Let us pray: Dear Savior, although our bodies are confined to this earth right now, our minds and our souls don’t have to be! For just as You rose from the dead to insure our victory over the grave, so, too, You have ascended on high to insure that we will ascend into glory through faith in You! Thank You for freeing us through Your ascension! Thank You for focusing our minds and hearts on the best of the best—heavenly glory! Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, OUR RISEN AND ASCENDED LORD!
TEXT: Philippians 3: 20-21: “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!”
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
The huge diamond conglomerate, DeBeers, has made its fortune on diamonds. Indeed, few engagements are considered real until a woman receives her diamond engagement ring. A hundred years ago this wasn’t the case. Up until that time, the diamond was considered rather mundane and blasé. It was but an accent stone to the more fashionable colored gemstones—sapphires, rubies, or emeralds. But, then DeBeers ginned up their advertising campaign with slogans like: “Diamonds are forever.” And voila! The cult of the diamond was born.
To be sure, diamonds are very interesting to look at. On the surface they all appear quite similar.—White, sparkly, and ice-like. But, their clarity, their purity, and how they capture and reflect light makes them quite mesmerizing. So, for the bride-to-be, they have come to symbolize the purity of love, the enduring nature of love, and freedom from being alone.
Most of you know a little about “conflict diamonds.” That is, diamonds mined in strife-ravaged African countries which are sold on the black market to fund more guns and more bloodshed. Those diamonds bring no freedom at all. They only bring heartache. They are a symbol of human sinfulness, aren’t they?
We’re told in the Bible that “God is love.” We’re told that: “God is light, and in Him dwells no darkness at all.” So, a diamond and its ability to capture light and show purity is also a wonderful symbol of the truth of Christ’s ascension. For by His ascension Christ insures that the conflicts we face in this evil world won’t touch us in glory. Instead, peace, love, and His light will reign supreme. So, today on Ascension Sunday, let us consider our lesson by pondering this truth:
ASCENSION = FREEDOM
The ancient church did not celebrate ascension until around 300 A.D. Up until that point it was not considered as vital to our faith as Christmas, Easter, or Pentecost. And yet, upon reflection, those early believers came to appreciate its truth more and more. So, they included it in the church calendar. And by medieval times it was considered a day of “holy obligation.” That is, a day when church attendance was mandatory. Over the past 50 years or so, it has again become neglected by most. And yet, it is a glorious day! A day worth celebrating! For its message is liberating. Its message is: freedom—both for us and for Christ. Never forget, when Christ arose, a huge party, a welcome home party, occurred in heaven. Everything Jesus ever did He did for us humans. Even in Ascension, we benefited. But, on that glorious day, He benefited, too. He went to heaven, picked up His crown again, and now reigns over everything in all creation in order to uplift us! As the old church father, Tertullian, once said: “Be of good cheer, my mortal flesh, you have in Christ heaven and the Kingdom of God. He who denies you access to heaven denies it to Christ. Christ has taken the firstfruits of our flesh unto Himself, and has carried them with Him to heaven; but He has left behind the firstfruits of His Spirit for our flesh as a pledge of the glorification which awaits us in heaven.”
In our lesson, St. Paul, by God’s inspiration, makes exactly the same claim. No matter whether you live under Roman rule, Chinese rule, American rule, or Japanese rule—as a Christian you belong to God. Christ has bought and paid for your soul. And since all forms of human government restrict human freedom—some more than others—part of us chaffs under them. But not so when it comes to Christ’s kingdom! In His kingdom we’re all equal. We’re all blest. We’re all free to let our hearts and minds soar heavenward. Why? Because “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”
St. Paul, like all believers, knew all about conflict. He knew that inside he was a sinner. He knew that his words and actions, not to mention his inner thoughts, we’re tainted. That’s why he said: “I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing.” Put in terms of today’s sermon, we’re all rough diamonds which have a fatal flaw—sin. By nature we don’t truly forgive others. We don’t show mercy. We don’t exhibit selfless love. We’re ego-driven humans who always think of ourselves first.
But Christ came to take that flaw away! He, both the diamond Creator and the human Creator, came to remake and remold us, to carefully cut away our rough edges, and to turn us into glorious gems which reflect His light and His grace! That process took place on the cross and then during Easter. That process continued with His Ascension to insure heaven for us and even now it continues on as He polishes up our brightness via daily repentance.
Yes, in Christ we can rise above this conflict-ridden world. Through faith in Him even death cannot truly harm us. For we have the hope and certainty of heaven. The truth of Ascension is three-fold: 1. He ascended to prepare an eternal home just for us. 2. He now hears all our prayers personally, and rewords and reworks them, so that when the Holy Father receives them from Him, God cannot say: No. And 3. He now makes sure that all things work out for our eternal good.—If those truths aren’t freeing, well, I don’t know what is!
Free humans live and act differently than oppressed ones. They hold their heads up. They don’t live in fear. As a Christian, that describes each of you. Just as Paul concludes: “Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown (studded with God-polished diamonds!) that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!” Yes, Ascension=Freedom! You can take it to the Bank of Heaven where Christ will welcome you with pure joy and give you that final polish as He adds you to His crown! Amen