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Ascension 2024
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
May 12, 2024
Acts 1:1-11, Ephesians 1:15-23, Luke 24:44-53

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            Where is heaven?  Where is Jesus?  The last anyone saw Jesus in the flesh was on the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem.

            At the end of the Gospel of Luke Jesus gives final instructions.  Luke 24:44–49 (ESV) 44 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.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 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.”

             He leads the apostles out to Bethany on the Mount of Olives and tells them, Acts 1:8–9 (ESV) 8 …you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.”

            That is the last time anyone saw Jesus in the flesh. The 11 apostles just stand there staring up into heaven where Jesus had just been, but now is no longer.  Jesus has gone into heaven and two angels in white robes tell the apostles, Acts 1:11 (ESV) 11 … “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” 

            Jesus went into heaven and Jesus will return from heaven on the last day.  So where is heaven?  Where is Jesus? 

            I believe we can sometimes think about heaven being very far away, almost like God is somewhere far off in outer space or somewhere very far removed from us.  Like He is way up high on a mountain looking down at the little houses in the valley, but it all looks like toys or something from that distance.  Kind of like God is there… but not really that involved. 

            So where is heaven?  Where is Jesus?  In this account from Acts 1 Jesus ascends into the air and disappears into a cloud.  Has Jesus abandoned earth?  Where is Jesus? 

            At the incarnation in Nazareth Jesus takes on a physical body and then is born in Bethlehem.  Where is Jesus then?  He is in Mary’s womb.  He is lying in a manger.  In His conception and birth, Jesus, God the Son, enters His state of humiliation where He does not fully use His divine powers.  In His pre-resurrection body Jesus is located in one place at a time. He is in Bethlehem, or Jerusalem, or Egypt, or Nazareth, or Capernaum.  He is in one place at a time and travels in a normal human way between places.  When He is raised from the dead He has a transformed body that allows Him to be in heaven-- and on earth—and to be omnipresent; present everywhere. We even see glimpses of this before His ascension as He disappears from Emmaus and then is back in Jerusalem and appears inside a locked room. 

            Forty days after His resurrection, at His ascension, Jesus transitions to being fully omnipresent. 

            At His ascension Jesus goes from being on the Mount of Olives to being everywhere; to being with believers in Jesus.  As a follower of Jesus, you have Jesus in you.  As St. Paul describes his status as a Christian, Galatians 2:20 (ESV) 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

            Jesus is in heaven, Jesus is in you, Jesus is present where two or three are gathered, Jesus comes to you in baptism, Jesus comes to you in His Body and Blood in Holy Communion for the forgiveness of your sins, and Jesus is omnipresent; He is present everywhere.  Jesus’ ascension is not Jesus’ departure but rather Jesus’ heightened presence everywhere--especially in His followers. 

            On that day atop the Mount of Olives Jesus ascends into heaven and as the angels tell the apostles, Jesus will return one day.  The apostles wait for Jesus to return and we are still waiting.  When will Jesus return?  We do not know.  But as we think about Jesus’ return a question that comes to mind is, “What should I be doing when Jesus returns?”  Because He could return this afternoon--or He may not return for 10,000 years.  What should I be doing?  You should be going through your normal day doing the normal things that you have been given to do.  Washing dishes, cooking dinner, crunching numbers, calling a client, cleaning your room, doing your homework, relaxing and recharging, sleeping, praying, worshiping in church.  What should I not be doing?  What would you not want to be doing when Jesus returns?  You don’t want to be clicking away on the dark side of the internet feeding your lusts and perversions.  You don’t want to be trash talking someone.  You don’t want to be treating your parents with hatred and contempt.  You don’t want to be passed out dead drunk.  You don’t want to be insulting and belittling your wife or husband.  You don’t want to be in bed with someone other than your spouse.  You don’t want to be caught in open sin when Jesus returns. And so, each day, you battle your sin in your mind--before it becomes words and deeds--and you feel guilt and sadness when you give in to temptation--and you continue to repent of your sin in thought, word and deed.  You continue to remember you are baptized; your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Jesus dwells in you and He forgives your sins, and, because of Jesus, you are the light of the world.  Jesus is coming back one day and do you want to be ready for His return.

 And so Jesus, in love, calls you to repent; to have a change of heart and change your direction from being drawn toward sin and instead, Joel 2:13 (ESV) 13 … Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.” 

            But thinking this way about being ready for Jesus’ return can tempt you to think that since Jesus is ascended and is way far away and He probably is not coming back today all that worry about His return can wait for another day and a little sin won’t hurt. 

Truly, you want to be ready for His return, but Jesus is not way far away--Jesus is right with you.  He is with you now--here as we gather to receive His gifts.  So the better question to ask is, “What should I being doing with Jesus today?  Because Jesus is right with you when you surf evil on the web.  He is there when you talk badly about others.  He is there when you disrespect your parents.  He is right with you when you’re getting sloppy drunk.  He is with you when you are yelling at your spouse.  He is with you when you are committing sexual immorality. Jesus is with you always and knows exactly what you are doing.  You can try to hide things from others, but there is no hiding your sin from Jesus.

            And so Jesus, in love, calls you to repent; to have a change of heart and change your direction from being drawn toward sin and instead, Joel 2:13 (ESV) 13 … Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.” 

            As Jesus’ Church we continue to do as Jesus instructed, Luke 24:47 (ESV) 47 …that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”  As Jesus’ Church we are in the business of repentance and forgiveness.  Over and over and over Jesus here delivers to you His forgiveness, won on the cruel cross at Golgotha.  He gives you grace in your baptism, in the words of absolution, in His Body and Blood in Holy Communion.  Jesus forgives you abundantly and He calls you to live each day in Him, with Him, for Him, as a light in this dark world.  Jesus lives in you, so always remember who you are in Him and live out your identity.

            Martin Luther writes about Jesus’ ascension to the right hand of the Father.  “I preach that he [Christ] sits on the right hand of God and rules over all creatures, sin, death, life, world, devils, and angels; if you believe this, you already have him in your heart. Therefore your heart is in heaven, not in an apparition or dream, but truly. For where he is, there you are also. So he dwells and sits in your heart, yet he does not fall from the right hand of God. Christians experience and feel this clearly.” [1]

            Where is heaven?  Heaven is beyond your understanding, but your heart is in heaven. Where is Jesus?  He is at the right hand of God.  He is in the bread and wine of Holy Communion.  He is in you, and He is everywhere.  Jesus did not depart at His ascension.  He ascended into heaven to be with you, for you, forever. Amen. 


[1][“The Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ — Against the Fanatics” (1526) in Luther’s Basic Writings, 3rd ed., 227]