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Ascension Day Service 2017

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Ascension of Our Lord - Observed

Title: What goes up must come down - He who believes and is baptized will be saved!

According to Mark 16:14-20

 It is written: 14 Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.  15 And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.  16 "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.  17 "And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; 18 "they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover."  19 So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God.  20 And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.  (NKJV)

 Thus far the text.  Let us pray:

 Creator Father, whose only-begotten Son Jesus Christ fulfilled what You sent Him to do for our salvation, give to us the Baptism and Faith of Jesus, so that we may remain remain saved from our unbelief and remain with you in body and soul both now and forever more.  In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

 Summary:  1. The long ending of Mark agrees with the Majority Text and with other major and clear passages of Holy Scripture so it should not be doubted that it is a gift of the Holy Spirit.  2. The miracles which are prophesied here were performed by the apostles to confirm the truth of the Scriptures to those yet unbelieving.  3  The Gospel is this: Those who believe and are baptized are saved.  4.  Jesus ascended to the right hand of His Father so that He might also descend with all the Father’s authority in heaven and earth to deliver and keep us by faith alone.  5.  Jesus is not far away but continues to do the miracles which He promised to those who believe in Him.  6.  His mission is for His church, with pastors, to baptize all nations in the Triune name and teach them all things which He has commanded by means of His Word and Sacraments.

 14 Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.

 Thomas is the main disciple Jesus rebukes.  Thomas did not believe those who had seen the resurrected Jesus.  Jesus rebukes the unbelief and hardness of Thomas’ heart.

 Jesus rebukes the eleven disciples.

 Jesus rebukes us too.  We need a rebuke now and then.  A rebuke for our unbelief because we do not believe we are saved by the faith of Jesus alone.  We want to have some responsibility.  We need a rebuke for our hardness of heart because after the first rebuke by a pastor or friend with God’s Word we continue in our old ways.

15 And Jesus said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.

 This is the Great Commission according to St. Mark.  Convincingly, it is at the same time and place Jesus met with the 500 in Galilee where St. Matthew records Jesus’ Great Commission in his beautiful little Gospel.

 In both cases, Jesus is not commanding people to go away.  The 500 will go back to their God-given vocations with the Gospel.  The 500 will return to being mom’s and dad’s and children.  They will return to be teachers and students, soldiers and civilians, governors and citizens, but they will go with the Gospel.

 Mark ends his Gospel where he started.  It is recorded that John the Baptist “preaches a Gospel of baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4).  Mark ends with the same proclamation given to the 500.

 Repentance has two parts.  Contrition and faith.  

 The first part of repentance is the gift of contrition given only in the good Law of God Contrition or being sorry for your sin is good.  But being sorry does not save.  King Saul was sorry for trying to kill David but died in unbelief.  Judas was sorry for betraying Christ and yet hung himself in unbelief.

 The second part of repentance is a gift of faith given only in the Gospel.  Peter sorry for denying Christ three times but he also clung to the faith of Jesus for the forgiveness of his sins.  Paul was sorry for persecuting Christ’s church but he too clung to the faith of Jesus for the forgiveness of his sins.

 It is written, 16 "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.

 The Law is good because it show us our sin.  This knowledge of good and evil is still the cause of our condemnation.

 But this is the Gospel.  The sinner who receives the faith of Jesus and is baptized will be saved from condemnation.  

 Let us receive this repentance from Jesus.  He offers you contrition with His good Law but offers you faith with His good Gospel.

 What happened to those 500 disciples in Galilee?  They went home.  They returned to their vocations with one glaring difference, they returned with the Gospel.  They went home and were baptized Jesus and had their children baptized into Jesus too.  They brought their children to Jesus on Sunday’s in the Divine Service and they brought their children to Jesus by reading the Bible to them and praying with them.  As persecutions drove those first disciples out of Jerusalem, they brought the Gospel with them wherever they were tossed and brought Jesus to a new town, a new church, and new families.

 What does the Great Commission have to do with the Ascension of Our Lord?  It has everything to do with the Gospel and your comfort in this Gospel.

 It is written: 19 So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God.

 The right hand of God is all the authority in heaven and on earth given to Jesus.  It is not a geographical place in a land called heaven.  The right hand of God is the authority to baptize and teach all nations.  Having ascended, Jesus comes to earth because He loves you and continues to work for you.  

 Finally, it is written: 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs.

 The disciples join Jesus in His work.  When a dad brings a child to hear a sermon, Jesus is doing the preaching and baptizing of the child unto salvation.  When a mom reads the Bible to her children, Jesus is preaching to those little children as well as to the mom.   Don’t find comfort in this?  Then check what God has promised to you.  Preaching and teaching is followed by signs.  Those who receive what they hear (faith) and are baptized (Water and Triune name), are saved.

 However, if you find no comfort in the ascended Christ who is preaching and baptizing through His people according to their mundane vocations, you and your false teacher need another rebuke.

 Enthusiasm is the term used by Luther and the Book of Concord to describe those who separate Jesus’ ongoing work from God’s Word.  Enthusiasm is the foundation of strategies to grow the church, for evangelism, and for mission work.  In plain language, Christian Enthusiasts hold that the Word of God is dead and lifeless unless the Christian makes God’s Word relevant and attractive.  The work of growing the church and evangelizing the lost is then the Christian’s work not God’s.

 What comfort does the enthusiastic Christian have when such great work is placed on his shoulders.  If God expects the church pews to always be full, what is the Christian Enthusiast to do when only 100 people show up in this sanctuary, or only 30 show up at St. Paul’s in Wapello, or 15 show up in Keosaukua?  What about all the small churches in Muscatine of various denominations that cling to God’s Word.  The burden is on the enthusiastic Christian because he separates the on-going work of Jesus from God’s Promises.  So if Jesus’ ongoing work among us using His Word does not bring you comfort and you feel compelled to build a big church to God, you have found your repentance for this morning.  Repent and believe that Jesus is continuing to build His church His way.

 Jesus is doing the work even as He invites you to join in.  He has called you to be moms and dads and children; teachers and students; governors and citizens; doctors and nurses and yes even patients who need to be cared for.  Jesus calls you to join in His work.  Jesus has the responsibility to keep and to build His church.  You join in as you do you the work of your vocations and pray for yourself and others, believing that Jesus has baptized you for this repentance unto the forgiveness of all your sins; in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.