“We Are Witnesses of Our Ascended Savior”

(Acts 1:1-11 – Ascension – May 24, 2020)

Acts 1:1-11 – 1 The 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.”

Dear Redeemed in the name of our ascended and reigning Savior, Jesus Christ:

When a king is crowned or a president is inaugurated, he already possesses the power and authority of the office by virtue of royal descent or election. The coronation or inauguration ceremony simply certifies publicly that he is now entering the exercise of the office that is his.

It was similar with Jesus’ ascension. We might call it His royal coronation. Forty days after His resurrection from the dead, as His disciples watched, He ascended to His heavenly throne. Scripture tells us that He was seated at the right hand of His Father in glory. In that position of power and authority, Jesus rules over all things for the good of His Church (Ephesians 1:20-23).

Yet already from His conception, Jesus had all power and authority. As the King of heaven who was born in our human flesh, Jesus ruled all things. Yet while on earth, He entered His state of humiliation. He did not always and fully make use of His divine glory and power. Humbled Himself so that He could live in obedience under the Law of God, and fulfill it perfectly for us; for as sinners, we had broken that holy Law. He humbled Himself so that He could die on the cross as our Substitute, and receive the full punishment the Law of God demanded for our sins.

Then having won our salvation, heaven’s King rose from death. Jesus’ resurrection powerfully demonstrated that He had redeemed us from sin, Satan’s power, and death. Jesus had entered His state of glorification. Now, He always and fully makes use of His divine power and glory. As the Son of Man, He could tell His disciples: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations… and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). Then as they watched Jesus ascend to the right hand of His Father, it was a visible demonstration of His heavenly coronation. He who had been given all authority, would exercise it fully, ruling over all things for the good of His Church.

As Jesus’ disciples, His ascension gives us comfort and confidence while we live on earth. For now we know that He rules on heaven’s throne for our good, as our powerful God and understanding Brother. As one who can personally sympathize with our human weaknesses, He intercedes for us at His Father’s right hand (Hebrews 4:15); He guarantees our forgiveness and peace with God, and He answers our prayers and needs. There in His Father’s house, Jesus is preparing a place for us; and He promises to come back and take us to be with Him in heavenly glory (John 14:2).

So Jesus’ ascension teaches us first of all to be heavenly minded. As Colossians 3:1-2 says: “Seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” Yet at the same, as we see in our text, Jesus gives us an important purpose while He has us living on earth. Even as He was about to ascend to His heavenly throne, He revealed what was uppermost in His mind. He gave His disciples an important commission, to be His witnesses “to the end of the earth.” He who had come into this world to live, die, and rise again for the salvation of every sinner wants His Gospel of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life to be proclaimed to all people until He returns at the Last Day.

Let us consider our important purpose and privilege as Jesus’ disciples in this Great Commission: “We Are Witnesses of Our Ascended Savior.” Our text reminds us: 1) He has given us His saving Gospel, 2) He has given us power from on high, 3) He will return to bring us into His glory.

1) He has given us His saving Gospel

Here Luke begins his account of the Ascension by recalling in verses 1-3: “all that Jesus began both to do and teach, 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, 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.”

All along for the past few years, Jesus had spoken to His disciples about the kingdom of God. But during those 40 days leading up to His ascension, He spoke to them about the kingdom which He had now won through His death and resurrection! He gave them His saving Gospel to share, a message of the salvation and eternal life He had won for sinners, backed up by infallible proofs.

It began with the day of His resurrection. In John 20:19-23, we hear of the disciples hiding behind locked doors after their Lord had been crucified, afraid the same might happen to them. But Jesus, in His glorified body, passed through and stood in their midst saying: “Peace be with you.” He showed them His nail-pierced hands and spear-pierced side; and they rejoiced to see their risen Savior. Then He breathed on them and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” In Luke 24:41-42, it even says that Jesus asked them for food, and He ate in their presence.

In this way, Jesus would appear and reappear to His disciples over a period of forty days. By infallible proofs, He demonstrated that He was alive. He was present with His disciples in His resurrected and glorified body. He was present with His message of forgiveness for sinners, which He authorized them to declare in His name. As Jesus went on to tell His disciples in Luke 24:46-48: “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things.”

This is the saving Gospel our risen and ascended Lord has authorized His Church to preach until He returns at the end of the age. We preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name. The Law of God warns the impenitent sinner: “As long as you remain in your sin and hard-hearted unbelief against God, you are under His judgment and in danger of eternal hellfire. Repent!” But the Gospel of God comforts the penitent, who is sorry for his sin and fearful of the judgment he deserves: “Take heart! In the name of Christ who lived, died, and rose for you, you are forgiven all your sins.”

This is the saving Gospel our ascended Savior authorizes us to share today. We can tell others the Good News that because Jesus lived, died, and rose to life, He has won the Kingdom for us. In the name of our ascended Savior who intercedes for us at His Father’s right hand, our sins are forgiven and we are declared righteous for His sake. In the name of our ascended Savior who rules all things, Satan’s kingdom is conquered and we are delivered from his power. In the name of our ascended Savior, who prepares a place for us in His Father’s mansions, death is defeated and we are given eternal life.

Our faith rests on historical facts, not myths. The disciples saw this by infallible proofs Jesus gave in His resurrected body. As eyewitness of the risen and ascended Lord, they were willing to face persecution and even death; for they knew they preached the Gospel truth – the only truth that saves sinners.

2) He has given us power from on high

Do you ever feel afraid to share your faith? Even though you believe the Gospel truth, do you fear how people may respond, or doubt that sharing it will do any good? As witnesses of our ascended Savior, not only does He give us His saving Gospel; He gives us power from on high to go with it.

Luke records Jesus’ promise of that power in verses 4-5: “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; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.'” And again in verse 8: “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.”

Ten days after they watched Jesus ascend to heaven, they would see the fulfillment of His promise on the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit would descend on each of them in tongues of fire. As they were filled with the Spirit, they were miraculously enabled to proclaim the saving Gospel of Jesus in languages they had not learned before. People gathered in Jerusalem from every nation would marvel to hear them declaring the wonders of God in their own tongues (Acts 2:1-11). It was a visible demonstration that the Holy Spirit, sent by the ascended Lord, would empower His Church to proclaim His saving Gospel to the ends of the earth. The Spirit would accompany the Gospel, with power from on high to convert human hearts, giving them saving faith and eternal life in Christ.

Not only that, the Holy Spirit empowered the disciples with the courage needed to share the Gospel. As Jesus said, they would begin the mission right there in Jerusalem, where the threat of Jesus’ enemies was greatest. They would come out of hiding in fear behind locked doors, and openly preach repentance and remission of sins in Jesus’ name. The book of Acts reports how the church began to grow. It was not by the strength of the disciples, nor by the art of their persuasive speech; but it was by the power of the Gospel itself, and the Holy Spirit working through the Gospel (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

Our ascended Savior continues to rule all things for the good of His Church. He continues to oversee the witness of His Gospel to the end of the earth. He continues to pour out the Holy Spirit on believers through His Gospel in Word and Sacrament. Now we have been given the Spirit and faith. We have been given the same message as the apostles. The same Spirit will give us what to say and the courage to share it. Through our simple witness of Christ, the crucified and risen Savior of sinners, the Spirit works powerfully. Why should we hesitate to speak His message, praying for His desired outcome around the world? We do pray this as Jesus taught us: “Thy Kingdom come.” “We pray that through the work of the Holy Spirit God’s Kingdom of Grace may come to us, be extended to others through the work of missions, and that we may all soon be gathered into glory” (ELS Catechism, Q. 251).

3) He will return to bring us into His glory

We have His promise that this prayer will be answered. He who ascended into heaven will return to bring us into His glory. Jesus had told His disciples in John 14:2-3: “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” Now at His ascension, the disciples were reassured of this promise, as it says in verses 10-11: “While they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, 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.'”

On the Last Day, the Son of Man will come on the clouds in all of His glory (Matthew 24:30), to judge the living and the dead. As the King of heaven, He assures us that we already stand in His grace and salvation. Through faith in Him who was crucified for us and rose again, we already have His royal Word of pardon. We stand forgiven and covered in His righteousness. So when we see Jesus coming on the clouds, He says in Luke 21:28: “Look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.” He is coming to take us from this vale of tears to the heavenly home He has prepared for us.

Just think of the joy it will be for us, when He who is seated at the right hand of His Father will say: “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). Think of the joy it will be when we take our place in that multitude dressed in white, before the throne of God and the Lamb, Jesus Christ – the countless souls who in this world heard the saving Gospel, and by faith washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:9-14). As God’s children in Christ, there we are in that great multitude! And there are those familiar faces with whom we shared His Gospel – family, friends, neighbors, acquaintances. There they are, safely gathered home through faith in Christ.

We are witnesses of our ascended Savior, who is crowned in heavenly glory. Maybe we only plant the seed of His Gospel, and others water it; but God makes it grow, His Spirit gives faith (1 Corinthians 3:6); and it is all coming to fruition in the eternal joys of His heavenly Kingdom.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.