Worship Helps for Easter 7
Good Friday is easy to understand – Jesus died on the cross to pay for the sins of the world. Easter is pretty easy, too – Jesus rose from the dead to give the assurance of eternal life to all who believe in Him. But what about the event forty days after Easter? What’s so special about Jesus’ ascension?
Our culture certainly has no clue about the Ascension. There are no Ascension Day parades; no Ascension Day parties; no Ascension Day sales at the mall. No one is giving the excuse to the pastor, “Sorry, I can’t make it to church Thursday night. We are going to Grandma’s to open Ascension Day presents.”
Though our society may not understand the importance of the Ascension Day, we Christians continue to celebrate this minor festival of the Christian Church year.
“The Ascension” by Benjamin West portrays the glory and magnitude of what Jesus’ ascension into heaven means for Christians. The disciples are gathered on the mountaintop looking up in bewilderment and amazement. Two angels are announcing to the disciples, “Why do you stand here looking into the sky? 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” (Acts 1:11).
There are cherubim and other angels who are accepting the glorified Lord back into heaven. He will be seated at His Father’s right hand.
Benjamin West was an American-born painter who moved to England as a young man. He never returned to America. Benjamin became famous for his works of art depicting historical, mythological, and religious subjects. His work became so revered that he became known in London as “the American Raphael.”
West portrays the Christ returning to glory so that He might reign and put all His enemies under His feet (1 Corinthians 15:25). As sinners, though, we don’t like Christ reigning over us. Our sinful nature wants to be the one in control. We want to do what we want when we want it. We don’t want someone else telling us what to do. We don’t want to be responsible to anyone else – even if it is the Lord of heaven and earth.
For our sinful nature, the worst part of Christ’s reign is that He is a King who dies for His subjects. This is grace – sheer grace. And our sinful nature chafes at grace. It wants to do the work and be responsible for salvation.
Christ ascending into heaven in all His glory proclaims to the world – and our sinful nature – that His work is done. We need to do nothing. Everything has been accomplished. His work of saving mankind from its sin and hell has been completed.
Jesus humbled Himself by living in the womb of His teenage mother for nine months. Now Jesus rules for eternity.
He humbled Himself to be laid in a feeding trough at His birth. Now He reigns supreme at the Father’s right hand.
He humbled Himself to be worshiped by a handful of smelly shepherds and later by some visiting Wise Men. Now He is worshiped by the great multitude that St. John could not count (Revelation 7:9).
He humbled Himself to endure the devil’s temptations in the wilderness. Now He has defeated the Ancient Serpent and crushed his head and made a public spectacle out of him (Colossians 2:15).
He humbled Himself to suffer wounds on His beautiful head, hands, feet, and side. Now He wears these wounds with righteous pride. For it is by these wounds that we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).
Christ’s ascension proclaims to the world and our sinful nature that Christ’s time of humility is over. He now reigns supreme.
Your church may or may not be full this Thursday evening for the celebration of Christ’s ascension. However, it is by His ascension that Jesus has entered heaven to finish filling His Father’s mansions (John 14:2).
Parties, parades and presents are all nice additions to celebrating this Ascension Day. But if you don't have time to get all of that ready by Thursday - simply worship Him. The ascended and glorified Lord is inviting you to join Him - in His Father's house of worship ... and then in His Father's house for eternity.
Worship Theme: Live in eager expectation of glory! That glory is not dimmed by earthly suffering; rather, such suffering reminds us of the glory that awaits us. First the cross; then the crown. Our light and momentary troubles cannot mute the joy of living in eager expectation of glory. The week that falls between Ascension and Pentecost is one of waiting and expectation for the promised Spirit and the promised glory.
Old Testament: 1 Samuel 1:21-28
When the man Elkanah went up with all his family to offer the annual sacrifice to the LORD and to fulfill his vow, 22 Hannah did not go. She said to her husband, "After the boy is weaned, I will take him and present him before the LORD, and he will live there always." 23 "Do what seems best to you," Elkanah her husband told her. "Stay here until you have weaned him; only may the LORD make good his word." So the woman stayed at home and nursed her son until she had weaned him. 24 After he was weaned, she took the boy with her, young as he was, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the LORD at Shiloh. 25 When they had slaughtered the bull, they brought the boy to Eli, 26 and she said to him, "As surely as you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the LORD. 27 I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him. 28 So now I give him to the LORD. For his whole life he will be given over to the LORD." And he worshiped the LORD there.
1. What can Hannah teach us about living with trouble or sorrow while we wait for God’s glory?
Epistle: 2 Corinthians 4:13-18
It is written: "I believed; therefore I have spoken." With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. 15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. 16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2. How can Paul call our troubles “light and momentary?”
Gospel: John 17:1-11a
After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: "Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 2 For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. 3 Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. 4 I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began. 6 "I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. 8 For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. 9 I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name-- the name you gave me-- so that they may be one as we are one.
3. Why did Jesus pray, "Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you?"
4. What comfort do we find in our Savior's prayer?
1. Afflicted by her rival, Peninnah, Hannah’s troubles seemed neither light nor momentary. Her barrenness brought suffering and sadness that embittered her life, but it did not shake her faith. At the house of the LORD she cast her cares on him and prayed, expectant of God’s grace and blessing. She humbled herself under God’s mighty hand, and he lifted her up in due time: the son she longed for would become Samuel, the leader of God’s people. On this Sunday of expectation, Hannah’s example shines: she did not focus her eyes on what was seen, on the troubles of this life, but on the unseen eternal glory that God had stored up for her. For her eager expectation of glory, see 1 Samuel 2.
2. Who thinks that their troubles are light or momentary? When we lose a loved one, when we face mortal illness or financial ruin—who could ever think those troubles insignificant or passing? Only people who have a perspective that stretches to the unbounded time of eternity and encompasses the unbounded joy that we eagerly expect there. We believe that one day Christ will present us to the Father for an eternity of glory. Therefore…therefore we fix our eyes not on all our problems that we know so well, but on the unseen glory, the eternal glory that we do not yet know, but eagerly expect.
3. In praying for the Father to glorify him, Jesus was praying for the successful outcome of his work of salvation. The glory would come with Jesus' victory over Satan on the cross. Through Jesus the glory of the Father also shone brightly since all that the Son did was for the Father's glory.
4. Can you hear the certainty in Christ’s voice? Can you feel the authority resonate from his words? Stop for a moment and marvel at the words Christ speaks even as his enemies prepare to arrest him, to torture him, to kill him. Christ enters his passion as victor. We know the end of the story; we know this is Christ’s path to glory. But what would the disciples think in the next few hours as the blows landed, the whip bit, the nails pierced, and the blood flowed? This is glory? Just wait…these sufferings would not last. Just wait…glory is coming. Look at Jesus’ promise: he has been granted all authority—but he uses it to give, not to take. He gives us life eternal won by the glory of his completed work. On this post-ascension Sunday, Christ’s promise to return to his Father has proven true. What comfort, then, is his promised prayer for us who remain behind! We are in the world, but not as orphans, and so we bear our sufferings in eager expectation of the glory that’s coming.
Putting your faith into action
Knowing the Father and his Son constitutes eternal life. Following the Father and the Son is Christian living. As Jesus lifted up prayers to his Father, we lift up prayers and our lives to the Father. We do not belong to the world; we belong to our God. He has created us, bought us, and made us his own. Our lives of faith reflect that.
We have stated clearly that good works do not fulfill the Law, that we need God’s mercy, that through faith we are accepted by God, that good works—even the works of St. Paul himself—cannot bring rest to the conscience. We are to believe that we receive eternal life through Christ by faith, not because of our works. But what do we say of the reward that Scripture mentions? If the adversaries will admit that we are regarded righteous through faith because of Christ, and that good works please God because of faith, we will not afterward argue much about the term reward. We confess that eternal life is a reward; it is something due because of the promise, not because of our merits. For the justification has been promised, which we have previously shown to be properly God’s gift. To this gift the promise of eternal life has been added, according to Romans 8:30, “Those whom He justified He also glorified.” Paul says, “There is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me”. The justified are due the crown because of the promise. Saints should know this promise, not that they may labor for their own profit, for they ought to labor for God’s glory. But saints should know it so they may not despair in troubles. They should know God’s will: He desires to aid, to deliver, and to protect them. – Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article V, Love and Fulfilling the Law (paragraphs 241-243)
Hymns: 169; 359; 351; 352; 256
1 Jesus, my great High Priest, Offered his blood and died;
My guilty conscience seeks No sacrifice beside.
His pow’rful blood did once atone,
And now it pleads before the throne.
2 To Christ, my substitute, Will I commit my cause;
He answers and fulfills His Father’s broken laws.
Behold my soul at freedom set—
My Jesus paid the dreadful debt!
3 My advocate appears For my defense on high;
A gracious Father hears And lays his thunder by.
Not all that hell or sin can say
Shall turn his heart, his love, away.
4 Should all the hosts of death And pow'rs of hell unknown
Put their most dreadful forms Of rage and mischief on,
I shall be safe, for Christ displays
Superior pow’r and guardian grace.