Sermon for Sunday May 13th, 2018, Ascension Day (Celebrated)

 

The Lessons: Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:15-23; St. Luke 24:44-53

The Text: Ephesians 1:16-21

The Topic: The hope of Christ’s calling, the riches of His glory, and the greatness of Christ’s power to believers (Ephesians 1:18-19)

INTRODUCTION

“I had never known such a man as he and never shall again,” said journalist William Allen White after meeting President Theodore Roosevelt in 1897 for the first time. “He overcame me. And in the hour or two we spent that day at lunch, he poured into my heart such vision, such ideals, such hopes, such a new attitude toward life and patriotism, as I had never dreamed men had. After that, I was his man.”

If a mere mortal can have such an effect on another, how much more our Lord! If we will spend time with him in prayer and in Scripture, we too will find our hearts filled with vision, with hopes and with a new attitude to life and to the meaning of things. [1]

Foremost in our minds today is the celebration of the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ into heaven to be exalted to God’s right hand, having all authority in heaven and on earth. Exciting and joyful as this is for many reasons, some might ask, “Where does this leave us now?”

Perhaps to answer such a question, St. Paul made know to the Ephesian Christians how he was praying for them. Years after the Lord Jesus ascended into heaven, it is no use gazing up into the sky as those first disciples did after His ascension. At the end of St. Matthew’s Gospel account, Jesus assures his disciples:

All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

 

(Matthew 28:18b-20, KJV)

The Lord Jesus Christ is always present with his disciples, though physically in heaven, and this is one of the consequences of his ascension and his gift of the Holy Spirit to all believers. It is his presence with the Church always that through his Holy Spirit enables and empowers every member of the Church to fulfill his divinely appointed ministry and calling in the world.

The disciples had observed the Lord at work in his earthly ministry as he preached, taught God’s word, healed the sick, cast out demons, and raised the dead. His ascension into heaven really left them to carry on his ministry and mission in the world, bearing the Gospel of salvation, preaching and living the life of Christ.

ST. PAUL’S PRAYER

St. Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians, as we find it in our Epistle Lesson today, really makes the Ascension of Christ relevant to the ordinary Christian. The first petition of his prayer is that God will give the Ephesian Christians “the spirit of wisdom and revelation” (Ephesians 1:17) in their knowledge of God. When the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, enlightens their understanding, then He does so for three purposes.

The first purpose is that Christians may know the hope of God’s calling. The hope of God’s calling is not merely for us to experience the realities of the present life, its relationships, joys and sorrows, and then to depart this life. The hope of God’s calling is the hope we have in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, of sharing in the Resurrection of the dead and living in holy communion with God and with all the saints eternally. This is the hope of ultimately sharing in the glory of God, a hope which we have because we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and follow Him as Lord.

The second purpose of the Holy Spirit’s illumination of our understanding is that we know the “riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints” (Ephesians 1:18). People are excited when they learn that they are to receive a rich inheritance from their parents, or from a wealthy relative. The wealth of a glorious inheritance in the saints is the wealth of Christ Himself reflected in love in all His people in so many and varied ways.

The third purpose of the Holy Spirit’s enlightenment of our minds is that we know the infinitely great power of God extended to all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, the power that God showed in Christ by raising Him from the dead and lifting Him to heaven to be seated at His right hand in the heavenly places far above all power and authority in this world and in the world to come. The Resurrection and Ascension of Christ show Christians the awesomely great power of God at work, power that God exerts on behalf of believers and in them to bring them to the point of being able to share in His glory.

We should be excited about these purposes of our lives: the hope of God’s calling, the glorious legacy of all the saints in Christ and the exceeding greatness of God’s power to all who believe. All of this we must look forward to, and the more we pray, the more we spend time in the precious presence of God, the more we love God and wait on Him, the more the Holy Spirit will enlighten our minds about these three glorious purposes of our lives.

DIVINE PERSPECTIVE

Not only the Epistle Lesson, but also the fact of Christ’s Ascension should remind us of the importance of seeing all of life from God’s perspective and from the perspective of eternal life in Christ.

CONCLUSION

What will you do to gain insight into God’s great purposes for your life? How will you conduct your daily life, so that the Holy Spirit may lead you into a growing awareness of God’s hope, of your glorious eternal inheritance, and of the immeasurable power of God available to believers?

I conclude with a prayer of Sir Francis Drake (c.1540 – c.1596), an explorer and naval pioneer during the Elizabethan era:

Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves, when our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little, when we arrive safely because we have sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess, we have lost our thirst for the waters of life; having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity; and in our efforts to build a new earth, we have allowed our vision of the new heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas where storms will show your mastery; where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars. We ask you to push back the horizons of our hopes and to push us into the future in strength, courage, hope, and love. [2]



[1] p. 330, Craig Brian Larson & Phyllis Ten Elshof (General Editors): 1001 Illustrations that Connect. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, Christianity Today International, 2008.

[2] p. 307, Craig Brian Larson & Phyllis Ten Elshof (General Editors): 1001 Illustrations that Connect. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, Christianity Today International, 2008.

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