The Ascension of Our Lord, (Observed), May 20, Year of Our + Lord 2012
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, Montana
"What man has all his troubles behind him?" "A school bus driver."
Cute. Not quite a side-splitter, but not a bad joke, all in all. As the school year winds down, I’m sure there are some bus drivers looking forward to a few months break from the troubles behind them. As we celebrate the Ascension today, I thought of another answer to this same question: What man has all his troubles behind him? The Ascended Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus knew troubles. As Isaiah prophesied, as these prophecies were fulfilled on Calvary, Jesus was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; … like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised… we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. .. He was pierced … crushed … oppressed … afflicted.
God’s Son gave up the glories of heaven to be a servant, God becoming also a human being in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus then spent long days and nights teaching His oh so slow to learn disciples, and repelling the verbal attacks of the oh so full of themselves Pharisees. He poured out his guts for the people, teaching, healing, consoling.
And still he was despised. Forsaken, abandoned by His friends, and persecuted by His enemies, arrested, falsely accused, unfairly convicted, tortured, crucified, dead and buried.
But now, all Jesus' troubles are behind Him. He has buried all His troubles, and risen victorious from the grave, the troubles of this world conquered, the struggle with sin and evil and death finished forever.
His troubles behind Him, Luke tells us of Jesus' returning to celebrate His victory with His disciples, and to give them instructions for proclaiming His victory to all the world. Then, after receiving their worship, He gives a blessing to the disciples, then returns to heaven, back to glory, back to His rightful home. All His troubles are behind Him, forever. Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of Mary, has been enthroned as ruler over all things, in heaven and on earth. Victory. Vindication. All His troubles are behind Him. Jesus ascends into heaven, His disciples worship and praise God with great joy, all is good and right in the world.
Are you comforted by this? Or maybe troubled? Jesus has left His troubles behind, but what about us? What about our troubles? Stricken, smitten, and afflicted may be too dramatic to describe them, but certainly, you still have struggles. You pour out our guts trying to get by, trying to help your family and friends, trying to teach your children. And what thanks do you get? Good guys finish last, it seems. Sometimes, the people we love the most make our lives the hardest. In the end, what do we have to show for all our troubles?
Have we been abandoned by Jesus? There, I said it. But you've thought it. You aren’t perfect, by any means, but you have committed yourself to Christ and His Church, you’ve served, you’ve been faithful. But still, despite your dedication to the Lord, you have struggles.
When struggles come into the lives of the faithful, bitterness can result. Where's the victory for me? Where's the vindication of all my efforts?
Such thoughts are natural to us. Natural to our sinful nature, that is. It's easy for us to become angry with God for leaving us and going into heaven when we face difficulties in our life. In old imperial Russia, the people living out their brutal lives in the far reaches of Siberia used to say: "God is in His heaven, and the Tsar is far away." Sour grapes. It is quite natural for sufferers to blame God for allowing their suffering, to think that they have no powerful friends looking out for them, anywhere.
If and when we fall prey to accusing God of abandoning us, when we blame Him for our struggles, we show that our sinful selves have once again forgotten three things.
First, while it is true that all of Jesus troubles are behind Him, we need to remember that His troubles were our troubles. He had none of His own. When I quoted from Isaiah about the suffering of Jesus earlier, I left out a few key parts of the reading. Listen again, to the full reading:
He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities.
The reason Jesus had troubles was that we would not and could not bear our own troubles. All the anger and scorn and suffering and abandonment that Jesus bore rightfully should have fallen on us. Our struggles may not all be tied directly to our own sins, but each of us has more than enough sin to deserve the wrath of God, not to mention the struggles of this life. The very fact that the Son of God came to join us in our suffering is mercy beyond our imagination. But there it is, in the text, Jesus made our struggles His struggles. And the Spirit convinces us: it's true.
Second, when we pity ourselves and think God has abandoned us, we forget that what Jesus suffered, He suffered on our behalf. Isaiah continues: But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. Our suffering may seem pointless. But Jesus' suffering had a purpose; it was for our good. Jesus suffered so that we can look forward to a day when all suffering will be ended, when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.
Third, when we think God has abandoned us in our suffering, we forget that Jesus has not left us. Yes, He ascended into heaven, in order to prepare a place for you. Sin infects every one of us, and stained with sin, we cannot be with God. All of humanity faced the same fate, none of us could meet the standard required to enter into God's eternal glory. But now one Man has. One Man has earned admittance to heaven, the Man Jesus Christ, who is also God. He has earned admittance to heaven, not just for Himself, but for all people. His suffering atones for your sin, and my sin, and the sin of the whole world. The only thing that keeps anyone out of heaven is failing to believe Jesus has put all our troubles behind Him.
Jesus made a place in heaven for us by entering there in the flesh. In a sense, He has left us, He is not longer visibly present. But Jesus also promises: "Lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:20) And " "For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst." (Matthew 18:20) Even though Jesus has ascended into heaven, He has not left us. He has given us His Spirit, and He is with us as well, bound to us by His promises, present for us in His Word, feeding us at His table. He is present for you in your troubles, to sustain you, protect you, most importantly to tell you again and again that no matter how big your troubles get, He has taken care of them.
Jesus’ victory over all His troubles is your victory over all your troubles. Hear again how Paul encourages the Ephesian Christians with the promises we have in our Ascended Lord.
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,
Paul prays that the eyes of our hearts be opened, enlightened, made to see our hope. We have the promise of our calling, our calling to faith in Christ, our calling to be children of God, both now and for eternity. We have hope in the glory of our inheritance, the promise of eternal glory and joy with God, because of Jesus.
This hope, continues Paul, is in accordance with the working of the strength of (God's) might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And (God the Father) put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
Jesus has all your troubles behind Him. He has endured all, conquered all, redeemed all, and now He reigns over all. Yes, we still have troubles. But Jesus is with us, especially in the midst of our troubles, because He has already made them His own. The ruler of the Universe has joined Himself to you in your Baptism. The One who overcame all troubles in His own Body, by shedding His own blood, now comes to feed your with His Body and Blood, forgiving you all your sins, and strengthening you for all your troubles. You can face your troubles with confidence, because Jesus will face them with you.
Praise be to Jesus, our Crucified, Resurrected and Ascended Lord and Savior, Amen.