In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven after giving his chosen apostles further instructions through the Holy Spirit. During the forty days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God.
Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
So, when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”
He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!” (New Living Translation)
Jesus was taken up to heaven in what Christians celebrate as the “Ascension of the Lord.” This is a hugely important event for followers of Jesus.
The Ascension means that Christ is now presently sitting at God’s right hand, offering continual prayers on our behalf to the Father. We have an advocate, a champion, who has gone before us and secured deliverance from sin, death, and hell.
On top of it all, Christ’s ascension means that Jesus is the universal ruler; he commands a kingdom that will never end. Yes, the Ascension of the Lord is a big deal.
So, why does a day set aside on the Christian Calendar celebrating the Lord’s mighty and redemptive ascension over all creation garner such scant attention from many churches?
Maybe the church has A.D.D. (Ascension Deficit Disorder).
Our clue to the inability to focus on such a grand redemptive event is the disciples’ response when Jesus ascended.
The picture St. Luke paints for us in the account of our Lord’s ascension, is a group of guys looking up into the sky slack-jawed and shoulders hunched.
It took a couple of angels to come along and ask them what in the world they were doing just standing there. Now is not the time to stand and gawk at the clouds, the angels insisted. Jesus will come back when he comes back. You aren’t going to know when. So, now is the time to get busy with what Jesus just told you to do two minutes ago: Tell everyone about me.
Christ’s ascension to heaven is a deeply theological event. It’s freighted with major implications for our prayer lives. And it means Christ is the King to whom we must obey.
Jesus is coming again. In the meantime, there’s to be no cloud-gawking. Instead, there is to be a well-developed and well-cultivated connection with Jesus which proclaims the good news that Christ died, rose from death, and ascended to heaven for mine and your forgiveness of sins and a new clean slate on life.
Trying to peer into the future about how the end of history will shake-out is, frankly, not the job we are called to do. Believers in Jesus aren’t supposed to stand and gawk at the clouds waiting for the Lord’s return, as if we are in some earthly holding tank until heaven.
Rather, we are to bear witness about the person and work of Jesus. The Ascension of the Lord means we are God’s people blessed with deliverance from the realm of sin, and the hope of Christ’s coming again. The Church everywhere recognizes together the rule and reign of the Lord Jesus.
The world, as we know it, shall eventually come to an end. Until that time, Christians since the time of the ascension have been proclaiming Christ crucified, died, risen, ascended, and coming again.
This is a day of joy and celebration for us. Jesus is our ascended and glorified king! The fate of the earth is with the benevolent and mighty Ruler of all. Jesus is Lord, and no other human leader is. Thank you, Jesus.
The great Reformed Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, question and answer 49, states:
Q: How does Christ’s ascension to heaven benefit us?
A: First, he is our advocate
in the presence of his Father.
Second, we have our own flesh in heaven
as a sure pledge that Christ our head
will also take us, his members,
up to himself.
Third, he sends his Spirit to us on earth
as a corresponding pledge.
By the Spirit’s power
we seek not earthly things
but the things above, where Christ is,
sitting at God’s right hand.