Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the Ascension of Our Lord, 5/26/2022. The bulletin is available as a PDF: Ascension Bulletin
The texts for the sermon were the day’s Old Testament and epistle lessons. To read the Bible texts for Ascension, click here.
Elisha does not want to see his master go. He has learned from him. He has loved him. And as the LORD lives, Elisha will not leave him.
He’ll follow Elijah to Bethel. He’ll follow Elijah to Jericho. He’ll follow Elijah across the Jordan. Come what may, he will not leave Elijah.
But the LORD will cause Elijah to leave him. It is the will of God, and Elisha must accept it. But if anybody feels the need to make a point of it, he’ll tell them to shut up.
He asked for a hard thing, that a double portion of Elijah’s spirit would come upon him. He asked for a hard thing, and he got it. He saw Elijah as he was being taken from him, and it was so.
Imbued with the spirit of Elijah, he carries on in ministry. He strikes the Jordan, as did his master, and it parts down the middle. This wasn’t for show, of course, it was for the sake of the Gospel.
Elisha carried on in the spirit of Elijah: preaching, teaching, and absolving. It was he who healed Naaman the Syrian. It was he who led the blinded Syrian army all the way to Samaria.
Elisha asked for a hard thing: a double portion of the spirit, the inheritance of the firstborn – double that of the other sons of the prophets. But Jesus promised a harder thing, a greater thing: the power of the Holy Spirit will come upon His disciples, that they would be His witnesses.
It’s exciting, but it is certainly difficult. Consider what they ask.
Forty days of the risen and glorified Jesus walking with them, and speaking with them about the Kingdom of God, and still, they wonder,
Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? verse 6
Still, they had some latent desire for God’s kingdom to be of this world. And you can imagine how it might have played out if Jesus had allowed it to be so.
If Christ had not ascended, if He had allowed Himself to stay put in Jerusalem, then His kingdom would have been of this world. It would not have filled the world.
If He would have made the Temple in Jerusalem like the tower of Babel, then the disciples would have stayed. They would not have been clothed with the power from on high. They would not have been His witnesses – not in Judea, not in Samaria, and certainly not to the ends of the earth.
But it is for this they were called. And so, perhaps remembering how it went when Elijah ascended, they looked up, and did not take their eyes away.
Maybe they expected chariots of fire, and maybe not. But like Elisha, they hoped for the Spirit of their Lord to fall on them. They looked so intently, in fact, that an angel had to intervene.
Ten days later, on the feast of Pentecost, the promise is fulfilled. Jesus said, “go.” And they went. Jesus said, “preach.” And they preached. Jesus said, “make disciples of all nations.” And they did. With water and word, by the Holy Spirit, they did.
But there’s a significant difference between Elijah and Jesus, and between Elisha and the apostles. Elisha carried on instead of His master. The apostles, the ministers of Word and Sacrament, they carry on in the stead and by the command of their Master.
Elijah is gone. Carried into heaven, he is now absent. But Jesus…
[God] raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. Ephesians 1:20-23
The right hand of God, of course, is everywhere. It is the exercise of His majesty and glory and providence.
And so, Jesus is not divinely absent, but divinely present. He is not spread out, like butter scraped over too much bread. He is poured out abundantly. No one must fight over double and single portions. He is the firstborn of the dead, and you are His adopted brothers and sisters.
He gives you no half-portions, but overflowing cups. He fills the font, the pulpit, and the altar. He fills empty water with grace. He fills empty bread and wine with His Body and Blood. He fills hungry hearts and longing souls.
All that was won for you on the cross, is given to you now by those weak and fearful men whom He has called. Because He who fills all things has ascended, that He would fill you also.