Acts 1:1-11 – Ascension of the Lord

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

So, when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted-up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (New Revised Standard Version)

“When you went to bed last night Jesus was at work subduing his enemies. While you slept he was continuing to rule over the world. He was still at it when you woke up this morning and even now as you read this. That is the outrageous claim of the ascension.”

Tim Chester

Jesus was taken up to heaven in what Christians celebrate as the “Ascension of the Lord.”  It is hugely important 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. 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. 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 scant attention from many churches? Maybe the church has A.D.D. (Ascension Deficit Disorder). Perhaps our clue to the inability to focus on such a grand 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.

“At His Ascension our Lord entered Heaven, and He keeps the door open for humanity to enter.”

Oswald Chambers

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.

Developing extensive prophecy charts and 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 miracle of Christ’s ascension to heaven is not in the lifting off from earth to another realm. It is in the reality that though being far away, the Lord is actually near.”

Mit Tdrahrhe

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 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.

“Holy Holy Week, Batman!”

Burt Ward as Robin and Adam West as Batman in the TV show that aired from 1966-1968

“Robin, there is something seriously sinister afoot.  It seems the people of Gotham have lost their sense of the story of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.” 

“Holy Holy Week, Batman!  It must be the work of that arch-villain the Joker who has turned the narrative of Jesus into a by-gone joke… or maybe the Riddler who has made the redemptive events of Jesus into a complicated riddle that no one can solve… or maybe that fiend, Cat Woman, has finally found the purr-fect way to foil attention to the Lord Jesus.”

“I fear, Boy Wonder, that you have stumbled upon who is behind the loss of Holy Week… they are all conspiring together not just to create a spin on the life and death of Jesus, but to form a new narrative that doesn’t even include Christ at all.”

“Those dastardly demons of disaster!  Let’s go get them, Batman!  How could they have done such an ugly underhanded umbrage as that!?”

“Let’s use the Bat computer to analyze the evidence found at the crime scene churches…. Look, Robin, it seems a feculent film of gross gas has rendered the believers prone to the noxious notion that the Christian observance of Holy Week is optional, as if the journey with Jesus to the cross doesn’t need special attention.  They are attempting to rewrite it all so that Christians will pass through this week without even a thought about Jesus… until it’s too late.  Then they will sweep in and make all of Christianity into something that’s merely an accessory to life, like a petty plastic purse.”

“Holy evisceration, Batman!  They’re trying to do away with the Christian life and the story of Jesus altogether and replace it with their fiendish focus on the foul festering faith of fecund followers!”

“That’s right, Robin.  It’s our job to stop them from following through with their platitudinous plot before it’s too late.”

“But how, Batman?  Their vile villainy has already voiced a vacuous votum of veneered viciousness to any observance of the last week of Christ’s life on this earth.”

“Yes, Robin, but you are forgetting the one “v” word which has already spelled doom for our culprits of crime… “victory.”

“Holy resurrection, Batman!  You’re right!  All we need to do is voice the victory of Jesus and those bungling bandits of belief will get another “v” word: “vanquished!”

“Holy Week and all the major Christian seasons of the Church Year are meant to help us remember Jesus and follow Christ in our daily life.  When strayed souls begin berating believers for observing obedience to Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy (or Black) Saturday, and Easter Sunday then you can bet, Boy Wonder, that the gangsters’ gross gas of gullibility has fumigated their faith.”

“So, you’re saying, Batman, that the forgetting of faith festivals can be reversed through setting our sites on the contempt of the cross and the resplendence of the resurrection?”

“The cross is the mid-point of history, Robin, the very center of faithful followers.  From it flows the flowering of all faith.”

“Holy forgiveness, Batman.  I see it now.  The sin issue has been taken care of once-for-all through the death of Jesus Christ.  And his rising again has enabled us ignorant idiots of ignominy to live a new life of love through the words and ways of Christ.”

“And, don’t forget, Boy Wonder, that we get our faith focused through walking into those ways and words by highlighting holidays as eminently important to our crowded calendars.”

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, creator of heaven and earth; and, Jesus Christ his only Son, our Savior; who, with the Holy Spirit lives and reigns forever and ever!”  

“Amen, Boy Wonder.  Amen.”

Job 19:23-27 – His Journey is My Journey

Journey with Jesus by He Qi

I wish that my words
could be written down
    or chiseled into rock.
I know that my Savior lives,
and at the end
    he will stand on this earth.
My flesh may be destroyed,
yet from this body
    I will see God.
Yes, I will see him for myself,
    and I long for that moment. (CEV)

I am going to let you in on the reasons why I observe the Church Calendar each year and follow the Christian seasons. First, it is a way for me to know Jesus better. The Year is thoroughly centered around the person and work of Christ. Much like the seasons of Spring and Fall, I look forward to entering a new season and discovering the beauty of my Lord in a fresh way.

Second, observing the Christian Year reorients my use of time. Rather than think of time in secular terms or as my time, I submit to time that is dictated by a thorough attention to Jesus. And finally, moving through the Year is a journey with Jesus – his journey is my journey. 

All of Christ’s life was an act of redemption for us. His redemptive events of incarnation, holy life, teaching, death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification demonstrate that Christ is my Redeemer. What is more, I enjoy a union with Jesus, an intimate connection which is so close that his journey is my journey. Christ identified with me in his life on this earth. Jesus took on the death which should have been mine. He rose from death, ascended to heaven, and was glorified as King of all. 

I know that my Redeemer lives because I have walked with him. I, too, just like my Savior, will someday rise from death, ascend with him, and reign with him forever in his glorious presence. Jesus has made it all possible, and that is why I enter the Christian Year, time and time again, with expectancy, faith, and hope.

With the ashes of Ash Wednesday (the beginning of Lent) this is more than a reminder of my mortality. It is full of meaning and imbibed with hope. Yes, I am dust, and I will return to dust. But that dust will rise again and live with Jesus forever.

Merciful Lord and Savior, you lived the life on this earth which I could not in my weakness and shortcoming.  Through the gift of faith, I have an inheritance and a hope that someday I will be with you forever. Thank you for your abundant grace and the constant reminders throughout the Year that you are with me – your journey is my journey.  Amen.

Colossians 3:5-11 – Eastertide

 

Eastertide

Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).  On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all! (NRSV)

Today’s New Testament reading impresses on us the necessity of choosing life.  On the Christian Calendar, Easter is not merely one day – it is an entire season.  It’s a time to focus on living into a new reality through intentionally putting to death old unhealthy practices and adopting new healthy life-giving habits.  It is the season we call “Eastertide.”

It could very well be that you have never heard of the word “Eastertide.”  Eastertide is a significant season in the Church Year which spans fifty days until Pentecost.  That’s a hefty seven weeks of bringing the new life we enjoy to the forefront.  Eastertide’s spotlight is to recognize and celebrate the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and, thus, exult in our own new life in him.

Now, you might be saying to yourself: “Why do we need to have some liturgical season about Christ’s resurrection?  Shouldn’t we be living like we recognize this every day?”  Yes, of course we should.  Yet, consider this:  If we only sing songs of resurrection on Easter Sunday; only occasionally direct our attention of Christ’s resurrection outside of Easter Sunday; then, perhaps it is sage to bring a highlighted focus to the resurrection in a special season.  Just as we would likely not think of taking only one vacation day in the year for renewal, so it is necessary to take more than one day to enjoy Easter.  If nothing else, Eastertide gives believers an opportunity to let Christ’s resurrection percolate in our hearts so that we become people in real life who exhibit an alive-spirit.  And, God knows, we could use much more of that in our congregations and our world!

If life, eternal life, and the necessity of being alive are all needs for us, then it only makes sense that we would want to take advantage of what Eastertide has to offer: A deliberate look at Christ’s resurrection, exploring its implications and impact for us.  Simply assuming we all know about resurrection will not do, any more than my wife simply assuming I love her without looking her straight in the eye and telling her so.

If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile (1 Corinthians 15:17).  Without Eastertide, there’s a sin-as-usual kind of approach to life with a sort of shoulder shrug that says, “Meh, what’s a guy to do?”  Instead, we have the hope of vibrant everlasting life because Christ has risen from death.  We have the hope of individual renewal, corporate revitalization, and worldwide revival because there is a risen Savior.

Therefore, this is the perfect time of year to engage in some renewal practices or even make a few simple changes that show signs of life.  Here are just a few ideas for lifting Christ’s resurrection into the next few months:

Pray for revival of spirituality.  Christ brings life, so praying for revival is a deliberate way of connecting with God.

Squarely address practices of the “earthly nature” which are death-dealing.  Gossip, back-biting, slander, and an entire host of sins of the tongue kill and murder people.  Simply sluffing-off someone’s acerbic speech as “that’s just the way they are” will not do, unless you want to exist in a pro-death culture.

Promote life-giving practices.  If sins of the tongue bring death, using our speech for encouragement, love, mercy, forgiveness, and building up one another promotes growth, health, and life.

Proclaim resurrection.  I believe the church is meant to be the hope of the world because Christ is the risen Lord.  This is the time for Christians to profess the resurrected Christ and how the spiritual life makes a difference in life.

Start that new ministry you always believed would make a difference.  It is the season to take a risk.  After all, if you have eternal life can you really fail?  Host a new virtual small group.  Take initiative to up your knowledge of technology.  Use your time at home to read some significant books and start an on-line book club.  Those are my ideas. I’m willing to bet you have some idea(s) rolling around inside you about blessing the world.  Now, during Eastertide, is the time to turn that idea into reality.

Focus on your daily habits of spiritual health and life.  If you would not think of skipping meals for days at a time, then consider the erosion to your soul and/or your church when folks don’t read their Bibles on a regular basis or pray with any kind of consistency.  This is also a wonderful season to explore new spiritual practices you haven’t tried or considered before.  Stick to a plan.  It will not only bring growth to your own life, but will impact those around you.

Just keeping the word “Eastertide” in front of us for the next few months can be a simple yet powerful way of reminding us that God, in Christ, has ushered-in new life.  Let the reality of Christ’s resurrection take root in your heart to such an extent that life itself informs all your thinking, speaking, feeling, and acting.

In the joy and hope of Eastertide, we pray:

That You, our risen Savior, may fill us in this season with the joy of Your life-giving resurrection.

That You, Compassionate Savior, will enable isolated and persecuted churches to find fresh strength in the good news of Easter.

That You, Loving God, may grant us humility to be subject to one another in Christian love.

That You, Lord God our Provider, may give necessities for those who lack food, work, or shelter.

That by Your mighty power, Almighty God, war and famine may cease through all the world.

That You, Great God of Mystery, may reveal the light of Christ’s presence to the sick, the weak, and the dying, to comfort and strengthen them.

That, Steadfast God, according to Your promises, You will raise at the Last Day all who have died in the faith of the resurrection.

That You, Consuming God, may send the fire of Your blessed Holy Spirit upon people of every nation and ethnicity, so that we may together bear faithful witness to Christ’s resurrection.

Heavenly Father, You have delivered us from the power of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of your dear Son: Grant that, as the death of Jesus has called us to life, so may His continual presence raise us to eternal joy.  Amen.

Click Christ is Risen, He Is Risen Indeed by Keith and Kristyn Getty to keep the Easter songs coming.