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The Christian church celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, is humbled at His

crucifixion and rejoices in His resurrection. Yet the wonder of his ascension into heaven is seldom observed.

Jesus' ascension is every bit as important

as his life, death and

resurrection.

In the 40 days that intervened from the

resurrection of Jesus Christ to his ascension into heaven, Jesus opened the minds of his disciples to the Holy Scriptures so that all the pieces came together for them regarding God's plan of salvation. He met them at the Mount of Olives, gave them a great commission, promised them the Holy Spirit, blessed them and ascended into the heavens until a cloud hid him from their eyes (Matthew 28:16-20, Acts 1:1-11).

Instead of being sad over His departure, Luke records that the disciples were filled with joy (Luke 24:52).

This joy was caused by the good news of the Gospel that Jesus Christ is their advocate by whom they, and all mankind, have access to God, through the forgiveness of sins given in Christ's name.

God sent his Son into the world on a mission. He sent Jesus to rescue all mankind from sin, death, and the devil, so that they may live eternally with Him. The biblical truth that Jesus ascended into heaven means that he completed his mission.

Jesus then gave his accomplished mission to his church to be carried to the ends of the Earth.

This mission is accomplished through the preaching of his Word and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper. During the course of this mission, Jesus dwells with his people and acts as mankind's advocate and intercessor at the throne of God until he comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead. This gives us the greatest joy and comfort.

Deep down inside our sinful nature lurks the dark question that the rich young ruler had for Jesus (Matthew 19:16 NIV): "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?"

Our conscience bothers us because of our many sins. "Is God angry with me?"

We want desperately to be sure of heaven. "Isn't there something I can do to be sure? If only I had a stronger faith. If only I could do better at living a Christian life. Maybe if I read the Bible from cover to cover, I could feel more at peace. Maybe if I prayed more. Isn't there anything I can do to be more sure of heaven?"

The answer is, "No." Just relax and believe that Jesus has done it all.

If there had been something left undone, if there was something that had to happen to complete God's plan to save us, Jesus wouldn't have ascended into heaven. He could not have left his disciples looking up into the sky if there was something that they had to do to come to heaven with him.

Everything was done. Every sin was paid for. Every righteous act was done and had been transferred into their account.

In the Apostle's Creed, Christ's church confesses that Jesus "ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty." This means that we have a friend in the right place.

The apostle John records God's Word: "My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense — Jesus Christ, the righteous one. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:1-2 NIV).

The last thing the disciples saw were the nail marks in Jesus' hands as he lifted them up to bless them. The first thing we will see when he comes again are the nail marks in his hands, the sure and true sign that the sins of all mankind are atoned for on the cross.

For those who believe in Jesus, who have beheld his death, witnessed his resurrection and gazed upon his ascension, there will be no fear when he comes again.

This comfort is for all to believe and trust. Jesus said, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am" (John 14:1-3 NIV).

No wonder Jesus' ascension gave his disciples such joy and why it gives such joy still today. Relax and rejoice. Jesus has done it all. Soli Dei Gloria!

The Rev. Douglas S. Thompson is pastor of St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Park City.

The Faith & Values column appears

regularly in the Saturday Life section of The Billings Gazette. Pastors, ethicists, educators or other experts who would like to write a column about faith, ethics or values for the section, should contact: Susan Olp, Billings Gazette, 401 N. Broadway, Billings, Mont. 59101. Or call her at 657-1281, fax to her attention at 657-1208; or e-mail to solp@billingsgazette.com.

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