"But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober,
and watch unto prayer" (1 Peter 4:7).
Last Thursday, on the Ascension Day, we celebrated the beginning of
the end of the world. The world began to end on the day that Jesus Christ
ascended into heaven.
We human beings flatter ourselves, of course, and we insist that we
and the world around us are developing, changing, evolving ó constantly
becoming something better than the world from which our Lord ascended.
We like to think that we are perfecting humanity through our technologies,
theories, and laws, even though the Son of God made man who ascended to
his Fatherís throne was as perfect as a human being can be. Moreover, Jesus
Christ remains and will remain the only perfect human being until the world
has ended and the redeemed are raised from the dead in their glorified
bodies, just as Jesus Christ was raised at Easter.
The usual scoffers, of course, have a field day with the Ascension.
They mock Christians for accepting an historical fact that they themselves
choose not to believe: that Jesus Christ ascended bodily into heaven. They
chuckle at the notion that heaven is "up," without considering that even
astronauts have to go "up" to leave the ordinary world behind, or that
in every human culture "down" symbolizes the grave. Likewise, they do not
stop to think that the visible Ascension of Christ was for manís benefit,
so that we could understand what was happening.
Our Lord could just as easily have left this world without any appearance
of movement and without any witnesses. He chose, instead, to ascend in
the sight of the Apostles so that they would understand that not just "spirits"
but human bodies raised from death and sanctified by God have a place in
heaven before the Fatherís throne. Christís Ascension was a promise to
the faithful that they would one day follow him where fallen and unredeemed
man has no right to go. Christís Ascension also promised the faithful that
he would return, as he had left, in glory to judge the living and the dead.
The injustices of this world that appear to us to go uncorrected are already
judged by the glorious Savior who will return to set every one of them
right forever on the Last Day.
Nor do the Scriptures say, as so many illiterates seem to believe, that
our Lord ascended "up, up, and away" like a rocket or Superman. St. Luke,
in his introduction to the Acts of the Apostles tells us "while they beheld,
he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight" (Acts 1:9).
That cloud, as anyone trained in the religion of the Old Testament would
have known, was not a bunch of water vapor floating over the earth. That
cloud was the Shekinah, the visible sign of the glorious presence of God
that once filled the innermost sanctuary or "holy of holies" of the Temple
at Jerusalem. When our Lord Jesus Christ was received into that cloud,
he was received into the glory of his Father.
It was the "holy of holies" of the Temple on earth, separated from the
rest of the Temple by a great curtain or veil, that the High Priest would
enter to offer the yearly sacrifices for sin on the Day of Atonement. That
veil was torn on the day of our Lordís crucifixion, at the moment of his
death, signifying the end of those yearly sacrifices and that the Shekinah
Glory of God had left that sanctuary (Matt. 27:51). A new, permanent sacrifice
for sin, Jesus Christ himself, had been killed, and that perfect sacrifice
of the Son of God made man could not be offered in an earthly sanctuary
by an ordinary, sinful human priest, no matter how exalted his title.
And so the Father raised his crucified Son from the dead, to become
our Great High Priest of the New Testament, to offer himself once and for
all, for the sins of the world. Only the sinless Jesus Christ, who willingly
laid down his life to glorify his Father and to redeem us from sin, is
fit to offer his Blood for our redemption. And only the "holy of holies
not made with hands," the sanctuary of Godís own presence is a fit place
for such an offering. Christís Ascension, then, his being received into
the cloud of his Fatherís glory, is his entrance into the heavenly sanctuary
to offer himself for our salvation.
Until that offering is made, there is no redemption or salvation. Good
Friday and Easter Day are as incomplete as the sacrifice of an earthly
priest who kills the sacrificial victim but never offers it to God. Death
is never a complete sacrifice, whether of bulls and goats or of the Blood
of the Son of God, until the sacrifice is brought into Godís presence and
offered to him. Thus, St. Paul can write: "But Christ being come an high
priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle,
not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the
blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into
the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us" (Hebrews 9:11-12).
After our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has made this one offering of
himself that is sufficient for the remission of sins forever, he is seated
at the right hand of his Father. His being seated tells us, first, that
he is enthroned in his Fatherís glory. Just as important, the enthronement
of Christ tells us that the work of salvation is done. He rests with his
Father, in the communion of the Holy Ghost, just as the Blessed Trinity
rested on the seventh day when the work of creation was finished.
This one sacrifice of Jesus Christ, once offered, so that there is no
other offering for sin ever again, opens the way for us to the Throne of
his Father. For this reason, St. Paul can write again of how our lives
have been changed:
Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by
the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated
for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high
priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full
assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience,
and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession
of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And
let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works.
Those of us who have been "washed with pure water" or baptized into
the death of Jesus Christ, have been given the promise of our own entry
into the presence of God in our resurrected bodies by the power of Christís
one sacrifice once offered. Our chief business, therefore, whatever the
other details of our vocations may be, is to live out in the state of life
it has pleased God to call us the profession of our faith in Jesus Christ
crucified and resurrected. We are not to waver or to hold back in witnessing
to this faith, and our chief witness is more than just pious talk about
God and his Christ. Our chief witness is Christ-like lives, in which we
encourage one another to love and good works.
Imagine a world in which the chief competition was in the expression
of love for God and of charity for others and you have visualized what
a converted, Christian world ought to be as we await the Second Coming
of Jesus Christ. This is the kind of world St. Peter is encouraging us
to be, and the kind of people he is trying to teach us to be, in this morningís
Epistle. He tells us "the end of all thing is at hand." That "end" in Greek
is both the "end of the world as we know it" and the "fulfilling of the
worldís created purpose" to glorify God in heaven. That end is "at hand,"
because the Greek behind it also tells us that "the end is approaching,
whether we pay attention to it or not."
St. Peter, as an Apostle of Jesus Christ should, also commands us "Be
ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer." His original Greek words mean
more than "sober from alcohol or drugs." They mean "in our right minds,"
and we are never in our right minds if we do not think of God, of the sacrifice
of Jesus Christ, and of Christís Second Coming first in whatever we do.
We are, likewise, to keep watch through prayer for that Second Coming,
keeping in constant touch with the Father, through the Son, and by the
However others may organize their understanding of history, we Christians
in our right minds must understand that there are very few events that
truly "change the world." There was the Creation, by which God called the
world, including man, into being from nothingness. There was the fall of
man, by which we rebelled against God. There was the crucifixion of Jesus
Christ, followed by his resurrection and ascension, making the one sacrifice
that redeems mankind from sin. And there will be the Second Coming of Christ
and the resurrection of the dead.
Our daily struggles, great and small, are important to God who loves
us, even if we do not get into the history books. At the same time, and
precisely because we love God, our greatest landmarks in history cannot
be ourselves or our fellow men, no matter how much we respect their great
deeds. Only the sacrifice of Jesus Christ saves us, and the next world-changing
event will be Jesus Christís return. We are in the "last days," and we
have been since Jesus Christ was received into the cloud of his Fatherís
glory. And so we keep the Ascension Day as one of the holiest days in the
year, and so we watch unto prayer in expectation of our Lordís Second Coming
Please note: These sermons are offered for your meditation.
If you wish to use them for some other purpose or republish them, please
credit St. Andrewís Church and Dr. Tarsitano.