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“God’s Right Hand Man
Ephesians 1:20-22

 

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Pastor Kevin Vogts
Trinity Lutheran Church
Paola, Kansas

Seventh Sunday of Easter–Sunday after the Ascension—May 28, 2017

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Our text for the Sunday after the Ascension is from today’s Epistle Reading in the first chapter of Ephesians.  St. Paul writes about Christ’s Ascension: “[God exerted his mighty power] in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.  And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.”  You are invited to follow along the sermon outline on the last pages of the bulletin.

The spot on the Mount of Olives at Jerusalem where tradition says that Jesus ascended into heaven, as recorded in today’s Reading from the Book, of Acts, is today marked by a very small, octagonally-shaped chapel. It’s sort of like one of those “tiny house” versions of a church.  The whole building could easily fit inside our sanctuary here.  A humble place to commemorate such a momentous event.  

As you look out the window above the altar of that little chapel, across the Kidron Valley, you see perched atop the Temple Mount directly on the other side, dominating the Jerusalem skyline, the magnificent Dome of the Rock, an Islamic shrine built on the site of the ancient Temple.  Like the Christian Chapel of the Ascension, the Islamic Dome of the Rock is also octagonally-shaped.  But, it is no tiny house.  It is such a massive, impressive structure that our entire church building could easily fit inside it.  Its outer walls are covered with beautiful mosaics, its impressive dome shimmering in the sun is gilded with pure gold.  Much to the consternation of the Jewish people it was built on that location because Islamic tradition says from the rock now housed under the dome Mohammed also ascended into heaven, not after his death, but during his lifetime, when he supposedly was taken to heaven to receive the Koran.

And so there we have, represented side by side in these two buildings, the two competing claims of the world’s two largest religions, with about two billion Christians believing it was Christ who ascended, from the Mount of Olives, and about one billion Muslims believing that, across the valley, it was Mohammed who ascended, from the Temple Mount. 

We live in a world that wants to somehow make these two competing claims compatible and equally valid.  But, neither the Bible nor the Koran, neither Christ nor Mohammed, will allow that.  They each made exclusive claims that completely rule out the other, and also rule out the claims of every other religion, too.

“I am the way, the truth and the life,” Jesus says. “No one comes to the Father except through me.”  “Salvation is found in no one else,” Peter proclaims in Acts, “for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

So, who is right, and who is wrong?  Should we be celebrating today the Ascension of Christ on the Mount of Olives, or the ascension of Mohammed from the Temple Mount?  If you would look only at those two buildings in Jerusalem, the humble little chapel dedicated to Christ’s Ascension, and the massive shrine dedicated to Mohammed’s ascension, you would probably conclude that Mohammed must be the greater.  But, the Apostle Paul explains in our text why we worship Christ, and not Mohammed, or any other false prophet or false god:

“[God exerted his mighty power] in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.  And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.”  Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead and Ascension into heaven is God’s way of proclaiming to the world that Jesus is the only way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through him.

There is a fundamental difference between Christianity and all other religions.  For, all other religions of the world are religions of Law.  Their great founders did not bring a message of Good News from God.  They did not proclaim forgiveness, but only rules and regulations, by which you’re supposed to earn your own way into heaven—with the threat of eternal damnation for anyone who doesn’t follow all these rules and regulations they lay down.

Jesus, however, did not come to bring us more rules and regulations, so that we could somehow earn our way into heaven.  All the rules and regulations we need were already given long ago in the Ten Commandments.  But, God demands that we keep his commandments perfectly, without ever once stumbling or failing; 99.9% isn’t good enough for God, he demands absolute, total perfection.  As James says, “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”  Martin Luther put it this way in one of the hymns he wrote: “It was a false, misleading dream . . . that sinners could themselves redeem, and by their works gain heaven.”

That is why Jesus came down to earth and was made man, for us and for our salvation.  Because you cannot perfectly keep God’s Law, and so earn your own way into heaven, God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, to perfectly keep the Law for you; to earn salvation for you; to pay for you, by his death, the penalty for all your sins; to bring you the gift of eternal life by his resurrection from the dead.  As Paul says in Romans, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. . .  God demonstrates his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. . .  The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

No other religion makes such a claim, no other religion proclaims such a Gospel, the Good News of free forgiveness for all your sins, earned for you, by the sacrifice of God himself.  “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. . .  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. . .  and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from every sin. . .  Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. . .  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”

The other religions of the world do not bring peace to the heart.  They bring only doubt and fear.  “Have I done enough?  Have I earned salvation?  Will I enter Paradise?”  Only Christ proclaims the Good News: “I have done enough, for you; I have earned salvation, for you; because I live, you also will live; you will be with me in Paradise.”

Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead and Ascension into heaven is God’s way of proclaiming to the world that Jesus is the only way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through him.  It may surprise you that no other religion makes this claim, that its great founder rose from the dead, and in his body ascended and now lives in heaven.  Not Mohammed of Islam, or Buddha or Confucius, or any other makes this claim.  The grave with Mohammed’s body is at Medina, Saudi Arabia; the remains of Buddha are at several places in Asia; the tomb of Confucius is at Qufu, China.  All of them remain dead and buried.

Among these historic world religions, only Christianity claims that our great founder is more than a prophet, more than a man, actually God himself, who came down to earth and was made man, and on the third day rose again from the dead, ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

“[God exerted his mighty power] in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.  And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.” 

That is why today we celebrate the Ascension of Christ.  As Paul says in Romans, “[He] was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.” 

In many places the New Testament stresses, as we confess in the Creed, that Jesus “sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.”  Hebrews says, “After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”  Peter says in Acts, “God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior.”  And Peter says, “[He] has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.”

What does it mean that Jesus “sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty”?  In ancient times, there was a prince or prime minister who sat at the right hand of the king, like Joseph who became the ruler of all Egypt under the pharaoh.  We still have the expression “right hand man,” and the custom of seating the guest of honor at the right hand of the host. 

This “right hand man” in ancient times served two functions: he was the go-between with the king; no one ever spoke to the king directly, but always went through the “right hand man.”  And he would intercede and plead with the king on behalf of others.

That is what Jesus means when he says, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”  That is why we pray in Jesus’ name, as he promised, “my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.”  As God’s “right hand man,” Jesus is your go-between.  By yourself, you are not worthy to petition the King of Kings.  But, through Christ and faith in him, God hears and answers your prayers.  As Paul says in Romans, “Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”

In addition to bringing your prayers and requests before God, Jesus is constantly interceding and pleading on your behalf for what you need most: God’s forgiveness, grace and mercy.  John writes, “If anyone does sin, we have an Advocate, who speaks to the Father in our defense, Jesus Christ the Righteous One.”  Jesus is like your defense lawyer in the heavenly court, constantly pleading on your behalf.  The Good News is, because Jesus himself already paid the penalty, God finds you “not guilty.”  As Paul says in 2nd Corinthians, “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not counting men’s sins against them.”

“[God exerted his mighty power] in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.  And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.” 

It is only through Jesus Christ and faith in him that you can worship the true God, and truly know him.  As Paul says in 1st Timothy, “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”  Praying to his Father in today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus himself puts it this way: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”  

Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead and Ascension into heaven is God’s way of proclaiming to the world that Jesus is the only way, the truth, and the life, God’s only “right hand man,” and no one comes to the Father except through him.

Amen.

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