St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

Parting Gifts From Our Ascended King

Ascension Day Sermon on Ephesians 4:7-16

Text: But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.”
9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until 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.
14 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. 15 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. 16 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.

If you watch game shows, you may hear the announcer speak of the parting gifts that are given to the contestants. Usually, they are not given to the winner, but to the rest of those who played. They are a consolation for not having won the big prize. This Ascension Day evening, we are going to talk about gifts that were given at a parting, and that are continued to be given today. However, these gifts are not given as consolation prizes. Rather, they are gifts that come from our victorious Savior to his followers. THE PARTING GIFTS FROM OUR ASCENDED KING are given 1. To His Church 2. For The Benefit Of His Church.

Paul speaks of the occasion of this gift-giving in verse 8, “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.” To clarify what he meant by “he ascended,” Paul continues, “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.” (Verses 9&10) In these two verses, Paul describes the work of Jesus. When it speaks of the fact that Jesus “descended to the lower, earthy realms,” Paul is referring to Christ’s humiliation. This doesn’t mean that Jesus was humiliated or embarrassed. Rather, it refers to the fact that Jesus gave up the full use of his heavenly power and glory, as he walked this earth for thirty-three years. Jesus humbled himself so that he could serve as our Substitute. He had to be a human being so that he would be subject to the Law of his Father, as you and I are. However, because he was also God, he was able to keep the Law perfectly in our place, which is something we could never do. Jesus had to be a human being so that he could suffer and die. After all, as Scriptures so clearly tell us, “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) We deserved eternal death because of our sins. Yet, because he was also true God, that death that he died counts for all of us. He suffered the punishment that we deserved. He “descended to the lower, earthy realms” so that he could serve as our Savior.

However, as Paul notes, “He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.” (Verse 10) Having finished his work of saving the world, Jesus was exalted. He again took up the full use of his heavenly power and glory. We see this as Jesus rose victoriously from the grave on Easter morning. This is what we are celebrating this evening. Jesus showed that he had completed all that his Father sent him to the earth to accomplish. Now, he has ascended higher than all the heavens. He is sitting at the right hand of his Father, filling the universe and ruling all things for the benefit of his Church until he comes again in glory to receive his Bride to himself. This is why we celebrate Ascension Day. It shows us that all has been accomplished for our salvation.

As our text reminds us, Jesus didn’t ascend to heaven leaving the church to fend for herself. Again, as it says in verse 8, “When he ascended on high, he . . . gave gifts to his people.” Some of these gifts are mentioned in verse 11, “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers.” This is referring to the public ministry, those who serve Christ by serving his people. This is not an exhaustive list, as other forms of the public ministry are mentioned elsewhere in the Scriptures. It is also true that the gospel will create other forms as needs arise. Suffice it to say that these positions are part of the public ministry and that they are instituted or given by Christ to his Church.

There are many tasks that these public ministers are to carry out, such as the feeding and tending of the flock that has been entrusted to them. It’s worth noting, however, that they are not the only ones doing the work, nor do they do it all by themselves. It says that Christ gave these public ministers “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” (Verse 12) They are there to help the people see the gifts that they have been given so that the body of Christ is built up. We are here to serve one another, to build one another up.

Paul shows the ultimate goal of building one another up, as he writes in verse 13, “Until 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.” First of all, we build one another up so that we have a unity of faith. We have a common faith in a common Lord. Secondly, we build one another up so that we reach unity in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature. This knowledge is more than just knowing the facts about Jesus. It means that we help one another grow in our faith. We keep on doing it until we become mature in our faith. Literally, this means that we become an adult in our faith. An adult is someone who has stopped growing. We are to continue to help one another grow in our faith, until we can’t grow anymore. Closely connected to that is that we attain “to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Obviously, this will never happen this side of heaven. So, we have a life-long work of service to help each other grow toward that goal.

In verse 14, Paul warns what happens when we do not do these works of service, working toward unity in faith and a complete knowledge of Christ. He says, “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.” If we don’t work together, serving one another in their faith life, we will be like infants, who are helpless. We will be like people in a row boat in the middle of the sea with strong winds blowing us about. One person says this is what the Bible says, and we accept it. Then, another person comes along and says this is what the Bible teaches, and we believe that. We are set adrift with no anchor. All of these teachings have a common characteristic. They are marked by the cheating of those who bring it. It’s kind of interesting that the words that are translated “deceitful scheming,” in the original Greek language have the idea of using loaded dice. They know all of the tricks. Their purpose is to promote the error, using every trick at their disposal.

How do we avoid this? Paul writes in verse 15, “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.” We help one another grow toward spiritual maturity by telling one another the truth of God’s Word. We do so in love. We don’t tell each other the truths of God’s Word with an attitude of superiority. “How can you be so foolish as not to know this?” “How come you don’t get it?” We reach out to nurture each other in the faith. God wants us to be eager to help others and to share in the wisdom we have found in the Word, so that they might share in the wisdom and joy we have been permitted to find. When this is done, we will increase in every respect toward him, who is the Head, Christ. In this respect, we are to be our brother and sister’s keeper.

We might think, when we hear this, it really doesn’t apply to us. It sounds like a description of someone else. To that thought, I would direct your attention to verse 16, which says, “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.” This is the means that God has given to his Church to build it up. We are to be the supporting ligaments for each other. It works when, as it says, “each part does its work.” We’re often inclined to think that we’re too small or unimportant to make much of a difference. However, we need to remember that every Christian is an important part of the church because growth and improvement in the church comes from the Head, Christ.

In addition, we turn to the first verse of our text, “To each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” (Verse 7) In this case, the word “grace” has nothing to do with our salvation. All are equally saved through faith in Jesus Christ. Rather, this is talking about the various gifts that Jesus gives to the members of his church. We all have different talents and abilities that come from him for the good of the church. This is no greater gift or lesser gift, when it comes to serving others in the church. They are different gifts that are used for the building up of others in the church.

There is something special about receiving a gift from a loved one. As you look at the nicely wrapped package, you can feel the love that they have for you. You can’t wait to unwrap it and see what they have gotten you. My dear friends, our ascended Lord has given you gifts. It’s good for us to take a look at ourselves and see what Jesus has given to us. What are the talents and abilities that he has given to you for the good of his church? May he help us to see these gifts. May he fill us with such thanksgiving in our hearts that we are eager to use these gifts. Our ascended King has given you these gifts so that you can be a gift to others. Amen.