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The view from above

The ascensions of both Elijah and Jesus offer encouragement to us who remain below.

Do you prefer an aisle seat or a window seat on the airplane? I usually choose the aisle, but sometimes I choose the window. Staring out the window at the wide expanse of the world below and the sky above, you can’t help but reflect upon your own life, the vastness of the world, and your little place in it. You also can’t help but contemplate the majesty and power of God, the Creator of all.

The occasion of Jesus’ ascension 40 days after Easter gives us here below a unique view from above—the opportunity to view our lives, this world, and God’s plans and power from a proper perspective.

Light and momentary troubles

At one point in his ministry, Elijah was desperately in need of having his perspective adjusted. The once great prophet of Israel found himself at rock bottom, ready to quit the ministry. King Ahab had labeled him the “troubler of Israel” (1 Kings 18:17) for faithfully proclaiming God’s will, and after the powerful defeat of Queen Jezebel’s prophets of Baal in a religious showdown at Mount Carmel, a price was put on his head. Frightened and feeling like a failure, Elijah ran away with his resignation letter in hand to the mountain where God had given the Ten Commandments. Convinced he was the only believer left, he just wanted God to take his life.

Does any of this resemble Jesus’ ministry? We have recently journeyed through the dark days of Lent where we were reminded of how opposition to Jesus finally culminated in his crucifixion. Yet the prophets foretold it would be that way. The Messiah would be despised and rejected, familiar with suffering (Isaiah 53). People would hate him without reason, and he would be an object of gossip and ridicule (Psalm 69). He would feel frustration like Elijah: “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all ” (Isaiah 49:4). At one point, shortly after the feeding of the five thousand, when crowds of people were turning their backs on Jesus, our Savior even looked at the Twelve and searchingly asked, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” (John 6:67).

It sounds a lot like ministry in today’s world as well, right? Why do the crowds flock to the stadium and parks on Sunday and bypass our churches? Why are church elders, when seeking to reach out to those who once were worshiping with us, met with unreturned phone calls, harsh words, and closed doors? Why do our faithful fellow brothers and sisters in Christ often have to bear the brunt of mockery and anger from family members or coworkers because of their faith in their Savior? Why does it seem that the more eager we are to share Jesus’ free forgiveness and eternal life with the world, the more the world digs in and takes a stand against God (Psalm 2)? We know why. It is because the human heart has been warped by sin.

However, we do well to remember the view from above that St. Paul was given by the Spirit when he wrote, “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Against the backdrop of eternity, the time that we spend on battlefield earth with all its hardships really is just a blip on the screen. Or, as one of our great Lutheran hymns defiantly says, “And the fears that now annoy shall be laughter on the morrow” (Christian Worship 702:2). Jesus suffered for a while too. Then it was over. Salvation was won. For enduring it all, the Father crowned him with glory and honor. It is this King of kings who has ascended to prepare a place for us in that joy.

But our ascended Lord Jesus encourages us to remember his promise not to abandon us here as orphans (John 14:18). Rather, he ascended to sit at the right hand of God where he intercedes for us, hears and answers our prayers, and rules all things to serve the good of his body of believers, the church.

Ascension gifts

From the throne above Jesus is still giving us perfect gifts for our life below. Normally, we don’t associate Ascension Day with gift giving, but Jesus certainly does!

For one, we have the ongoing gift of his presence. We may occasionally wish that we had been alive when Jesus ministered on earth. Wouldn’t it have been neat to see him, talk with him, or hug him? But Luther rightly said, “While he was on earth, he was far away from us; now he is very near” (Sermon for Ascension Day). If Jesus were still in his lowly body here on earth, we would have to fly to Israel to meet him. But now that the ascended God-man “fill[s] the whole universe” (Ephesians 4:10), he is there with us in bread and wine, and he is there with us in his Word. In the same Word, Jesus assures us that he is with us always, “to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Jesus’ ascension provides us with an awesome view from above—a glimpse of glory that assures us he has our lives and all things under control.

We also continue to receive Jesus’ promised gift of the Spirit. On Holy Thursday, Jesus assured his disciples that even though he would be returning to the Father, he would send the Spirit of Truth. The same Spirit still comes to us, and he continues to keep us with Jesus in faith and open our minds to understand the Scriptures. Without the Spirit’s work we are confused, fearful, and lost; life doesn’t make sense. But with him, we have the peace that comes from knowing Jesus, even as we live in a chaotic world.

Finally, Ascension brings the gift of gifts. As Elijah departed in a fiery chariot, his mantle fell and was picked up by his successor, Elisha. Though Elijah had earlier thought the prophetic ministry was coming to an end, God showed that his work would continue through other servants. Likewise, as Jesus ascended into heaven, he gave the world his apostles and filled both them and all his believers of all time with power to be his witnesses (Acts 1).

We still receive such gifts from our ascended Lord today. At this time of year, teachers, staff ministers, and pastors are graduating from our synod schools and are receiving calls from the Lord of the church to serve publicly in his name. Paul reminds us that these people are gifts from the ascended Lord, given in love to build up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4). It is a marvel of grace that the Good Shepherd continues to care for his flock in such a way.

While there’s not much to see out of an airplane window while you’re sitting on a tarmac, once you launch into the skies on a clear day, the view from above is nothing short of majestic. Elijah came to know this after God lifted him up to heaven. From the Mount of Transfiguration that famous prophet saw even greater things showing God’s plans. Jesus’ ascension also provides us with an awesome view from above—a glimpse of glory that assures us he has our lives and all things under control and that we who trust in him are both shielded by his power until he returns as well as richly blessed by his gifts of grace.

Author: Keith Wessel
Volume 110, Number 05
Issue: May 2023

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