Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive; thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also; that the Lord God might dwell among them.
Gospel Lesson, Mark 16, 14-20. Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen. And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not, shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. And they went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.
“Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” These are words of majesty. He commands these poor mendicants to go to all the principalities and kingdoms of the world, and to speak openly and confidently to all creatures, in order that all men may hear this preaching. This is a command so strong and mighty that its like has never before gone out into the world. Now, the word “gospel” means neither more nor less than glad tidings, or a message announcing something which one is glad to hear. “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” “This is in truth a kind and comforting message, and can rightfully be called a ‘gospel’. For this one word tells you that heaven is opened, hell closed, the sentence of God’s wrath annulled, sin and death buried; while life and truth are let down into the very lap of all men, if they will but believe it. O, that we might fully understand the meaning of these words, ‘believe’ and ‘be saved’! There is in these few letters a power which the world can not comprehend: for this preach ing gives us grace and riches beyond measure; and this without any merit whatever on our own part, as we have done nothing to gain possession of these blessings, nor even so much as had any knowledge of them. Could the children of the world but believe it, they would come in great multitudes to praise and thank God that they had lived to hear a Christian sermon.”
“There is not one of us but falls far short of having a perfect faith. For the grace and riches contained in the gospel are great beyond comprehension. The human heart can not help being terrified when it considers that the high and eternal King opens his heaven so wide, and pours out such a wealth of grace and mercy over my sins and misery, and over those of the whole world, and that this glorious gift is brought to us in and through the word only.” Besides, we are always inclined to make our justification before God depend, in a measure at least, on our own works, thus placing obstructions in the way of faith. “If I am to believe, I must exclude from the consideration every work of mine, and I must not have the effrontery to come before God with my own merit. For these two things cannot be brought into harmony; that is, we can not believe the grace of God for Christ’s sake without our own merit, and at the same time hold that we are justified also by our own works. If we could ourselves earn salvation, we would have no need of Christ. When the children of the world nevertheless despise this doctrine and regard faith as being of but little account, the reason for it is that their sin causes them no uneasiness, and that they know nothing of the agony and terror experienced by a frightened conscience. But when death or some other horror overtakes them, they can find no means of escape; then they at once fall into the depths of despair, and learn that faith is something entirely different from what they had supposed; that it is not empty and soulless talk, nor an idle idea or opinion, but a dauntless courage, which is able to confide wholly in Christ in the teeth of sin and death and hell.” (Luther). “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” This is eternally sure and true, and able to kindle and strengthen true faith in the heart; and it attracts us with the gentle and strong power of divine grace. Blessed be the Lord for the wise and great purpose of his love concerning us lost sinners! “But he that believeth not shall be damned.” This is equally certain; for it is faith only that saves. Consider, my friend, that salvation is ready to your hand; you are baptized, and have access to the grace of God, and may believe. Will you, then, despite all this, walk in unbelief to eternal perdition? Will you throw away your only chance? The declaration is final: “He that believeth not shall be damned.” Let none of us, dear readers, again call down upon himself the judgment of God’s wrath.
Lord Jesus, send witnesses able to preach thy gospel in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, and let it create faith in the hearts everywhere. Amen.
Draw us to thee, Lord Jesus,
And we will hasten on;
For strong desire doth seize us
To go where thou art gone.
Draw us to thee; nor leave us,
Till all our path be trod;
Then in thine arms receive us,
And bear us home to God.
Lord Jesus, give us a childlike faith, and show us thy glory. Amen.
Acts 1, 1-11. The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen. To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion, by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God; and being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me: For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost, not many days hence. When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying. Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me, both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven, as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said. Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.
When Jesus took his life again out of death, his body was transfigured ; and thus he walked on earth during the forty days. He had been glorified, and was therefore invisible; but he could show himself whenever he wished, could suddenly appear to the disciples behind closed doors, and then as suddenly disappear. But he still was on earth, and had not as yet begun the exercise of his power as ruler over all things. He had mounted two rounds on the ladder of his exaltation; but before going farther he was to reveal himself many times to his disciples, instruct them in regard to the kingdom of God, and prepare them to receive the Spirit. Today he mounts the third round. He now assumes dominion, and employs all power in heaven and on earth, that he may bestow on us the salvation which he had won, and thus lead us to eternal glory. That Christ “sitteth on the right hand of the Father” means that, with the Father, he possesses all power and glory. He, who is God and man in one person, and who died for the sins of the world, reigns forever over all things. Daniel “saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of Man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7). The sitting of Christ on the right hand of the Father means, then, his omnipresent omnipotence and power of do minion as the Savior of the world. — Nevertheless, we must hold fast the truth that the habitation of God in heaven, high above all creatures, is an actual place; but in an eternal and heavenly sense, and not according to our earthly conceptions of locality.
As the ascended Savior he sends us the Spirit, who establishes the kingdom of God within us, and thus gathers the church of the Lord on earth. It was not the eleven apostles only who were to receive the Holy Ghost, but all who should believe through their word. He has not promised supernatural gifts to all of us; for they are not necessary to salvation; but the light and power of the Spirit unto faith and regeneration he has promised to every one who will obey the truth. — Then, when all these have been gathered in, he shall come again: and then the kingdom of glory, which the disciples in a way longed after, and concerning which they inquired, shall arise in its celestial splendor, beautiful and blessed beyond the power of man to conceive. We, also, yearn for this consummation. May the Lord come quickly, and perfect his kingdom! In the meantime, let us believe without having seen, and patiently follow the way of the cross under the blessed protection of our exalted Lord.
Have you, dear reader, experienced in your heart the regenerating power of the Spirit? Is your eye directed upward, where dwells the bridegroom of the souls; and do you wait with longing for the time when he shall come again?
Draw us after thee, Lord Jesus. Take our hearts, and fill them with thy love. Give us, we earnestly beseech thee, thy Holy Spirit, and let each of us be one in the army of thy witnesses. Amen.
Hail the day that sees him rise
To his throne above the skies!
Christ. the lamb for sinners given,
Re-ascends his native heaven.
There the glorious triumph waits;
Lift your heads, eternal gates;
He hath conquered death and sin;
Take the king of glory in!