The Ascension of Jesus
Readings: Acts 1:1-11; Luke 24:44-53; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:15-23. These Scriptures will knock your socks off and give you hope. “God has gone up with a shout,” says the Psalmist. After the Ascension, the followers of Jesus were “bursting with joy,” reports Luke. Paul describes the “immeasurable great power” that worked in Christ when was seated at the right hand of God in heavenly places.” What do you say?
The photo of my Dad’s funeral card popped up on my laptop as I was reading about the ascension. He is in his bucket-list dream car, a red convertible Mustang, on his favorite Texas beach, waving goodbye to the family. A loving yet painful reminder that he is physically gone, and his absence leaves us with only memories of the man he was in life and the hope to be reunited in heaven one glad morning.
The loss of my father helps me imagine what the physical absence of Jesus Christ meant to his followers. It is easy to understand the disappointment, doubt, and death of their dreams for Jesus to “restore the kingdom” of God on earth. Amazingly they experienced his resurrected and very physical body they could touch and see. The book of Acts starts with Luke’s summary of things he wrote about Jesus: “He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” Acts 1:3
After the forty days, he is once again physically taken from them in the ascension, which is described in Scripture only by Luke: “Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.” 24:50-51 And in his second book, Acts, Luke reports: “As they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” Acts1:9.
Luke most likely linked the ascension to Daniel’s vision of “a son of man,” a human being presented to God, “the Ancient of Days” on “the clouds of heaven.” Jesus himself answers the question, “Are you the Christ?” with “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:62) And as Stephen is about to be martyred for his faith, “full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” Stephen said, ” Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” Acts 7:56
The humanity of Jesus through his incarnation, life, and even his death continues on as an eternal existence with his ascension as the son of man, enthroned in power at the right hand of God. The significance of Jesus’ ascended physical presence and his eternal personhood, for me is that after death, miraculously, our human personhood will be preserved for eternity with him.
This past year a close extended family member passed away after a long illness. The family all gathered around their beloved during her final days. They reported to us that one of those last moments she looked upwards and called my father’s name. It was amazing, mystical, and real to our family. We recognized it as something my father did in life, helping another find their way home to Jesus. Now, isn’t that what Jesus instructed us all to do?
The ascension is not the end of Jesus’ mission so much as it is the beginning of ours. Luke records the last instructions of Jesus to his followers: “You can see now how it is written that the Messiah suffers, rises from the dead on the third day, and then a total life-change through the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed in his name to all nations–starting from here! You’re the witnesses. What comes next is very important: I am sending what my Father promised to you, so stay here in the city until he arrives, until you’re equipped with power from on high.” Luke 24 (MSG)
Jesus opens their minds to the Word of God, to understand the benefit of his death and resurrection, as well as his ascension, the absence of his physical presence on earth. We all have the opportunity to experience repentance and forgiveness and to be clothed with the power of the Holy Spirit. It is that power which launches us out as his witnesses. As Jesus is vindicated by the resurrection and positioned at the right hand of God at the ascension, the empowering of the Holy Spirit is released.
Jesus scolds the disciples when they asked for predictions about the future kingdom. And as they were gazing up after Jesus, as he was carried to heaven, they were scolded by the angels that there was no reason to stand around, but be assured Jesus will return. So until he does, let’s get started in our city, with power from on high, and show people the way home.
Praise. Sing or read aloud Psalm 47 with booming joy. Imagine choirs of angels, shouts of joy, loud trumpets and drums, beautiful colors, resplendent jewels, and all people clapping their hands as God has gone up with a shout, seated on the throne, exalted among the nations!