Sermon for Sunday May 8th, 2016, the Sunday after Ascension Day
The Lessons: Ps. 97; Acts 16:16-34; John 17:20-26
Text: Colossians 3:1-2
Theme: Christ’s Ascension highlights our spiritual goal and frame of mind
A dog fell into a farmer’s well. After assessing the situation, the farmer decided that neither the dog nor the well was worth the bother of saving. He’d bury the old dog in the well and put him out of his misery.
When the farmer began shoveling dirt down the well, initially the old dog was hysterical. But as the dirt hit his back, the dog realized every time dirt landed on his back, he could shake it off and step up. “Shake it off and step up; shake it off and step up!” he repeated to himself.
No matter how painful the blows were, the old dog kept shaking the dirt off and stepping up. It wasn’t long before the dog, battered and exhausted, stepped triumphantly over the wall of that well. What seemed as though it would bury him actually benefited him — all because of the way he handled his adversity.
The adversities that come along to bury us usually have within them the potential to bless us. Forgiveness, faith, prayer, praise, and hope are some of the biblical ways to shake it off and step up out of the wells in which we find ourselves.
— Bruce Shelley, Denver, Colorado
In today’s sermon, I consider the meaning of Christ’s Ascension with respect to our spiritual attitude and habits of prayer and praise.
The Ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father in heaven is an extremely significant article of our Christian faith. It vindicates Christ’s earthly mission, and prepares the way for the gift and outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church at Pentecost. But it also reveals the goal and priority of worship and witness, which is rejoicing in the presence of the Almighty God. The Ascension of the Lord Jesus was prefigured in the Old Testament, both when Enoch walked with God and did not die but was taken by God (Gen. 5:24), and when the prophet Elijah was caught up in a chariot of fire and a whirlwind to heaven (2 Kings 2:11). The resurrection of Christians has an ascension component in it, in that all meet with the Lord Jesus Christ in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) at his second coming. Concerning the second coming of the Lord, the two men in white re-assure the disciples as they stand gazing at the Lord ascending into heaven, “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). The words of these men, who might have been angels, had a twofold purpose – to ensure that the disciples would not be preoccupied with Jesus’ departure into heaven so that they neglected their mission on earth, and to strengthen their faith in the Lord Jesus and their hope in his second coming.
TEXT: COLOSSIANS 3:1-2
What I want to focus on today is the Biblical text behind the petition in the Collect for Ascension Day. The petition is for God to grant his people to ascend “in heart and mind” to where Christ is seated at God’s right hand, and to live with Him continually. The text behind this is Colossians 3:1-2:
If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.
In the verses following this St. Paul draws out the implications of this, that Christians will give up sin of all kinds, which is indeed necessary, if we are to live in Christ’s presence continually. Enoch “walked with God,” and now Christ, by His redeeming death, by His resurrection, and by His ascension to the presence of God, has enabled the faithful to “walk with God” and live in God’s presence. If all Christians were automatically living in and experiencing God’s presence simply by having been baptized, there would be no need for the frequent imperatives to turn away from sin, to turn to God, and to seek God’s presence.
But, because of man’s fallen nature and his natural inclination to be self-centered and concerned with many different aspects of life on this earth, we need to hear and pay attention to the Holy Spirit’s command, “Seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.” Christians are to seek those things which are above, the virtues of the Lord Jesus Christ, and His presence. We are called to long for these virtues and to make them a priority, and above all love God with our whole being.
Instead of desiring for the wrong things on earth, or prioritizing superficial and transitory goals, we should worship God, and seek to live in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ continually. It is for this reason that Christians need to cultivate the companionship of the Holy Spirit at work in their lives, and to spend time in praise, prayer and meditation on the Lord.
HOW TODAY’S LESSONS ILLUSTRATE THE CALL TO LIVE IN GOD’S PRESENCE
The Lessons for today lead us in this direction, too. Psalm 47 urges us on the one hand, “O ye that love the Lord, see that ye hate the thing which is evil” (v. 10), and on the other hand, “Rejoice in the Lord, ye righteous; and give thanks for a remembrance of his holiness” (v. 12). Rejoicing in the Lord is precisely what Ss. Paul and Silas were doing in the prison at Philippi at midnight. As all the prisoners were listening to them singing hymns and praising the Lord, there was a sudden earthquake, and all the fetters and shackles were loosed. The salvation of the jailer and his household resulted from this time of praise and worship at midnight in a prison cell. When we praise and worship God, we exalt Him, and come into His presence. We are proclaiming that the Lord Jesus Christ rules in all things and holds the victory over all sin and evil. Paul and Silas did not let the pain of their wounds or the misery of a prison cell stop them from praising the Lord and exalting His name. They showed that they were setting their affections on things above, not on things on the earth. In the Second, or Gospel, Lesson, the Lord Jesus Christ prays to the Father that all his followers will be where He is, in God’s presence, and see His glory (John 17:24). This is not only a prayer for the final perseverance of all God’s people, the saints, but it also includes, I believe, the prayer that the saints will continually live in God’s presence during their lives on this earth.
How, then, shall we live in God’s presence? Each one of us must use what God has given us to worship Him. We all must make it a daily habit to praise God and worship him, especially when times are hard, or circumstances difficult. As we worship and praise God daily in the various situations we face, as well as in the peace and quiet of our room, or our home, or our garden, this praise leads us into the presence of God, in which there is fullness of joy, as the Psalmist reminds us (Ps. 16:11).