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The Ascended Lord Gives Gifts

Ephesians 4:7–16

The final moments had come. Jesus was standing on a mountain. Then suddenly he was rising up, into the clouds, like some hot air balloon. But this too, like everything else that happened to Jesus, shouldn’t have been a surprise. The Old Testament predicted the moment. “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.” It was part of the plan. If he ascended from earth to heaven it meant he had descended from heaven to earth. Before he ascended he lived here on earth. Lived perfectly,
taught, and completed his dying and resurrection.

But we who are still earthbound, who haven’t yet ascended into heaven, we need something from God to remain hopeful we’ll get to heaven. Without it, we would sink into hopelessness. Probably end up doing nothing or simply doing the things that gave us pleasure, serving others only to get from others. But the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians points out…

The Ascended Lord gives gifts
One Savior gives to each believer
All in the church help you grow

Many look at moms as the ones who hold the whole house together. And who could disagree? In many a house it’s the mom planning the pickup and drop off schedule, arranging the meals, making sure the homework is done, and a million other things. She’s on top of everything. In the church, the one Savior is in that position. “He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe. It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers.” The same Jesus who ascended and fills everything everywhere is the one who gives gifts to his church on earth.

One Savior gives gifts to his one church. It’s a group that’s hard to tell apart from the rest of the world sometimes. But Jesus knows who are his. And to each and every believer Christ Jesus gives a gift. “To each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” No one is left out of receiving from Christ. The gift is the grace. This grace is not saving grace that comes to every believer. That’s hearing of the love God has for you in Jesus. The incredible love that sent Jesus to live and die and rise again. That grace brings forgiveness and promises of God’s love. It’s on top of that grace believers receive gifts of grace. Different gifts to different believers all over the world. And yet, there remains unity because all believers receive gifts from the one Savior, the Ascended Lord who is over all for the benefit of his church.

Growing up I wanted to play basketball. I’d shoot and dribble in the driveway. But no matter how much I did, I wasn’t going to play varsity in high school. As much as I wanted those gifts, I didn’t get them. Many believe the same thing about gifts from God. People make the claim they don’t have any gift. Others got the gifts they wanted. We might even be jealous of the person who plays an instrument beautifully, or the person with touch in the kitchen. Others are gifted with leadership but sit on the sideline. Or can talk easily to strangers but don’t. They don’t use their gifts. Keeping quiet means not having to work. Still, others can’t wait to be asked because they want to show off. “This is my gift. Take a look at what I can do.” They’re more than happy to let others know how important they are. The church would probably fall apart without them.

Claiming to have no gift, not using a gift, or using a gift for vanity, these are sins. Sins that forget the source of gifts. “To each one … as Christ apportioned it.” The one Savior over all, who descended and ascended. Incarnate at Christmas taking on human flesh so he might live as you do. Jesus understood the challenge of finding a gift and putting it to use. Felt temptation to hide his gift or put it on display. Jesus instead lived as who he was, God and man. Lived perfect. In that perfection, Jesus was able to do something you could not. Your sins had you boxed in, captive with no way out. Your sins cast you into a prison where death was the only punishment. But Jesus stepped in, made your sin his sin. Gave his life in place of yours. Released you from the chains of imprisonment. Sin and death have nothing on you. Martin Luther said it this way, “He has ascended on high and sits above in heaven, in order to imprison the prisons and chain up the stocks … he has cast captivity into captivity … namely sin to sin, death to death, hell to hell.”

Treasure Christ’s gifts to you, because a gift certainly was given. Christ gave to you as he knew best. You’re made part of his church by his love. Inside his church everyone has a gift, including you. You’re filled by the one who fills all things. Work to identify your gift, and it may be the same as someone else. The church needs more than one person who can talk with others or cook a meal. As you identify your gift don’t feel abandoned. Jesus may be physically ascended into heaven, but his victory still stands. His ascension makes it more sure. Jesus can now be close, giving you the ability to search for your gift and treasure it. Christ also gave to his church others who would be close. People who could help you grow and help you use your gift.

Moms know their roles. Clearly the little ones can’t fend for themselves. Mom is needed for food, protection, and guidance. Jesus knew his role and completed it, Savior of the world. But the plan never called for Jesus to remain physically going from place to place spreading that message. Spreading the message of forgiveness of sins and growing the church was work given to others. Public ministers were needed, apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers. No matter the titles they all have one purpose. “To prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” Note the primary goal isn’t preaching or teaching Bible study. It isn’t hospital calls or shut-in visits. It’s not knocking on doors or standing on street corners. Public ministers minister by equipping the saints, training you. Equipping is meant to qualify the saints for works of service. These works done by the saints build up the entire church. Its believers building up the body of Christ, other believers.

When laypeople aren’t being equipped, they won’t be properly motivated for works of service. Saints not recognizing gifts and not using them keep others from being served. It weakens the whole church when someone who is gifted as an encourager isn’t encouraging. It harms us when someone with the gift of parenting refuses to parent. The body of Christ is harmed when a believer acts like an infant. Like a baby who has no ability to stop whoever from doing whatever with them, spiritual infants respond to any spiritual teaching, true or false. When another one comes along, they believe that too. They’re being “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching.” Lay people who don’t know God’s Word because of lack of contact with it, missing out on being equipped, they won’t be able to speak truth to each other. No spiritual growth happens.

The Ascended Lord gives gifts. His love removes sins and all our excuses. Not one of you, not me, no one deserves God’s grace in
Christ. But the head, Christ, saved you by sacrifice. Gave you his truth so you would know him. Believe in him, understand his gospel. Christ gave pastors who are teachers, to equip you. You serve, use your gifts, speak in love. All so you serve each other, growing in faith and love. It will all keep going as Christ intends. “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.” Your work of serving so there’s growth won’t stop till the Last Day. And growth doesn’t come because of my work, but yours. You working and serving each other.

When one of you is down many jump to service. The listener simply listens. Some help keep the house. Others say encouraging things through Facebook or text messages. Another drives them to appointments. In worship, beautiful gospel music singers and musicians play music that stays with people for years. Money is offered by those blessed with generosity to make building improvements to increase the sharing of the truth of Christ. Some improvements are made by those gifted in that way. Those gifted with the ability to speak easily to strangers come to Bible study and are built up by the words spoken by others at their table. Then they make friends at church or school. Parents with the gift of organization keep the family tuned into chores and devotions from God’s Word. Fathers skilled in labor work hard at their jobs. Mothers work, at home or at a job, using the gifts Christ gave. When invitations are extended, suddenly more Christians get chances to use their gifts. Well-kept grounds shine because of those with that gift. The gift of patience lets those who care show new people how to follow along. Pastors connect people together. Train those who want encouragement. And the work of ministry moves forward. Unity is shared. Faith grows in all because of the service of all.

It happens because the Ascended Lord gives gifts. Christ as the head of the church fills everything. He fills the church and the world with Christians who have gifts. Ascended in glory Jesus promises to return. He will come back to earth. In his glory, with his power, he will come to bring us home to heaven. While we wait, Jesus wants all believers to be active. Working actively to use the gracious gifts given by the one Savior to help all the church grow in faith and love.