A sermon based on Ephesians 4:7-16
Sunday, May 17, 2015 – Ascension Sunday
Okay, Pastor Guenther's not here, so I can say this… "What a schmuck that guy is, right?" … [Dramatic pause. But seriously, pay attention to who nods their head in agreement.] J (Okay, for the record, I don't really think that Pastor Guenther's a schmuck. I'm just reading what he wrote. Really. You can check his manuscript after the service if you don't believe me.) But seriously, do you ever wonder why God entrusts his church, to weak, sinful, arrogant, broken, losers like Pastor Guenther?! (I'm still just reading the script. I promise.) But why not send his angels to serve as pastors? They'd surely do a better job! Or really, better still, why not just pastor us all himself?
Do you ever wonder what it would be like if Christ had not ascended into heaven, if he were still here on the earth, teaching and preaching just like he did so many decades ago? This morning we consider one more "what if…" this Easter season. We ask, "What if Christ had not ascended?" and we see that, in a way, we really are better served by human pastors and teachers—God's gifts to his church—than if Christ were still walking this earth. Our text for consideration is taken from Paul's letter to the Ephesians, chapter 4, verses 7-16. There, God, through Paul wrote:
7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says: "When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men."
9 (What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
I. We'd Have No Pastors and Teachers
Ever wonder why Jesus had to ascend? Well, here are a number of reasons: 1) He wanted to demonstrate that his mission was complete. He could leave the battlefield because he won. We don't need to doubt if there's something left for him to do. 2) He wanted to drive home the point that his Kingdom is not of this world. If he were still here, don't you think many would still go to him just for a miracle, to raise a dead relative back to life, or to force him to be president or king? And 3) Jesus had to leave this earth in order to get the message of his mission out.
Think about it: If Christ were still here on earth in one physical location, would anyone seriously want to listen to Pastor Guenther? And if everyone wanted to flock around Jesus, let's say in Israel somewhere, how easy do you think it would be for you to get to worship each week? And even if you could go see him, how close do you think you'd get? And would you really be content to just sit and listen? Or would you seek a miracle from him too?
I think (that is, Pastor Guenther thinks) that if Christ had not ascended, if Jesus were still around, the kingdom would be a whole lot smaller because no one would want to listen to his ambassadors, schmucks like Pastor Guenther, when they could go listen to him. And if no one listened to his ambassadors, how many missionaries and pastors would remain silent?
But Jesus did ascend! His mission is complete! He is victorious! And he didn't leave us empty handed, but left us his spoils of war: "When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men." Of course, of those gifts, we certainly enjoy forgiveness of sins, peace with God, and heaven itself. But those aren't the gifts Paul mentions here…
Here he mentions: "It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers…"
Do you view Pastor Guenther as a gift of God? Do you consider the other pastors that have influenced you and helped you grow in your faith as gifts of God: Those who have translated the Bible so you can read it in English, those who have written Meditations and People's Bibles that explain the Word to us, those who preach and teach the Word and share it with us from the pulpit or the classroom or the website… what are they other than gifts of God?
"But, Mr. Holper," you might object, "some of those pastors (and I won't name names) really are schmucks. You're not kidding! How can they be gifts of God?" Well, ultimately, it has nothing to do with the pastor's personality. It doesn't matter if he's smart or not, if he's got a face fit for radio or if he's good looking like Pastor Guenther … (okay, now you know I'm just reading the manuscript). It doesn't matter if you like him or not, Pastor is a gift to God's church because of the message he brings—the message of the "grace [that] has been given [to each one of us] as Christ apportioned it."
Yes, pastors, teachers, evangelists are gifts of our Ascended Lord. For "It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers…"
So, do you always treat them as gifts from God? Who gets a gift from someone and then leaves it in the corner unopened? And if you do, what an insult to the gift giver! If we all viewed those who share the Word with us as gifts given to us directly from God himself, wouldn't we do all we could to listen to their message, to study the Word as they teach it, to make their work a joy by being here as often as we can?
But be honest: which upsets you more, when you miss an episode of your favorite TV show or of your favorite sports team, or if you miss a Bible class or an opportunity to worship? The sad reality is that we too often take God's gifts of pastors and teachers for granted. But where would we be without them?
You know the answer. If the Bible were still hidden to us in the Greek and Hebrew, and had never been translated into English, would you know of Jesus grace? If no one had baptized us, if no one taught us the Word, if no one helped strengthen our faith, what extra challenges we would face in our daily struggles in the faith.
We ought to all repent of the way we've taken our pastors and teachers for granted. Then we ought to thank God for the forgiveness that we have in Christ, for the absolution that our pastors proclaim, and for the gifts that God has given to the church in the pastors and teachers that he's given.
And thank God that you have his forgiveness. His ascension is the proof. "When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train…" Christ is victorious! He defeated satan! He removed your sin! He conquered death! So you win! You are forgiven! Be at peace with God and thank him for his gifts of pastors and teachers that proclaim that message to you.
And why do they proclaim it? What is the goal of every faithful pastor or teacher? It's the same goal of Jesus: To help you to you grow up. Now I don't mean to call you a bunch of babies. (Nor does Pastor Guenther.) But that's what God says his goal is for you:
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.
What if Christ had not ascended? What if he were still here taking care of your every need? Would you grow up? What if your mom still took care of you, paid the bills, cooked your meals, did your laundry? Would you mature? Or would you stay dependent on her, and live in your parents basement at 40 years old? Thank God that mom said, "It's time to leave and cut the apron strings! It's time to leave the nest!" That separation has helped you to mature.
If Jesus were still here, taking care of your every physical need, wouldn't you get lazy? Would that really be for your good? Or do you think that you might grow spiritually dull if you never faced any problems or struggles that drove you to your knees in prayer.
But God wants you to grow up! "Don't be babies!" he says. "Grow up and get to work! Grow up in the Word! Then apply that Word to your lives so you're a productive member of the body! Grow up to help each other mature as each of you are called to be mini-pastors and teachers, sharing what you know of the Word with each other.
But, "Bible class is too easy," some may object, "and I already know all that." So what? Show up to build one another up even if "you're already [sarcastically] "so mature that you don't need to grow anymore." If you're so mature, stop thinking about just yourself. Stop viewing church as just a place where you can get what you need spiritually, and start viewing it as a place where you can give encouragement to others and help build them up.
And that happens in two ways: First, you grow in the Word as you sit at the feet of Pastor Guenther and other pastors who teach and preach and write about God's Word. Grow in your faith so you're better equipped to help others grow.
And you're better able to do that as you grow in your relationship with your fellow believers. Fire off an email. Pick up a phone. Shoot a text to someone else who you know could use some encouragement. Help one another in this spiritual battle we're all in. Why? Because so much is at stake.
This week Paul echoes what we heard Peter say last week: There are lying preachers ready to lead you away from God. They have a wind of teaching and use cunning and craftiness in their deceitful scheming. And we don't want to eat their spiritual poison. So we need to speak the truth in love to one another that we all might grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.
What if Christ had never ascended? I think we'd have no use for Pastor Guenther. We'd have no use for any pastor or teacher—God's gifts to the Church. We'd have no use for each other. We'd have no maturity or growth in our faith. We would refuse to listen to anyone but Jesus. And no one would listen to us. So, as strange as it may seem, the Church is better off without Jesus physically leading it. He knew that. So he ascended into heaven and left us pastors, teachers, and each other to speak the truth in love until we all grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. In his name, dear friends, amen.