Ascension Day “Beautiful Scars”
May 16, 2021 Luke 24:50–53
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
There’s a story about an older couple, years ago, who lived in an old apartment in the poorer part of Chicago. Altho they had once desired to have children, they never conceived. One night they were awakened by screams; they smelled smoke. Looking out the window, they saw that the apartment building down the street was in flames. They went out on the street and things looked pretty bad. People were running out of the burning building. Soon there was some concern that one family couldn’t be located. By now the front entry was blocked by thick smoke & flames. The man quickly went around the side of the building to see if there was another way in.
Above him, on the 3rd floor & thru an open window, he heard a baby crying. Beside the window was a metal drain pipe, being licked by the flames. He climbed up the pipe.
The baby’s crib was right inside the window. He tucked the child into his shirt and climbed back out on the drain pipe, ignoring the pain of the red-hot metal. Safely down, he was met by the arriving firemen, and he handed the little bundle to them; they would be able to find the parents. And they did; except that the firemen found the parents up in the apartment, dead.
The newspaper covered this tragic story, & even mentioned the unknown rescuer who had saved the baby. Some weeks later, the paper had a story that there was no other relatives to be found, and the orphaned girl was now up for adoption. A city judge would be interviewing prospective parents. You can imagine how many wanted to be interviewed. The judge asked them all the same question: ‘why should you adopt her?’ All of them had some version of this answer: ‘because they were young & well-off, and they could give her the best of all things.’
Then in came an older couple who didn’t look well-off. The judge was very skeptical, but asked them his question anyway: ‘and why should you adopt this little girl?’
For an answer, the man simply held out his hands ….. his burned & scarred hands.
…… and yes, the judge chose them.
We heard in Luke 24: “Then Jesus 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. And they worshiped him, and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy,
and were continually in the temple blessing (or praising) God.”
Whenever it happens, it feels wrong: when we see a person with a disfiguring scar,
or a missing body part, our eyes are initially drawn to that disfigurement. This first glance isn’t intentional; even so, there’s a twinge of guilt inside when we realize what we’re doing.
But before we can think about not looking, we look. Children do too; & then we say something like: “don’t stare, it’s rude.” One of my colleagues is a faithful pastor in MN.
I’ve attended dozens of meetings with him, talked with him at length, respected him as a friend & fellow church worker. Yet, invariable, for just a split second, like a magnet drawn to steel, my eyes will lock onto the scar on his cheek & chin. I try hard to focus on his eyes when I talk to him; but you how it is. Maybe your friend is missing part of a finger, or has a burn on their arm. It’s hard not to look at scars.
Sometimes ‘scars’ can be invisible to the eye. Memory scars, emotional scars; some past event that has stuck with a person, even tho it may have been many years ago. Everyone has these kinds of scars; and I mean everyone. Don’t think it’s just the careless person, or the criminal. The pretty & the popular, the smart & strong & the most self-confident people we meet have /scars that hurt, /scars that anger, /scars of sins that shame or accuse. Parents, pastors, & counselors, at times, have to stare at these scars, and call attention to them,
in order to help a person face their pain & shame, so that they can heal.
You’ve seen portraits of Jesus; various pictures, from various artist’s imagination,
of what they thought Jesus should look like. These portraits usually show a handsome man, perfect skin & healthy hair; there’s a gentle back-lighting to Him so the whole scene is peaceful. When pictured with other people, He looks a little taller than average ~ not shorter == that gives the appearance of authority. Because of these pictures, when we think about the Ascension, that’s the Jesus we see. Tall, handsome, flawless Jesus. That’s when we hear Luke say, “lifting up his hands [Jesus] blessed them.”
‘His hands.’ These are the hands Jesus showed to His disciples after His resurrection to prove that it was really Him. *What would you suppose their eyes would have stared at when Jesus lifted up His hands? Like us, they would’ve locked onto those terrible holes, those iron-spike-wounds in Jesus’ hands. Remember what He told ‘doubting’-Thomas? ‘put your finger here & see my hands; put out your hand and place it ‘in’ my side. Stop doubting & believe.’
Jesus didn’t try to hide His scars = just the opposite. He raised up those hands for all to see, and He used those scarred hands to bestow His blessing.
His hands, His feet & His side are the eternal evidence of His saving love for us, & they can never be forgotten. As foretold thru Isaiah, ‘with his stripes we are healed.’ It’s not His perfection, but His wounds that cause us to trust Him completely.
Sometimes, well-meaning Christians celebrate just a certain kind of ‘glory’ of Christ Jesus. They love Easter; they ignore Good Friday. They like His miracles = when He stills the storm, and heals the lame, & multiplies free bread & fish for all. But they don’t like to talk about Jesus being poor & often lonely, suffering & rejected by the world, and His humble serving of those who mocked & hated Him. And they find it hard to think about those awful scars. But that’s how He relates to us far more than with His awesome power & heavenly glory.
A while ago, I heard a radio evangelist talk about how Jesus rescued him from a very destructive lifestyle, and how Jesus has the power to help others who are hurting like he was. But not once did he mention the cross or Jesus’ suffering & death. I know it’s not pleasant, but His suffering is the reason The Son of God understands our circumstances; it is the center of our salvation. We have to understand that Jesus suffered in order to take away God’s angry-punishment from us, so that we will not suffer eternally. God truly loves us, and has a perfect future for us = thanks to Jesus’ cross. So now, anything we suffer in this life is not because God is angry, but it’s because this world is broken. The Lord helps us thru our troubles by using them to remind us to trust Him for His promises of the better life to come.
It’s a subtle deception of satan, or of our own sinful natures, to be kind-of ashamed of the cross, which made Paul boast all the more in the cross. And here, at His glorious Ascension, Jesus raised those scarred hands, because His greatest glory is found in that cross-event; by being lifted-up & sacrificed, He would draw people to himself in faith. With our eyes drawn there, we are to ask: ‘why were those hands pierced? Why did he suffer and die?’
In His obedient suffering & death we have been forgiven; that means ‘set-free’ from our destructive sin; our guilt before God has been put behind us. God’s loving grace in Christ is the power by which we are freed to live new lives; freed -with faith- to leave our sinful habits behind; freed to obey His commands & teachings, for a more satisfying life.
In order to hear that gospel message, we come to church & into God’s holy presence, and God reminds us of our sin-scars. That’s how He prompts us to ask how we expect to pay for our sins? Relating to our opening story, we come here before the Holy Judge, having been burned & abandoned in the fires sin & death. The Judge asks the universe: *is there anyone who would love us, and adopt us into a family & life that will last beyond this world? And then it’s Jesus who steps up and holds out His nail-scarred hands to recall the sacrifice that has saved & redeemed us.
That’s how much was required for our deep scars. We all have them; they are the guilt we bear for hurting others; the pain of when others hurt us. It’s the shame of when we think of the good we should’ve done, but didn’t. Add to those /any age or illness that weakens our body, /and the accidents that disfigure us, /& the genetic defects that run in our family == it’s all a result of sin: the world’s sin, our sin. Our healing for every bad circumstance is seen in the cross of our salvation.
In our crucified Lord is where we find God directing His attention to heal our scarred lives. He wants us to look at Jesus’ scars and to believe that we are delivered from death & eternal disfigurement. This would be a reason why we don’t reject people when we see their scars; because they remind us of Jesus’ work for us all.
Peter writes in his first Epistle, “[Jesus] himself bore our sins in his body on the tree. . . . By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Pet 2:24). He said, “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous.” (1 Pet 3:18). Our sin-healing, the healing needed for those we hurt & those who hurt us, is accomplished by Jesus’ death. Our future is secured by Jesus’ cross, & the hope we have right now is assured by His resurrection & ascension. On this side of heaven, His glory is displayed in His nail-marked hands.
Everything our faith needs right now for this life & in all circumstances is the one Greek word Jesus spoke from the cross with His dying breath: ‘tetelestai’ = “It is finished.” Interesting choice of words, *don’t you think? He didn’t say, ‘almost done’, or ‘just a few more things.’ No; ‘IT is finished.’ His mission was completed in death. So, when the Father raised His Son from the dead, it wasn’t because there was more work to be done, but it was to show that His salvation work was completed & accepted.
And then after Easter, as He Ascends, Jesus now brings His apostles & His Church into a new mission, and says, “Everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled, . . . 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.” (Lk 24:44, 46–47). The full mercy of God, in the full forgiveness of the sin of the world, can now be proclaimed in Jesus’ name. Now all souls can come in repentance to receive that good news, without fear. If any fear or doubts come up, all we need to do is look to the cross and see again Jesus’ raised hands — those loving, holy hands, scarred for us.
Some SS children saw a picture. It had of a bunch of bearded men dressed in robes. One girl pointed to one of the men and said, “That’s Jesus.” The teacher corrected her & said, “No, not this one, but that one is Jesus.” She asked, “How can you tell?” Teacher replied, “you’re right, he looks like everyone else. But now Look at the hands. Our risen Savior is known by His pierced hands.”
That’s how we decide what’s important in our lives: we look to The One with the pierced hands. Often our worship & prayer time gets pushed aside; yes, we know what the 3rd commandment says about honoring the Sabbath Day, but we give in to our desires to use the Lord’s Day for our things. In truth, prayer time, Bible time, & worship time is really time with our Savior. Those other things we choose, /do they have pierced hands? /Does our job make an eternal sacrifice for us? /Do our leisure activities offer us forgiveness & salvation? Only one pair of hands is pierced for us; only those hands offer us His blessing for us from His Ascended throne.
On this Festival of Ascension, we pray that God would keep Christ Jesus and His scarred, blessing hands raised before our eyes to remind & strengthen our trust in Him for real life.