Summary: We can’t treat Jesus like Socrates, Gandhi or Confucius. The Ascension is the final proof that we are dealing with more than a man. All the Bible says about who Jesus is makes little sense without the Ascension.
“I Believe”—sermon series on the Apostles Creed
The Ascension>>Acts 1:6-11, Eph 1:20-23 Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
The Ascension means there can be no neutrality about Jesus. We cannot simply pick and choose from His teachings. We can’t treat him like Socrates, Gandhi or Confucius. The Ascension is the final proof that we are dealing with more than a man. All the Bible says about who Jesus is makes little sense without the Ascension. Through His ascent we know we are dealing with God.
The Ascension is largely overshadowed by the Incarnation and Resurrection. Christmas and Easter are great celebrations, but Ascension Day goes by without a trace, barely recognized—yet it is no minor episode. It’s been said, “Easter is incomplete, Pentecost is impeded, and the Second Coming is impossible without the Ascension” (Robert Ramsey). Our Lord’s ascension is a climactic, glorious event—it is His exaltation to the right hand of the Father. Paul writes, “He who descended is the very One who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe” (Eph 4:10). Jesus humbly came to this earth; He descended to a sin-ruined planet, and went even to the gates of hell for us. Now He is seen returning to glory. It’s important that this event is described in the Bible. Luke tells us it took place “before their very eyes.” He wants us to know that something tangible, something real took place. Just as with the Resurrection, there were eyewitnesses to this historical event. It was a unique and spectacular moment! They saw the cloud take their Master to His heavenly home; this cloud was an OT image of the presence and glory of God, first seen in the wilderness wanderings of the Jews en route to the Promised Land.
The Bible tells us that Jesus ascended bodily. This means that He took into the Father’s presence the evidence of His sacrificial death—His own scarred, bloodied, wounded flesh. Just as the blood of the Jewish Temple sacrifices were brought into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement and sprinkled upon the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant, so Jesus ascended to Heaven as both Priest and Sacrifice. Hebrews 9:12 says, “through His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place, and with it He secured our salvation forever.” His sacrifice was accepted, and satisfied divine justice. Our Savior was received home as a beloved Son returning from a long and hazardous journey. The Ascension climaxes His earthly ministry; it designates and demonstrates His Lordship.
On the day Jesus ascended to Heaven, 40 days after His Resurrection, His followers stood on the Mount of Olives grief-stricken. Their Easter-joy seemed short-lived. It took two angels to reassure them that this was part of the eternal Plan. Luke’s Gospel says that they “returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (24:52). The Ascension proved to be a blessing as it prepared for the coming of Jesus’ spiritual presence, no longer confined to the limitations of time and of a physical body. St Augustine reflects this benefit to us in a prayer: “You ascended from before our eyes, and we turned back grieving, only to find You in our hearts.” Jesus is present in us, wherever we go. He is our constant Companion. Author Philip Yancy suggests that, “ever since the Ascension, Jesus has sought other bodies in which to begin again the life He lived on earth.” Yet Yancy also admits, “the Ascension represents my greatest struggle of faith—not whether it happened but why…by ascending, Jesus took the risk of being forgotten.” Like the disciples, we really don’t want Jesus to go. We feel detached from Him. We’re looking up into the blank sky, wishing Jesus were closer to home. Even though we may not feel His presence, we are assured that He will never leave or forsake us! Yet the ascension is admittedly a struggle for us in times of trouble…
On Sep 11th we looked up into the sky, partly out of fear that more attacks might come, and partly wondering why God wasn’t responding. Like the disciples, we looked into an empty sky only to hear God’s silence. It didn’t seem like God was in His Heaven that day. We asked ourselves, “Where is God now?” He felt absent, and our faith was sorely tested; it’s hard to suffer without knowing why. Had Jesus remained on earth, He’d be around to answer our questions and resolve our nagging doubts. Yet part of the Ascension means that Jesus is ruling from afar, which means He has a purpose for all things. Sep 11th reminds us that we struggle in a fallen, imperfect world that has been polluted with evil, and is desperately in need of God.
Yancy raises a question: “If Jesus could foresee such disasters as the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Christian slave-trade, Apartheid, why did He ascend in the first place? I cannot provide a confident answer to such questions, for I am part of the problem.” Yancy goes on to show how Christians have also “brought light as well as darkness”, working to end injustice, helping the poor and sick, promoting peace, and producing art for the glory of God.