Worship

Ascension Sunday

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Watch the livestream beginning at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday. After the livestream is finished, the video will be available to watch at any time.

First Reading: Acts 1:1-11 (NIV)
Second Reading: Ephesians 4:7-16 (NIV)
Gospel: Luke 24:44-53 (NIV)

Music:

  • Hymn: CW 476 “On Christ’s Ascension I Now Build”
  • Hymn: CW 511 “Crown Him With Many Crowns”
  • Hymn: CW 472 “A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing”
  • Hymn: CW 747 “Christ High-Ascended”
  • Hymn: CW 474 “Hail the Day That Sees Him Rise”

Salem Lutheran Church ~ Pastor Jon Enter

Theme: Seeing Clearly     Text: Acts 1:1-11

When you look closely at this picture, what do you see? Those with clear vision see two girls. One staring down and the other looking at her friend. Those with blurry vision will see a middle-aged woman looking off into the distance. If you see the two young girls, squint your eyes and you’ll see the woman suddenly appear!

Our eyes see different things even while looking at the same image depending upon your focus. The disciples weren’t seeing clearly at Jesus’ ascension because they didn’t have the right focus.

When I was in grade school, I started having trouble reading the chalkboard. Whatever Mr. Lohmiller wrote on that dusty chalkboard was a big pile of mushy blur to my eyes. I looked and strained to see what it meant but I just couldn’t understand what he wrote. I had grown near-sighted but I didn’t want to admit it. Who does? Who wants to admit what they’re looking at doesn’t make sense?

The disciples couldn’t make sense of what their eyes just saw. They just witnessed the Lord they loved—the One who conquered death on Easter— ascend before them up to heaven. They couldn’t believe their eyes, what they just saw. They looked around seeing each other clearly so they knew their eyeballs were still working—everyone else had jaws dropped wide open—but when they looked up into the sky where Jesus once was, He was no more. They were near-sighted. Things made sense that were close to them but when they looked out at what Jesus just did, it was blurry, confusing.

Mr. Lohmiller eventually noticed my blank stare at the chalkboard in grade school. He saw me squinting trying to figure out what he just wrote on the board in math class because it wasn’t adding up to me because it was blurry. So he said to me, “Jon, you need your eyes checked. You keep staring at the board and everyone else left for recess.” (Okay, it wasn’t that bad.)

The disciples didn’t understand what they were seeing so God sent angels to tell them to get their eyes of faith checked. “Men of Galilee” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky?” (Acts 1:11) They asked the disciples why they were staring blankly into the sky just like how I was staring blankly at the chalkboard. It was the same reason; near-sighted. The disciples were so focused on what was near to them; they couldn’t see beyond that.

Just before Jesus ascended into heaven, listen to just how spiritually blurry and nearsighted the disciples’ eyes-of-faith were. They asked Jesus, “Lord, are You at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) The disciples weren’t seeing clearly. They were still focused on Jesus creating an earthly kingdom that was near them.

They should’ve known better. For three years, Jesus worked to correct their near-sightedness. Jesus taught them not to focus on this world but to focus on what is in heaven waiting for them. Jesus prepared their spiritual eyesight for this Ascension Day when He said, “I came from the Father…now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.” (John 16:28) They had the ability to see clearly why Jesus needed to ascend but they refused.

My eyes had slowly been going bad for a few years before Mr. Lohmiller noticed but I refused to wear glasses. So, do you know what I did? For years, when I was getting my eyesight tested in school, I made sure I was last in line and I stood near the eye chart. While the others got tested, I memorized the bottom two lines. When it was my turn, I couldn’t make out a thing, but I could recite from memory what that letter or shape it was. I passed every year. But I couldn’t see.

Do you know why I did that? We were poor when I was growing up and I knew if I got glasses, we could only afford the ugliest, cheapest glasses. The kind that looked liked two clear billboards on your face. I was focused on my earthly looks more than seeing clearly. I also feared getting made fun of by my friends. And I knew it would mean more taunts from the bullies on the bus who were already picking on me.

Doesn’t that sound like us? We get near-sighted. We focus on the things near to us and on what people think of us rather than focusing on heaven and how God sees us. How often we have turned a blind eye to God’s law and His will for our lives because we’ve been more concerned what people standing around us will say when we live for God. High school is so rough. There’s such a pressure to fit in. It’s so easy to compromise your values so that you aren’t made fun of by others. What do you do or what did you try that you knew wasn’t holy or healthy but you did it anyway? Underage drinking. Drugs. Gossip. Slander. Going to far physically. When we focus on the pressures and problems of this world rather than focusing on the prize of heaven and Jesus who takes us there, we compromise ourselves.

By the way, adults in the room, we all know that temptation and those personal failures don’t stop in high school. The devil is so good at what he does.

Maybe you’re not nearsighted with trying to fit in but you’re near-sighted, you’re focused on pride or power. Your way is right. Your way is best. Your brother doesn’t get it. Your parents are out-of-touch-with-reality. If only you could make all the decisions, life would be so much better! At their core, that’s what the disciples struggled with when they asked Jesus, “Lord, are You at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) They didn’t want Jesus to ascend; they wanted Him to showcase His glory on earth because, if He did, they would rule alongside Him. Their pride and want to be in control drew their eyes.

At our core, we struggle with pride. I know I do. You do. We want to hear we did a job well. We want to be accomplished. To leave our mark on the world, on work, on others. There’s nothing wrong—absolutely nothing wrong—with using the abilities God has given us to His glory and there’s nothing wrong—absolutely nothing wrong—with those efforts being successful. It becomes wrong when we make those successes about us. It becomes wrong when we seek glory for ourselves when God is the One who blessed us.

Since we don’t see clearly God’s laws, Jesus did. Throughout His entire life on earth, Jesus saw clearly and fulfilled perfectly God’s law. When His parents looked for Him in Jerusalem—after they lost Him as a boy—Jesus told them they could always find Him in the house of the Lord. “Didn’t you know I had to be in My Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49) Jesus saw right through the devil’s temptations when that liar squared off against Jesus and lost. In order to show us what eyes of trust look like, Jesus looked up to the Father in prayer from the Garden of Gethsemane. When He did, He clearly saw your need of His mercy as He prayed. Strengthened by prayer, Jesus set His eyes on completing the plan of redemption, to save you freely, fully, forever.

Jesus saw clearly. From His cross perched between earth and heaven, Jesus saw the soldiers being near-sighted gambling for His possessions. They focused on gaining dirty laundry while the laundry list of their sins was being washed clean by Jesus. Jesus looked down upon them, not in malice but with mercy, and said, “Father, forgive them.” (Luke 23:34)

Oh, Jesus saw clearly. Jesus looked out from the cross all the way into the past seeing Adam’s first sin and all the way into the future to our Old Adam. No sin is hidden from Him. Jesus saw deep into our hearts. Rather than condemning us, He went to the cross for us!

After He proved to over 500 people that Jesus was alive and risen from the grave—they saw Him with their own eyes—Jesus ascended. He left. That was done out of love for us. Without the Ascension, the disciples wouldn’t have turned into missionaries. Without the Ascension, Pentecost would’ve been overshadowed (that’s our sermon focus next week). Without the Ascension, the Second Coming of Christ would be impossible. It has been well said that at the Ascension, Jesus left here for the everywhere; He left time for the Eternal; He left the first century to fill all centuries. The Ascension changed everything forever!

It’s like the difference between getting glasses and getting LASIC surgery. One is temporary to see clearly and one is permanent. When Jesus ascended to heaven, He revealed to us visibly that this world is temporary. Our eyes of faith on this side of heaven are like a pair of glasses. They help us see clearly but they can be taken off (faith can be lost). But once our soul ascends to heaven with Jesus through death, our vision of faith becomes permanent. It will be as if Jesus does spiritual LASIC surgery on our faith burning away all our sinfulness from our lives so we can see God clearly, eternally.

If you’ve never had LASIC surgery, you might not understand just how true this is! 18 years ago I had LASIC done on my eyes. The only uncomfortable part is when they clamp your eye lids open, then they cut the lens of your eye which you’d think would hurt but it doesn’t because there are no pain receptors in your eye. Then the take a laser, and after a computer maps your eye, it burns off the gunk in your eyes which caused the blurry vision. During this time you can actually smell burnt flesh but, again, there’s no pain. They finish up, flap back your lens and within a couple of days you can see perfectly clear!

That’s what God will do for us when we ascend to heaven! The only uncomfortable part is that we will go through death but then God will cut open our heart (but it won’t hurt because there’s no pain in heaven) and He’ll burn away from us all past sin and sinfulness—the gunk that once kept us on earth from fully seeing clearly God’s law and God’s love. And when He’s done, we will see forever in heaven what our eyes yearned to see from earth…the glory of God and the throne of the Lamb who was slain to bring us salvation. We will see the right hand of God where Jesus ascended from before the eyes of the disciples. We will see it! You will see it!

Until that day, keep your spiritual glasses on. Keep your faith guiding and governing your life so you aren’t near-sighted, so you don’t focus on the things of this earth that are near. May we focus, instead, on Him who ascended, reigns, and rules our lives for our good. Amen.

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