Ascension Day Sermon on Ephesians 1:16-23
Text: I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
The Festival of the Ascension of our Lord is cause for celebration and a source of great comfort for God’s people on earth. That may seem strange to say. After all, aren’t we commemorating Jesus’ leaving this earth? It makes sense for us to celebrate his coming to earth. We know that he came to be our Savior. Why would we celebrate his leaving? There are several reasons. The first is that it shows that Jesus has done everything necessary for our salvation. If there were still things to do, Jesus would not have left. Secondly, we know that he has gone into heaven to prepare a place for us. Thirdly, it assures us that he is the almighty Son of God, who is seated at the right hand of the Father. Since he is the Son of God, he is worthy of all honor and praise. In addition, because he is the Son of God, we know that he will hear and answer our prayers. This evening, we are going to use the words of our text, where Paul tells the Ephesians what he had been praying for them, and turn them into a prayer for ourselves. So, WE PRAY THIS ASCENSION DAY 1. Lord, Give Us The Holy Spirit; 2. Lord, Fill Us With Hope; 3. Lord, Let Us See Your Ruling For Our Good.
Paul begins by saying, “I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.” Every time he thought of the congregation in Ephesus, he thanked God for them. His pastor’s heart was filled with joy, as he remembered them. Indeed, it is a good example for us, as well. When we think of our brothers and sisters in the faith, it is good for us to thank God for them.
Paul shares the content of his prayer on their behalf. He says, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” He prays that the Father would send the Holy Spirit into their hearts. We know that the Holy Spirit had come into their hearts, in the same way that we know that the Holy Spirit has come into our hearts. The reason we know this is the fact that we are believers. This is none of our doing. We cannot come to Christ, nor believe in him as our Savior on our own. We need to have the Holy Sprit come into our hearts and create the faith that trusts in Jesus as our Savior.
Since the Holy Spirit has come into our hearts already and had come into the hearts of the Ephesians, why would Paul pray in this way? Note that Paul prays that the Father would give “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” Yes, you do know him, but Paul prays that you would know him better. He is called the “Spirit of wisdom and truth.” He is the true wisdom, revealing the truth about God and ourselves. Paul prays that their knowledge and our knowledge would grow, that we would “know him better.” The way that the Holy Spirit does this is when we study his Word. The first part that we study is the Law. We need to see all the more clearly how many times and in what different ways we sin. There will be times when we read God’s Word and find out that we have been sinning against God and were either ignorant of it or have become so calloused to it that it does not bother us any longer. We need the Holy Spirit to continue to open our eyes and see that we have sinned against him in our thoughts, words and actions. We have not always loved God as we should. We have been selfish and not caring about those around us. As we read his Word, the Holy Spirit uses the Law to show us our sin. We see that God is a just God, who will not allow sins to go unpunished.
Yet, that is not the extent of the work of the Holy Spirit. He also reminds us again and again of what Jesus has done to rescue us from our sins. He points to his perfect life, lived in our place. He shows us the extent of Jesus’ love that moved him to lay down his life on the cross. He then points us to the empty tomb as the assurance that our sins were all paid for. This is something that many of us have heard for years. Yet, we pray that the Holy Spirit would help us to get to know God better, that he would renew in us the joy of knowing that our sins are forgiven.
There are great benefits to knowing God better. The better we know him and his love for us, the more confident and content we will be. The better we know all that our Savior has done for us and continues to do for us, the greater peace and joy we will have. The better we know him and what he has done for us and his will for our lives, the better we will serve him with our lives. The better we know him, the better we will be able to carry out the task he has given us as a Church to carry out, that is to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. This Ascension Day, we pray, Lord, send us your Holy Spirit.
Paul goes on in his prayer, and speaks about one of the gifts that the Holy Spirit shows us as we get to know God better. He says, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” Paul speaks of “the eyes of your heart.” This is our inmost being. What the eyes of the heart are focused on will control our attitudes and actions. Paul prays that the eyes of their hearts would be “enlightened to know the hope.” Normally, when we hear or use the word “hope,” we mean it like a wish. It is something that we would like to happen, but we cannot be sure until it actually does. Here the word hope does not mean a wish. We know that it will happen, because God did not leave anything to chance. He took care of everything for us. He had his Son live and die for us. He sent the Holy Spirit to create this faith. Because of this, we know that is not a wish, but something that has not yet happened. What is this hope? It is “the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” Heaven is our inheritance, a gift from our gracious Father. We know it is ours, because Jesus is our Savior. We know that it waits for us, because Jesus promised that when he returned to heaven, he would be preparing a place for us. Paul prays that this hope of heaven would always be placed before our eyes, so that it would control our attitudes and actions. Our attitude changes when we remember that heaven is our home. This earth is only temporary. We travel through it to get home. When heaven is our focus, our actions in this life change. We want to thank God for all that he has done and continues to do for us with all that we say, do, and think. Our lives change when this hope is kept in front of our eyes. We pray, Lord fill us with the sure and certain hope of eternal life.
Yet, as we know, even though our hearts are filled with the hope of heaven, we still have to live in this world, until it pleases the Lord to take us home. It is filled with troubles and heartaches, pain and sickness. Even though we keep the hope of heaven before us, life on this earth can be difficult. However, even in this regard, our Lord wants to rest assured in his love. We are reminded that the Lord is still in control, as we read, “That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” Focusing, first of all, on his power, we see two demonstrations of it, in both cases bringing to life that which was dead. The first case is the resurrection of Jesus. The second case is that he brings us, who are by nature spiritually dead, to spiritual life.
Going on, it mentions that the Father “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” Being seated on the right hand is not literal, in that, the Father is seated in the middle and Jesus is seated on his right. Rather, this is an expression that denotes power and authority. This is shown when it says that Jesus is far above everything. He is on control of everything. Nothing happens without his say so. This gives us great comfort, because God “appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” He rules over everything in this world and will always make it turn out for the benefit of the believers. For this reason, we can be calm when we see the world pushing against the believers and what they stand for. We can be at peace, when we hear about places in the world persecuting Christians for their faith. This is ultimately going to serve God’s purposes. His Church will not disappear. He will be with until the end. He promised, “surely, I am with you always to the very end of the age.”
This fact is also true in our individual lives. At times, to our eyes, it may seem as though all is out of control. It may seem as though we go from the frying pan into the fire. What a comfort it is to know that our ascended Lord, who is almighty, is still in control. As Paul reminds us in Romans 8, “We know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” It may be that God is giving us an opportunity to lean on him all the more. It may be that God is correcting us, bringing us from a path that would harm us. Maybe, God is allowing another person to put their faith into practice, by helping us. It may well be that, this side of heaven, we do not know why God allows certain things to enter our lives. What a comfort it is to know that, whatever it may be, whether good or bad, happy or sad, God is still in control of our lives. We can confidently say that life is not a matter of chance, fate, or luck. Our Lord is in control and he knows what he is doing. We pray that the Lord would continue to bring this fact before our eyes every single day. We pray that the Lord would allow us to see him ruling in our lives for our good.
I mentioned earlier that Ascension Day is really one of the high festivals of the Christian Church year. You wouldn’t know it from the world’s perspective. You can’t go to the Hallmark store and buy a “Happy Ascension Day” card. However, we thank God that he has shown to us the importance of this day. It assures us that our sins have been forgiven. It assures us that there is a place in heaven waiting for us. It also assures us that Jesus, as the Son of God, is seated at his Father’s right hand. Because of him, we can come to him in prayer and know that he hears us. With that in mind, we pray, not just this Ascension Day, but every day, “Lord, give us the Holy Spirit so that we might know you better. Fill us with the sure and certain hope of eternal life. Lord, let us see that you are in control of all things and you rule for the good of your body, the Church. Amen.”
St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches ©2023 All rights reserved.