Lutheran Worship and Resources

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Ascension of Our Lord

Mid-Week Lenten Vespers

Pastor Gregory L. Jackson

Bethany Lutheran Worship, 7 PM Central Time – Ascension.

The Hymn #558 4.44
The Order of Vespers p. 41
The Psalmody Psalm 4 p. 123
The Lection Passion Harmony, TLH

The Sermon Hymn #245 4.6

The Sermon – Faith Conquers Fear

The Prayers
The Lord’s Prayer
The Collect for Grace p. 45

The Hymn #189 4.7

KJV Acts 1:1 The former treatise have 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 that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen: 3 To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God: 4 And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. 5 For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence. 6 When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? 7 And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. 8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. 9 And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. 10 And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; 11 Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up 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.

KJV Mark 16:14 Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen. 15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. 17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; 18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. 19 So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. 20 And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.

O Jesus Christ, Thou almighty Son of God, who art no longer in humiliation here on earth, but sittest at the right hand of Thy Father, Lord over all things: We beseech Thee, send us Thy Holy Spirit; give Thy Church pious pastors, preserve Thy word, control and restrain the devil and all who would oppress us: mightily uphold Thy kingdom, until all Thine enemies shall have been put under Thy feet, that we may hold the victory over sin, death, and the devil, through Thee, who livest and reignest with God the Father and the Holy Ghost, one true God, world without end. Amen,

Faith Conquers Fear

The New Testament seems to emphasize the failings of the disciples. I doubt whether any other historical account shows the initial followers of a great leader to be so obvious in their faults.

I could list many of them, but they are best summed up in two phrases – fear and lack of faith.

One is an emotion. The other is not.

Fear is our emotional response to what we sense at the moment, based on our experience and assumptions. Loud noises are frightening. So is complete silence.

We were in Milwaukee on day, on the Lake. The lake’s surface was as smooth as glass, not a wave in sight, rare for any of the Great Lakes. If we had known better, we would have been afraid. The temperature dropped 40 degrees in about one hour. That was another bad sign, which we ignored. I remembered that hour, because I was reading in the car. At first I had the window down to cool off the car. While I was waiting I got so cold that I rolled up the window.

The calmness and temperature drop preceded a gigantic storm that we missed by arriving at home. Waves dashed against homes high up on the cliffs. If we had known more at the time, looked at a barometer (not found in Dodge Aspens), we would have headed for home more quickly.

The disciples were certainly intelligent enough. And they had plenty of experience. However, their senses told them things based on the wrong assumptions. What they thought they knew was wrong, because their emotions grabbed their human knowledge and ignored the presence and teaching of the Son of God.

As Luther wrote in one of his sermons about the Sea of Galilee, when fear grips us, faith goes out the window.

Faith is not an emotion, not a virtue. I realize how some Lutherans get confused, because our Arminian (Decision Theology) culture treats faith as an intellectual choice or virtue.

God’s Word creates and sustains faith, so faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit, a product of the Holy Spirit when the Word teaches us the Gospel Promises.

In contrast, the Word as God’s Law can teach us fear and respect toward God. “To this man will I look, who trembles at the Word of God.”

The Ten Commandments teach us first to fear God as the infinite power revealed in His Word. Those who juggle with the Word of God and try to teach Jesus to speak correctly, their way, are without fear of God. They know the Name of God has great power, and they abuse that power to oppress and deceive people. Their hardness of heart reveals how they treat the Word of God, which makes them flintier as they continue to abuse it.

At a bakers’ convention I met many wealthy bakers’ families. For instance, one baker had dozens of outlets in one city. He mentioned that he ordered 200 bags of flour at a time, in 100 pound bags. That equals 20 tons of flour in each order. So they were rich. His wife looked liked a baked lizard from sunning herself all the time, in tropical climes. The sun is so powerful that it can turn skin into leather. The woman probably did not notice that, but adored her deep, deep tan.

People glory in their hardness of heart, too. They only proves how blinded they are. They can mouth the words of Scripture but cannot teach its meaning, except to distort it.

So we can see how patiently and lovingly Jesus built up the faith of His disciples. Many times He rebuked them for their lack of faith, their fear, but He built up their faith by showing them how much they could trust in Him.
Although the resurrection itself was a great and glorious miracle, the Ascension was a special confirmation of Jesus’ power as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Before their eyes, the disciples and the 500 saw and heard the risen Christ. Moreover, the disciples saw Him ascend into heaven.

That is why conservative Lutherans and all liturgical believers mark the Day of Ascension. It is the triumph of divine revelation over human knowledge and experience. The liberal skeptics hide their unbelief in the actual resurrection of Christ, not to mention all His divine attributes. Ascension is just too much for them. They openly confess it to be impossible. They rarely observe this day.

The Ascension of Jesus had to be just as powerful in the preaching of the risen Christ as the empty grave itself. And it is a powerful antidote to fear, our emotional response to uncertainty and to guilt over sin.

Fear about material needs is based upon not trusting the most basic attribute of God – that He cares for our earthly needs. We cannot help being fearful when the headlines are screaming and the people around us are suffering. A few years ago, we all assumed a certain degree of prosperity and security. That has been taken away, but God still guides the universe. Similar crises have happened in the past, due to man’s greed and deception, war and foolish leadership.

Jesus sent out the apostles without jobs of any kind. There is no mention of how they get along. They were even warned to carry swords, because of physical danger. But God provided.

The other part of fear relates to guilt. The fear is lack of faith in God’s goodness and mercy. The Gospel Promises remove that fear, banish it especially when we are reading the Gospel and dwelling upon it.

This week I recalled a Chinese missionary I met when I was in grade school. He had to take a long journey in a wild land. The China of the warlords was a dangerous place. His government guardian gave him protection. The man who went with him was the official executioner, with a large sword. The missionary was no longer afraid.

Luther uses similar comparisons when he preaches about the attacks of Satan upon our emotions, because the devil attacks where we are weakest. God’s Word is a powerful weapon against anything Satan can say because all power has been handed over to Christ against Satan. One “little” Word of God can fell him.

And it does not depend on our power, goodness, or virtue. It is God’s own Son who is the valiant warrior against Satan. He is both the Hero and the innocent Lamb of God, dying for our sins.

This is too great for us to grasp, but the Word of God is engrafted into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, so the Gospel grows in us, encourages this faith in God’s mercy, and produces Gospel fruits.



"The efficacy of the Word, unlike that of the seed, always has a result. The man to whom the Word of God comes, and who repels it, is not as he was before. Where long and persistently refused, hardening at last comes, Exodus 8:15; 9:12; John 12:40; Hebrews 4:1, and the Word becomes a 'savor of death unto death,' 2 Corinthians 2:16. Every word heard or read, every privilege and opportunity enjoyed, leaves its impress either for good or for evil. It is not so properly the Word, as man's abuse of the Word; not so much the efficacy of the Word, as the sin taking occasion of the efficacy that produces this result, Romans 7:8."
Henry Eyster Jacobs, Elements of Religion, p. 155.

"Since the Word of God is this weapon [sword], it behooves us to make use of it at all times and to this end become acquainted with it both by means of public preaching and by earnest Bible study at home. Cursory reading must be supplemented by careful memorizing of proof-texts and strong passages. Only in this way sall we be able to make the proper use of the Word of God as a true
weapon of offense at all times."
Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the New Testament, 2 vols., II, p. 292.

"Such is the nature of faith that it feels nothing at all, but merely follows the words which it hears, and clings to them."
Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., III, p. 194.

"Now, it is true, the preaching of faith is very lovely and winsome, but coupled also with subtle and potential risk, particularly for the fleshly heart. For preaching about faith is preaching about grace. Thus when in the first article of the Creed I preach that God created heaven and earth, or in the second article that God sent His only Son to earth, allowing Him to suffer and die, and so on, this is all the work of God, granted and bestowed on us by grace. When one now preaches about this goodness and grace of God, coarse and fleshly hearts object and willfully distort the grace of God, as St. Jude says, into lasciviousness.
Sermons of Martin Luther, The House Postils, 3 vols., II, p. 113.

"Now the Christian Creed indicates that the Lord's ascension is in no way our doing, but an article we are to believe. All festivals in the church are celebrated by Christians for the sake of faith, that it might be served by preaching. Just as it is not my work nor that of anyone else that God's Son is conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, so also it is not my doing that Christ rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and has sent the Holy Spirit."
Sermons of Martin Luther, The House Postils, 3 vols., II, p. 113.

"If one preaches about the comfort of faith, people become rude and malicious. But if one does not preach the comfort of faith, poor consciences are struck with fear and terror."
Sermons of Martin Luther, The House Postils, 3 vols., II, p. 114.

"I would much rather have people say that I preach too sweetly and that it hinders people from doing good works (even though my preaching does not do that), than that I failed to preach faith in Christ, and there was no help or consolation for timid, fearful consciences."
Sermons of Martin Luther, The House Postils, 3 vols., II, p. 115.

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