Homiletical helps from Adolf Hoenecke.
From heaven above . . . That is where the angels came from at the birth of Christ. Then the angels ascended again to heaven. The Son remained to accomplish his work, to lead men to heaven. Finally the time for his ascension also came. And though the angels’ descent from and ascent to heaven at his birth point out what the aim of this birth was for humanity (he was born for you), the ascension of the Lord demonstrates it much more. Not only does this indicate that we too should ascend to heaven, but it also shows that it is one of God’s great works to make us entirely certain of our exaltation to heaven, so as to comfort us.
I. Once more he repeats the warning which he repeated throughout his entire life, that heaven remains locked shut to unbelief.
For the last time he deals with their [the disciples] unbelief (v. 14). This is something he had always done for the disciples and others as part of his life’s work.
It had been his life’s work as a prophet to warn against unbelief, because the person who does not believe has certainly locked up heaven for himself.
II. The Lord solemnly institutes the preaching of the gospel as the key to heaven in order to open our heart to faith, and heaven to our entrance.
He institutes the gospel as the key to heaven to open our heart to faith. Verses 15 and 16 show that. It is as if Christ said, “Preach! For it is preaching that works faith, and it alone can open the heart to faith.
He institutes the gospel as the key to heaven to open up to us heaven itself. The gospel, the preaching of redemption, is indeed the hand which offers redemption. It truly closes hell to us and at the same time opens heaven to us—through the forgiveness of sins.
III. Just as it has been his life’s work to lead his disciples on a more certain path, so he points out to them one last time that their continued path is an open and prepared way to heaven.
Once more he prophecies that there will be no lack of trials when it comes to the performance of their calling (v. 17). (Application to us.)
But there will be nothing to hinder them (v. 18) with the result that they would be harmed, especially in respect to their souls. Rather they will have an open and certain path to heaven, unhindered and filled with works done to his glory. (Application.)
IV. Finally the Lord seals his work in a most comforting way by means of his ascension.
He ascends, most assuredly, as the head. There is the seal for this fact, that we too according to our bodies and souls will one day ascend to heaven, if we are what we should be, that is, his members.
And at the same time he has seated himself as king at the right hand of God with all power, and with that he seals our ascension once again. For where the Lord is, there will his servants be, as he has assured us.—Let us only be servants (v. 20) who can rely on the Lord.
When one looks in the churches during the celebration of the ascension and, most of the time, sees only a few listeners, then one might think that this festival is no festival of importance, or at the very least one which is not especially joyful for us. That would be absurd.
I. Through the comforting advice concerning our own ascension.
He shows that only one thing can prevent our ascension (hardness of heart and unbelief). He also shows, however, that this hindrance can and will certainly be put aside through his grace (for example, the apostles themselves, especially Paul).
He provides means for our ascension (Word and sacrament – v. 15, 16), which no power on earth can make ineffective. Only one who despises these will have no part in the ascension. On the other hand, those who hold to these means cannot be kept from their ascension by anyone (they “will be saved,” v. 16).
He promises that there will be no lack of comforting refreshment on the way (generalization of v. 17, 18). Even if these experiences were not promised, others certainly would not be less comforting.
II. Through the triumph of his own ascension as our head.
According to his humility on earth he spoke, acted, and suffered everything. Afterwards he was exalted and raised. Thus he triumphed in his ascension over all his enemies. Thus what he said is indeed true: “I came from heaven and am going to heaven [cf. John 16:28].
Great is his triumph. He is seated at the right hand of God. He goes into heaven not only to have glory, etc., but also to have power over the entire world. What a triumph!
Thus he triumphs as our head. Therefore, where he is, there we are. Yes, take comfort, we only need to think of this, that he is the ruler of the world.
III. Through his gracious and omnipotent governance on behalf of his own.
See how he has fulfilled everything which he prophesied to the apostles (v. 20). See the wonderful, courageous journey of the apostles, made possible by the power of grace.
In this way he will also fulfill everything for us in his governance.
So let us do as the apostles did. They went out. Let us go joyfully on our way and already now walk towards our ascension. Nothing is missing; we go up with him (1 Th 4:17). Since he already rules now as our head, we too will rule with him, etc.
The people at Babel once wanted to build a tower which would reach to heaven. At the present time mankind is struggling to produce airships with which one would be able to travel to the highest regions of the visible heavens according to his pleasure. One thinks and thinks about how to produce these flying machines in such way that they will not come crashing down because of something. How strange. God has already long ago provided a way for poor sinners to make their heavenward trip at some time, and he has arranged everything well for a safe trip through that which we celebrate today: the ascension of the Lord. He has also given ample direction as to what a person must be on guard against so that he would not crash to the ground because of it. Straight to the point, then. . .
I. When we have an incorrect way of thinking about our progress in our ascension.
V. 14 shows what the correct way of thinking is here. Christ rebukes the disciples, who have indeed faithfully walked with him, and indeed he does this strongly and sharply. They humbly accept it. Also, in their hearts they have a meek opinion of themselves. They don’t think that they’ve had something to do with how far they’ve come in their faith. That is certainly the correct way to think of oneself, that is, in a humble way.
The incorrect way to think of oneself is therefore evident: that one has brought himself to where he is, that he has overcome much, that he has come into possession of many things and people on his own. Since he endures no punishment, he is not humbled. And indeed, how small a basis there is for the opinion that one has brought himself far in faith!
Let us come to the conclusion. Whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Wonderful indeed is God’s way of doing things! When he rightly humbles a man in his heart and mind so that he sees himself in such a low state, then the man has actually been brought a good way along his ascension to heaven. Those, however, who find satisfaction in themselves, who are of the opinion that they have highly exalted themselves heavenwards—they will be brought down. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled.
II. When we have an incorrect notion about the way to heaven itself.
The correct notion: Faith from the gospel and baptism are the right way—both with each other, not one without the other. It is important to have not just faith—baptism is also an exceedingly important benefit of grace. Faith must be faith in the entire gospel—none of this talk of main articles and secondary articles, because then it is indeed no longer faith in Christ.
The incorrect way is this: to confuse the relationship between faith and baptism, to draw the extent of faith according to one’s own estimation, to neglect the absolute importance of faith (to hold onto love more than faith).
Let us again come to the conclusion. Faith and baptism are the correct ship or ladder to heaven. There is nothing else which can carry one upwards. Therefore whoever wants to make another ship for himself or construct some other ladder has been blinded. He does not see that, while he intends to go upwards, he actually is going down. Whoever does not believe will be condemned.
III. When we make our ascension a matter of secondary importance.
The Lord promises believers, his heaven-bound pilgrims, various kinds of help with the pilgrimage (v. 17, 18). This help is able to make the heavenward journey easier.
However, the Lord also clearly says to us what should be of primary importance and what should be of secondary importance (“Signs will accompany those who believe,” v. 17). These signs follow faith, but do not constitute the primary importance of it.
Thus it is clear that whoever overturns this order and makes something of secondary importance into something of primary importance goes not upwards, but downwards. When he makes them into matters of primary importance, they become heavy weights which pull him down.
IV. When we lose sight of the true goal of the ascension and only source of all power for it.
The true goal is Christ. What then, isn’t the goal heavenly glory? Yes, but certainly this is in Christ. Philippians 1:23 – He himself, who sits at the right hand of God, is our goal. He is eternal life.
The only source of power is, again, Christ. He works with us (v. 20), without him we are nothing. He, the ascended Lord, carries us, he continues on our path of ascension with us.
From that it is clear that those do not follow the Lord, who have something in sight other than him and who set their trust on something different. Certainly, however, those whose desire is set on him and who are consoled by his Word do follow him (John 12:32).
The Savior is king, king of the heavenly kingdom. The Scriptures speak richly about this, in fact, they also speak about it in today’s text. What happened in the ascension?
I. He has already established his kingdom in his life, suffering, death, and resurrection.
The apostle [Luke] points to his life, suffering, etc. (v. 1, 2).
Through all those things he established his kingdom. Life – active obedience; suffering – passive obedience. He has taught that he has established his kingdom through both of these things (otherwise no one would know about his kingdom), and he has also confirmed it with his resurrection.
II. In the ascension he takes up the throne of his kingdom.
He wants to provide well for his kingdom from heaven and mightily cause it to spread throughout the world.
He wants to provide well for it (v. 4, 5). Just as he promised the disciples the Holy Spirit, and with him, power—so that their office and their own firm Christian stance would be well cared for—so he would now provide well for his own from heaven.
He wants to spread his kingdom far and wide (v. 6-8). This is a glimpse at the mission and calling of all Christians: to be his witnesses.
In addition to that he has indeed taken up his throne in the ascension.
For the goal of the ascension was that the Lord would be seated as king at the right hand of the Father. That means that he, omnipotent and omnipresent, now rules all things.1
The comfort of an omnipotent ruler – protection for the church, and ruling the world for the benefit of the church.
The comfort of an omnipresent ruler – He is present with grace for all his believers. Thus he provides spiritual preservation – preparation for our own ascension in imitation of him. From this comes our joy over the glorious ascension of our Lord and Head.
III. One day he will come again from heaven, in order to gather his kingdom around his throne.
It is certain that he will come again in glory.
We look forward to that. Though we did not see him go up, we will see him come again.
And the fact that he will come visibly only once more is our joy, because he will bring his own with himself and gather them around his throne.
Lately the talk about us Christians has described us as pilgrims. Our life is a pilgrimage. The goal is glorious. Our present day of celebration speaks about that. For this reason the Day of Ascension is so precious: because it speaks so comfortingly about the glorious end of our journey. This is what our ascension text says:
I. This is the reason why he won heaven with toilsome (indeed it was) work.
Verse one speaks of the doing, the deeds. Especially, it refers to his act of suffering on the cross. With that he has unlocked heaven.
But he didn’t do this for himself, he did it for us. Through what he has done, he has won the right to heaven for us. But how do we get in?
II. Christ has given us the true ladder to heaven and right before his ascension he correctly pointed us to that ladder.
The true and only ladder to heaven is the Word concerning the kingdom of God (v. 1 – Jesus taught; v. 3 – he spoke about the kingdom of God).
And right in the last days before his ascension, our Lord pointed us to this ladder to heaven. In fact, during the 40 days before his ascension he spoke to his disciples constantly and granted them the ability to understand: “Use the Word which speaks about the kingdom of heaven, in which you possess the true ladder to heaven.”
III. By his ascension, Christ has promised to send the necessary help for climbing this ladder to heaven.
By his ascension, Christ has promised the Holy Spirit (v. 4-7). He wanted to send him, did send him, and will also give him to us according to his promise.
The Holy Spirit is the help we need so that we may climb the heavenly ladder heavenwards (v. 8). Through the power of the Holy Spirit the disciples were witnesses and confessed Christ in faith, and faith is the true power which enables us to climb upwards on the ladder to heaven.
IV. By means of his ascension, Christ has taken possession of heaven.
Christ’s ascension to heaven is only the beginning. The end is the possession of heaven, sitting at the right hand of God.
But he does all this for us as our Savior and Head. It’s as if he takes heaven into possession for us as our inheritance. Where he, the head, is, so also we, the members, will be.
V. He does not want merely to wait for us in heaven, but he wants to bring us home himself in a visible ascension.
He will come again visibly (v. 11) on the Last Day. Until then he waits above and receives the souls of believers, which he draws heavenwards through the Holy Spirit, their help.
But then he will come again, and after the glorious resurrection he will cause his own to ascend in visible glory to the enjoyment of salvation, in body and soul, forever and ever.
Hoenecke neglected to include a second point to pair with this point. ↩
May 13, 2011