“Crown Him with many Crowns” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

Seventh Sunday of Easter May 24, 2020

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Christ has risen!  He has risen, indeed.  Alleluia!

The sermon text is from Luke 24:44-53.  Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”  Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.

            Leadership transitions are kind of a mixed bag, sometimes they work; sometimes not.  After Lincoln’s death, his replacement Pres. Andrew Johnson was impeached.  Probably some were optimistic when Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer replaced Col. Sam Sturgis at the head of the 7th Cavalry, but that was historically bad.  After McKinley’s assassination, President Theodore Roosevelt did well enough to get his face carved into a mountain in South Dakota.  Fred and Tom can tell you about 2 Hall of Fame ballplayers that replaced Hall of Fame ballplayers named Dimaggio and Williams. 

            After Dr. Martin Luther’s death in 1546, the Church of the Reformation went through 30 years of turmoil.  A tough transition, where Luther had stood without compromise on God’s Word, his great partner Philipp Melanchthon, went wobbly under the pressures of leadership, to the point where it took till 1580 and the publication of the Confessions of the Lutheran Church in the Book of Concord to restore harmony in the Church.    

This past Thursday marked Ascension Day, 40 days after Jesus’ resurrection, the day we remember Jesus leading the disciples to the Mount of Olives.  Jesus said, “You will be My witnesses,” and after commissioning His Church to preach the Gospel, they watched Him rise into the clouds and disappear from their sight.  Now, that’s a transition that must have been scary.  After all, Jesus told them, they would be mistreated, arrested and put to death, as He had been.  And, yet, Luke tells us they went joyfully back to Jerusalem, praising God.

            It’s always scary, of course, when a great leader is gone, but Luke says they were joyful.  They must have understood, at least in some way that would become clear after Pentecost, what Jesus meant, “It is better for you that I go, that I may send you My Holy Spirit.”  Jesus ascension into heaven doesn’t mean He’s now imprisoned at “the right hand of God.”  They couldn’t see Him, but Jesus promised, “I am with you always to the very end of the age.”  He even gives us the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper at which we receive with our lips the very body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of our sins. You can’t get much closer than that. So while they couldn’t audibly hear His Words, Jesus promised His Holy Spirit to open up for them the Holy Scriptures so that they could understand everything in the Old Testament is really about Christ and God’s plan of salvation.  Jesus gave the Spirit to lead them into God’s truth.

But Ascension Day was also Coronation Day, the Day Jesus was enthroned as King of Heaven.  Now, you know that as true God Jesus is always the King, but when He took human flesh Philippians 2 says, “He emptied Himself of His power and became obedient unto death.”  For 33 years the King of Kings lived in human flesh as a Servant Savior.  He occasionally let a glimpse of His Godly power shine through, like in the miracles, walking on water, and Transfiguration, but He didn’t always exert that glory because He came to die for you and me.

When Jesus ascended into heaven, He was crowned as King, not just according to His Divine nature, but incarnate or in the flesh.  He received that power as true God according to the nature that makes Him one with you and your true brother.  “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to Me,” Jesus said, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations.”  You see that power was always His as God, but after the resurrection it’s given to Him according to His assumed human nature.  As King of Kings and Lord of Lords, our epistle says, “Far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” 

A lot of people don’t get what it means that Jesus sits at God’s right hand. You shouldn’t think of Jesus on a nice chair up in heaven, sitting at God’s right hand.  It’s not that you now have to make an appointment and wait in line for your turn to see Him.  God’s right hand is a way of saying, Jesus is the right-hand man!  He’s in charge.  It’s not a location to find Jesus at all.  It means what our Ephesians 1 text says, “God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the Church.”  As God in the flesh, no place can contain Jesus.  Ephesians 4:10 says He ascended, “In order to fill the whole universe.” 

He didn’t ascend to get away but to be near you, promising, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” You don’t have to wait in line, your loving Savior stands by your side in all life’s troubles.  “Where two or three gather in His name, there He is.” Your prayers aren’t wasted words, but He delights in your needs and promises to hear and help.  “Come to Me all you who are weary and heavy-burdened and I will give you rest.” 

Ascension Day is this… God’s right-hand man rules all things for the sake of His Church.  The very same Savior who loved you enough to die on the cross and rise from the dead for your sins promises to “work all things for the good of [His Church,] those who love Him.”  Jesus didn’t discard that human nature, the flesh and blood which made Him your Brother, one with you in every way, except without sin.  Jesus said, “My flesh is real food; My blood is real drink… whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood will have eternal life and I will raise Him up on the Last Day.”  

If what we’ve said is true; Ascension Day means Jesus is with you right now, and everywhere you go, even sitting alone in your home, your Savior is by your side.  Now, there are two ways to consider Jesus’ omnipresence or being present everywhere: Law and the Gospel, or as our Gospel says, repentance and forgiveness. 

Since Jesus rules all things for the sake of His Church… Since He’s with you always, when you surf sicko websites on your phone, your Savior is there, when you give in to drunkenness and despair or lash out at your spouse or children, your words fall upon your Savior who is God of heaven and Protector of the widow and orphan.  When you cut and abuse with your words, just so surely do your cruel curses fall on your crucified Christ.  It an inexcusable offense against the God of Heaven to destroy with your lips and in the next moment call upon His name; or view a service of God’s Church and in the next moment black out your eyes in the darkness of sin.  He’s with you.  Don’t think your hiding it from God.  Repent and turn to Christ who didn’t come to call the righteous but sinners. 

The forgiveness part or Gospel part goes like this.  Jesus ascended into heaven to be with you always – and I mean you always.  He didn’t wait for you to get your act together.  He took your miserable mess of a life and died for it and buried it. Jesus is with you, and though you fail a million times, He is faithful, pledging Himself in love for you by His Divine blood.  Jesus carries your needs and concerns, to His Father’s throne.  Jesus defeated the devil.  Your sins are not bigger than your Savior and cannot separate you from His love.  Every demonic accusation against you could be proved beyond a reasonable doubt in God’ s courtroom, yet Jesus served your sentence and declares you justified in His blood.

Romans 8 says, “Who will bring any charge against the one whom God has chosen? Christ Jesus who died, more than that, who was raised to life, is at the right hand of God and is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”  Because of Ascension Day, God’s answer is nobody!  Only stubborn unbelief and refusal to be loved with His perfect love and live under Him in His Kingdom.  The devil cannot snatch you from God’s hands.

Transitions are largely successful or unsuccessful based on the quality of the folks involved.  Till the end of time and Christ’s return, now and forever Jesus rules all things for the sake of His Church.  At God’s right hand, the gates of hell will not prevail against God’s Church; His Word will never pass away.  Jesus ascended into heaven to give you His Holy Spirit.  By His Holy Spirit, He leads you into all truth – and never-ending life.   Amen. Christ has risen!  He has risen, indeed.  Alleluia!  Amen.

And now may the peace of God which surpasses human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.