As we joyously celebrate today the Ascension of Our Lord, we read a devotion from Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel: From Valparaiso to St. Louis.
Though Jesus is no longer here on earth with us, He is still very much alive. In Holy Baptism, He delivers the forgiveness He won for us on the cross, and in Holy Communion He gives us His true body and blood. We take great comfort in these gifts, knowing that He truly has defeated sin, death, and the devil through His resurrection!
Jesus’ ascension . . . does not mean that He has gone away. Before Jesus ascended, He promised that wherever we may be He is with us. The difference is that after the ascension, Jesus does not show us Himself anymore, or at least not until the next time, which will be the end of the world or when we die, whichever comes first. And it is a jolly good thing, too, for suppose Jesus had gone on showing Himself as He did before His resurrection. Where would He be this evening? In America or in New Guinea? We would say, “If He is there, then He is not here.” But because Jesus has ascended, His people in America and New Guinea and in this room know that He is with them. He has promised it. How Jesus can manage it we cannot figure out, and what tells us that we can’t and that it is silly to try is the bright cloud that took Jesus out of the disciples’ sight.
This wasn’t an ordinary cloud. We have seen this cloud before at the transfiguration, and in the Old Testament there was the bright cloud that stood above the two angels on the ark of the covenant, the bright cloud that led Israel on their journey to the Promised Land. That cloud was the guarantee of the presence of God. So at the ascension a cloud is used to mark Jesus’ entry to the realm of God, which we can neither understand nor measure with our present little thoughts and limited experience. We can’t push our little measuring tapes into that cloud and say how things have to go on there. They go on as God says, and that is the way with Jesus now.
Jesus didn’t travel thousands of miles like a space rocket. He rose up a little way above the earth and a cloud received Him out of their sight. All that was gone was the sight of Jesus. The cloud means that He is no longer within our ordinary limits. Jesus is now present and does things in the whole range of God's way of being present and doing things while remaining a man, but a man fulfilled and glorified. We confess this when we say that “He sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” The right hand is not some particular place as we think of, but the exercise of the whole power of God, which is now in the hands of Jesus.
So the ascension does not mean that Jesus has gone away. Quite the opposite. He is with us now even more powerfully than when men saw Him. We live, then, in the presence of our ascended, ever-present Lord. Because He is with us, we cannot be destroyed. Jesus has made the way to victory for us. He leads us that way, gives us strength and courage for it, and finally brings us to the bright cloud of heaven. We go on, then, from the ascension as did the first disciples “with great joy” (Luke 24:52).
Devotional reading is from Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel: From Valparaiso to St. Louis, pages 145–46 © 2004 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
On Christ’s ascension I now build
The hope of my ascension;
This hope alone has always stilled
All doubt and apprehension;
For where the Head is, there as well
I know His members are to dwell
When Christ will come and call them.
Hymn text is from LSB 492:1 © 1941 Concordia Publishing House.