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LSB Ascension of Our Lord Sermon – Psalm 47

May 25, 2015

May 14, 2015 at First St. John’s Lutheran Church – York, PA

“God has gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet. Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises!” 

Once again, the Church celebrates the Ascension of Our Lord on this Thursday that comes 40 days after Jesus’ resurrection. It is the topic of the Venerable Bede’s joyous Latin song that has become part of our English choral treasury: “A hymn of glory let us sing! / New hymns through the world shall ring: / Christ, by a road before untrod, / Ascends unto the throne of God.” This joyous exhortation to singing parallels the psalm prayed by the Church on this day—Psalm 47.

Psalm 47 begins with a great invitation to rejoice: “Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy! For the LORD, the Most High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth.” This invitation calls for us to applaud and cheer. You know those types of actions and when they take place. Applause and cheering happen when there is something to celebrate and recognize as great: the well-performed symphony or musical, the well-executed play that scores a goal or touchdown, the well-loved holiday that commemorates a festive occasion. You participate in such actions in the auditorium, the stadium, and the forum.

So what does the psalmist indicate as the reason for applause and cheering? It isn’t an entertainment event, a sporting match, or a civic festival. No, the psalmist speaks of something greater: “He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet. He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom He loves. God has gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet. Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises! For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm!” The psalmist puts before his audience the acts that the LORD has done. This is the reason why the LORD should be applauded and cheered, why they should sing praises to Him. The LORD has conquered the peoples. He has selected an inheritance for His people. He has gone up. He is the ruler of the entire earth.

The psalmist focuses the minds of his audience on the victory that the LORD has accomplished for them. These victorious acts that the LORD has done form the reason for the joy that we should express on this day. So when and where have these victorious acts been done? The answer to that question explains why Psalm 47 has been chosen by the Church for use on Ascension Day.

Recall the Gospel Reading for Ascension Day from Luke 24: “Then [Jesus] said to [His disciples], ‘These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’” Jesus notes that the Scriptures of the Old Testament testified about what He would accomplish. And after that reminder, He reveals what was done: “Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.’” Jesus shows to His disciples how the Scriptures foretold His dying and His rising to life again. This is the reason for repentance and forgiveness of sins to be proclaimed throughout the entire world.

All the victories that the LORD accomplished in the Old Testament—the Exodus from Egypt led by Moses and Aaron, the conquest of Canaan by Joshua, Gideon’s routing of the Midianites, the defeat of Goliath by David—were reasons for applauding and cheering Him. But all the LORD’s victories also foreshadowed what the He would accomplish through Jesus. For when that was done, the benefits accomplished by the LORD’s “working of His great might” aren’t just for a certain group of people and a particular time. No, it is for the salvation of the entire world.

That is why Jesus speaks to His apostles as He ascends on high in great triumph and exaltation: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” They will take out to the world the message of what His death and resurrection had accomplished: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” So when you hear about these actions performed by Jesus, you know the reason for applauding and cheering Him. For these actions done by Jesus form “the hope to which [God] has called you” and “the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints” and “the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe”—as Paul calls them in his letter to the Ephesians. They become the reason why “the LORD, the Most High, is to be feared,” as the psalmist exhorts you to do.

Why are these actions performed by Jesus the reason why the LORD should be applauded and cheered? Because through them the LORD has shown “the working of His great might that He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” What Jesus did by suffering and dying and rising from the dead—the acts that He fulfilled what had been foretold about Him in the Law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms—is to exercise divine power and might for your salvation. It is how the LORD subdued the world and made it His own again. It is how the LORD selected a good inheritance for you, so that you may have everlasting life instead of the curse of death. It is how the LORD reigns over all things, even over the princes of this world who try to usurp His authority. It is how the LORD is highly exalted.

These great acts performed by Jesus have established the hope that you are called to. His death and resurrection have brought you justification and redemption. You are now right with God as repentance and forgiveness of sins have been proclaimed in Jesus’ name to you. Jesus’ ascension into heaven has also instituted a great inheritance for you. You have the promise of everlasting life and a place in the new heaven and earth that will be established when the Father calls an end to this age and brings in the world to come. You will be with the risen and ascended Jesus when He “who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.” 

That is why the exhortation of Psalm 47 calls you to applaud and cheer Jesus on this day that commemorates His ascension. Jesus’ performance of fulfilling the Law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms has been well done. His ascension has shown this to be the case: “[God] put all things under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” Jesus reigns over all nations and sits on His holy throne; that becomes your reason for rejoicing.

So just as the apostles worshiped Jesus at His ascension, you do now. You sing the hymn of glory as the Venerable Bede invited the people of the British Isles to do. Anticipating the inheritance that is yours in Jesus, you sing: “Be now our joy on earth, O Lord, / And be our future great reward. / Then throned with You forever, we / Shall praise Your name eternally.” You follow the psalmist’s instructions: “God has gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet. Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises!” 

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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