Dear Friends in Christ,

            Not many people noticed Ascension Day was this past Thursday.  Brian Miller, son of Dean, made that observation.  I was a little surprised with all that he had going on his mind.  His Dad entered into heaven on Ascension Day.  That’s a nice thought.  For forty days Jesus showed himself to be alive, then on the fortieth day he ascended into heaven.  Luke writes, When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them.While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.” 

            As a child I remember how much my parents loved midweek services. My family was there for every Lenten service.  My home church also had Ascension service.  That service always caught me by surprise.  Lent came before Easter, Ascension came after Easter.  When I got home from school I had chores to do.  We ate dinner and were told to be ready to leaven at 7:15 PM.  During the service as a small child I just couldn’t keep my eyes open.    

            As a child I didn’t understand Ascension.  Jesus ascended into heaven?  Why didn’t he stay on this earth?  In my mind Jesus ascending into heaven meant that his work was done. All he had to do was to wait for Judgment Day. 

            I needed to mature and study the Word more.  He’s doing plenty.  The apostle Paul teaches us that at Ascension “Jesus Did Not Retire…Neither Do We.”

            Jesus is NOT retired.  Never picture him at some celestial riverbank fly fishing for some celestial trout because his work of redemption is done.  The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write,  But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”  He is ruling over all things for the sake of his church.”  

            Paul quotes a psalm, Psalm 68.  This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.” (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions?He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)” David wrote this passage 1000 years before Jesus came and yet summed up all that Jesus would do on earth and when he would return to heaven.    

            He ascended because he had to descend to this earth when he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.  The apostle wrote in another place, For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.  When Jesus descended to this earth, the Son of God, who owns all things, set aside his might and power. When he descended, he came to be born in a poor city in poor conditions to poor but faithful parents that God had specially chosen.  They didn’t occupy a high rung on any social ladder.

He set aside the full and constant use of all he was.  He came to submit to the laws very laws he made for the human race and for his people Israel. He kept them…for us. He did what we couldn’t do.  He loved the Lord his God with everything he had.  He loved his neighbor.  He charges that perfection to our accounts.   

Then he died.  He was obedient unto death, even death on the cross for the billions and trillions and bazillions of sins that have been committed since the beginning of the world. 

            Our national debt is over 18 trillion dollars.  That’s unfathomable.  People who know all about it don’t seem to want to do anything to solve it.  Those who complain about it don’t have any solutions either.  People like to point fingers rather than act. Our debt of sin insurmountable for any person to overcome has someone who did something about it.  Jesus did.  He paid for it fully with his holy precious blood…all while he descended to this earth.   

There is an interesting phrase here that says, “When he ascended on high, he took many captives.”  Literally he said that he led captivity captive.  While here he defeated the enemies that we have that hold us captive.  They submitted to him.

Like?  Sin!  It is hard not to sin, isn’t it?  We keep sinning everyday.  It holds us captive and all the guilt that goes with.  What did Jesus do?  He forgave sin.  It isn’t holding us captive anymore.  Jesus is holding it captive. 

ThereDeath holds us captive. You can say all you want, “I don’t want to die,” but you will.  People say you can’t escape death and taxes.  Jesus, by descending to our human plight, took care of that too.  When we die we live better than ever before.  Kind of like out of this world type better.  There is no paradise tax.     

The devil himself seems like he holds us captive too.  Let’s face it.  We do far too much that makes Satan smile.  He loves to pull out our rap sheet with the countless offenses have done.  “Guilty!  Guilty! Guilty!” he rubs our noses in it.  Yet the Bible says, Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.”  Yes, it is God who justifies us.  He declares us innocent because Jesus descended to this earth.  He led those who want to make us captive into captivity himself.    

This one who descended has now reascended and is busy. Paul says, But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”  Jesus supplies gifts to each member of his family, the church so the church can grow and serve. He is not retired, nor should any of us think we are retired either as we serve in his church.    

The Bible says every Christian has the fruit of the Spirit.  We have virtues that exemplify God.  We are still sinful so we don’t practice them perfectly.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Yes, you have them and show them.     

You also have gifts that Jesus sends to us through the Spirit.  Everyone has the fruit of the Spirit but the gifts of the Holy Spirit are given as Jesus chooses.  Some of the gifts are found in Romans 12, We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith;if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach;if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”  More are found in I Corinthians 12.  Find out which gifts you have and use them.  In fact, I have a worksheet that you would find interesting to help you.    

Jesus also gives us special abilities and people with special abilities. So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers.”  Christ calls people into the public ministry.  He speaks about apostles – people sent out directly by him.  In a narrow sense of the word there are no more apostles. In the wide sense all who are sent seem to fit here.   

There are prophets. These are people who share God’s Word.  People who speak for God about the past and present and future.  There are evangelists.  These are people who share the Good News of Jesus.  There are pastors who take care of God’s flock like I am doing.  There are teachers who teach groups of people about Jesus, like our Sunday School teachers. Where do you fit?  Christianity is not practiced on the sideline bench.   

What is the objective of all these gifts?  “To equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built upuntil we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”  The moment I graduated from the Seminary and received my first call, I think I had the idea that a busy and active church was when I was busy.  That’s not the description here.  Everyone is called to serve in one way or another. The more that is done, the more mature that church is. 

As a Christian parent there is nothing better than to see our children mature in the Christian faith to let love for Jesus guide their actions. Nothing is better than to know that they know Jesus is their Savior. It is so much fun to see our children bring their friends to meet Jesus too.     

A mature congregation, using her gifts, see people in need.  We reach out to the struggling and those in hardship, the sick, the grieving.  Take time to call Brian and Jessica Miller and Kristen Miller to let them know you are ready to help.      

Maturing in the faith is essential because it is so easy to get sidetracked or blown off course.  Jesus said as a matter of reality as the end of the world approaches “the love of many will grow cold.”  That does not apply to the church.  We are to be different.  Here is where you find Christian love.  

Paul says that Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.  Someone said that there are plenty of people around who don’t stand for anything and fall for everything.  Recently I had a conversation with a pastor who graduated from a Seminary that was definitely more interested in psychology books rather than the Bible.  I don’t know how many times I heard from him, “I think” instead of “Thus says the Lord.”    

There are three points that Paul wants us to understand with the gifts that Jesus gives. 1) “That the body of Christ is to be built up.”  Yes, that means numbers but also with strength from within. 2) We all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature.”  We all need to keep growing up. Lackadaisical church attendance and absence from the means of grace won’t do it.  Letting your Bible collect dust harms and doesn’t help. 3) We attain to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Our goal is to be more like Jesus.

Can we really attain a perfect unity and maturity in the faith?  We keep trying and striving.  Our Lord supplies the Spirit working through Word and sacrament to supply that strength.   

We are the army of Christ.  We are the body of Christ with Jesus as the head.  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”  Everyone has a role.  Don’t think you are too small or too unimportant. That’s wrong. “The church “grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Let me repeat that last sentence. “The church “grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

Yes, Jesus has ascended into heaven and is no longer visible on this earth.  But look at his church.  Look at it carry out the work.  Look at the people and gifts he provides. You are part of that church.  No, Jesus is not retired…neither are you.



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