What happened next? You get to the end of the movie or the end of the book, and you might be left wondering, “So what happened after they rode off into the sunset? Where did they go the next day? What did their kids grow up to be?” Some of that anticipation might be intentional as the writer or producer leaves room for a sequel, but sometimes it is just the end of the story. The end.
I sometimes wonder if people feel that way about Jesus’ ascension. What a great story! God becomes man and is born in the little town of Bethlehem. Jesus repeatedly demonstrates his divine power in his preaching and performing of miracles. He lives a perfect life but is wrongly convicted and condemned to die at the cross. While at the cross he suffers for the sins of the world and willingly sacrifices his life. Three days later he triumphantly rises from the dead. During the next 40 days Jesus repeatedly appears to his disciples and other followers proving he is in fact alive. On that 40th day, Jesus rises into the sky and returns to heaven. The end. Well, not exactly. While Jesus’ ascension did mark the end of his physical and visible presence in this world, it certainly was not the end. God doesn’t leave us at Jesus’ ascension wondering what Jesus did next. This morning, we see that Jesus’ ascension into heaven assures us that God is giving powerful gifts to his people. These powerful gifts guide us through this life and guarantee us of the glorious life of heaven.
Those were the gifts that we heard about this morning in Ephesians 1. They were the gift that the Apostle Paul was praying that God would give to his fellow Christians who were living in the 1st century city of Ephesus. Paul had founded this Christian congregation while on one of his missionary journeys and had actually spent about 3 years being their pastor. Mission work had taken him away from Ephesus and it had been years since he last saw the Ephesian Christians. While he had not seen them, he heard about them. He heard how they were continuing to live their Christian faith. In the opening chapter of this letter to the Ephesian Christians, he praises and thanks God for their faith. But his prayer of thanks quickly turns into a prayer of request or intercession, asking that God give to his fellow Christians gifts that he wants every Christian, that he wants you to have. Let’s walk our way through this section of God’s Word to see the powerful gift that the ascended Jesus has for you.
In Ephesians 1:17 Pauls asks that God give to his fellow Christians, “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” You might be familiar with this definition of wisdom, that wisdom is the application of knowledge. The Christian’s wisdom begins by knowing what God has revealed to us in the Bible. What does God reveal to us in the Bible? He reveals who he is, what he has done, is doing and will do for us. The Bible reveals how God created the world and all that is in it. The Bible reveals the source of suffering, sadness and death. The Bible reveals the heart of our God who so desperately wanted to rescue people from the eternal curse of sin that he came up with a rescue plan to save people for eternity. The Bible reveals how Jesus perfectly executed God’s plan to save us from the guilt and eternal punishment of our sin. The Bible reveals the perfect life of Jesus lived in the place of every person, the death of Jesus died in the place of every person. It shows us the power and faithfulness of Jesus in his rising from the dead. The Bible reveals a God who forgives and loves, a God who makes and keeps his promises, a God who has a perfect plan and purpose for each of us.
You see, when you spend time with the Bible, the place where God reveals himself, you realize that the Bible is much more than just a book of information. It is more of a personal conversation with the God who wants you to know him and what he has done for you. As we spend time getting to know that God better, we grow in our appreciation of what God has done for us and the guidance he provides to us. And with a growing appreciation comes a growth in Godly wisdom, applying God’s Word to our daily lives. We better learn how and why to forgive, love and serve one another. We learn how and why to be better Christian parents, grandparents, friends, spouses and neighbors. We learn how and why to set priorities, to use the money and possessions, the time and abilities that God has given to us.
That naturally leads into what Paul writes in the next verse, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.” Have you ever changed a lightbulb and afterwards thought, “I wish I would have done that earlier! I can see so much better now!” It’s not that you couldn’t see before, but that you can see so much better with the additional light.
As God the Holy Spirit works through the gospel message of Christ our Savior in Word and Sacrament, we see more clearly what the work of Christ means for us. Paul says, “The eyes of your heart may be enlightened.” What is it that we see more clearly? We see “the hope to which he has called you.” And what does that hope of Christ constantly point us to? “the riches of his glorious inheritance.” The Holy Spirit opens ours eyes to bring into brighter, clearer view the heavenly riches that Christ has won for us and has waiting for us at the end of our lives. It is an inheritance which the apostle Peter would later write, “can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you.” (1 Peter 1:4,5).
I think of the people who have said to me, “I never really thought it mattered how much I came to church or studied the Bible, until I started doing it regularly. It was only then that I realized how much I had been missing.” Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not like the more you come to church or read your Bible, the less problems you have. That’s not what God promises. But God does promise that when we are regularly connecting ourselves to the powerful message of Christ, we can better handle the struggles and the problems that we face. Why is that? Because we know the God who walks with us through them, the God who promises to use them for our blessing, the God who promises to rescue us from them all one day. When you are regularly hearing that the Son of God gave his life for the forgiveness of all your sins, how can that not strengthen your trust him and his Word, to want what he wants for you, to follow where he is leading you? When you are regularly hearing of the eternal riches of heaven that await you, how can that not strengthen your fight against the temptations that want to rob you of that inheritance? When you are regularly seeing the history of God’s faithfulness, how can that not help you when you face the problems of this life? Yes, we see more clearly the God who goes with us and guides us through.
But here comes the million dollar question, how can you be sure that God can deliver on these powerful gifts that he promises to send? Verses 19-22 provide three reasons. “That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.” (Ephesians 1:19-22). God demonstrates his power to deliver what he has promised in three ways:
1) God Father raised Jesus from the dead
2) God the Father welcomed Jesus into heaven to again make full use of his divine power and authority that belonged to Jesus as true God. These verses repeatedly make it clear that Jesus’ power and authority is not limited in any way. It is power and authority over all other positions, in every arena (heaven and earth), in time and for eternity.
3) And just to be absolutely clear, we are told that Jesus, our now ascended Lord and Savior, has power and authority over everyone and everything without exception.
And how has Jesus chosen to use all the power and authority that he has as our ascended Lord and Savior? One little phrase, “for the church.” He has not chosen to use his power to make is life more comfortable, or to rid himself of the petty problems of human beings. No! He has chosen to use all of his power for you, for Christians of every time and place, for those who he has called to be his own through faith. In fact, he is so closely connected to us and every Christian that he calls us “his body” and then tells us that we are the “fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” Jesus, who has everything as true God and needs nothing from anyone, has chosen to find his fulfilment in us. You are his pride and joy. You are the ones he is most concerned about. You are the ones for whom he promises to use all of his power and authority for. Those are some pretty good reasons to believe that our Lord can deliver the powerful gifts that he promised to us.
Jesus’ ascension is not the end of the story for Jesus. Is it the continuation of the amazing story of God’s love for you – a powerful God who guides you and guarantees you the riches of heaven as only the ascended Jesus can do. Amen.