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The Ascension of our Lord, Cycle B (2015)

THEME OF THE DAY: The heavenly power and cosmic presence of Christ.

Like every year, this Festival encourages sermons celebrating the glory of God and His Providential Rule as well as Christ’s conquest over the forces of evil and His Present Rule in our lives (Atonement, Christology, and Justification By Grace).  


Psalm 47
This is a Korah Psalm, a family of Psalms written for or by a professional musician of that name (see I Chronicles 15:16-22; Nehemiah 12:41-46). These Psalms (42-49) may be attributed to one of Israel’s chief groups of singers (II Chronicles 20:19). This one is an Enthronement Psalm, a group of Psalms used on festival occasions when God was declared King. Our Lesson celebrates God’s Enthronement as King [melek] of all nations. It begins with a summons to all the world to praise God with shouts, loud songs, and the clapping of hands (v.1). Yahweh Elohim is said to be awesome and a great King over all the earth [erets], subduing peoples under the Hebrew nation (vv.2 -4). As we have previously noted, the word Selah appearing in a Psalm as occurs after v.4 in this one, is a liturgical direction which may indicate that there should be an instrumental interlude at that point in the singing of the Psalm. This universal theme is consistent with the theme of God’s Power manifested in The Ascension. The Psalm is likely composed to accompany religious ceremonies associated with The Ark of the Covenant (vv.5-9). The closing call to all peoples to praise refers to many of the themes of the first three verses.

Application: A sermon on the Psalm joyfully celebrates that God is King Who rules over all the earth, noting how this celebration is a call to everyone. The Power of God celebrated here might be related to the Power of Christ’s Work manifested in His Ascension (Creation, Providence, Christology and Sanctification).


Psalm 93
This is another of the Enthronement Psalms, like the one described above, extolling God as King, probably composed for a festival. It is closely related to Psalm 47, above. Yahweh’s Majesty [geuth] and establishment of the world are proclaimed. He has ruled from eternity/everlasting [olam] (vv.1-2). He is said to rule over the waters [mayim, interpreted as chaos] (vv.3-4). Perhaps this image could suggest that the occasion for this Psalm was the annual Fall Festival of Booths or Tabernacles or Booths, when the Lord’s victory over chaos is evident in harvest. It is also possible that the image of water is employed here in view of the fact that Mesopotamian and Canaanite conceptions of divine kingship were understood as established by victory over the sea (74:12-17; 104:7-9). In any case, the powers of the chaos are said to testify to Him, exposing the divine goodness. God is praised for the steadfastness [aman] of His witness/testimonies [edah] and for the holiness [qodesh] of The Temple (v.5).

Application: This Psalm presents another opportunity for a sermon on God’s Providential rule. The stress on God’s rule over chaos provides entrée for sermons on giving hope in the midst of fear or hard times. The stability of God’s witness and His Church in the midst of this chaos is another angle for sermons.


Acts 1:1-11
On this Festival we continue to read from the very beginning of the second half of a two-part history of the Church traditionally attributed to Luke, a physician and Gentile associate of Paul (Colossians 4:14; II Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24). We note again that there is some dispute about the date of composition, whether it was composed before Paul’s Martyrdom (in 65-67 AD) or much later, after the destruction of The Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD. In any case the author’s stress on the universal mission of the Church (1:8) and so an effort to validate Paul’s ministry reflects in this Lesson. This Lesson is the introduction to the Book and an account of Jesus’ Ascension in heaven.   

Like Luke, the Book begins addressing Theophilus. It is not clear if this means that these works were written for a recent convert or a Roman official from whom the Church sought tolerance. But since Theophilus means “lover of God” it is possible that the author addressed all the faithful. The author notes his earlier book (Luke) in which all Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the Ascension is recorded (vv.1-2). Forty days of Jesus’ Resurrection appearances are noted. Many convincing proofs [sure tokens, tekmerion] are said to be offered (see Luke 24:13-53). Reportedly he spoke of the Kingdom of God [basileia tou Theou], ordering the Apostles to remain in Jerusalem to wait for the Father’s Promise (vv.3-4). As John the Baptist baptized with water, the Apostles will be baptized with the Holy Spirit [pnuema hagios] (v.5; cf. Luke 3:16; Mark 1:8). The Apostles ask if their Lord will restore the kingdom to Israel, presumably a reference to the possibility that God might restore Israel’s political independence (v.6; cf. Luke 1:32). Jesus replies that it is not for them to know the time or periods set by the Father (v.7). It seems that the mission of the Church replaces concern about the Kingdom of God for Luke (Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According To Luke, p.326). The Apostles are told that they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them and will be Jesus’ witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, to the ends of the earth [perhaps a reference to ministry to the Gentiles] (v.8). This theme of the Spirit empowering the faithful as well as their universal mission is central to the Book (2:12ff.; Robert Tannehill, The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts: A literary Interpretation, p.57). Then Jesus begins to Ascend. Reference to a cloud [nephele] into which His Ascends signifies the Presence and activity of God (v.9; cf. Exodus 24:15-18; Luke 9:34). Two men [andres] in white robes then appear. These men (presumably angels, though the Greek term employed does not authorize that interpretation) inform them that Jesus will come again in the same way that they had seen Him ascend into heaven (vv.10-11; cf. Luke 24:50-51).      

Application: The text provides an opportunity to reflect on how Jesus’ Ascension makes love in Christ cosmic, so that to think of Jesus’ love for us becomes all the more awesome, majestic, and mysterious, not just a trivial thing to be ignored (Justification By Grace Through Faith). Opportunity is also provided to preach on the Holy Spirit’s role in baptizing the faithful and empowering the faithful to a universal mission which overcomes all that resists Christ. Attention to Christ’s Second Coming is also an appropriate sermon theme.


Ephesians 1:15-23
The Lesson is drawn from a circular letter, either written by Paul from prison late in his career or by a follower of Paul who had had a hand in assembling the collection of his Epistles. These conclusions follow from the fact that the Letter includes vocabulary and stylistic characteristic different from the authentic Pauline corpus. It was likely addressed to a younger, later generation of Christians (1:15).

This Lesson involves the author’s praise of the Ephesians and a thanksgiving for the blessings of God’s cosmic plans. The Ephesian faithful are first praised for their faith and love toward the saints [hagios] (v.15). Paul (the author) prays that they may receive wisdom regarding the greatness of God’s power for the faithful (vv.17-19). God is said to put His power/ authority [exousia] to work in Christ in raising Him and seating Him at the Lord’s right hand [dexios] (in the Ascension) (v.20). This is probably a reference to Psalm 110:1, where Yahweh directs His priest-king to sit at His right hand. To be at one’s right hand was to stand in the place of power and honor of a ruler (see I Kings 2:19). The Ascension then entails that all things are under Christ, including the Church of which He is the Head [kephale]. (This designation is not used in the authentic Pauline Letters.) The Church is then His Body [soma], the fullness [pleroma] of Him Who fills all in all (vv.22-23; cf. Romans 12:5; I Corinthians 12:1-27).       

Application: Sermons on this text might explore the impact of Christ’s Ascension for His leadership of the Church and the comfort this Word brings (Justification By Grace and Providence).


Luke 24:44-53
We turn to the first installment of a two-part history of the Church traditionally attributed to Luke (see the First Lesson for details on the Book’s origins and the author’s agenda). This text is the conclusion of Jesus’ commissioning of the Disciples during His final Resurrection appearance (vv.44-49), followed by the account of His Ascension (vv.50-53). Only in Acts (in the First Lesson) is express reference to the latter also made. Jesus claims that the words He uttered to the Disciples (that the Messiah should suffer [v.26]) demonstrate that the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and Psalms has been fulfilled (v.44). He opens the minds of the Disciples to understand that His suffering and Resurrection fulfill these Old Testament texts (vv.45-46; cf. Hosea 6:2). This theme is more characteristic of Matthew, and it is interesting that the only parallel account to Luke’s story is found in Matthew (28:16ff.), which does not include this proof from Old Testament Prophecy.

The Risen Lord proceeds to instruct that this Word is to be proclaimed with the word of repentance [metanoia] and forgiveness/remission [aphesis] of sins (v.47). We have previously noted how characteristic it is of Luke to connect repentance and salvation, while not identifying them (Acts 2:38; Hans Conzelman, The Theology of St. Luke, p.228). As witnesses [martus], Jesus notes, the Disciples are to receive what the Father promises (power [dunamis] from on high [ex hupsos]) and remain in Jerusalem until this is received (vv.47-49). No doubt this is another Lukan reference to the faithful’s need for empowerment of the Holy Spirit in doing their mission. (It is interesting to note that the Greek term for witness is similar to the term for Martyr [martur].) Jesus is reported as leading the Disciples to the east of Jerusalem to Bethany, to bless them, and then Ascends to heaven (vv.50-51). The Disciples respond with worship [proskun, literally to kiss the hand], return to Jerusalem with joy, and are continually in The Temple blessing God    (vv.52-53).     

Application: A sermon on this text affords occasion to examine The Ascension and its significance for daily life, how Jesus’ Ascension was related to the giving of the Holy Spirit Who makes Christ Present to the faithful (Pneumatology, Sanctification, and Mission). The Mission to which the faithful are called includes involves repentance and forgiveness (Justification By Grace and Sanctification).   

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen