Matthew 5:1-12 – The Beatitudes of Jesus

Sermon-on-the-Mount
A Bengali depiction of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said: 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, 
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
Blessed are those who mourn, 
    for they will be comforted. 
Blessed are the meek, 
    for they will inherit the earth. 
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, 
    for they will be filled. 
Blessed are the merciful, 
    for they will be shown mercy. 
Blessed are the pure in heart, 
    for they will see God. 
Blessed are the peacemakers, 
    for they will be called children of God. 
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, 
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (NIV) 

Just as God’s Law was given on a mountain (The Ten Commandments) so the law was restated on a mountain by Jesus (Sermon on the Mount). I believe that arguably one of the most important and impacting portions of Holy Scripture are the Beatitudes of Jesus, which serve as the foundation to all of Christ’s teaching. These Beatitudes are not simply a random collection of pithy phrases from Jesus on what constitutes approval from God. They intentionally build upon each other and describe true righteousness.  

Blessed are the poor in spirit.   

This Beatitude is the spiritual base to the Christian life.  Most of the original crowd listening to Jesus thought they were on the outside of the kingdom, on the margins of true religion. Instead, Jesus told them they have a place as poor and pitiable people. To be “poor in spirit” means one is a spiritual beggar who recognizes they have nothing to offer God. It is seeing oneself, one’s sin, and one’s life as spiritually bankrupt apart from God. Beggars have no ability to strike deals; they have nothing to leverage with; and, realize they deserve nothing. Beggars do one thing continually: they beg. The proud person would never be caught begging for anything. Yet, the humble spiritual beggar constantly prays because they need God! They discern that without God there is no hope. The kingdom of heaven belongs to the penitent and not the proud. 

Blessed are those who mourn. 

This is the emotional response of acknowledging one’s spiritual poverty.  Grief and lament have a central place in Christian theology and life. To avoid it, work around it, or short-circuit its process is to refuse Christ because there is no righteousness apart from mourning over sin. Crying, weeping, and even intense tears are important and necessary. To experience personal grief over one’s sins and the sins of the church and the world is a Beatitude of Jesus. You neither need position, power, privilege, nor pedigree to be a mourner. All can mourn. This is the door by which we enter the kingdom of God. 

Blessed are the meek. 

A meek spirit is the result of realizing our poverty of spirit and practicing grief and lament. At the heart of what it means to be meek is a spirit of non-retaliation. When we are flat on our backs before God, there is no place to look but up. Thus, there is no ability to look down on others. To be meek is to be broken before God. A meek person takes personal responsibility for their attitudes and actions. The meek have no need to retaliate, even when egregiously wronged, because they fully entrust themselves to God alone who judges the living and the dead. Ironically, brokenness is the path to righteous wholeness. 

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. 

Only those who know their poverty of spirit, personally grieve over sin, and are truly humble/meek end up longing for righteousness. This is much more than just desire; this is the recognition that without God I will not make it. I cannot be righteous without Jesus. Simply put, righteousness is a right relationship with God and others. That is what happens when a person is meek. Such a person knows she cannot make things right by herself; she needs help, specifically, God’s help. If we ever have the thought that we can live most days of our lives without God, we do not yet know true righteousness. People who understand their great need for Jesus are easy to spot. They crave and devour God’s Word as their daily food; and they cannot stop blabbering on about Jesus. 

Sermon on the Mount
A fresco of the Sermon on the Mount on the northern wall of the Sistine Chapel.

There are three practices of living that arise from being filled with God’s righteousness.  They are the next three Beatitudes of mercy, purity, and peacemaking. These cannot be conjured up by our own will. They organically grow within us and are freely expressed because of what God is doing in our lives. You cannot force them any more than you can force a stalk of corn to grow on your terms. Instead, you work with the unforced rhythms of God’s grace and allow his righteousness to take root in you. Below the soil the activity of spiritual poverty, mourning, and humility takes place. Then, when the plant breaks the soil and flowers, it produces mercy, purity, and peace-making. 

Blessed are the merciful.  

Mercy begins with a disposition of the heart that seeks to be generous. Mercy is a loving response to someone or a group of people in misery. We accept them and help them because we ourselves have been there. Mercy looks for ways to come alongside others and help, rather than pile expectations and burdens on others without mentoring them in the ways of God. 

Blessed are the pure in heart. 

Purity also results from true righteousness. A stalk of corn might look good, but if you shuck it and it is filled with worms, it isn’t going to be worth much. Legalistic righteousness is concerned to look good, is obsessed with performance, perfection, and possessions. Conversely, the righteousness of God fills our hungry hearts and makes us pure and holy, set apart for his use. 

Blessed are the peacemakers.  

Peacemakers are people who find themselves caught in the middle and want to live righteously with the mercy and purity that God has provided for them. Peace is only realized through peacemakers. It seems we all desire peace, yet, peacemakers are hard to come by. It’s a tough gig. Peacemakers exist through being characterized by the earlier Beatitudes. To achieve peace, one must first be at peace with God and self – which is why we need the cross of Jesus Christ. 

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness.  

When a person lives in this righteousness as presented by Jesus, there will be persecution. Folks who are offended by even slight criticisms are usually the ones who are privileged and in power. They have not yet learned the ways of Jesus. Pettiness is nothing more than a sign of unrighteousness. Yoking up with Jesus, following him, and living into his words and ways has always been risky and dangerous. The Beatitudes of Jesus are not characteristics that lead to power, prestige, or possessions, but likely just the opposite. 

The former Pope Benedict XVI, explained Christ’s Beatitudes this way: “The Beatitudes, spoken with the community of Jesus’ disciples in view, are paradoxes – the standards of the world are turned upside down as soon as things are seen in their right perspective, which is to say, in terms of God’s values, so different from those of the world. It is precisely those who are poor in worldly terms, those thought of as lost souls, who are truly fortunate ones, the blessed, who have every reason to rejoice and exult in their suffering. The Beatitudes are promises resplendent with the new image of the world and humanity inaugurated by Jesus.” 

Those who are in Jesus Christ become living beatitudes, walking, talking blessings to the world.  Those who live with Jesus in his kingdom have a destiny to be witnesses to another subversive, yet wonderful, way of life, where the last are first and the greatest are the least. 

O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me. 

O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me. 

O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, grant me your peace. 

John 3:31-36 – Considering Christ

Jesus 6th century mosaic
A 6th-Century Byzantine mosaic of Jesus

He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true.  For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (ESV)

When Jesus ascended to heaven, he left instructions to his disciples to pray and to witness (Acts 1:1-11). Jesus only asks of us what he himself does or has already done. The life and ministry of Christ on this earth was marked continually with prayer and bearing witness. Just as Jesus Christ bore witness to what he saw and heard as the Divine Word, so his followers are to do likewise. The evidence and the veracity of Christ’s witness is the giving of God’s Spirit – the One whom confirms this testimony to us.

I, personally, have found Jesus to be precisely whom he claims to be. I have come to accept his testimony as gracious, truthful, and life-giving. I have wholeheartedly embraced the New Testament Gospel accounts of his birth, life, teaching, death, resurrection, and ascension. This belief came neither quickly nor easily for me – it resulted from an honest straightforward reading of the Bible; and, the wooing of the Holy Spirit.

It really isn’t my job to convince you of Jesus Christ’s authenticity and trustworthiness. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. Instead, it is my task to bear witness of the things I have seen and heard concerning Jesus. My life has been thoroughly turned upside-down because of Jesus. With Jesus, I have been invited into the life of God. By the wounds of Jesus, I have experienced healing of damaged emotions and recovery from spiritual hurts inflicted by others. Through union with Christ, I have grace and forgiveness of things I have done and left undone. With Jesus as my Friend, I enjoy loving attention and am never dismissed by him.

For those who have not read the Gospel accounts and refuse Christ, then, for honesty’s sake, please have the integrity to give Jesus a hearing before you dismiss him with a slight of hand. It is one thing to genuinely not know much about Jesus, and it is quite another thing to ignore him when you have knowledge about how to find out about him.

For those of us who have read the New Testament Gospels and accept the testimony of Jesus, we come back again and again to his life-giving words and seek continually to follow him in his way of mercy, purity, and peace. We bear witness to how Jesus has changed our lives and offers a life worth living.

Everyone with faith in Jesus has a life-giving connection with God.  Those who don’t, don’t. If you disagree with this, then contend with Jesus himself. Give him a hearing. Watch him in action.  Observe how he deals with people. See if he lives up to his words. Then, bear witness to what you have seen and heard.

In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, I pray to you, the God and Father of all:

For empowerment by the Spirit, that I may be a faithful witness

For those who wait on You, that they may find renewal

For all people, that they may acknowledge the kingdom of the ascended Christ

For all who are struggling with broken relationships

I commend myself and all for whom I pray, to Your mercy and protection through Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. Amen.

Acts 1:9-16 – What Christ’s Ascension Means for Us

Welcome, friends! Simply click the video below as we observe this Ascension Sunday.

You may also view this on TimEhrhardtYouTube

Click the following two links by Maranatha! Music as we worship our ascended Lord.

All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name

He Is Exalted

May the abundance of God bless you, the strength of Christ keep you, and the Spirit of glory shine upon you today and forever. Amen.

What Christ’s Ascension Means for Us

Christ the King
Christ the King statue in Świebodzin, Poland

It has been two-millennia since Jesus Christ ascended to heaven. Since then, a lot has changed. On the other hand, we are still in the same situation as the early church: Jesus is still up there, and we are still down here. What that means for us is this: Because we still await Christ’s return, the original call and practice of the church is still in effect.

As far as experiences go, it would be hard to top being one of the original disciples and see Jesus ascend into heaven (Acts 1:1-11). Christ was crucified, dead, and buried; he rose from the grave. For forty days Jesus appeared on and off to his disciples. Then the day came when he ascended to heaven, in full view for all the disciples to see. All those powerful experiences of being with the risen Lord and seeing him ascend into the clouds! 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 uplifting mountain-top experiences and the hard slog 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 that connect expectant prayer with the action of being witnesses.

Prayer and witness – both are necessary for the church; and, are closely tied to the risen and ascended Christ.  The ascension of our Lord Jesus means Christ is exalted above everything.  His glorification translates into our sharing with him in his glory.  The ascension means Jesus is in charge. By his authority he has made us prayerful witnesses and 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. The disciples were anticipating a restoration of David’s kingdom. Their vision for the future was a great apocalypse in which Jesus, as the ultimate mixed martial arts champion, would beat up all their enemies. Then, set up a political kingdom just like King David of old.

However, Jesus had a different agenda. Instead of creating an immediate utopia where the disciples would be in charge and in control, Jesus bluntly told them that knowing God’s timetable is not in their pay grade. The disciples were commissioned for a job, which did not include gawking at the sky and figuring-out when to expect the end of the world.

Jesus de Greatest
“Jesus de Greatest” statue in Nigeria

Although we understandably and deservedly want peace and justice now, Jesus avoided handing out prophecy charts detailing when that would happen. He essentially said to quit thinking about that stuff; it is really none of our business. Instead, our business is being witnesses of Jesus. The angels came along immediately after Jesus ascended and said to the disciples to stop standing there slack jawed. Jesus is coming back and, meanwhile, there is a job to do – to be witnesses of Christ’s redemptive events.  And, the strength of that witness will come from the Holy Spirit. So, hang tight in prayer.

I will share with you my understanding of what it means to be a “witness.” I was once called to an emergent situation with an actively dying patient. The patient’s spouse and parents were present. In the space of two hours I watched them in the throes of grief.  And I provided all the spiritual support I could.  The situation had similarities to many emergencies I have attended, with one exception: I noticed that I was different. I did not “do” or “say” a lot. Mostly, I was present. I remember the feeling, at one point, of helplessness. In some ways I was. I certainly could not fix a thing. Yet, I saw my role in a new way this time around.

I distinctly remember the sense of bearing witness.  There was an entire world outside the patient room that knew nothing of this family’s intense grief. But I knew. I watched the whole thing. I was present for all the struggles of the medical team, the tears of the husband, the grief of a Dad, the angry questions of a mother toward a God that she didn’t know how to approach – who seemed aloof and capricious.  I was there for it all. And I still carry those folks and their story in my heart. That was enough.

Yes, it was enough. This was the first time I ever said that after such a situation. I had this very settled sense that the role of bearing witness to the events in front of me, being a witness, was a blessed and sacred responsibility. Billions of people on planet earth did not know the grief of these people.  I did. I was there.  There is something both mystical and necessary about this understanding of being a witness with active prayerful observation.

I wonder if that is how the disciples felt after Christ’s ascension. Perhaps my experience is what Jesus meant when he said, “You shall be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). Maybe it is serving in the special role of observing the suffering of Christ, his resurrection of the dead, and the ongoing work of the Spirit.

God is, I believe, the ultimate witness. When no one else sees, God sees. Where there is grief, he is present.  Wherever pain, hurt, and brokenness exists, God is there bearing witness to it all. Sometimes he is gracious to invite me into the scene to witness it along with him. Jesus is our Immanuel – God with us. And that is enough for me.

In the book of Acts, praying and witnessing was a consistent pattern that the early church practiced. They prayed about whom to choose as leaders and bore witness to the Spirit setting individuals apart for the work of gospel proclamation and service to the church. They prayed for the Holy Spirit to come on people and bore witness to miraculous signs of the Spirit’s work. They prayed for the courage to preach and heal and bore witness to the saving work of God.

As the book of Acts unfolds, we see Peter imprisoned for being a witness. The church went to prayer.  Peter was released, and when he showed up at the prayer meeting the believers at first did not believe it was him.  Even with their little faith they were able to witness God answer their prayers (Acts 12:1-18). It was at a prayer meeting where Paul and Barnabas were set apart by the Spirit to bear witness in other locations (Acts 13:1-3). While traveling from city to city, Paul constantly devoted himself to prayer and listened to the Spirit (Acts 16:1-35). People came to Christ because of prayerfully listening to the Spirit and the obedient action that followed by Peter, Paul, and the other believers giving witness to how the risen Christ saved their lives.

This was all possible because of the risen and ascended Christ. There is not one square inch of all this earth that Jesus is not Lord. This means we can be alive with devotion to prayer and to being witnesses in this world for Jesus. Just as a cup of coffee needs a warm-up, so our prayers need to be 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.

As God does his gracious work of gathering people into his kingdom, we have the wondrous privilege of bearing witness to his merciful and transforming power. The psalmist actively observed God’s activity in the world, and gave this witness:

God is setting the lonely in families;
leading out prisoners with singing….

When you, God, went out before your people,
when you marched through the wilderness,
the earth shook, the heavens poured down rain,
before God, the One of Sinai,
before God, the God of Israel.
You gave abundant showers, O God;
you refreshed your weary inheritance.
Your people settled in it,
and from your bounty, God, you provided for the poor. (Psalm 68:6-10)

What does the ascension of Jesus Christ mean for us today? That we belong to God and have the wondrous privilege of prayer and witness in a world that so desperately needs to connect with their spirituality.

Psalm 93 – The Lord Reigns

861ca-thelord

The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty;
the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength;
indeed, the world is established, firm and secure.
Your throne was established long ago;
you are from all eternity.

The seas have lifted up, Lord,
the seas have lifted up their voice;
the seas have lifted up their pounding waves.
Mightier than the thunder of the great waters,
mightier than the breakers of the sea—
the Lord on high is mighty.

Your statutes, Lord, stand firm;
holiness adorns your house
for endless days. (NIV)

The Lord is King. From a Christian perspective, this psalm finds its ultimate fulfillment in the ascension of Jesus Christ. When we talk about kings, there are a few things a king needs: a realm, or a kingdom; and, the ruled, or the subjects of the kingdom. In reflecting on Christ’s ascension, the three elements which make up a rule are: King Jesus as Ruler; God’s people as the ruled; and, the entire world as the realm of Christ’s kingship.

Now, as soon as I state that all the world is Christ’s realm, it is quite understandable to at least be curious about this, as well as perhaps be outright doubtful of it. After all, this old fallen world is filled with all kinds of catastrophes like pandemics and natural disasters; myriad human vices; and, potent spiritual foes. Sometimes it appears that, if Jesus were King, he is either sleeping on the job or just indifferent to our plight.

Allow me to re-frame this by putting it in military terms. The battle and the war has been won – there are, however, some clean up operations still taking place. Pockets of resistance to God’s rule and reign still very much exist. And they unfortunately lead to casualties.

On this Memorial Day weekend in the USA, Americans remember and pay homage to our fallen men and women in uniform. Many of those soldiers were lost from mopping up resistance after a battle achieved and a war won. For example, the Battle for Okinawa in the Pacific theatre toward the end of World War II resulted in an American victory. However, in securing the island after the Japanese defeat, small groups of Japanese soldiers still mounted resistance resulting in hundreds of American deaths. In a 1944 article from the Stars and Stripes, one patrol leader from the battle had this to say: “It is a tough, methodical grind, this mop-up operation. Here, the Japanese have gotten together, organized, and are carrying out a planned guerilla warfare, even though the battle is won…. I wish a mop-up was as easy as people think it is.”

We live between the two advents of Christ, his ascension to heaven and his coming again. That means we live in the already/not yet kingdom. Deliverance from sin, death, and hell has been achieved – yet will not be here in its complete fulfillment until Jesus comes again to judge the living and the dead. Meanwhile, we as Christians continue to pray that God’s kingdom spreads and is realized in the hearts of humanity – the true place where war begins and ends.

There is no power in heaven or on earth which can circumvent or overcome the plans and purposes of an almighty God. As much strength as ocean waves have, they are no match for the might of God. Though some human governments, systems, and institutions carry a lot weight and exude a great deal of influence, they cannot hold a candle to the overwhelming fire of God. The Most High God is firmly in control, even when it seems otherwise. The Christian tradition is consistent in proclaiming that the throne of Jesus Christ has been established forever. It shall not be moved. Love has won and will have the eternal day.

God, you reign over all! Robed in majesty and armed with strength, you hold our world and our lives securely. Your throne has been established. From everlasting to everlasting, you are God. Even when waves of grief, disease, and hardship rise-up—when surging seas threaten to overwhelm me, and a pounding storm crashes around me—I know that You are mightier and more powerful than any threat. Wash over me with your own cleansing flood. Grace me with your mighty presence. Refresh me with the water of life, for I know, Holy God, that your decrees are firm and secure; they shall last forever. Amen.

Ephesians 2:1-7 – Raised with Christ

Ascension

You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (NRSV)

In the wake of recognizing and remembering Ascension Day, Christ’s ascension to heaven, we must linger a bit with the implications of that great redemptive event for us. Today’s New Testament lesson from the letter to the Ephesians is a wondrous place to do some holy loitering.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian church and gave them a theological explanation of their true position as Christians. They were once located in the realm darkness, the place of disobedience and selfishness. Now, however, as believers in Jesus Christ, they have been relocated to the realm of light, the place of love and kindness. This major relocation project is the direct effort of God’s merciful initiative. Jesus descended in his incarnation and lived at the garbage dump with us. Christ’s life and death delivered us from that putrid existence. Jesus ascended to heaven. He did not leave us in the dump.

The rich theology which Paul expresses to the Ephesians is so robust that he makes up new words just to try and communicate it. Through God’s gracious action he “made us alive together with Christ,” “raised us up with him,” and “seated us with him in the heavenly places.” Paul took words and smashed them together to create new compound words to try and communicate the amazing reality of the Christian’s position in Jesus Christ. In English, we need to use several words to translate Paul’s original compound words.

Paul used new words because he was expressing a new reality. Ascension is more than Christ’s own – he, spiritually, takes us with him. We belong with him. Our union, our intimacy, with Jesus is so vitally connected that what happens with Jesus happens with us. With Jesus as the Head of the Church, and we as the Body of Christ, there is absolutely no separation between the two.

The implications of this understanding are tectonic:

  • Since God’s action was done out of love, our spiritual DNA has love written all over it. We no longer feel as if we must manipulate, cajole, or twist arms to be noticed and have our needs met.
  • Since God is rich in mercy, we have a new place to live – with Christ – and no longer hang out in the shame lounge drinking cheap wine and smoking nasty cigars.
  • Since God has given us new life in Christ, we are aware of our position and now can deliberately choose to participate with him in a mind-blowing, gut-busting, heart-exploding divine/human adventure beyond what we could ever have imagined. We no longer are in the position to create selfish agendas and ignore the common good of all humanity.
  • Since God has picked us up, cleaned us up, and sat us down next to Jesus, we have a front row seat to the triune God showing kindness to us and so many others. We no longer have a truncated worldview which sees only pain and heartbreak.
  • Since God has orchestrated deliverance from the old life; since Christ has achieved that deliverance for us; and, since the Spirit has awakened us – we now have a new life thoroughly imbibed with the medicine of faith, the healing power of hope, and the elixir of love. With grace binding our lives together with God, no more judging, blaming, shaming, nor hating need occur anymore.
  • Since we belong to God, we enjoy all the love of the Father, the mercy of the Son, and the vigor of the Holy Spirit. We have risen above all the terrible muck of sin and given a new place to live. Since Jesus ascended, we ascend with him. Praise be to God!

As people, we live into who we believe we are. We are the precious children of God, redeemed and adopted into a divine family. May we live up to our position in Jesus Christ.

Almighty and merciful God, in your goodness keep me, I pray, from returning to the pig pen of an old life. May I be ready in both body and soul to freely choose things which belong to your purposes of love; through Jesus Christ my Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Acts 1:1-11 – Ascension of the Lord

Ethiopian Ascension
Ethiopian Orthodox depiction of Christ’s ascension.

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginninguntil 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 liftedup, 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.” (NRSV) 

Jesus was taken up to heaven in what Christians celebrate 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. Yes, it 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 little attention from many churches?  Perhaps the clue is the disciples’ response when Jesus ascended. 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 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 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. Instead, there is to be a well-developed and well-cultivated connection with Jesus which proclaims 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. 

Believers in Jesus are not to be found standing and gawking 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 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.  

Click Ancient of Days sung by Ron Kenoly for an oldie but goody on this Ascension Day.