Ascension Day (Observed) – 2015 LSB #’s 493 v.1-3, 492, 493 v.4-6
Text – Ephesians 1:17-18
…that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom & of revelation in the knowledge of Him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which He has called you, what are the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints…
THE HOPE TO WHICH HE HAS CALLED YOU
Father Murphy walks into a pub in Dublin. He says to the 1st man he meets, “Do you want to go to heaven?” The man said, “Yes I do Father.” The priest told him, “Then stand over there against the wall.”
Another man comes by & the priest asks him, “Do you want to go to heaven?” “I certainly do, Father,” the man replied. “Then stand over there against the wall,” said the priest. Next, Father Murphy walked up to O’Toole & said, “Do you want to go to heaven?” O’Toole answered, “No, Father. I don’t.”
The priest replied, “I don’t believe this. You mean to tell me that when you die you do not want to go to heaven?” O’Toole said, “Oh, when I die, yes. But it looked like you were getting a group together to go right now.”
Do you know the hope to which Jesus Christ has called you? Do you keep that front & center as you go about the daily details of living? Or, do you allow the devil to steal it away? That hope is a reality, & it is the almighty power of God to change what happens in this fallen world. If that hope does not exist it is nothing but a dog-eat-dog world.
If that hope does not exist, the only rule that matters is “Get them before they get you.” If that hope does not exist survival of the fittest governs everything that you see happening in life. The top of the food chain is the only place to be, yet even that is nothing but a dead end. Here today, gone tomorrow. Nothing can be right. Nothing can be wrong. Everything is relative. Eat, drink & be merry for tomorrow we die. As King Solomon wrote, “I have seen everything that is done under the sun, & behold, all is vanity & a striving after wind.” (Ecclesiastes 1:14 ESV) In this broken world, human beings need hope in order to be motivated to develop their potential for the good.
If people don’t have hope for positive things, ISIS is a natural outcome. They are using the moral decadence of our nation as a recruiting tool. In its waning days, as Israel drifted further & further from the truth, & from the true God, He regularly used the pagan nations to discipline His people. Yahweh’s goal was not to punish, but to draw His people back to Him.
Sadly, the people of Israel, as a whole, did not listen. They put their hope in false teachings & false gods. Their national glory, as exemplified in the days of king Solomon, is long gone. History proves that the glory of these United States will one day be long gone as well. Our heavenly Father may be slow to anger, but He will not be mocked.
Put that way, it sounds rather ominous. Yet, we acknowledge & confess essentially those same truths, of Jesus Christ, whenever we recite the Nicene Creed: “…& ascended into heaven & sits at the right hand of the Father, & He will come again with glory to judge both the living & the dead,…”
How often have we said those very words & not given a moment’s thought to what they mean? God’s Word is truth. (John 17:17) There are many & gross aberrations of His truth in our culture. Even in the church, people deny the truth that life is a gift from God from the moment of conception. They deny it has value from that moment forward regardless of anything else.
God’s truth, which is the only truth, causes division in our lives. It causes division even within your own heart just as God’s truth causes division within mine. Division is painful, but it is always caused by unbelief. God is truth & He is everywhere. So if there is division, it has to come from those who will not believe God. Division comes as they separate themselves from any of the things written in the Word of God. What that means is this – each time we commit any type of sin we are separating ourselves, however momentarily, from our Savior.
God’s truth may bring division, as people are reacquainted with the Truth, but the cause of that division, the fault of that division, always lies with man, & never with our heavenly Father. Jesus was sent to suffer & to die in order that mankind would have a 2nd chance to be united in perfect harmony with their heavenly Father. It is mankind who refuses that harmony.
So what cause do we have for hope? We’re getting close to the end of the school year. Children, & teachers, look ahead with hope to summer vacation. Especially at this time of year, it helps them to get through the last days of a long school year. People look forward to a coming wedding, or anniversary celebration, to get them through the day.
Children of God are to look forward to heaven, the hope to which Christ has called us, to get us through the day. If there is no heaven, then there is no purpose for today. However, Ascension Day reminds us that there is a heaven because Jesus ascended there. In the letter to the church at Ephesus, St. Paul made clear that Jesus ascended in order to rule from His throne.
Yes, God is slow to anger, but He still rules over every authority & power & dominion. Yahweh will not be mocked & those who refuse to believe in Him will get their wish. For all of eternity they will have nothing to do with Him, because Jesus is God & He does rule. Heaven will not be soiled with stubborn & rebellious thoughts of division & unbelief.
The purpose for life today goes back to the very cause of the division in this world. As God finished creating everything was good. It was in perfect order & harmony. Satan rebelled against that & brought division into Yahweh’s creation. Adam & Eve gave credence to the devil’s lies, & all that our heavenly Father had made was turned against Him. The universe was divided against its Creator. Jesus came to win mankind back to Himself, & away from Lucifer. That process is still ongoing, right here & now, with the preaching of the Word of God. That process of winning back the lost is the purpose of our lives today.
You see, it’s not just heaven that defines the hope to which Jesus has called you. It’s not just summer vacation that motivates our teachers, & other school staff, to get through the day. It is also the hope we have as children of God, that He will work through you & through me to brings others out of the darkness of this sick world & into the marvelous light & love of Christ.
That too, besides heaven, is the hope to which He has called you. Whether you are a parent or teacher, a bartender or nurse, a lawyer or a police officer, a child, an aunt, uncle or grandparent, even just a neighbor, the Son of God has called you to be a light on a stand. As it is written in the Gospel of Matthew:
“No one lights a lamp & then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5:15-16 NLT)
You might guess Whom it is that has put you on the stand. It is your heavenly Father. He has filled your life with blessing & prepared good deeds in advance for you to do. All this He has done, so that those who are lost in the darkness of unbelief may see the light & then come to know Jesus as their Savior from that darkness.
The threats & the demands of the Law can never transform a human heart. Only the hope to which Jesus Christ has called us is able to accomplish that miraculous task. Yes, we need to know of our sin, so we accept God’s rescue of us from it. Having been rescued, it’ll be the love of Christ that motivates us rather than fear of the Law. This letter of St. Paul’s, to the church at Ephesus, begins with a long prayer, which includes today’s sermon text. Paul is praying that each of us would grow in Christian maturity. Our sinful nature constantly encourages us to ‘not get too religious.’ As a result, we also have a constant need to be reminded of what is already ours so that we put it to use rather than shy away from it.
We like to think we’re mature enough – spiritually, but our daily sins paint a different picture. Just our lack of fervent desire to be in the house of God reveals our immaturity. Our inability to make time each & every day to study the Word of God reveals the same. The self-centered focus of our thoughts, our time & our checkbook, reveal even more.
We too, desperately, need to hear again of the hope to which Christ has called us. You & I need to have the eyes of our heart enlightened with the love displayed for us on the cross. All our fears, all our anxieties, all our shortcomings, have been overcome by the perfect life Jesus lived in our place. What joy that message brings. Our hope rests secure in that reality.
The culture St. Paul was writing to, had a very short-term outlook on life. They had little hope for the long term. Fate was capricious & moody & fickle. Christian hope never is. Our culture is rapidly headed in the direction of the culture of Ephesus. Our culture needs a similar answer. The hope to which Christ has called us gives us something to live for.
Now, I didn’t grow up Irish, or Catholic, but I suspect that the Father Murphy jokes weren’t meant to be revelations of deep spirituality, as the parables of Jesus were. However, Mr. O’Toole isn’t ready to go to heaven just yet. Maybe he’s afraid to die. Or maybe he realizes that the hope to which Yahweh has called us is a hope that is already active in this life!
St. Paul wants us to have a greater knowledge of Jesus Christ & of the hope, privileges & power available to us through Him. All this is to be part of our awareness & increasingly taken hold of by us. We’re to keep this hope front & center in our daily lives. Instead, most people today think they don’t need Jesus or what He offers to them. Like doubting Thomas, at best, they have to see in order to believe. At worst, they don’t care at all. In today’s Epistle reading, the apostle Paul is praying that we’d be enabled by the Holy Spirit to comprehend all that God has brought about for us.
He’s praying for assurance that the power of God will carry us safely through the dark present into the bright & future glory. He wants us to see our Savior with new eyes, to hear His Word with new ears, to believe in His name with a new heart.
Jesus is our Lord, but He stoops down & humbles Himself to forgive our sins. He is more than Lord of our life. He is Lord off ALL. God has given Jesus, as Lord of all, to His Church. The more faith grows in strength & unfolds its power in love, the more intense becomes the hope of God’s children.
The nearer the end of our faith, the nearer the soul’s salvation approaches, the more distinct this goal presents itself to the inner eye of God’s children. And so we grow in hope & in the knowledge of our hope & in the object of our hope – Jesus as Lord & Savior. That hope is what motivates & empowers us to live the life our Savior calls us to in spite of the darkness. Amen.
On Christ’s ascension I now build the hope of my ascension; this hope alone has always stilled all doubt & apprehension; for where the Head is, there as well I know His members are to dwell when Christ will come & call them. O grant, dear Lord, this grace to me, recalling Your ascension, that I may serve You faithfully in thanks for my redemption; & then, when all my days shall cease, let me depart in joy & peace in answer to my pleading. Amen.
 Numerous citations throughout Holy Scripture, Exodus 34:6, and so on.
 Galatians 6:7.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet