Psalm 97


             In the wake of Ascension Day we are to be overwhelmed with the tremendous majesty of King Jesus.  Today’s psalm portrays the Lord as a very big God whose presence alone impacts the world in cataclysmic glory. God is large and in charge.  Nothing moves God; but God moves mountains.  This is no wimpy deity who needs his creatures to sustain him and his memory.  But all God’s creation is dependent upon him for life, sustenance, and flourishing.
             It is such a view of God that deeply impacts humanity.  When people catch just a glimpse of God’s glory it causes pagans to be ashamed of their useless idol worship, and brings forth humble celebration from the penitent.  The sheer dearth of these dual responses to God in today’s Western world ought to clue us to the reality that we are not seeing God for who he really is:  the great and glorious king who is so immense and so concerned for justice that just a snort of his nostrils could lay complete waste to the earth.
The conclusion to the matter is to “Love the LORD and hate evil!….  You are the LORD’s people!  So celebrate and praise the only God.”  Today is a day to make a simple choice to celebrate and praise God in some simple ways:  
Ø  Acknowledge Him in both the big and in the small things of life;
Ø  Include God’s message of grace in your everyday conversations – we don’t have to be preachy, just real;
Ø  Praise Him in public as well as in private;
Ø  Pray simple heartfelt prayers to Him whether it is eloquent or not because He just wants to hear the voice He has given us;
Ø  Be generous toward others through forgiveness and actual physical help;
Ø  Study His word because it honors Him to do so;
Ø  Express gratitude with a predetermined mindset to find things that God has put in your life to be thankful for;
Ø  Count your blessings today and again tomorrow so that it eventually becomes a spiritual habit; and,
Ø  Sing with the joyful noise God gives you.
Mighty God, you are worthy of all the praise, honor, and glory I can give you.  May my life be a simple offering to you, so that your kingdom comes not only in my own life but impacts the lives of others; through Jesus, my King.  Amen.

Ascension of the Lord

 
 
            Jesus was taken up to heaven.  Christians label this significant event as the “Ascension of the Lord.”  It is hugely important for followers of Jesus because it 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.  This is no small thing.  On top of it all, Christ’s ascension means that Jesus is the universal ruler; he commands a kingdom which will never end.  This is no small deal.
 
            So, why does a day set aside on the Christian Calendar celebrating the Lord’s mighty and redemptive ascension over all creation, done for us, garner such little attention from the church?  Perhaps the clue is the disciples’ response when Jesus ascended.  “’The Holy Spirit will come upon you and give you power.  Then you will tell everyone about me in Jerusalem, in all Judea, in Samaria, and everywhere in the world.’  After Jesus had said this and while they were watching, he was taken up into a cloud.  They could not see him, but as he went up, they looking up into the sky.  Suddenly two men dressed in white clothes were standing there beside them.  They said, ‘Why are you men from Galilee standing here and looking up into the sky?  Jesus has been taken to heaven.  But he will come back in the same way that you have seen him go’” (Acts 1:8-11).
 
            The picture that 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, in essence, ask them what in the world they were doing just standing there.  Now is not the time to stand and gawk at the clouds.  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 two minutes ago to do:  Tell everyone about me.
 
            The Ascension of the Lord is a deeply theological event; it is freighted with major implications for our prayer lives; and, it means that Christ is the King to whom we must obey.  And he is coming again.  In the meantime, there is to be no cloud-gawking.  There is to be world evangelization.  There is to be talking to not just a person or two here or there, a once-in-a-while when the feeling of guilt strikes me and I puke out the gospel of Jesus on some poor unsuspecting pagan because this is what I should be doing.  No, rather it is to be such a well-developed and well-cultivated connection with Jesus that what (super)naturally comes out of our mouths is the gracious 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.
 
            The church is not to be found standing in the parking lot gawking at the clouds at the Lord’s return.  They are not to be looking up into the sky having those destructive parking lot discussions after a church meeting.  The church is not to be in some earthly holding tank with stained glass windows just waiting for Jesus to come back and beat up everyone we don’t like and take us to heaven.  Rather, we are to be telling everyone about Jesus.
 
            We are Christ’s church.  The Ascension of the Lord means we are God’s people blessed with salvation from sin, confident in the hope of ultimate deliverance, and seeking to realize all of creation coming under the rule and reign of the Lord Jesus.  The Heidelberg Catechism, question and answer 49, says:
 
How does Christ’s ascension to heaven benefit us?
 
First, he is our advocate
            in heaven
            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.

 

Amen. 

Acts 1:1-11

            This is Ascension Day.  It is the fortieth day after Easter, and marks the time when Jesus was taken up to heaven right in front of his disciples’ eyes.  It is rather unfortunate that Christ’s ascension often gets overlooked.  When getting into the book of Acts, this redemptive event of Jesus may get quickly passed over to get to the supposedly juicier parts of thousands being converted and apostolic miracles taking place.
 
            But this Christ event is loaded with significance on its own merits.  Since Christ has ascended and is sitting at the right hand of the Father, he intercedes for us and prays on our behalf for us.  The ascension reminds us of the hope that we, too, will experience bodily resurrection.  Christ’s ascension means that he is the sovereign ruler who reigns in heaven.  Unpacking each of these grand theological truths is a treasure trove of help for the contemporary believer.
 
            So, today, let us remember the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Let us keep in mind and not forget that since Jesus is our risen and ascended Lord, we no longer have to fear or be controlled by sin, death, and hell.  Let us retain the memory of Jesus ascending in the clouds so that we will continually anticipate his coming again by telling everyone about him in the power of the Holy Spirit.
 

Lord Jesus, you are the crucified, risen and ascended King of the universe.  I humbly submit to your benevolent and merciful rule and pray that many will have the spiritual eyes to see your truth and reality.  Amen.

Psalm 93

Our Lord, you are King!
Majesty and power
are your royal robes.
You put the world in place,
and it will never be moved.
    You have always ruled,
and you are eternal.
The ocean is roaring, Lord!
The sea is pounding hard.
Its mighty waves are majestic,
but you are more majestic,
and you rule over all.
Your decisions are firm,
and your temple will always
be beautiful and holy. (CEV)
 
            Soon it will be the Ascension of our Lord (Thursday) and the church will celebrate the grand redemptive event of Jesus ascending to heaven from earth after his resurrection.  So, then, today’s psalm is quite apropos to the season.  Jesus is our King.  Since Christ is the rightful ruler of the universe, nothing will move him; he will not be swayed by any earthly power of humanity or of nature.  When God decrees something, it will happen.
 
            Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  His kingdom is eternal.  His grace is limitless.  His decisions cannot be compromised.  Let us praise God with heartfelt thanksgiving because of his character, power, and wisdom.  We can never be reminded too much that God is in control and mightier than anything in heaven or on earth.  Let’s put today’s worries and situations in their proper perspective in light of Christ’s benevolent rule.
 

 

            Mighty God, you rule the nations and everything in all creation.  You are beautiful and holy and I worship you.  Help me to always put my life’s circumstances in your hands so that I might confidently trust in your power to save, heal, and thrive.  Amen.

What Christ’s Ascension Means For Us

 
 
            Jesus Christ ascended to heaven nearly two-thousand years ago, and since that time much in history has changed; yet, on the other hand, we are still in the situation of the early church:  Jesus is still up there, and we are still down here.  Because we still await Christ’s return, the original call and practice of the church is still in effect for us. 
 
            As far as experiences go, it would be hard to top being one of the original disciples and see Jesus ascend into heaven (Acts 1:1-10).  Christ was crucified, dead, and buried.  Then, he rose from the grave.  For forty days Jesus appeared on and off to his disciples.  Then the day came when he ascended.  All of those redemptive events of Jesus and those powerful experiences being with the risen Lord, and actually seeing him go to heaven.  Now what?  How do you top that?
 
            In the spiritual life, we move back and forth between moments of genuine inspiration and the sheer routine of our daily mundane lives.  Both the uplifting mountain-top experiences and the hard work of walking through the valley are important.  The trick is to channel the energy from one into the other.  We need to work out rhythms of grace, daily liturgies that connect expectant prayer with the action of being witnesses in the culture.
 
            Prayer and action – both are necessary to the church.  And both are closely tied to the risen and ascended Christ.  The Ascension of our Lord Jesus is important because it means that Christ is exalted above everything.  His glorification translates into our sharing with him in his glory.  The Ascension means that Jesus is in charge, by his authority he has given us a task to do, and he has given us the means of carrying-out that job.
 
            Jesus and the disciples, even after our Lord’s forty days with them after the resurrection, were not on the same page together.  The disciples were anticipating a restoration of David’s kingdom; in other words, their vision of what was going to take place is that there would be a great apocalypse in which Jesus would beat up all their enemies and set up a political kingdom just like King David of old. 
 
            But Jesus has a different agenda.  Instead of creating a Jewish-Christian utopia where the disciples would be in charge and in control of the world, Jesus bluntly told them that knowing God’s timetable is not in their pay grade.  The disciples were commanded and commissioned to do a job, and that job was not to gawk at the sky and figure-out all the blood moons so that we can anticipate when the end of the world will happen.
            Yet, we keep trying to predict the time.  Like the original disciples, who wanted to know the times and dates the Father has set by his own authority, we are tired of all the effects of sin in the world and all the people, institutions, and governments that are opposed to Christian ways of thinking and acting.  We are anxious for Jesus to return and make everything that is wrong, right again.  We deservedly want peace and justice. 
            But Jesus didn’t go there, and he essentially said to quit thinking about stuff that is none of our business.  Instead, our business is being witnesses of Jesus.  The angels came along right after Jesus ascended and nicely said to the disciples to stop standing there with their mouths open and understand that Jesus is coming back and there is a job to do – and that job is to be witnesses of Christ’s redemptive events.  The power for being witnesses will come from the Holy Spirit; therefore, prayer is a necessary and essential practice (Acts 1:14).
 
            Jesus is Lord over all creation.  He is Lord of the church.  He is Lord of our families.  He is Lord at our workplaces.  There is not one square inch of all this earth that Jesus is not Lord.  What this means for us, since Christ is Lord of all, since we possess the Holy Spirit, we can and should live our lives devoted to prayer and to being witnesses in this world for Jesus.  The kind of prayer that Jesus is looking for from his followers is prayer that expects God’s promises to be fulfilled; prayer that is united in spirit and in purpose; and, prayer that is persistent.  That kind of prayer characterized the early believers, and that same kind of prayer is required from Jesus our Lord.  Just as a cup of coffee needs a continual warm-up, so our prayers need to be frequent and constantly refreshed so that God’s purposes will be accomplished.  And his purposes are that all of creation comes, in a real and practical way, under Christ’s lordship.
 
            Prayer is not all we do.  Jesus has also told us to be witnesses.  Jesus is Lord, and so all persons must submit to his lordship through obedient action.  This task is far from finished.  According to The Center for the Study of Global Christianity, we know of 11,646 distinct people groups on this planet.  6,734 of those groups are less than 2% Christian and most of them have no churches, no Bibles, no Christian literature, and no mission agencies seeking to reach them.  That, by the way, is in the neighborhood of about 3 ½ billion people.  The Center also cites that 1 out of 5 non-Christians in North America do not personally know a single follower of Jesus.  What can we do?  We can pray.  We can witness.  We can pray for spiritual power.  We can witness by loving our neighbor as ourselves and telling a simple story of Jesus.
 
            Let me give you an example.  My wife used to work at a company in which she befriended a Hindu woman from India.  She was from the highest caste in India, and looked the part – she literally looked like an Indian Barbie doll.  Whenever I saw her I thought I should bow in her presence because she carried herself like a princess.  She had never experienced an American Thanksgiving.  So, Mary simply invited her to a Thanksgiving dinner out our house with our family.  As we typically do each Thanksgiving, we all took turns going around the table and describing what we were thankful to God for.  When it came time for this lovely Indian woman to speak she said:  “I am thankful to be here and to know you all.  It is evident that your God is very personal and precious to you, and I have never known that people could have such love for a God they do not see.”  That, my friends, is one way of being a witness – having a large enough ‘inner space’ to invite another person very different from myself into my life to see the unseen God.
 

 

            Christ’s Ascension means that Jesus is Lord, and I am not!  Therefore, we as Christians and as churches are to submit to King Jesus and do what he has commanded us to do.  And he has given the church a mission:  be witnesses to the risen and ascended Lord.  May it be so.