It is a terrible thing to feel powerless. It is terrible thing to feel helpless in the face of something that threatens your happiness and health.
Imagine what it must be like for those parents with children who live in countries where there is continual hostility and fighting. Take Palestine as an example. Daily parents must fear for the safety of their children. They fear that one day a stray bullet will take the life of one of their children as they are playing or going to school. How powerless and helpless they must feel! They can’t do anything to stop the fighting. They have nowhere else to go.
On one Friday afternoon a teenage boy was seen walking home carrying all of his schoolbooks. Those who saw him said to one another, "What a nerd! He must be going to spend all his weekend studying." A bunch of kids ran up to him, knocked the books out of his arms and tripped him so he landed in the dirt. He got up with tears in his eyes, picked up his books and went on. It seems he had cleared out his locker at school for a reason. That night he killed himself.
For a young person to do that, he must have been feeling completely helpless and powerless to bring about any change in his life. He could see no reason to continue his existence. How terrible it is to feel useless and powerless!
There are times when we all feel helpless. We may feel helpless in the face of illness or surgery. We may feel powerless to change the direction our children are taking. Or we might feel incapable of changing our lifestyle, or our habits. Many people admit they need a power beyond their own power to solve such issues. Some turn to astrology, fate, crystals, science, "someone up there" or some universal force to find a greater power than themselves.
The characters in the Star Wars movies refer to a power that holds the universe together. Humans can tap into this universal force when the odds are against them. When faced with the seemingly hopeless task of defeating a far greater enemy, they encourage one another with, "May the Force be with you". The TV series The X Files and similar programs have been popular because they explore the possibility of the existence of alternative powers.
Why am I bringing up all of this here this morning? The answer is this – reading from Ephesians 1:19-22 where we hear from God’s Word about a single, continuous, unbroken power. In the brokenness of our world, there is a power that is far greater than all other powers; a power that is real; a power that meets us at the point of our need; a power that is dependable and consistent.
It is the power that God has shown for us in the Lord Jesus Christ. Out of love, he gave himself for us on the cross. With power, God brought Jesus to life again when he raised him from the grave and then gave him all power and authority when Jesus returned to heaven.
Your power, and even the power of the great forces that shape the world, are temporary. God's power, however, is permanent, and St Paul is at great pains to make sure we know it.
He wrote this, "He raised Christ from death and let him sit at his right side in heaven. There Christ rules over all forces, authorities, powers, and rulers. He rules over all beings in this world and will rule the future world as well. God has put all things under the power of Christ, and for the good of the church he has made him the head of everything" (Eph 1:21-22 ).
It is important to note that Paul emphasises God’s power in the context of prayer. The apostle is praying for the people at Ephesus. He is praying that they might receive the Holy Spirit so that they will know the hope that comes from knowing Jesus. He prays that they might know the great and mighty power of God.
And where does Paul turn to see evidence of this power? He doesn’t turn to creation to find proof of God’s power – the power of the sun and stars, of volcanoes and cyclones, of tidal waves and earthquakes, of sunset and sunrise. If you have ever seen those programs on TV that vividly describe the force of any of these, there can be no doubt that these are indeed powerful.
Neither does Paul look for evidence of God’s power in the events of human history. There we find more often than not the corruption and misuse of power to bring misery and fear into people’s lives. You only need to look at a little country like Afghanistan where the power held by the opposing military forces has brought so much fear, death and grief to the people of the country.
God’s power is based on love. Because of his love for us God used his power to "raise Christ from death and seated him at his right side in the heavenly world." Christ rules there over all other powers and authorities not as a cruel, distant and unfeeling tyrant, but he rules with love. The Lordship of Jesus is total. All things have been put under his feet (control). He rules the world and the church totally and completely. And in contrast to the way humanity has abused power which has resulted in cruelty and suffering, God’s power and God’s love go hand in hand.
When the disciples saw Jesus ascend to heaven until he was hidden from their sight by a cloud, they must have suddenly felt all alone. They had experienced this kind of feeling once before when Jesus was arrested, tortured and then killed on a cross. They felt helpless and weak against the authorities who could have come at any moment and arrested them. But Jesus came alive again and all was well for a while. But now he was gone again. This time they knew that this would be for a lot longer time. But this time their reaction is quite different. This time there is no fleeing, no hiding, no grief, and no remorse. Instead we are told "they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy and spent all their time in the Temple giving thanks to God" (Luke 24:52,53).
Jesus was gone but they rejoiced. They knew that wherever they went and whatever they did, Jesus would be there with them. From that moment on the disciples were never beyond the reach of Jesus. Previously they could be separated from Jesus by a door or wall or a stormy lake. Now there was no barrier that could keep him from them. Now Jesus was always available and present with power to help, strengthen and comfort them when they needed it the most.
Jesus did go up, ascend and leave the disciples that day, but he left this earth so that he could be the ever and always present God. He is Lord of all and wherever we go on this earth, under the sea or out in the depths of space, he is there – he is there with power.
The power of Jesus isn’t like any power that we know on this earth.
His power redefines, changes our lives. It recreates us as his new people through the water of baptism. His power is stronger than death – it gives eternal life. His power forgives even our worst sins. His power gives us new directions – daily it kills everything that is evil and corrupting in our lives and renews us as his chosen people. His power gives us his body and blood in a piece of bread and a sip of wine. His power gives us faith through the Word of God.
He is ready to use his power in our lives, our families, and our workplaces; he is ready to use his power when we are overcome with fear, worry, grief, and pain. Just before Jesus ascended to heaven he said, "I will be with you always, to the end of the age" (Matt 28:20).
That means that Jesus not only has the power to be present in our lives as we come to terms with what is happening, but as Lord of lords and King of kings he has the power to do something about it.
When we learn that we have a serious health problem; when we hear the news that someone close to us has died; when we worry about money, our children, our job or lack of it; when we are upset, hurt, guilty, angry or depressed; when we have to make difficult decisions about the future; we are reminded that the ascended Jesus is close by and ready to use his power.
When we pray, we are praying to the one who is the "supreme Lord over all things". We know that he has the power and the knowledge to answer our prayers in the ways that are the best for us. He is waiting to use his power on our problems. He is waiting for us to call on his name. The writer to the Hebrews encourages us, "Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Heb 4.16). Because Christ rules with grace and love, we know that he doesn’t treat us the way we deserve to be treated because of our sin, but rather he understands our predicament and gives us divine help and strength.
I’m sure we don’t take seriously enough the fact that Jesus is Lord. In fact, I know we don’t. If we are serious about God’s power in our lives and certain that God uses his power every day in our lives then we would honour, love and trust him more than we do. If people are certain about the lordship of Jesus, then our churches would be packed with worshippers every Sunday. If people are sure that Jesus rules with love in the very ordinary affairs of their lives, forgiving their sins, strengthening their faith in times of trouble, then they would respond with praise and worship. If we seriously believe that Jesus is not some distant deity, but walks this earth with us, then we would respond with love and devotion.
When the disciples saw Jesus ascend to heaven, they worshipped him on the spot, they worshipped with great joy him on their way back to Jerusalem, and they worshipped him in the temple continually. Their worship was not a "come and go as you please" affair, but an urgent compulsion that came about because Jesus was there, and what else was there to do but worship him?
Jesus is our loving Lord who forgives us for our lack of trust and response to his love. He is our loving Lord who empowers us to be his people and to make a difference in the church in the world.
Crucified and Risen – John Calvin
Vince Gerhardy Blog
Exalted Above the Heavens: The Risen and Ascended Christ - Peter Orr
The Ascension of Christ: Recovering a Neglected Doctrine - Patrick Schreiner
Taken Up into Heaven: The Ascension of Christ - Derek Thomas
Ascension: The Shout of a King - Derek Prime