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.
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.
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.
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.
You were dead through the trespasses and sinsin 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.
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 stayingwith 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.” (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 creationgarner 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 andask 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 mightyRuler 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.
Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.”
At this, some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.”
Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born, she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So, with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. (NIV)
Jesus tended to say things that were neither expected nor wanted. That was even true of Christ’s own disciples who walked and talked with him for three years. Jesus consistently told them there must be suffering before glory. Getting them to buy into such an idea is like trying to get a bunch of Baptists to write their names on a sign-up sheet at church.
Christ was speaking to his disciples in the Upper Room, the last meal he had with them before his death. When they were called by Jesus three years earlier, the disciples were not expecting all the gibberish about leaving and grieving. To put this in contemporary terms, the disciples’ response was akin to saying, “I only think positive. I don’t listen to things that are negative.” Suffering, death, and grief were far from the disciples’ expectations of how things would and should shake-out. They had a hard time understanding what the heck Jesus was saying because his words were out of alignment with their assumptions. Yes, there would be glory and joy. First, however, there must be suffering and grief.
I tend to think in metaphors, so I like that Jesus uses one to bring some context about leaving and returning. And I resonate a lot with his metaphor. My dear wife spent 128 days on total bed rest before our youngest daughter was born. During those four months, we agonized over the health of our little peanut in the womb. I was also in a constant state of concern for my wife’s health. This kind of pregnancy we were not expecting. Those months were hard not only for us but also for our two daughters who needed to step up and participate in family life in new and different ways.
There were months of pain and hardship, not to mention the actual pain of childbirth. Finally, our little girl was born – a bit small, yet, quite healthy. Our grief turned to joy. Nothing could ever take away that joy. We prayed hard back in those days. We asked. We received. And our joy was complete. When I look back on those days, I can remember the anguish. Yet, what prominently stands out is the joy because true unmitigated joy has the power to swallow grief and despondency whole.
In talking through with his disciples about their disappointment of his leaving and their grieving, Jesus graciously gave them the gift of joy. Yes, there can be and is joy in the mourning. Not every story has a happy ending. I can say, however, that the grandest story of all – Jesus Christ’s suffering and death – has resulted in resurrection and ascension. It will all be complete when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead. Then, the grand narrative of redemption will have its conclusion of no more crying, tears, or pain. There will be only unending joy.
For now, we still experience heartache along with the joy of new life. It can be confusing living in the awkward state of simultaneous grief and joy. Yet, keep in mind that the grief is temporary, and the despair will not last. Joy, on the other hand, has staying power and will be the permanent state of the believer. It is only the smaller stories which may or may not end well. The big story of redemption already has the ending written – joy without grief.
Christ is risen! Therefore, we need not wait to be happy or expect that everything must go our way to have joy. The good news is that there are always fresh opportunities to be happy through asking and receiving. Imagine a Partridge Family kind of bus coming around to all the bus stops of life. Happy times and music arrive around the clock. Chances are the opportunity to be happy has already arrived. Often, it is right in front of us; we just missed the bus because we were daydreaming about a future state of joy.
We are living in the days of the new normal and continual change. Just as there was no going back to a three-year hiatus of the disciples walking with Jesus, so we need to embrace new and different ways of life together here on planet earth. We have the gift of joy. Its just a matter of unpacking it.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.