Wishing you many blessings on the occasion of our Lord’s Ascension, we offer below the concluding portion of C. F. W. Walther’s sermon on Ascension, as found in volume 1 of his Gospel Sermons. (The first part can be found in Monday’s blog post.)
The Ascension of Our Lord
Furthermore, the ascension of Christ also confirms our faith in the continual gracious presence of Christ with His congregation. And this is the second point that I now wish to present to you.
In our day especially, it is generally believed that after His ascension Christ is no longer on earth with His human nature. Consequently, the doctrine of the ascension is misused to deny that Christ’s body and blood are truly present in the Holy Supper.
This error rests upon a completely false conception of the real nature of the ascension of Jesus Christ, Son of God, and Son of man. It is mistakenly supposed that Christ ascended into heaven just as Enoch or Elijah did; He now lives in a certain place in heaven, as is believed of all the other saints.
We must note, first of all, that we are much too weak to grasp and fathom the real nature of Christ’s ascension. We do not even have an idea of what the Scriptures call heaven, for it says that heaven has no time or space. Yet our mind has absolutely no conception of something not bounded by time and space. The Holy Scriptures do not once say that Christ only ascended into heaven; it rather speaks this way: “He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things” (Ephesians 4:10). Now who can begin to grasp this mystery (to say nothing about describing it)? Bear in mind that the ascension of Christ is like the sun. The more clearly one wishes to look into it, the more it blinds our eyes, so that finally we see nothing. This work belongs to those that we are not to fathom but in childlike faith simply to believe what the Scriptures say of it. The more simply we hold to what the Scriptures say of it, the more faith-strengthening this mysterious article becomes.
What do the Scriptures say? They do not tell us that Christ is circumscribed by heaven as other saints are, but that He fills all things; not that He was received by heaven, but rather that He has received heaven, yes, that He has ascended up over all heavens, and, as our text says, “sat down at the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19).
What does this mean? If we do not want to go astray, we must consult the Scriptures. It says that God led Israel out of Egypt with His right hand, and hurled Pharaoh with his army into the sea. It says in Psalm 77:10: “I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High.” (German: “The right hand of the most High can change all things.”) It says, “If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me” (Psalm 139:9–10).
From this it is clear that by God’s right hand the Scriptures understand His omnipotence, omnipresence, rule, and eternal divine majesty and glory. That we are not mistaken in this exposition of Christ’s sitting on the right hand of God the Scriptures again show us. St. Paul says, “He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:20–23). And even in Psalm 110 we read, “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at My right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’ The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies!” (vv. 1–2).
Naturally, all this is not said of Christ’s divinity but of that nature in which He went about in the form of a servant, His human nature. His divine nature could be neither humbled nor exalted, experience neither ebb nor increase of its glory, as Psalm 102 expressly says of the divine nature, “You are the same” (v. 27).
Now decide for yourself whether according to Holy Scripture Christ is no longer with us according to His human nature. Far be it! To be sure, He left the world in such a way that He no longer walks among us like a human being, visible, touchable, and occupying space, as once He did with His disciples. Christ could in this sense say, “I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father” (John 16:28). The angel also could speak in this sense, pointing to Christ’s empty grave: “He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him” (Mark 16:6). We speak in this sense at the close of the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed, “From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.”
But be it far from us to believe that this applies also of Christ, what Abraham said to the rich man in hell: “And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us” (Luke 16:26). Be it far from us to believe that Christ is King in a kingdom from which He is separated, and which He can rule only from a distance.
No, Christ has taken a local departure from His disciples. With His glorified body He truly lifted Himself ever higher and higher, as far as the eyes of His disciples could reach. But that should only assure them of the truth of the great change which now took place in the state of the man Jesus. We dare not suppose that, when the clouds received Jesus like a triumphal chariot and hid Him from the sight of the disciples, He now continued to rise slowly ever further and further from the earth and raised Himself up above the starry heavens. No, as soon as the clouds closed behind Him, He in that instant also entered into the state of divine majesty, appeared in heaven full of glory before all angels and saints, and also as a man began to share in the omnipotent and omnipresent rule over heaven and earth and all creatures.
If we consider the ascension of Christ in this way, oh, what a firm basis for a joyful faith we then have! Far be it that Christ should have withdrawn Himself from His congregation; He has rather come close to us. We need not first go to Judea to seek Him. No, shortly before His ascension He promised, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Through His visible entrance into His invisible glory He confirmed and brought this about. In all places He as God and man is now near us with His grace, with His help, with His protection. If during His sojourn on earth Christ dealt with His Father chiefly for us, now His own attention is continually directed toward us, His redeemed, to bring us to faith in Him, to preserve us in it, and to carry out the good work in us until that day when we shall see Him as He is. Christ has not ceased completing His work in sinners; He does not rest in the enjoyment of salvation, resting from His labors as those do who fall asleep in Him. But He has appeared for us before God in the Most Holy Place; as Aaron bore the names of the tribes of Israel on His breastplate when He entered into the Most Holy Place, so also Christ carries the names of all believers on his heart when He appears before God as the true High Priest. There He unceasingly intercedes for His own, rules them, provides for them, and protects them, that the gates of hell cannot overpower them.
Oh, then, let everyone today be awakened to faith in Christ and be strengthened in it through His glorious ascension. Let no one say: “How does this concern me?” If you are a prisoner of sin, the Law, and death, as you cannot deny, then Christ’s ascension concerns you most intimately; through His ascension Christ has taken your captivity captive. If you at your death do not want to descend into the eternal prison, then in faith cling to the Ascended. You are then free even here, and someday you will follow Him into His glory. He thought of you when before His ascension He gave the command, “Proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15–16).
Now if in the meantime, before your Savior brings you home into his Father’s house, you experience misery, many temptations and dangers of soul, do not give up. Cling to Him who today received the kingdom of His Father. For your sake all power in heaven and on earth was given to Him. He will permit nothing to tear you from His hand and will be your shield and protection until He has placed you among those whom He has delivered, who sing an eternal hallelujah to Him in the temple of heaven.
To Him be honor and praise here and hereafter forever and ever. Amen.
From Gospel Sermons, volume 1, pages 280–83 © 2013 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
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