May 21, 2009: Ascension

Let us pray: Dear Savior, although we weren’t present to actually view Your glorious ascension, we still bask in the warm glow of Your heavenly homecoming. And that glow, born of Your Word of truth, fills us with strength and anticipation over what awaits us. Tonight we ask You to renew that strength and re-energize that anticipation. Amen


TEXT: 2 Cor. 4: 17-18: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 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.”

Fellow Redeemed Worshippers of the Ascended Christ:

Seeing is believing. We accept that statement as a truism, but is it? I didn’t count it up, but many, many times Christ’s enemies saw various miracles worked by Him. They viewed Him feeding the 5000, raising Lazarus from the dead, healing sick people, and even casting out demons. But they refused to believe their eyes. They rejected Christ as the Son of God. And they were lost. I’ve always marveled at the story of Christ healing Malchus’ ear. He was the servant of the high priest. He was there with the soldiers in Gethsemane. Peter chopped off his ear and Christ picked it up and restored him with a gentle touch. All His captors saw this miracle. And yet we’re not told of even one of them believing. None of them speak up at His trial. None tries to stop those proceedings. None of them comforted Him on the cross. So, often we must conclude that the truism: Seeing is believing—is false! It’s false because the twisted of minds of sinful people cannot see divine reality. Sin-tainted hearts obscure it and cover it up.


Another fascinating section of Scripture that applies to this discussion is found in Genesis. Recall how God kicked Adam and Eve out of the garden in order to protect them from eating of the tree of life, becoming confirmed in their sin, and thus they would never be able to be saved. Then we read in chapter 3 vs. 24: “After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.”

Those cherubim, and certainly the flaming, flashing sword were visual warnings to any who might happen to approach. They obviously remained there until the great flood of Noah destroyed the garden and that specific tree. And yet, by Noah’s time there were no other believers on the earth. Some must have ventured close enough to see that sight over the years. But sin blinded them to the extent that they failed to acknowledge God’s presence, failed to believe His promise of grace, and thus they were lost, too. For them, seeing wasn’t believing, either.


Tonight you have come to worship your Savior. But your worship isn’t and doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Each of you has brought baggage to church. Or, as St. Paul says in our text: “troubles.” Those troubles range from paying bills, to difficult people in the workplace, to physical pains, to worries about relatives and friends. We’re caught by the time and space we currently inhabit. We’re caught by the collective evil of this world and try as we might otherwise, it still rubs off on us and weighs us down. We long to see, not just snatches of goodness, but real goodness, real glory, real majesty. We long to view Christ directly, to actually hear the angel choirs that welcomed Him into heaven, and to have angels talk directly to us about what it all meant and will mean for us someday. Yet, we don’t actually “see” any of this. We simply hear about it from the Bible. What we see runs counter to the truths of the ascension. The troubles we see and experience tell us that the ascension is an impossible dream and nothing more.


Into this quandary steps St. Paul. You talk about troubles in life, well, Paul experienced them by the truckload. You talk about outside pressures that worked at tearing down his faith, Paul experienced them by the boatload. And yet, the Apostle writes these amazingly comforting words to you and me: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving (right now they continue to accomplish something amazing in our lives); they are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 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.”

Those are amazingly paradoxical words! How do you focus your eyes on the unseen? How does anyone fix their gaze upon the eternal, timeless vision of Christ rising into heaven to prepare a special place for us, a place that he earned for us, purchased just for us via His suffering and death in our place? Well, we do that by turning up-side down the earthly truism: Seeing is believing, into: “Believing is seeing!” That is, we rise above the world, by faith in Christ. God-given faith in Jesus is what transports us beyond this temporary world into the unseen reality of God’s boundless grace, love, mercy, and everlasting peace.


On that first Ascension, the disciples were filled with shock and awe over what they saw. As Christ arose and angel choirs rejoiced, they just sat there with their mouths hanging open. We can only imagine their thoughts. But, I’ll bet more than one of them thought inwardly: “Me too!” Let me experience that grandeur, too! And then those dual angels appeared and promised them that they would see and experience it all again when Christ would come to judge the world and take them into that glory.

After all that, it was back to time and space. It was back to the grind of this temporary existence we call: life. It was back to: seeing is believing. Except, except now something new was added to the equation, something far more vital.—Now they also knew that: BELEIVING IS SEEING! That Godly fact enabled them to cope with all their “troubles” in life and to come out the other side a winner. It enabled them to face death and not flinch. They knew what awaited. They knew glory was theirs because they knew that Jesus didn’t lie when He told them earlier: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

God Almighty has given each of us such faith. It is Christ’s gift to us. And as the Ascension didn’t disappoint them, so faith in the reality of the Ascension will never disappoint us, either. So, go forth is week clinging to Paul’s words which the heavenly Savior has eternally blest!—“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary (like our troubles), but what is unseen is eternal.” Amen