Saturday, May 23, 2009

Sermon for the Ascension of Our Lord

The Ascension of Our Lord (May 21, 2009)
“Please Be Seated” (Luke 24:44-53)

“Please be seated” is something you hear often. For example, you may hear it when you visit in someone else’s home. “Please, have a seat.” Or you may hear it at a fancy restaurant, as the maitre d’ seats you at your table.

Most often we hear those words in church. “Please be seated” or “You may be seated.” The proper posture in worship is either to stand or kneel, whether to show respect or humility. In the Bible, we see some people laying prostrate — face down — in God’s presence. But although we come before the Lord, standing or kneeling, we also have the privilege of sitting in his presence. “Please be seated,” you hear, and you sit. You rest. You listen to God’s Word. You get to take a load off and rest and learn in God’s presence.
In Christ’s Ascension, it’s as if God the Father said, “Please be seated, my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. You have done what I sent you to do. Now take this place of honor at my right hand.” Jesus is “seated in heaven” at the right hand of the Father. In the book of Hebrews, Jesus is our Great High Priest, and chapter 10:12 says, But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down [Gk: kathizo] at the right hand of God. Then, in 12:2, it says, Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down [Gk: kathizo] at the right hand of the throne of God. Remember, the right hand of the throne of God is not a physical place, but it is a position of authority and power. Jesus no longer limits himself to time and space as he did when he was in his mother’s womb, when he walked and talked among his disciples, when he got tired and slept in the back of the boat, or when he allowed himself to be beaten and nailed to a cross. Being at the right hand of the Father means that he is ruling and reigning at all times and at all places for the good of His Church.

Right before Jesus ascended into heaven, he told the disciples, “Please be seated.” In v. 49 of Luke 24, he told the disciples “But stay [Gk: kathizo] in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” In the Greek, the word for “stay” is the same as for “sit.” Thus, we might translate v. 49. “sit in the city…” “Please be seated.” The disciples were to sit and wait until they were empowered by the Holy Spirit to go out and proclaim the Good News with Christ’s own power and authority. When the Holy Spirit came upon them on Pentecost, they did just that. They fulfilled Jesus’ words to them in our text today, where Jesus said, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in [Christ's] name to all nations.”

And because Jesus has ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father, He says to you and me, “Please be seated.” “Come sit and rest in my loving, forgiving presence. My work is done. I have overcome sin, death, and the devil for you. And because I am seated at my Father’s right hand, I am in charge of everything. You don’t need to be afraid of anything. All power and authority are in my hands. These very same hands that were once humbly nailed to the cross now hold you and care for you.”

So “please be seated” … but don’t sit in the courtyard denying Jesus (Matt. 26). While Jesus was on trial, Peter sat in the courtyard and denied that he even knew Jesus. Our “courtyard” is our neighborhood, our workplace, our school. Sometimes we “sit in the courtyard” and deny Jesus by our words and actions.

“Please be seated” … but don’t wallow around in the sin of the city (Psalm 1:1; 26:4-5). Psalm 1:1 says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers.” And Psalm 26:4-5 says, “I do not sit with men of falsehood, nor do I consort with hypocrites. I hate the assembly of evildoers, and I will not sit with the wicked.” But how conscientious are we about avoiding those people or situations whom we know will “lead us into temptation”? Are we careful about what movies we see, what kind of music we listen to, what kind of television shows we watch, what websites we visit, and are we concerned about the messages they are sending us? Can we really avoid their influence?

Before we were baptized and came to faith in Christ, we used to “sit in darkness.” (Is 9:2) Why should we engage in things that cause us to “sit in darkness” now that we have been given the light of Christ? Jesus is the “Light of the World.” He has come to give us the light of His love and forgiveness. We now sit in His light in this dark world. In Christ’s peace and Christ’s forgiveness, we ascend above this sinful world, as St. Paul wrote in Ephesians 2, “[God] made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 2:5-6)

So “please be seated” … but don’t stay seated, thinking that there is nothing for you to do. Don’t stay seated so that you never get out of your chair to proclaim and serve. There’s a story in Numbers 32 where the Israelites are preparing to enter the Promised Land. God had given them the land west of the Jordan River and told them to go in and take possession of the land and conquer the wicked, evil nations that were already there. In the meantime, the people of the tribes of Reuben and Gad saw the land on the east side of the Jordan — not in the Promised Land — and wanted to settle there. It had some nice-looking fields for their livestock. So they came to Moses, told him the situation, and said, “If we have found favor in your sight, let this land be given to your servants for a possession. Do not take us across the Jordan.” Moses thought that the Reubenites and Gadites were trying to shirk their responsibilities and said to them, “Shall your brothers go to war while you sit here?” But the people of Reuben and Gad assured Moses that they would still help when it came time to enter the Promised Land. Afterwards, they would return and settle in their land east of the river.

Moses’ question might be for us today, too. “Shall your brothers go to war while you sit here?” In other words, don’t stay seated, thinking there is nothing for you to do. When the call to serve is given, don’t automatically expect others to pick up the slack. Maybe that call is being given to you. Don’t stay seated in your comfortable position, so that you never go and serve and proclaim in Christ’s name. That is our calling as Christ’s followers. After Jesus ascended into heaven, the day of Pentecost came, and the disciples received the Holy Spirit to be Christ’s powerful preachers and went into all the world. Your Pentecost was Holy Baptism, when the Holy Spirit came upon you and sealed you in faith towards the Triune God. Now you can “go into all the world” … without fear. You can go into the world of your home, the world of your workplace, the world of your school, with the power of the God’s Word, the power of the Holy Spirit to serve in Christ’s name, to love in Christ’s name, and to tell the Good News about Christ’s name.

As we go, we know and trust that Jesus is “seated” … far above all sin, death, and evil. We don’t need to fear anything, because He is seated on the throne at the right hand of the Father. He has all power and authority in His hands.
Jesus is “seated” … and we are seated with Him in the heavenly realms. (Col 3:1; Eph. 2:6)

Jesus is “seated” … with all power and authority, and he sends us with His power and authority, saying, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:19-20)

Jesus is “seated” … and He invites us to come sit at His banquet table, where His banner over us is love (Song 2:4). Like the lover in the Song of Songs, whom the beloved says is “like an apple tree among the trees of the forest,” we “delight to sit in his shade, and his fruit is sweet to my taste.” (Song 2:3)

So, come, “Please be seated.” Come sit in Christ’s shade. Be comforted and refreshed. Eat of the fruit of the cross, His sweet body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins. Through that precious fruit, He strengthens you to stand up from this banquet table and to go forth energized, ready to call others to this wonderful place to sit and rest and be refreshed, at the foot of the gracious throne where Jesus rules and reigns in love. And one day, having conquered this sinful world through faith in our Savior who conquered for us, we will sit with Him on that throne in heaven, as he promised in Rev. 3, “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne.”

What a day that will be, when Jesus lovingly looks at us and shows us His throne and says “Please be seated.”


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful message! I do look forward to the day Jesus shows me his throne & says to me "Please be seated". What peace I felt when I read that in your sermon!

Thank you, Mom