Pastors hold their hands up when they bless their people at the end of every church
service. It is called the “Benediction”…literally, the good word spoken.
Do you know of this phenomenon happening other than in church? Baseball coaches
don’t do this when their players trot out onto the field for the last game of the
world series. Bosses don’t do this for their workers when the morning coffee work
is over and everyone goes back to work. Only in church does it happen. Where else
do you see one person with his hands raised above the other like this….? This is
what the Lord told Moses to do to his people in the Old Testament. Raise your hands
above them and say, “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine
on you and be gracious to you. The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.”
That was it then. That is still it today.
But the hands there, lifted up. What about them? What about that? What about this
blessing? This is exactly what Jesus did at the time he ascended into heaven. He
blessed his people. He had his hands up like that.
JESUS BLESSES US
1. We look toward heaven.
2. We worship him.
3. We praise him in church…continuously!
1. We look toward heaven
When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed
them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.
Ascension means “the going up.” There are two accounts of it in the Bible, both
written by the same writer…Luke and Acts. (We are specially looking at the account
this morning of the book of Luke.) In the Acts account the angels inquired, “Why
are you standing here looking up into heaven?” It wasn’t wrong to do this…just peculiar.
You would have to say this would be odd. If we were all standing around outside
craning our necks to see something up in the sky, people might ask us what we were
doing, why we were looking up. Most people don’t look heavenward. They look around
them. They look at things on their plane. And that is just the point.
Fix your eyes on Jesus. Jesus is in heaven. He went up. We see this happening
today. And just as Jesus ascended up, he wants us to be thinking up. Ascension
Day is a big “heads up” day for Christians. If we are truly going to be fixing our
eyes on Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, then we are going to have to
of necessity look up. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever
is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable---if anything
is excellent or praiseworthy---think about such things. (Philippians 4:8) This is
the high road. These are high thoughts. This is looking toward heaven in your thoughts.
Think about these things. Think about heaven today. It is the Ascension of Jesus.
He went up to heaven, just as we say with all Christians in the Apostles’ Creed,
“He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father.” This
is where our help comes from. I will look to the mountains from where my help comes.
My help comes from the Lord. Look up! The Helper is there! He is blessing you.
He is in heaven…your home. He is coming again. He is going to come on the skies
and you are going with all people to see him. He is the one who is ruling in the
world right now. He is the one who is above all the political ploys and machinations
of people today. He is about all injustice and all ineptness. He is King of kings
and Lord of lords. He reigns in heaven…and on earth.
We have anticipation of heaven. We have expectation of heaven. Jesus’ ascension
into heaven give us both. We are blessed to have this anticipation of heaven and
this expectation of heaven.
2. We worship him.
And having this expectation of heaven and this anticipation of it, we can’t help
but worship our God. The first people at the first Ascension of Jesus worshipped
him. At every single commemoration of the day and the fact, this worship has been
“Then they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.”
When a dog licks your hand because it loves you and wants to show it, is what we
do when we worship our God. Proskunew…and hear the word kunos which is the Greek
word for dog…(canine, you know). What Arabs do according to their oriental custom
when they bow down low and kiss the ground at a person’s feet. That would be a significant
gesture. Try it sometime. Do you have anyone in mind that you might try it on?
Are there any humans you would like to bow down before and kiss the dust at their
feet? This is quite a bit more extreme than just kneeling in front of someone or
of respectfully bowing your head. This is going all the way down on all fours with
your face to the ground. And understanding this also helps you to understand what
the last day will be about when we hear, “That at the name of Jesus every knee should
bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus
Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. That is real worship. That will
happen one day on a service of forced attendance. Everyone will be there. And in
the meantime, this worship posture is the mental mindset of what we do in church
It doesn’t seem that this would be a happy day, this Ascension Day of Jesus. How
many departures are real happy events among loved ones? They love each other! And
now they are happy at the prospect of separation? Yet it was so here on the Mountain
of Ascension. The disciples were happy! They returned to Jerusalem with “great
joy.” That’s what the blessing does. It makes you happy. Just think what God is
doing on this Memorial Day weekend for all of you here. He is blessing you. That
is what we believe and know happens in our Christian and Lutheran worship service.
We come to this place not to do something extraordinary for God. We come here to
have him do something extraordinary for us. He loves us. He is the operative force
in every service right here. He comes through his words and through his sacraments
to raise his hands over us and put his dear hands on our lives and hearts and shoulders…and
bless us. He points to heaven for us too. Every sermon spoken here points us to
heaven. Essentially, this is the gesture of Christians in any and every circumstance
of their lives: they point heavenward. Don’t they? Isn’t this what the Ascension
teaches us? Heaven is a happy place. We are happy being blessed.
There is this connection between worship and great joy. One is the expression of
the other. One is the statement of the other. We do say we are sorry in our worship
and we do repent. But joy and happiness is the great by product of every Christian
worship service. We are in the presence of God himself. He is blessing us. What
could be happier than that? The cross is virtually visible from the mountain of
Ascension. (You could see Golgotha in the distance as you rose from Bethany. It
was seven Sabbath day’s journeys…an easy walk of a mile or two.) Look over that
way. You will see it, the old rugged cross, that symbol of suffering and shame.
But don’t spend too much time looking at that symbol of suffering and shame. It
is meant to propel you to heaven. It is that great springboard that sends you hurtling
toward heaven and Jesus…forever!
3. We praise him in church…continuously!
“And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.”
There is something important about the word “continually.” It has good applications
for us today. The Ascension is a one time thing. It happened once and for all.
Jesus ascended into heaven. But the result of that one time event is ever ongoing.
It happened again this year. It happened this past Thursday in our worship of God
and in our understanding of his wonderful actions on our behalf. We do this together.
We are like the first disciples in that regard. Our being with each other and
with Jesus in church is a continuous thing. Christianity is not a spectator sport.
Christianity is not a single person event. It is a team effort. “They stayed continually
at the temple, praising God.”
The Ascension is all about praising God. Praising him is saying that he is good.
He takes away all our wrong and buries it in the depths of the sea, scrubs it clean
with Jesus’ sweat and blood. That’s how good. And God is great! We say it when
we praise him. How great? Greater than all our enemies and all our fears and all
our inabilities and all our worries and all our pains. God is that great! And God
is wise. How wise is he? He is so wise that he causes everything bad in our lives
to end being something useful and good in our walk of faith. He figured out how
to save us all and get us all to heaven with him and his Son. That’s how wise he
is. And how kind is God? He stoops down to us and invites us into his presence
and lifts his hands over us and blesses us. We of all people! He does this for
us! That’s how kind he is.
Right now our thoughts are going up! We are thinking heaven. We understand the
psalmist who said, “I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord than to
dwell in the tents of the wicked!” We too want to stay continually in the temple,
praising God. Amen.