Summary: The Ascension is an important part of the ministry of Jesus. He came to save our sins and He will come again when we least expect it. Be ready!
The Ascension of Jesus
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 To them he presented himself alive after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (ESV)
Before the days of modern navigational aids a traveler made the Atlantic crossing in a boat equipped with two compasses. One was fixed to the deck where the man at the wheel could see it. The other compass was fastened up on one of the masts, and often a sailor would be seen climbing up to inspect it.
The passenger asked the captain, “Why do you have two compasses?”
“This is an iron vessel,” replied the captain, “and the compass on the deck is often affected by its surroundings. Such is not the case with the compass at the masthead; that one is above the influence. We steer by the compass above. (Tan, P.L. “Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations”, 1924)
As Christians, where is our compass? Is it on the earth, or is it in things above? Today, I’d like to look at the story of the ascension and examine both what it means in the ministry of Jesus, as well as how it affects us today. What was the ascension, and why should we spend time looking up?
Importance of the Ascension
In the Old Testament, Jesus was the messiah predicted from long ago. The prophecies of old talked about a coming messiah. Throughout the scriptures that our Jewish fathers followed, the words spoke of savior who would rescue men from sin and lead the world to redemption.
When Jesus finally came on the scene, it was with much fanfare: a star leading the way for wise men and angels rejoicing the birth of new king. We make a big deal out of Christmas with trees, colorful lights, beautiful displays in stores, concerts in our schools, Christmas markets and even carolers. We celebrate the gifts the wise men brought to the messiah when we exchange gifts with family and friends. We celebrate Christmas with a bang and it’s a very big deal. We remember the coming of our Lord into this world. We don’t forget that Jesus came into the world.
Similarly, leading up to Easter, we remember the week prior with mid-week services during the season of Lent. We get palm leaves to celebrate Palm Sunday and the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Some choose not to eat meat on Fridays during this remembrance period. During Holy Week, we remember the first communion that Jesus celebrated with his disciples and the events that eventually lead to the cross and His death. The celebration really begins with Easter as we celebrate His resurrection and the defeat of death! We throw special celebrations with sunrise services, often accompanied by pancake breakfasts or special Sunday brunches set-up especially for the day. We decorate crosses with flowers, put on our new, best clothes for the day and make a special day of the celebration of the resurrection of our Lord. We don’t forget that Jesus died and rose again.
From the prophecies of a coming savior, to the birth of our Lord, to the death and resurrection, we celebrate these events as we should, but we don’t give the same attention to the ascension of our Lord. For 40 days, Jesus walked the earth after His resurrection. For 40 days, He continued to meet with and witness to many. When His final earthly message was delivered, He rose up into a cloud with a few disciples as witnesses. Tonight, I’d like to look at the significance of that event and see what it tells us of the things to come.