The Ascension of Jesus is not about the absence of Jesus. It’s true that He is no longer present with us in the same way that He walked among His disciples two thousand years ago. But Matthew’s Gospel records His promise just before His ascension, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus is with us every time we gather together in church. “Where two or three of your are gathered in my name, I am with you.” Jesus is present with the grace of forgiveness and life in the Eucharist. The benefits of the cross are yours in Word and Sacrament. Jesus ascended, but he is not absent.
Luke 24:47-49: “And repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
What is the message of the Church? Notice that Jesus did not just say, “Forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations.” He said, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached.” There is a delicate and difficult balance we must maintain in our message.
Who is the target audience for the church’s message? Jesus answers that question: the whole world. All nations. Our churches send missionaries to dozens of different countries. But the non-Christian population in the United States is rising. Atheism and agnosticism are more prevalent. Nominal church members, people that identify with a Christian Church but have no meaningful church life, are more numerous than ever before. Add to this the trendy approach today of blending a little bit of Christianity with a little bit of Buddhism with a little bit of neo-pagan superstition with a little bit of Oprah Winfrey, and you will see that the mandate to make disciples of all nations has never been more exciting and filled with opportunity than today.
After the crucifixion and before the resurrection, the disciples were discouraged and afraid. But when Jesus appeared alive, their hope was restored. Next, we’re told they returned to Jerusalem with great joy. Their grief and sadness was transformed into joy.
Is there joy in your life today? Have you lost the joy of your salvation? Are there people and circumstances in your life that have robbed you of your joy? Jesus is able to do the same thing for you He did for those disciples. He can turn your sadness into great joy. You’ve been died for. Your sins are forgiven. You will live forever.
Finally, it says in Romans 8:34 – “[Christ] is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” You need to know and understand that you have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ. Every moment of every day, Jesus is speaking your name favorably in the court of heaven. And God’s disposition towards us, on account of Christ, is one of approval. In Jesus’ name.
Rev. Scott E. Stiegemeyer is pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church of Elmhurst, Illinois. He recently accepted a call to serve as a professor of theology and ethics at Concordia University Irvine, California.