Summary: Although Jesus completed his earthly ministry and ascended into heaven, His work did not stop there. He commissions His disciples to carry on His work here daily. Are we doing that?
“The Great Lift Off”
INTRODUCTION: We think of the Ascension as a cosmological event, a space flight, a transfer of a person from earth to heaven; but that is not what it meant to the early church. It meant the TRANSFER of RESPONSIBILITY from Jesus to his disciples. It was not so much of a COSMOLOGICAL EVENT as it was a COMMISSIONING EVENT. The mission that Jesus had--including the power he did it with was now being transferred to his disciples. Jesus told the disciples in John 14:12 about this long before Ascension Day when He told Philip, “He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also and greater works than these shall he do because I go to my Father.” Not only does Jesus give us so much, but He asks much of us.
About 30 years ago I stood at the “traditional site” in the Holy Land where this even is said to have taken place. It was hard to picture this in my mind--a person being lifted up into the heavens and being received into a cloud. It never seemed very real to me at the time. We stood there, we heard the guide tell us--yet what did it mean really to me? Today is Ascension Sunday. We hear the account once again, but what does it mean to us or how does it affect our lives? We see lift offs into space all the time on TV, but what about this particular lift off by the resurrected Savior?
1. Jesus Finished His Earthly Ministry: Even before the crucifixion Jesus looked up to heaven and prayed, “I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gaveth me to do” (John 17:4). Later on the cross, he said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). On the Ascension day Jesus led his disciples out to Bethany and he lifted up his hands and blessed them. It was not a sad day, for he had completed his work on earth and he gave hope to these disciples who had followed him throughout his earthly ministry. While he was blessing them, he was lifted up into heaven and a cloud received him. His disciples were watching him intently the entire time. It was not as if they were looking off in some other direction and he disappeared on them. They were watching all the time. They saw it happen with their own eyes. These were the people who were to be witnesses of this event in Jerusalem and in everywhere else they went throughout the world. Luke’s account tells us that they returned to Jerusalem with great joy. It was not a sad time because Jesus gave them a blessing and a hope for their future on earth. Before he left the disciples asked him, “Are you going to restore the kingdom now? What’s going to happen now?” Jesus told them, “Don’t worry about that. There are other things to think about now. He is saying, “Don’t worry about the times or dates set by the Father--he will take care of that.” How many times do we spend all of our energy trying to figure out things. How will this happen? What about the end times? What about the tribulation? What about the antichrist? Some people spend all of their energy trying to find out where Cain got his wife.
On the TV show, Becker, Linda, the one receptionist, before she explains anything is always saying, “Well, here’s the thing” and she goes on to explain something. Jesus is saying to us, today as well as to his disciples then, “Here’s the thing--don’t worry about things you don’t have any control over--I have a job for you to do that you can handle and I’m going to help you do it successfully.”
2. Jesus’ Continued Ministry: What happened to Jesus as he lifted off and was received into a cloud. How do the blessings of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection survive the span of time and place in history? Is he still working? How do we know that he arrived where he was headed? What is he doing now that effects us today?
There are all kinds of scriptures that tell us where he is and what his continued ministry is today.
Romans 8:34 tells us “...Christ Jesus who died, more than that who was raised to life--is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”
Mark 16:19 says “so after the Lord had spoken to them, he was received up into heaven and sat on the right hand of God.”
Later Stephen in Acts 7:56 said, “I see heaven open and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.”