Jesus Reigns at the Right Hand of God.
The Festival of Our Lord’s Ascension – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Mark 16:14-20
In Christ Jesus, the “Lord of lords and King of kings” (Rev. 17:14), who is worthy to be praised, honored, and glorified by all, dear fellow redeemed:
I recently saw an ad from Marvel Studios about the ten movies the company plans to release in the next two years. That is on top of all its movies that are already available. As long as people keep paying to watch them, Marvel will keep producing them. So what is the big appeal about these superhero movies? The characters are well-developed, the special effects are impressive, and the action sequences keep audience members on the edge of their seats. But it seems there is something deeper.
There is something about the theme of the “superhero” that really resonates with us. We like the idea of a powerful being who takes on the bad guys and fights for what is good and right. We imagine how nice it would be to have one keeping watch over us, ready to protect us when we face harm or danger. As our society slides further and further away from solid standards of truth and morality, we will become more and more desperate for superheroes to save the day.
But we don’t actually need a Captain America, an Iron Man, or a Superman. We have a Hero who is far better and stronger than all the big screen superheroes combined. We have Jesus.
We don’t often think about Jesus in superhero terms. But look at all the things He promised to accomplish through His disciples, which He then carried out. He said He would give them the will and the ability to declare His salvation to the world, and those once-timid men boldly did. He said He would give His followers power over demons, serpents, poison, and sickness, and give them the ability to speak in new tongues, and there are examples of all of these things in the book of Acts.
After Jesus spoke these promises, He rose up in the air not bound by the law of gravity, and He entered His heavenly kingdom. No enemy could keep Jesus from taking His position at the right hand of the Father. He flew straight up in the blue sky like nothing could be easier, and all the host of heaven welcomed Him with great rejoicing (Rev. 5).
If His victory was ever in doubt, it was when Jesus limped toward Calvary and was nailed to the cross. There His enemies mocked Him, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe” (Mar. 15:31-32). It looked like all was lost. That’s what His disciples thought. Evil had prevailed. Their great Lord and Teacher had been overcome.
But they were wrong. Jesus wasn’t losing; He was winning. He was winning back our souls from the devil, from death, and from hell. Jesus did what we like to watch every superhero do—He sacrificed Himself for His friends. He gave His life to atone for their wrongs. You are one of those friends He died for. You are not His friend because you have proven yourself to Him or somehow earned His trust. You are His friend because He chose you (Joh. 15:16).
He planned even before you were born that you would hear the Gospel. He planned that you would hear it and believe, and “[w]hoever believes and is baptized will be saved,” He says. That means you will be saved. That’s what Jesus promises. But how can you know for sure that He will deliver on that promise?
You know this because after Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead, forty days later He ascended into heaven. His ascension to the right hand of the Father means that His work to save sinners was finished. He had done what the Father commanded Him to do (Joh. 14:31). He had taken the place of all sinners and paid their immeasurable debt of sin. He had willingly laid down His life, and then He took it up again.
Jesus had already told His disciples what would happen next. They couldn’t get past His prediction of His death, so they didn’t grasp what He was telling them until after He rose from the dead and ascended. What He told them was that He would take His place at the right hand of the Father, and from there, rule over all things. He would go to prepare a place for all believers in heaven (Joh. 14:2). He would ask the Father to send out the Holy Spirit to teach and remind His followers about all that He had said and done (Joh. 14:16, 26, 15:26, 16:7, 13).
And this is what happened. Mark reports in today’s text that Jesus “was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.” This makes some people think that Jesus is now very distant from us: “He is way up in heaven, so far away, so now it’s our job to take care of everything here. It’s our job to take His directions and run with them. He certainly keeps an eye on us like a parent watching a child making something in the kitchen, but the responsibility for running the church is ours.” This understanding is based on the false idea that Jesus is no longer with us on earth.
But Jesus is with us. He said, “behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mat. 28:20). He is with us as we gather around His Word and Sacrament. It is not our Word and Sacrament to administer or change however we please. It is His Word and Sacrament. He gives it to us, and He gives His gifts through it. “Take, eat,” He says; “this is My body, which is given for you…. Drink of it all of you; this cup is the New Testament in My blood.”
Jesus is here. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Mat. 18:20). We like the thought of a superhero keeping us safe from our enemies. Jesus is doing exactly that, right now and always. He is working here in our midst, just as He was working among and through the apostles. Mark writes that “they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.”
Their work was Jesus’ work. The signs they performed were Jesus’ signs. He did not abandon them. He just wasn’t with them like He had been before. Before, He had been with them visibly, but not making full use of His divine power. This made them think that He was vulnerable, that He had limits, and that He was not strong enough to defeat death. Now they knew better. Now they knew nothing could stop their Lord and King. And He promised to be with them in their work, fully employing the power and authority He has at the right hand of His Father.
From this position at His Father’s right hand, Jesus is still working today. We cannot always perceive it when we look around us. It often looks like evil has the upper hand, just as it appeared that way on Good Friday. But Jesus has not been displaced from heaven, and He has not grown tired of His work. He will never walk away from His promises. That means He will never walk away from you. As He said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).
Jesus is fighting for you, even in your heart and mind. That’s where the devil and the world are working to pull you away from Him. They feed you the lie that you are in control of your future and your fate, that you are the hero, that you can have anything you want. But living for this life in this world can only lead to despair and death.
Jesus tells no lie when He promises you salvation and eternal life. He does not lie when He says you will have a share in His glory and never-ending bliss with all the saints and angels. This is what He is preparing for you in His reign at the right hand of God. This is what He is confirming in you as He builds up your faith through His Word and Sacraments.
The day of your final redemption from sin, death, and devil is drawing near. Jesus will come again visibly in the same way as His disciples saw Him go. He will come from the right hand of His Father to judge both the living and the dead. Now, it is easy for the wicked to talk and act like Jesus is a nobody, a nothing. But when Jesus comes in all His glory on the last day, then at the utterance of His name, “every knee shall 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” (Phi. 2:10-11).
No superhero ever received a tribute like that. But then Jesus is not like any other superhero. Thanks be to God. Amen.
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(picture of the Ascension by John Singleton Copley, 1775)