What Did You Get for Ascension?
So did the kids wake up early to see what they got for Ascension? You probably had a hard time getting them to sleep. What? No? No presents for Ascension. How come? We get presents on the other 2 festivals celebrating Jesus' Godhead, Christmas and Easter, so why not for Ascension? St. Paul wanted to give Ascension gifts to the Ephesians. He says he never ceased asking that God may give them the knowledge of what the Ascension means for them. "Give" is in the optative. That's the strongest Greek way of saying Paul wants to give the gift.
Since Ephesians is Holy Scripture it's not just to the Ephesians the Holy Spirit wants to give these gifts. It's to you too. The first gift He would give is the cow jumping over the moon. You recognize that as a line from the nursery rhyme "Hey Diddle, Diddle." It dates to 1765. Unlike other rhymes it doesn't conceal political points, but conveys fantastic images to the delight of kids. There's the cat and the fiddle, a little dog laughing, the dish running away with the spoon, and a cow jumping over the moon. That last image has stuck with me from childhood: A cow doing the fantastic thing of leaping over the moon.
Paul would give us the fantastic in our text. Paul wants us to "know forever what is the hope to which God has called you." This is a knowing which can only happen if God reveals it; and know is a perfect which means know now and forever. So what is this hope to which God has called you? Is it a hope for a happy family, a provided for retirement? How about the hope for peace on earth? I know; it's the hope of health because after all if you have your health you have everything, right? No, these sorts of things would be a cow in a barn not one jumping over the moon.
Do you think God sent His only begotten Son, so you might hope for what people ordinarily hope for? Do you think He sent Him to the cross to pay for your health insurance or retirement? Do you think God the Father raised the Son on the third day so you would have hope for a good day, week, month, year? Do you think the Man Jesus ascended into heaven to call you to a hope tied to this fading, fallen, decaying, earth?
Bring in the tympanis; sound the trumpets; hear Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus." The hope of your calling is as fantastic as a cow jumping over the moon. Your hope is that because Jesus kept the law and paid for your not keeping it, your sins have been forgiven and broken are the chains of the sins that enslaved you. Your hope is that because the Man Jesus was raised from the Dead, you joined to Him by Word and Water will be raised too. Your hope is that because the Man Jesus was crowned the victor over the Devil you who are joined to His Body and Blood reign with Him.
Your hope is better than Mac Davis could whine about in his song. Your hope is not just for a good day but for guilt free eternity, an everlasting life, an eternal victory over all the wrongs and wrongdoers that ever were. Your hope is nothing less than a cow jumping over the moon. Actually, it's more than that. It's the moon itself.
"I'll give you the moon" is an expression. Interestingly a 2002 American dictionary says it means "to make extravagant promises" (McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms) while a 2006 British one says it means "to promise something impossible" (Cambridge Idioms Dictionary). As extravagant or as impossible as it may be, Paul would give us the moon. The Holy Spirit through the Words of Paul would forever give to us the knowledge of the riches of the glory of His inheritance among the saints. Can you imagine being an heir of Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, or Michael Dell? No matter how much you would get from them, it's still far short of the moon that our text promises.
The inheritance the man Jesus won for flesh and blood by living a perfect live under the constant scrutiny of men, angels, devils, and Almighty God is far richer than billions of dollars. The inheritance the Man Jesus won for flesh and blood by dying their death under the judgments of God is far richer than anything you could ask or even think. In fact the inheritance the Man Jesus won and distributes to His saints once He is enthroned in heaven has never been seen by human eye, heard by human ear, or even entered into the thoughts of a human mind. As Paul says in our text, the riches of His inheritance are not only for this age but for the eternal one to come. It's promising the moon; it's extravagant riches; it's impossible riches.
Do you think God the Son would descend into flesh and blood just to make you wealthy, healthy, or even happy in this life? To do that doesn't take a miracle; it doesn't even take Almighty God doing anything. There are plenty of people made wealthy by lotteries; made healthy my doctors, and made happy by others. Something far richer was afoot when God the Father sent the Son into the Virgin's womb.
God loved the world He had created, but due to man's sin it was lost to Him forever. By rebelling against Him, the world had become the Devil's realm. He was as Scripture calls him: "the god of this age" (2 Cor.4:4), "the ruler of this world" (Jn. 14:30). God could have balled this whole cosmos up like we do a piece of paper and threw it in the trash can, but God loved this world, even fallen as it is, too much to do that.
So God sent His Son to do what the world couldn't. Every must, have to, should, ought, and better Jesus kept perfectly in the place of a world that couldn't and didn't think it needed to. Then every sin from every sinner that ever lived or would live was placed on Jesus and whipped, beaten, mocked, punished, damned, and judged there. Jesus finished paying the debt by breathing His last, but it wasn't His last. Because Jesus had never broken any law, sin couldn't convict Him and, therefore, Death and the Devil had no claim on Him. Because Jesus had finished paying for all sins, Death and Devil couldn't hold this Man who was also God, so up He rose from the grave and up, up He ascended to be welcomed into heaven.
So what riches has the ascended Jesus left us? What's our inheritance? Wouldn't it be rich to inherit a mountain lake for a lifetime? How much more to inherit Water that gives salvation for an eternity? Wouldn't it be rich to inherit a deed to a mansion till you die? How much more to inherit the Words of Absolution which by forgiving your sins give you the deed to a heavenly mansion forever? Wouldn't it be rich to inherit a fountain of youth so you could live forever young in this aging world? How much richer to be heir to the Body and Blood of God which eating and drinking in faith give not only forgiveness and life here, but eternal youth for eternity?
For Ascension Ephesians 1 would give you a cow jumping over the moon, the moon itself, and to the moon and back. Many people feared the first moon landing would be a failure. President Nixon had his speechwriter, William Safire, write a speech in case it failed. The first line read, "Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay to rest in peace," Later it continued, "For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind" (New York Times, July 12, 1999). Of course it was a success and this is what the President said live to the 2 astronauts on the moon. "Because of what you have done, the heavens have become part of man's world" (World Book Year Book 1970, 76).
Neither men crashing on the moon or even going to the moon and back made another world forever mankind's or the heavens part of man's world. Jesus however did just that. As true God heaven always belonged to Him and as a perfect Man they belonged to Him too. Heaven didn't belong to us fallen children of men. The Man Jesus by taking our place both under the Law's requirements and judgments won the right for us flesh and blood men to call another world, the heavenly one, ours. Because these Christian truths are probably very familiar to you, you take them for granted. Paul would give you the gift of forever knowing the immeasurable greatness of God's power toward you by pointing you to the Ascension.
God takes a Man, a flesh and blood Man, with a beating heart, breathing lungs, seeing eyes, hearing ears, a Man not unlike you, a Man who understands you, and has your best interest at heart. God takes the Man Jesus and seats Him in the heavenly places far above all rule and authority and power and dominion. The Man Jesus is above angels, archangels, the Seraphim, the Cherubim, Lucifer, devils, and demons. God the Father has placed all things under the feet of this Man. Your life, your death, your future, your hopes, your rich inheritance all of these are under the feet of this Man, Jesus: your Savior, your God, your Brother.
Your still not getting the immensity of this gift. It's seen not only in this Man going to the "moon" but coming back. The Man who has won by His innocent life and guilty death the other world for flesh and blood, the Man whom God the Father exalted above all things everywhere has been given back to the Church as Head, and not just to the Church in heaven but to the Church on earth too.
Imagine if on the moon the astronauts had found a new perpetual power source, untold riches, or things which made what had been impossible on earth possible. Imagine if they had brought these possibilities, riches, and power back to earth. What a celebration there would have been; maybe one worthy of gift giving. Well by Jesus' Ascension He planted humanity's flag in heaven and sent His Spirit back to earth on Pentecost with all the gifts of heaven. First let us open His Ascension gifts of Word and Sacrament, and then let us celebrate like it's Christmas or Easter. Move over Christmas presents and Easter baskets. Here come Ascension gifts. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Ascension of our Lord (20130505); Ephesians 1: 16-23