atoned for by me. She has been reconciled to you, and is now depending on your Word and promise.”

God always accepts this advice, and acts on it. And this is because, within the mystery of the Holy Trinity, God is thereby actually advising himself, and reminding himself of his own grace and saving will.

There is never a conflict between the First and Second Persons of the Godhead, in their shared divine thoughts, and in their unified divine intentions.

When your conscience drives you to your knees, and prompts you to ask for God’s forgiveness for your failures and transgressions, a part of you might wonder if God really is willing to forgive. After all, the Bible tells us not only about his mercy, but also about his wrath.

When the Lord delivered the Hebrews from slavery, he at the same time judged and punished the Egyptians. So you might wonder, as you contemplate the sins by which you have offended and provoked God, if he will in this moment treat you like the Hebrews, or like the Egyptians. He is capable of either.

But, as you enter God’s throne room, and prostrate yourself before his righteousness and holiness, you will always be able to see, with the eyes of faith, your intercessor also seated there, right next to the king, whispering into his ear. And you never need to wonder what he is telling him about you, or what he is asking him to do for you.

Indeed, you have a friend in high places – in the highest place of all, within the counsels of God himself. The Epistle to the Hebrews gives us this comfort and certainty:

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses… Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

One of the other jobs of an Old Testament priest was to be a teacher of the people. The prophet Malachi tells us that “the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.”

And Jesus, from the right hand of God the Father, is still doing this, too. During his earthly ministry, he was, of course, a great prophet, preacher, and rabbi.

But that ministry did not come to an end when he ascended into heaven. It just changed, in terms of how Jesus was now going to continue to carry it out.

In St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says to the Jews: “I send you prophets and wise men and scribes.” A scribe is, literally, a writer.

Jesus is promising that when he is visibly gone from the world, he will still send into the world spokesmen, teachers, and inspired authors, to proclaim his Word, and to write down and preserve his Word for all future generations.

Jesus speaks through those who speak in his name. “He who hears you hears Me,” he tells his disciples.

Jesus absolves through those who absolve in his name, and judges and warns through those who judge and warn in his name. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained,” he tells his church and its ministers.

And Jesus, though invisible to our eyes now, still abides with his church. He himself still says to us:

“Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me; Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the New Testament in My blood, which is shed for you and for many, for the remission of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

These sacramental words do not come up from our remembrance, but they come down from Jesus in heaven: through the inspired writings of his scribes, and through the lips of his called servants.

These words are spoken by Jesus for the sake of our remembrance – to invigorate and renew our remembrance – so that we will never forget who died and rose again for us; and so that we will never ignore the Savior who is even now coming among us supernaturally, mystically uniting us to himself and to each other, and filling us with life and hope.

In his Holy Supper, the risen and exalted Savior is indeed our teacher. But he is not only teaching our minds. He is teaching our hearts, transforming our wills, reshaping our convictions, and preparing our bodies for our own future resurrection in him.

And Jesus is also continually teaching new people, and bringing them into the fellowship of his church. The work of missions and evangelism is Jesus’ work. He is doing it. It doesn’t originate in us. We are his instruments and servants.

As we go forth to teach all nations, we do so because all authority “in heaven and on earth” has been given to him; because he has commanded us to go; and because he promises: “behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

And as we go, not only is he with us and in us, but he also goes before us. In his providential rule over the affairs of men, God’s Son clears a path for his church and for its mission.

We read in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians that God the Father “put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”

That’s a lot of work!

In his state of exaltation, of course, Jesus never gets tired. He is no longer living according to the limitations of his human nature, as was the case during his earthly ministry. Not only is he still busy, but he is more busy than ever, never resting.

And from the right hand of God – reaching out into the universe with his divine power and divine presence – he is busy in ways that were not possible during his time on earth, when he limited himself to being visibly present, in one place at a time. That’s not the way it is now.

Now he is anywhere and everywhere he wants to be, with both his divinity and his glorified and immortal humanity: simultaneously governing all the congregations of his saints in the whole world; simultaneously speaking his righteousness upon all his people in every nation; simultaneously making himself present on all his altars for the church’s Sacrament of the Altar.

Ascended to His throne on high,
Hid from our sight, yet always nigh,
He rules and reigns at God’s right hand
And has all power at His command.

Through Him, we heirs of heaven are made;
O Brother, Christ, extend Thine aid
That we may firmly trust in Thee
And through Thee live eternally. Amen.