Above It All

Text: Acts 1:1-11

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

I have this theory about mankind.  It goes something like this: 

We do not like looking up, because when we look up, we realize just how small we are. 

For example, a person going to the Big Apple – New York City – will look up at the tall buildings, get dizzy and feel small.  And some people even get a shortness of breath when looking up at tall skyscrapers. 

Another example would be this.  Looking upon a clear night towards the stars can be overwhelming.  A person named Cory once said this,

“I am utterly speechless when I stop and look up at the night sky.  The cosmos has to be the most majestic thing ever.  I feel so small, and I feel so helpless when I gaze into the universe above me.” 

And so, I believe that most people are much more comfortable keeping their heads down.  We feel better when we can see, touch, and feel things below us.  That is right; when we cannot reach something above us or when there is something mightier above us, well… we get uncomfortable and overwhelmed.  This may be the reason why we keep our heads down so much of the time.  Indeed, if our heads are down, we like to think that are in control and the world seems smaller.  However, when we look up, we become smaller, and the world becomes bigger. 

Now, why do I mention this? 

I mention this because today’s reading from the Book of Acts causes us to look up, not down.  Yes, in the Book of Acts we hear about the Ascension of Jesus, which causes us to lift up our chins and look up towards heaven. 

You see, in the story of the Ascension we hear about Jesus being lifted up out of the sight of the disciples some forty days after His resurrection from the dead.  That is right; Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father.  He was lifted up - a cloud took Him out of the sight of the disciples to heaven. As can be imagined, the disciples gazed up into heaven.  Their eyes stretched as far as they could see, without moving or flinching.

So, is the meaning and purpose of the Lord’s Ascension, for us to simply lift up our chins and gaze into heaven, like the disciples? 

Dear friends, we must keep in mind that the story of the Ascension does not necessarily mean that Jesus is somewhere above us in outer space.  In other words, just because Jesus ascended upward, does not mean that heaven is located up in space somewhere.  We cannot take a spaceship to heaven.  Heaven is not a physical destination located next to Jupiter or Saturn.  One cannot simply take exit 13 at the fourth moon of Saturn to get to heaven.  Heaven is indeed a real place, but not a place ‘within’ our time and space.  But rather, heaven is ‘beyond’ our time and space.

So, if heaven is not physically located in outer space, why did Jesus ascend the way that He did? Why was He lifted up instead of vanishing in a puff of smoke? 

Dear friends, even though God’s kingdom of heaven is not somewhere above us in space, it is still above us.  You see, when Jesus ascended into heaven – when He was lifted up – this was intended to show and remind us of His kingdom’s immenseness and majesty and power.  The Ascension of Jesus to the right hand of power was to show that Jesus resumed His full divine qualities.  It was to show that the time of Jesus’ humiliation was over.  No more suffering, no more dying, and no more agonizing cross for Jesus!  Instead, Jesus reigns alive with a fully resurrected body, as the all-present Savior, who can intervene anywhere and anytime with His saving presence.

So, is it wrong to look up to the Lord when we pray?  Is it wrong to gaze upward when we think of heaven?  No, it is not.  It is quite natural to look up, for that is the direction that Jesus went when He ascended.  It is only na├»ve to make heaven into a physical location on a space map or believe that we can get to heaven with GPS and enough rocket fuel. 

So, when we lift up our heads towards Jesus in heaven or when we think of heaven above us, we are affirming that Jesus ascended far above all of creation to the right hand of the Father.  Yes, when we lift up our heads, we recognize that Jesus is greater than us.  We realize that He is more powerful than us.  We know that He is big and that we are small.  We understand that He leads His church.  We understand that He is over all of creation.

So, dear friends, when we look up, we should indeed feel small and tiny and insignificant.  We are nothing compared to a 110 story skyscraper.  We are insignificant compared to the millions of stars over our heads.  And we are especially small compared to the Lord Jesus seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven.  But this should not discourage us.  We should not become dizzy or weak or fearful when we look above us to the Lord Jesus at the right hand of the Father.  Indeed, the fact that we are small and the Lord is big is good.  In other words, isn’t it good that Jesus is above every created thing?  I mean, think about it.  What kind of God would Jesus be if He didn’t rise from the dead?  He would be a dead god.  And what kind of king would Jesus be if He was not above the powers and kingdoms of this world?  He would be a no-name average king.  What if heaven was a flimsy kingdom that could give way at the smallest outbreak of war?  Well, we probably couldn’t call it a kingdom.  What if Jesus couldn’t have ascended to heaven and was stuck here on earth?  Well, we probably would try to seize Jesus, as so many did before, and try to make Him do what we want, not what we need.      

Dear Baptized Saints, the fact of the matter is this, all the kingdoms of this world will rise and fall.  Kings will come to greatness only to be stung by death and buried 6-feet under.  Buildings will rise to scrape the sky and then be demolished by great earthquakes.  Even the sun, star, and galaxies have limited time, with stars continually burning up and losing their twinkle.  But Jesus?  He is not like other kings.  He has ascended higher than any other king has ever ascended.  And the kingdom of heaven, well… this kingdom will last forever for it is not of this world.    

And so, the Ascension of Jesus to heaven is not an end to the ministry of Jesus but a display of Jesus’ power, authority, and majesty.  His ascension shows us that He is above all. His throne is above us, which is why we can lift our heads with confidence.  Jesus and the kingdom of heaven are not like us and not like this world.  They are free from the limitations and sin of this world.    

Yes, Jesus is alive, Baptized Saints, at the right hand of the Father, where He will come again one day soon just as He left.  Yes, Jesus will come again, visibly, and with great glory - just as the disciples watched Him go in His Ascension. He will come again because He is not too big to not care for you.  Yes, even though Jesus ascended to heaven, He has promised that He will come again, for you.  He will not come in secret to rapture a few away, but will come suddenly, visibly, and with great glory.  He will come again, with great glory to call you unto eternal life.  And you, whether you are alive or sleeping in that grave, will hear His voice, and will find yourself before the Lord Jesus who ascended to heaven, and came back especially to bring you into the new heaven and earth. 

Until that day comes, we can rest in the assurance that we are never alone.  Christ our Lord, true God and true man, is always with us.  We have His forgiveness, His love, His comfort, and His strength in the Word and Sacraments and through the Holy Spirit. 

Baptized Saints, the world will do all it can to separate us from Him.  It will discourage us.  It will attack us.  It will persecute us.  Jesus Himself warned us, "In the world, you will have tribulation."  Nevertheless, He also said, "Take heart; I have overcome the world." 

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

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