May 24, 2020 Excellent Endings
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
Recently, I finished a book, a fiction novel, where -in the end- the main character was struggling to get out of a deep underground bunker as it was blowing up. And then the book ended. *Do you like that kind of ending to a book or movie? I know that the main character survived, because there have been more books, & the very next one with that character it refers to him barely getting out alive. Most people will endure a complicated story, or a sad story, as long as the ending is happy = or at least satisfying, where all the loose ends get tied-up in a purposeful way
On ASCENSION DAY in God’s Church, ‘in the year of our Lord 2020,’ we can celebrate a good & excellent Ending to the mission of Jesus that liberates all humans from sin & death. But, that Ending alone leaves a couple of ‘loose Ends.’ So, we also celebrate His promise that He has made us ‘witnesses to the ends of the earth’ AND that ‘He is with us to the end of time.’ On this Ascension Day, we celebrate THREE ‘Ends’ or Endings.
FIRST, the ascension of Jesus marked the ending of His rescue mission. Jesus had willingly come down to earth as one of us, beginning as a human baby. From Advent to Easter, we rehearse His growing up human, and His suffering work in our place on the cross,
and rising from the dead. From after Easter back to Advent, we review /His 30 years of hard work, /His perfect, righteous life, /His preaching & teaching about the kingdom, /& His miraculous works showing His authority & power over heaven & earth = over His people & His enemies.
Every year we hear & see all that He has done to accomplish our salvation. We celebrate His ‘mission accomplished.’ And we base the hope of our lives on how He proclaimed from His cross: ‘It is finished!’ = ‘it is done, & it Ends here!’ In Christ Jesus we rejoice & give thanks; and that’s the solid foundation of our life of hope & peace. This was the rescue mission & promise of God for us thru His chosen Messiah, and it was all spoken beforehand. As we just heard in Luke 24: “These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled. Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”
After His resurrection, for 40 days, Jesus proved He was really alive. Then, it was time to ascend to heaven to a hero’s welcome. As we heard: “Then He led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up His hands, He blessed them. While He blessed them, He parted from them, and was carried up into heaven.” All nations & cultures show honor to their returning heroes with celebrations & parades. For His enormous victory, Jesus was honored by being installed in heaven’s highest position of authority = it’s called ‘the right hand of the throne of God.’ His sacrifice was accepted, the work of salvation was done!
And, as much as we like good endings, at Bethany, Jesus didn’t lift up his hands and say, ‘The End.’ Which was good, because the disciples were quite concerned that they were going to be losing their triumphant leader. The challenge for Jesus was to show how the end of His physical presence was NOT the end of Him. He was the promised earthly Messiah, and now He is the eternal reigning Lord of heaven & earth.
But, Jesus was not going to go into retirement. He was going to remain active =thru the disciples= for the purpose of accomplishing the saving of many people, thru many generations. So He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer, and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
Christ’s mission to liberate the world was complete in a big way. ‘It is finished,’ He said; the suffering, the cross, the substitutionary atonement IS finished & ended. But His wider mission had now begun. His dying was Ended; now the ‘proclaiming to the ends of the earth’ was begun. This is the SECOND End to think about on this Ascension Day, about how far it is that we are to go with the good news of His rescue for mankind.
This ‘corona-virus’ has been compared to the ‘polio-virus’, which was quite widespread a hundred years ago. It took about 50 years to develop an effective vaccine for polio; and for many years, most of the world had the vaccine to prevent it. But in some parts of the world, people didn’t know about it, or have the medicine; and many suffered horribly & died from this cruel disease. What was necessary was to bring the good news, the knowledge, & the medicine to them. So it is with the message of God’s forgiveness in the world’s one Savior, Jesus Christ.
If the Gospel is to be helpful for people, they need to hear & know what Jesus is about. For this spiritual-medicine to be helpful for you, someone had to bring you the message. It was thru a parent, a friend, a preacher or teacher that God’s Spirit delivered your eternal vaccine. It’s thru the proclamation of the Gospel Word of Jesus that the Holy Spirit grabs & changes the heart & soul of a person.
It is thru the sharing of that Word that the Holy Spirit gives a new birth, and opens hearts & minds to believe & to live as children of God. Just as Jesus opened the disciples minds to understand & believe the Scripture about Him, so St.Paul says this continues to happen among US, as he wrote in Eph.1: that ‘the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Christ Jesus, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which He has called you; & what are the riches of His glorious inheritance…’ This proclamation is an ‘End’ (or goal) in itself.
We can say that the Church is in the ‘delivery business.’ Trucking companies don’t produce anything; they deliver things that others have made. Trains deliver tons of grain & coal & cars that have been produced somewhere else. The Church is in the delivery business, not the manufacturing business. We don’t make our own salvation, and we can’t improve the product that God has produced.
As a kid, I was impressed by those decked-out 18-wheelers = Peterbilt & Kenworth trucks, with lots of chrome & lights, fancy paint & the best stereo-music sound system. But what counts is what product it’s hauling, and whether it can get from point A to point B, and deliver the goods. We can’t save another person if we don’t deliver God’s goods.
The Church cannot make a better faith in people by having more stained glass, or comfy pews, or certain music instruments; that’s all chrome, lights, & paint. We are here to deliver =faithfully & truthfully= what Jesus bought & paid for, ‘repentance and forgiveness of sins’ by His own unchanging Word and Sacraments. That End & goal began in Jerusalem, and is to be delivered to the Ends of the earth.
You & I are part of His delivery system, and not just observers = along for the ride. We are witnesses, He says. To be a witness of a crime -or an accident- is a serious responsibility. You can be called on to corroborate and establish the truth of what happened for the protection of the innocent, and punishment of the wicked.
To be a witness of what God has done in Christ is a substantial & happy change for our life. We were not there with those first disciples to see Jesus & His cross, His empty tomb, & His ascending into the clouds. Yet, because of the truth & the spiritual nature of God’s Word, we have their same firsthand ‘open-minded’ knowledge of all Jesus is, and all He has done. The Spirit has made your faith your eye-witness of Christ.
You & I bear witness to the joy & the peace we have because of the hope we’ve seenin our all powerful & all merciful God. We testify to how our obedience to His holy ways is a true blessing for this life; we confirm together with other believers the life-changing courage & peace of our future place & rest in heaven’s eternal kingdom; & we encourage each other of the certainty of Jesus’ glorious return.
Until Jesus comes again, the purpose of your life is to live as His follower, to be His eye-witness, & to share His Gospel; then the Spirit will make more disciples = to the Ends of the earth, & until the End of time. There is no higher purpose, no greater reward in life, than to be an instrument thru whom God is giving the gift of life and freedom in Christ.
Even tho this seems like an overwhelming responsibility, every child of faith, and even ‘a young child’ with faith, can do it; because we do not do it alone, or by ourselves.
So, Jesus gives us the THIRD Ending to think about, which Matthew recorded in his Gospel account. Jesus says, “I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.” Christ is with us to the end of time. His promise to work thru us comes with the ‘power from on high.’
Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit to us thru our Baptism, to give us the power to be effective witnesses of what Jesus said & did. Every time Clark Kent had a mission, he went into a telephone booth to remove his ordinary business suit, revealing his official Superman clothing. Then he went out to stop runaway locomotives, and leap skyscrapers, and help people when he was properly clothed with his true identity.
As Christians, we are clothed by God with the Spirit’s power, so that we can do what He asks. Scripture says that in Baptism, we are clothed in Christ. His promise to be with us always is literally true; He is joined to us, & He never leaves us. It doesn’t mean we can do superduper miraculous things. But it means we will be His people, walking in His holy ways, sharing with others His forgiveness, & giving to others the joy & peace that has been given to us.
That is a true miracle in this fallen world & troublesome life. He helps us to speak calming words to those in trouble, and reassuring words to those weighed down by their sins. As we think about the troubles of these last couple of months, what sort of gentle & reassuring faith-words can you share with your children, family, friends & neighbors? We might have an opinion or two about how things are being handled in our state or nation, but let’s be sure we are clear & Biblical with others about our perspective of faith, of forgiveness, of death, & eternal life in Christ.
I began by asking if you like books or movies to have a happy Ending to the story? That’s up to the author. In this real life, God allows us to help write the End of daily stories. Those who die without baptismal-faith in Jesus will have a miserable Ending. But all who trust in Him will have a blessed Ending with eternal peace & joy!
The ascension of Jesus is an excellent Ending to His earthly ministry; but not the ‘finale.’ His work continues with us, to help deliver His Gospel to the Ends of the earth, and we have His promise to be with us to the End of the age.