Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Feast of the Ascension: A Devotional Commentary

Mark 16:14-20 Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; theywill take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.

Jesus rebukes the Apostles for their unbelief but He doesn't kick them out and He doesn't desert them even if that's what it looks like to the outside world. He continually told His disciples that He would be crucified, but they didn't believe. He told them that He would rise again but He must have meant something else. There were eye-witness reports from those who saw Jesus after the resurrection, but these people must just be hallucinating or mistaken.

We can sit around and laugh at how stupid the Apostles were and how slow they were to understand the plain words of Jesus but we do the same thing. We doubt the Words of Jesus when they conflict with those of our religion, our reason, or what we see around us. "This my body" has to mean something other than what it sounds like it means. Jesus said He would never leave me nor forsake me but where is He when I can't afford to pay the mortgage or when I get in a car accident or when a child dies?

Jesus does not fire the Apostles but commissions them. He sends them out into the world to preach the very Gospel that they doubted--the unbelievable Gospel about the Messiah who died for you and rose again for you. He sends the Apostles out to baptize. Through baptism your sins are washed away. Jesus does not promise salvation to those who follow a moral code or who are the most sincere. Jesus promises salvation to those who believe and are baptized. Jesus promises salvation to those who believe what the Apostles did not believe.

When the Gospel goes out into new lands, often miraculous signs will follow in confirmation of the message--miraculous healings and tongues. But the signs are not the main thing. Jesus crucified for you is the main thing. The signs were only a confirmation and always seem to die away as the church takes root. But make no mistake about it, the miracles remain in forms that the world considers useless. Jesus miraculously works faith in us and heals us through the preaching of the Word. Jesus miraculously drives out demons, washes away our sins, and claims us as His own in the waters of holy baptism. Jesus miraculously gives us His body and blood and the Lord's Supper. The Great Serpent may bight us but he has no power over us. He may kill us but we will live.

By all earthly standards Jesus appears to be absent. Isn't He just sitting around at the right hand of God? But the passage says that the Lord was working with them? And where is the right hand of God? You can't see it no matter how powerful of a telescope you build. God's right hand is God's power. Christ has been exulted. Christ reigns. Christ is not absent from His church but present in a powerful way. Christ is present for you in the Word that is preached. Christ was present for you in the waters of holy baptism. Christ is present in His body and blood in the Lord's Supper.

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