Summary: want us to look at three primary passages this morning. These three texts, taken together, form a composite picture of the Ascension.
I heard recently about a church that was putting on an Easter Cantata. When they came to the climactic scene of the Ascension of Christ, the actor playing Jesus was to be slowly hoisted out of view through an opening in the ceiling. The cue for the guys pulling the rope was when he said, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
The flight upward was progressing smoothly, until the stage crew briefly lost their grip on the rope and the actor nearly dropped back to the stage. With enviable stage presence, he remained in character as his feet dangled inches from the floor and his bewildered disciples looked on in horror. Without skipping a beat he said, “Oh, and one more thing…love one another.” Immediately the rope yanked him up into the ceiling and out of sight.
We don’t think much about the Ascension of Christ, but we should. It’s not just an afterthought but a cornerstone teaching of Scripture. We celebrate the Incarnation on Christmas; we recognize the Crucifixion on Good Friday; we rejoice in the Resurrection on Easter; but we don’t really give much attention to the Ascension. Actually, I found out that some churches do include this on their church calendar, but because it’s normally celebrated 40 days after Easter, and it falls on a Thursday, it doesn’t get the prominence it deserves.
The Bible records two other ascensions. Both Enoch and Elijah detoured death and went straight to heaven (see Genesis 5:24; 2 Kings 2:11). One day a girl in Sunday School was asked to tell the story of Enoch. This is what she said: “Well, one day God and Enoch were just walking together and it came close to the end of the day. And God turned to Enoch and said, ‘We’re closer to my house than to yours. So why don’t you just come home with me?’” It may have happened just like that (story from Melvin Newland).
When Jesus ascended into heaven it was unique. First of all, He actually died. Secondly, He came back to life. Third, He was taken up into heaven. 1 Timothy 3:16 contains a brief synopsis of the Savior’s work: “He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.” One way the early church determined to never forget what their faith was based on was by putting together the Apostle’s Creed. Let’s stand and recite this summary statement of Christian belief together. Believers first stated this right before they were baptized as part of their confession of Christ. What we read may be a bit different from what you remember because this is the “Modern English Version.”
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy universal church,
the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. AMEN.
I want us to look at three primary passages this morning. These three texts, taken together, form a composite picture of the Ascension.
Let’s first turn to Luke 24:50-53: “When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.”
1. They follow faithfully. Jesus has led them out to the area of Bethany. The picture that comes to mind is that of the Good Shepherd leading His sheep. He’s not behind them, forcing them to go where they don’t want to go; He’s ahead of them, calling each of them by name. This is another example of what Jesus said in John 10:27: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”
The area around Bethany was special to Jesus because it’s where Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha lived (John 11:1). Bethany was about one and a half miles from Jerusalem, and Jesus often spent the night there (see Matthew 21:17; Mark 11:11). It was at Bethany, when Jesus was at Simon the Leper’s house, that a woman anointed his head with very expensive perfume (Matthew 26:6). According to Acts 1:12, the ascension took place on the Mount called Olivet. This is not a discrepancy because the Mount of Olives was right next to Bethany. Luke understands their proximity when he writes in Luke 19:29: “As he approached…Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives…” Jesus often met with his disciples at the Mount of Olives (Luke 22:39). And it was here, at the place of the Olive Press, that Jesus agonized in prayer the night before his death. Perhaps they are standing on the very ground into which six weeks earlier Jesus had sweat blood.