Summary: What’s Up with Jesus’ Ascension? 1) Our understanding 2) Our usefulness 3) Our joy
How excited were you about coming to church this morning? Easter Sunday excited? Did you wake up extra early so you could get a good seat in church? There is something special about Easter isn’t there? After all how can you top the message of Jesus’ resurrection? However, we’re not celebrating Easter today, but Ascension. Ascension is the day when, forty days after his resurrection, Jesus was visibly taken up into heaven. While we might not think that this festival deserves the same kind of attention Easter does, the Disciples thought differently. In fact, they were more excited at Jesus’ ascension than they were at his resurrection. How could that be? What’s up with Jesus’ ascension anyway? Let’s answer that question.
Our text doesn’t take place all on one day. The first part happened on Easter Sunday evening. You remember how Jesus’ disciples were hiding behind locked doors that night, afraid of what the Jewish leaders might do to them if they were discovered. During the day they had received various reports of Jesus’ resurrection, but for the most part they remained sceptical of the truth. Even when Jesus appeared in their midst that evening some still doubted until he took a piece of fish and ate in their presence to prove that he wasn’t a figment of their imagination.
It was unfortunate that the Disciples were so slow in believing. They should have expected and been looking forward to the resurrection, for as Jesus remarked, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44).
Aren’t we often like the Disciples? We suffer needlessly when we don’t take to heart God’s Word - whether that’s his invitation for us to call on him in the day of trouble, or to cast all of our anxieties on him. Instead we bottle up our concerns until we’ve managed to concoct a mean brew of anxiety and apprehension that’s just as sinful and hazardous to our health as a night of wild alcohol consumption.
Like the Disciples it’s not that we lack knowledge. We know what God has promised, we just often lack understanding and trust. We lack this understanding not because we are slow, but because we are sinful and therefore don’t naturally accept what God tells us. The Apostle Paul explained in his first letter to the Corinthians: “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (2:14).
Even if you were the smartest person in the world with an IQ of a billion, without the Spirit of God you still would not be able to understand or accept God’s Word. Jesus made that clear in what he did for the Disciples. Luke tells us, “45 Then [Jesus] opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45). This was the first fulfillment of a promise Jesus had given to his disciples. Jesus had promised that after he went to heaven, he would send the Holy Spirit who would open their minds to understand Scripture. Jesus said, “When...the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you” (John 16:13, 14).
So what’s up with Jesus’ ascension? Thanks to the promised gift of the Holy Spirit, our understanding is up. Because the Holy Spirit tunes us in to understand God’s Word, we now believe and trust. Still, we need to be on our guard because the Devil will try to steer us away from the Word through which the Holy Spirit works. As he did with Eve, he will try to get us to ignore or doubt God’s Word saying things like, “Did God really say that gossiping about another person is a sin? Did he really promise that everything, even pain, will work for your good?” When the Devil assails us with such doubts we need to remember what Jesus said concerning God’s Word, he said that it was necessary that all the prophecies about him be fulfilled (Luke 24:44). Friends, God’s promises don’t come true more or less; they come true absolutely because when God speaks it happens. Therefore his Word can absolutely be trusted.
With his ascension, Jesus not only promised to up our understanding; he also promised to increase our usefulness. Jesus said to the Disciples, “repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:47-49).