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Clothed With Power

June 1st 2014 by Joel Schultz

Today we celebrate Ascension Sunday. 40 days after His resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven. He had taught the disciples that salvation is centered in His sacrificial death and glorious resurrection, and that they had a message to proclaim. But Jesus did not give them marching orders and then abandon them. He promised them power from on high. Read or listen to find out more...

Ascension Sunday A – “Clothed with Power” – Luke 24:44–53 – June 1, 2014

Life requires power. Imagine how different our lives would be if we had no electricity. No computers, no movies, no power tools! If we removed from our daily lives everything in some way dependent upon electrical power, very little would be left, and most of us would be hard-pressed to survive.

Electricity is not the only kind of power we need. Life itself does not come into being apart from the creative power of God. He breathes life into us, and we become living beings. Every heartbeat, brain wave, breath, or muscle flexing requires power.

Just as we need power to survive physically, so we need power to live spiritually. To all who know the struggle and burden of powerlessness, the Ascension Gospel brings good news! Today we celebrate the gifts of our ascended Lord as He has clothed us with power.

Dr. Luke documents the teaching that Jesus shared with his disciples during the 40 days prior to His ascension. He taught them that salvation is centered in His sacrificial death and glorious resurrection, and that they had a message to proclaim after His return to heaven. They would be going into uncharted territory and facing stiff opposition.

Yet Jesus did not give them marching orders and then abandon them. “Behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Lk 24:49).

The followers of Jesus would not be left to operate under their own power or to scratch and claw for whatever strength they could find in the world. Never! Rather, by His return to the Father, Jesus opened the windows of heaven to pour out His Spirit from on high. Just 10 days later, on the Feast of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit of God fell lavishly upon them and clothed them in the powerful love and truth of God. This is what the Father promised, and this is what the Father delivered to the disciples who witnessed Jesus’ bodily ascension.

Today we gather to celebrate the Ascension of Our Lord. Today we hear His marching orders to proclaim repentance and remission of sins in His name to all nations, and we need help at least as desperately as did those first eleven disciples. Our help, too, is in the name of the Lord. The power we need also comes “from on high.” We who are baptized have been born “from above” by water and the Spirit.

We come into our eternal relationship with God not by our own power, not by our own reason or strength, but, as Luther emphasizes in the Small Catechism, by the powerful Spirit of God, who has called us by the Gospel and enlightened us with His gifts. The Holy Spirit has been poured out upon us and has wrapped us up in the truth and love of God. We are clothed with His power, by which He also sanctifies and keeps us in the true faith.

Plenty often we are wrapped up with weakness, despair, grief, guilt, discouragement, and selfish passions. It’s as though we’re “shrink-wrapped” by these things, held captive by Satan, the world, and our sinful flesh. We cannot, on our own, escape its life-destroying clutches any more than a small insect can free itself from the web-grip of the monstrous, devouring spider.

Yet by the all-powerful grace of our heavenly Father, through the total victory gained by Jesus through His death, resurrection, and ascension, we have been set free! The Spirit of power has torn away the ugly shrink-wrap of sin and has wrapped us up beautifully with the robe of righteousness! This righteousness is straight from on high and will not be compromised or conquered by anything on earth. Praise be to God, we are clothed with power from on high!

Dare we place full confidence in God and in His power? Isn’t that a bit naive? Well, not according to St. Paul. He writes in the Ascension Epistle about the “immeasurable greatness of [God’s] power toward us who believe” (Eph 1:19a).

The clearest evidence of the power of God is that He raised Jesus Christ from the dead and seated Him at His right hand. The supremacy of Jesus is established at every level of existence for all time! There are lots of powerful titles – “Chairman of the Board,” “Chief Executive Officer,” “Secretary General of the United Nations,” “President of the United States” – but consider the title Paul gives Jesus in our Epistle: “God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything” (Eph 1:22). “Head over all things” – that’s a title for you! All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him. He is the power we need, and He is the power we have!

Clothed with Holy Spirit power, we are now free to know and to love God and to care about others. Paul prays in our Epistle that a Spirit-led transformation will take place in Christian believers: “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe” (Eph 1:17–19a).

That is the spiritual transformation that Paul prayed for for you and me. Clothed with power from on high, spiritual transformation must be behind everything that the church/ God’s people do.

Today you are going to hear (have heard) a little about the capital campaign process entitled “Immeasurably More” that the congregation has voted to move together through as we seek to provide some additions and improvements to our church. As Spirit-filled people we seek in all things to “connect people to Jesus as we gather, grow, and go.” The improvement projects voted on by the congregation seek to do just that… – as we answer to need for room to connect with each other and visitors with a narthex expansion – as we answer the need to better connect to God’s presence in Word and Sacrament through worship space improvements – and as we answer the need to better connect with upcoming generations and our community through playground improvements – and as we answer the need to connect to future missions locally and globally through the paying down of debt.

Regardless of our own desires/ likes/ dislikes, spiritual transformation is really what this up-coming capital campaign is all about – looking for God’s “immeasurably more” – immeasurably more of His Spirit, His love, His mercy, His grace, His provision, His protection, His patience – AND responding to His immeasurably more with greater faith, service, witness, and stewardship of His gifts.

It is why we gather together every week, isn’t it? To seek God’s immeasurably more. And so, the Spirit of God, working powerfully through the Word and Sacraments, improves our spiritual eyesight. As the Spirit does His dynamic thing week after week, we know God better. We see more clearly the hope to which He has called us. We understand more completely the riches of the inheritance we have received. Our eyes are opened to the abundance of His blessing. We are empowered to witness to His truth and love. We are clothed with power to proclaim repentance and remission of sins to the ends of the earth. We are energized to worship Him with joyful praise like the disciples at Jesus’ ascension: “Then [Jesus] led [the disciples] out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.” (Lk 24:50–53).

Our Lord’s ascension to the right hand of the Father does not mean that He is farther removed from us and from our needs. Rather, His ascension and the sending of His Spirit means that our lives, our future, our Christian mission are all “wrapped up” in the very-present strength and power of God.

Don’t let circumstances deceive you. Don’t let emotions trick you. You are clothed with power from on high! You are free from sin. You are free to worship the Lord. You are His witness, and you are commissioned to tell the story of His love. The one who is “Head over all things” will experience no power failure! He will not leave you or forsake you. So, don’t just stand around looking into the sky! Get to it! And go on your way rejoicing, until that day when you see Him coming back in the same way as you have seen Him go into heaven (Acts 1:11).

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