First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday, May 16, 2021)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
“He Ascended into Heaven: Why It Still Matters Today?”
A little boy asked his Dad, “Dad, did Grandpa make you go to Sunday school when you were my age?” His father said, “He sure did, son. We went every Sunday.” The boy said sadly, “Well, I bet it won’t do me any good either.” The lesson is simple: It is not enough to just go to church. We must apply the Bible to our everyday lives. Faith is useless if it doesn’t shape our actions. Faith is dead if it doesn’t transform our lives.
This past Thursday was the fortieth day after Easter which means it was “Ascension Day.” It is the day which marks the ascension of Christ into heaven. Though often overlooked, the ascension is so central to our faith. It’s a vital part of the whole Christian narrative. That’s why it is mentioned in Scriptures in so many places. No wonder that the early Christian creeds such as the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed clearly emphasized the ascension of Jesus. So I want to take some time this morning to reflect on the ascension of Christ and what it means for us today.
You might wonder: “Why does the ascension matter? I know it matters that Jesus died on the cross, and I know it matters that Jesus rose from the dead, but why does it matter that Jesus ascended into heaven?” Why does Christ’s ascension matter? What does the ascension mean for us today? This morning I would like to briefly share with you a couple short observations on why the ascension matters to us today. The first thought will address the ascension and the paradox of Christ’s presence and absence; and the second will look at need to balance between our longing for Christ’s return and the task before us today.
First: The Paradox of Christ’s Presence and Absence
It must’ve felt so wired not to have Jesus around. For 40 days after His resurrection, Jesus presented Himself to the disciples and gave many convincing proofs that He was alive. Now He is gone. He went back to heaven.
The disciples must’ve wrestled with the paradox of Christ’s presence and absence. It’s true that He is with them always to the very end of the age, but He is not physically present. He is not visible, yet He is there. They cannot see Him, but they can talk to Him all the time. Likewise, while we cannot sometimes sense the presence of Christ, we know He is not absent. Christ is always present though sometimes He is hidden.
This paradox deepens the Trinitarian theology, meaning, and mystery of the sacraments. Christ is present in the sacraments in ways like no other events. For example, though we don’t touch Him, though our eyes don’t get to see Him, in Communion, at the Lord’s Table, He nourishes us with His life by the Spirit. He is present in all the ups and downs of life, but He also works in hidden, unusual, and mysterious ways.
The ascension captures the paradox of the Lord’s presence and absence. Though presently seated at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven crowned with glory and honor (Hebrews 1:3, 2-5-9), “we do not see everything in subjection to him.” The ascension reminds us that Christ’s reign is “already” but “not yet.” The ascension reminds us that our God is both hidden and revealed; present though He may seem absent; quiet sometimes, though we shouldn’t doubt His presence; at the right hand of God in heaven, yet, His nearness is real.
Second: The Balance between Today and TomorrowThe ascension keeps us balanced between our longing for Christ’s return and fulfilling our tasks here on earth. At Jesus’s ascension, in Acts 1:11, the two angels declared: “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” The ascension creates a longing for Jesus’s return. It keeps us attached to heaven. Our lives should be lived in the light and hope of Christ’s Second Coming.
But as we long and wait for Christ’s return, we should not stay idle. Rather, we should do what God has called us to do. The ascension is a reminder of that balance. I like how Luke in the book of Acts concludes the ministry of Jesus with the ascension. He also launches the ministry of the church with the ascension. The ministry of the church is the extension of what Jesus began to do and teach. The disciples are to live this balance between their longing for Christ’s future return and the present task ahead of them.
Friends, I pray that we recapture today the truth of Christ’s ascension and be filled with the renewing and empowering hope that comes from the message that Jesus is our ascended King, reigning in the Spirit with the authority of His loving Father. Let us remember today that the ascended Lord is still present with us. He is our friend and our Good shepherd. Though He might seem to be hidden sometimes, His faithfulness endures forever, and His compassion continues to all generations. Let us also remember that the ascension is a reminder to balance between our longing for Christ’s return and our calling today. We live with the hope of Christ’s Second coming while finishing the work He has given us today. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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