The Missing God
Text: Luke 24:44-53
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There are few things as intriguing as a mystery about someone who goes missing without a trace. From the inexplicable disappearance of the Australian prime minister Harold Holt to the case of Anastasia of the royal Russian Romanov family, there are few things that can captivate the minds of the masses as searching for someone who has disappeared.
Such is the case even with God. Many, even Christians at times, are looking for a missing God in this world where it seems like evil grows daily. “Where is your God?” the skeptics mock, “How can He allow all of this to happen?” And even we, when we’re pressed by particularly difficult situations, struggle to find God in our crosses and trials. Where is He when the money is low? Where is He when it seems like all of society is abandoning His Church on Sunday mornings? Where is He in the doctor’s office, at the graveside, in the sleepless hours of the night when we run through all that’s going wrong?
This was the question Jesus’ disciples had. Their Lord had told them that He was going away, that they wouldn’t see Him anymore. And when the hour came for Him to be taken from their sight, they asked Him, in their roundabout way, if He would stay: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? Will you bring us back to our former glory, the power and influence we had in the good old days, when we could look around and know that we were on the right side, when things were going well for us? Will you restore that to us now?” They didn’t want to have Him disappear from their sight. Rather, they wanted Him to stay right there in their vision. They wanted to be able to see with their physical eyes that everything would be alright now.
We do that too. Doesn’t it seem like if Jesus had just stayed around, that more people would believe in Him? If they could just go to where He was, hear Him speak directly to them, then we have full pews and a godly society. Of course, such thinking completely ignores the fact that thousands of people saw Jesus while He walked this earth and still didn’t believe. But don’t we still think that if we could catch a glimmer of the glory—a little more money, a little more security, a little more certainty about the future, a glimpse of the kingdom—that then we would be OK? “Lord, will you finally restore the kingdom to us?” we ask, “Will you finally let us see the glory we want to have?”
But Jesus answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” It was not for the eleven disciples to know back then, nor it is ours to know now. The seasons of joy and sorrow, gathering and scattering, laughing and grieving—these are not ours to know ahead of time. It’s not for us to know when there will be glory and influence and power and everything the fallen world, and our old self-centered nature, loves so much.
But why? Why is it not ours to know what the future holds? Why is it not for us to worry or know about seasons of what seems like power or weakness? We don’t need to know these seasons ahead of time because our Lord has promised that He will be with us through them all. In good seasons and in bad, in times of visible power and success, and in times of living under the cross and challenge—our God remains with us. Jesus promised as much: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” You have been given the Holy Spirit to remain with you forever. He will encourage and strengthen you. He will give you faith that outlasts any and every time and season; faith that doesn’t trust in your own power or ability, or in the quickly passing visible glory of the world, but faith that sees God’s hand in everything, sees His blessing, His comfort, His forgiveness, His eternal life, right before us every day.
The last words Jesus speaks to His disciples before His ascension, before He disappears from their sight, is a promise. He will send the Holy Spirit. He will be with us always, even to the end of the age. He will open the Scriptures to us by showing us that it’s always been about what He does for the eternal good of His people. So when His disciples are looking up into the heavens after His ascension, two angels appear and ask, “Why are you standing, looking into heaven? He’ll come back. He’s told you that. You can be sure of it.” And knowing that Jesus is as good as His word, that He’ll keep every promise, including to return, the disciples could go back to their lives, the places He was sending them. They could go to their homes, their families, to Judea and Galilee and Samaria. They could go anywhere in the world. They didn’t need to find Him because He would continually be with them.
Notice a little detail that Luke includes for us today. He writes at the end of his gospel, “While [Jesus] blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.” And now this key point, so easily overlooked: “And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.” Where did Jesus’ disciples go when they couldn’t see Him with their eyes anymore? They went to church. They were continually in the temple, where the sacrifices for forgiveness were constantly offered, pointing to Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice. They were at the portico of the temple, where the Scriptures were discussed every day, poring over details and learning all that had been foretold, all that Jesus fulfilled. They were in the courtyard, praying for themselves and their loved ones. They were explaining all that Jesus had done, how everything written about Him in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms was completed with His cross and resurrection.
So we reach the end of our missing person mystery. The twist is that Jesus never went missing at all. He definitely is no longer visible to our eyes, but He’s fully present to our ears. He’s in His temple, in this sanctuary. He’s present for forgiveness in the Supper of His sacrifice. He’s present, explaining everything in His Word. He’s present with the Holy Spirit in the waters of Baptism, giving us the power to become children of God. He’s present with us here so that He can go out with us to the places we live and work and talk, to Judea and Samaria, Elmhurst, Chicago, and all the world. No matter what season or time we’re in—a time of planting or harvest, peace or struggle, joy or worry or sadness or celebrating—He’s here. He’s present, really and truly. So come, receive His bodily presence. Hear Him speak His Word of grace and blessing. He is with you, now and always. In the name of Jesus, our ascended Lord. Amen.