Graduate Sunday - Ascension Day
Preached: May 16, 2010
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Holy Spirit points us to Jesus in these words from Luke 24:44-53.
[Jesus] said to them, “These are my words which I spoke to you while I was still with you that all the things that are written in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. He said to them, “So it is written that the Christ suffers and rises from the dead on the third day and that repentance and the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending you what my Father promised. Stay in the city until you've been clothed with power from on high.
He led them out to Bethany. Raising his hands, he blessed them. And it happened that while he was blessing them he parted from them and was taken up into heaven. When they had worshiped him, they returned to Jerusalem with great joy and were always in the temple praising and blessing God. (Luke 24:44-53)
This is the word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior, and especially you, our high school seniors for 2010:
Where are you headed? No doubt, you get that question a lot as high school seniors . Where are you headed? Into the work force or college or tech school? Are you staying at home or striking out on your own? Where are you headed? That's a question you've been wrestling with. Maybe you have a firm answer in mind. Maybe it's still all up in the air.
And I'm going to get on the bandwagon and ask you today as well: Where are you headed? But I'm not asking about this summer or next fall. I'm not asking about your career down the road or family plans. Where are you ultimately headed. For there are only two final destinations: Heaven or hell.
And as the rest of you here have already picked up, this isn't just a question for high school seniors. Where are the rest of you headed?
Jesus had picked twelve to be his close, intimate disciples. For three years they were his daily companions, his students, his protégés. But they weren't all headed for heaven? They weren't all there watching his ascension. Judas Iscariot thought his sin so bad that he despaired of God's forgiveness. All his tears and remorse could not save him, for although he knew Jesus well, he had no faith in Jesus. He did not trust Jesus as his dear Savior from sin and death. So he went out and hanged himself. He was not headed for heaven. He fell into the depths of hell.
What a warning for each of us who also know Jesus well! You've learned of him in Sunday school. You confessed your faith in him four years ago at confirmation. But now where are you headed? Knowing all about Jesus, as Judas did, doesn't mean you trust him. Faith is more than just knowledge.
The other disciples were far from perfect people. Peter had denied Jesus three times. Thomas at first refused to believe that Jesus had risen. They had all fled that night in dark Gethsemane. They all hid behind locked doors. They were slow to understand the Scriptures. But they trusted Jesus. They turned to him for forgiveness. They saw in him their life and salvation. Even as Thomas confessed, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28 NIV), when he saw the risen Jesus, so also each of their hearts believed this truth.
Where did this faith come from? What kept it going? Listen to the words from the text: Jesus “said to them, 'This is what I told you while I was still with you: Every thing must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.' Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:44, 45 NIV).
Where did their faith come from? What kept it going? The words of Jesus as revealed in the Scriptures. The Bible -- that's where their faith came from; that's what kept it going. When Jesus refers to the “Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms,” those were the three divisions of what we call the Old Testament. Even those prophets whose names you stumbled over trying to recite in Catechism class -- even those prophets wrote what God gave them to write in order to point the disciple, and you and me, to Jesus.
Where does your faith come from? What keeps it going? The answer hasn't changed: Jesus' words as recorded in the Bible, the Old and the New Testaments. For we have it even better than the disciples. We not only have Moses and the prophets, the Old Testament, but we also have Jesus and the apostles, the New Testament.
Now left to our own thinking and choosing, we would never see Jesus as our only Savior from sin and death, even if we had the whole Bible, both the Old and the New Testaments, memorized word for word. But Jesus has opened your mind to understand and believe, just as he did for his disciples. For his word is the sword of the Spirit. Through the Word the Holy Spirit cuts through the darkness of our unbelief and doubt to enlighten us with the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
And what is this Good News that enlightens us, that sets us heading heavenward, this Good News that only the Bible can reveal to us? Jesus tells us, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46, 46 NIV).
And our inborn self says, “So what! I already know all that.” That's why we need Jesus to open our minds. That's why the Spirit must enlighten our hearts. Otherwise we would know the words but not believe the promise. “The Christ will suffer,” the Scriptures declare. You've seen the suffering of Jesus pictured, the bloody thorns on his head, his agony on the cross, the god-forsaken cry from his parched lips. From little on up, you've been taught to say that Jesus died for you.
But only the Holy Spirit can lay bare our hearts to see the true cause of this suffering. Spirit-worked repentance feels the horror and terror of my own sin. Just look at the torture of the cursed cross to see how serious each and every one of your sins is. You did that to Jesus. Repentance confesses, “Ah! I also and my sin Wrought your deep affliction; This indeed the cause has been Of your crucifixion” (“Jesus, I will Ponder Now,” Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal, 98:3, NPH 1993).
“He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5 NIV). Only the Holy Spirit through the word can turn that knowledge into repentance and faith, so that you confess, “Jesus died for me, even for a wicked sinner, like me. He was pierced for my sins to bring me peace.”
For faith sees the crucified Jesus risen, just as the Scriptures foretold, “The Christ will . . . rise from the dead on the third day” (Luke 24:46 NIV). He lives! Why? Because we are forgiven. Just as in his death he became our sin, so in his resurrection we become his righteousness. Easter is God's verdict: “Guilty sinners are forgiven for Jesus' sake. I count you right in my sight because I freely credit you with Jesus' right record.” Through his Word, the Holy Spirit brings you to confess. “God forgives me, even me, because Jesus died for me and rose from the dead.” That's faith. And so what great good news that “repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations” (Luke 24:47 NIV). That includes each of you. This is Good News for you!
Where are you headed? Jesus certainly opened heaven by his death and resurrection. He brought you to the narrow road that leads to life when he worked faith in your heart at your Baptism. That faith trusts in Jesus, your crucified and risen Savior.
But faith isn't a diploma we hang on the wall or store away to show our kids some day. Such so-called faith is headed for hell. Rather Martin Luther echoes Scripture as he describes faith with these words: “It is a living, busy, active, powerful thing that we have in faith” (Martin Luther, Preface to Romans, quoted in the Formula of Concord, Art IV, 10 SD, Trig. p. 941).
We see that living, busy, active, powerful faith in the disciples, don't we? “You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:48 NIV), Jesus told them. Ten days later when the Holy Spirit came upon them on Pentecost, their faith acted, shining out with the Good News of Jesus. Their acts of kindness and words of love witnessed about the great things Jesus had done to save sinners. They told of his death and resurrection. They proclaimed repentance and the forgiveness of sins.
And look as well at how their living faith acted when Jesus ascended but before Pentecost. We're told, “Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God” (Luke 24:52, 53 NIV). A living, busy, active, powerful faith not only talks about Jesus, but rejoices in him, worship him, praises him.
Where are you headed? Through faith in Jesus -- that living, busy, active, powerful faith -- each of you are headed to where he has gone. For your ascended Lord has gone on ahead of you. He prepares a place for all who follow him in faith. That's why he came to this earth and suffered death on the cross to bring you the riches of heaven. That's why he rose from the dead and ascended so that not even death can separate you from him.
So follow him. Follow him in faith. Don't forfeit what Jesus has prepared for you by thinking you'll get busy for Jesus later. That's a path headed for hell.
Rather follow Jesus. Follow him in faith. Like the disciples, take in God's Word so that he opens your minds to understand more and more and to keep on believing the promise: Christ Jesus has died for you and risen from the dead. He proclaims to you repentance and forgiveness of sins. Keep your faith living and active as you worship Jesus letting his light shine through you as a witness.
For your crucified and risen Lord has ascended in glory. He rules over all for you, so that you can serve him without fear even in a hostile world. So boldly place him first. Boldly live by faith. Boldly worship your Lord. Boldly follow him. For he has ascended and reigns over all. That's why we can pray, “Jesus, lead us on Till our rest is won; And although the way be cheerless, We will follow, calm and fearless. Guide us by your hand To our fatherland” (“Jesus, Lead Us On,” Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal, 422:1). That's where we're headed with Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.