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Jesus' Ascension - Mission Accomplished, Mission Continued

4.23.23


It wasn’t all that long ago that we reached the 50 year anniversary of a truly remarkable event – the day when humankind landed on the moon. No doubt about it – it was a monumental moment in U.S. history and human history too. And what made it so remarkable and worth celebrating in the moment and in the years to follow was not only that the astronauts successfully landed on the moon, but also that they safely made it back home.


And so, not surprisingly, when the astronauts returned to earth, there were parades held in their honor, they each received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. It was an extraordinary accomplishment and cause for celebration too.


And in a way, we as Christians celebrate and remember in a similar way when we celebrate and remember the ascension, when Jesus himself having lived and dwelt among us, ascended into heaven, where he now sits and the right hand of God the Father.


Because just like those astronauts did years ago, Jesus himself successfully returned to his original home, heaven that is, having completed the most dangerous and most important mission of all time. Where having lived a perfect and sinless life, he ushered in the kingdom of God once and for all, obeying the will of the Father and fulfilling his God given mission by giving up his life as a ransom for many, to reconcile us back to God.


And so for today, we’re going to zoom in where Luke’s gospel ends, by talking about this key moment in Jesus’s life – his ascension.


Now, a brief disclaimer here. I am admittedly borrowing from myself here with a message of mine from a few years ago that’s primarily focused on Christ’s ascension and yet, we’ll be sure to connect the dots between this moment in Jesus’s ministry with this final section of Luke’s Gospel.


Chances are, if you’re anything like me, you probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about Jesus’s ascension. Maybe it’s because the idea seems of secondary importance to his death and resurrection, maybe it’s because the idea of someone ascending to heaven just feels a little surreal, as if Superman were to fly off into space, or as if Jesus hopped in the Dolorean with Marty McFly at the end of Back to the Future, riding into the sky.


But nevertheless, as foreign and strange as it may seem, it’s an important part of Jesus’s ministry for us to consider. Even more, the ascension serves as the turning point, the connective tissue between Jesus’s ministry and our ministry, as guided by the Holy Spirit.


So with that in mind, here are four reasons – four reasons why the Ascension matters for us as Christians today. So here’s the first -


Jesus is alive, ruling and reigning from above


Have you ever thought about the fact that Jesus is alive, right at this very moment? It’s not as if Jesus died, then rose, then died again. Rather, he’s alive right now as much as he’s ever been. And even more, it’s not as if Jesus left town for a relaxing vacation to some far off island. Rather, he’s ruling and reigning from above, in heaven, sitting at the right hand of the Father.


Ephesians 1 tells us that God, ‘raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion.’


And so Jesus is alive, ruling and reigning from above, right at this very moment.


Psalm 110 paints a picture of God’s enemies as a footstool of Jesus as he sits at the Father’s right hand. And this should comfort us, for when you struggle with discouragement or disappointment, or when you’re angry or depressed about all the injustice and evil in the world, whether it be in light of natural disasters or mass shootings, consider where Jesus is now. He’s at the right hand of God the Father. His enemies are his footstool. The One who conquered death is now ruling the world.


Years ago, in the midst of apartheid in South Africa, Desmond Tutu was leading a worship service, and soldiers and police came in carrying guns, ready to shut it down. Bishop Tutu began to speak of the evils of the apartheid system — how the rulers and authorities that propped it up were doomed to fall. He pointed a finger at the police who were there to record his words: “You may be powerful but you are not God. God cannot be mocked. You have already lost.” He then began to bounce up and down with glee. “Therefore, since you have already lost, we are inviting you to join the winning side.” The crowd roared, and the people began to dance.


That’s the kind of confidence we can have in knowing that Jesus is alive, ruling and reigning from above. Given who Jesus is, what he’s accomplished and where he is right now, we can be confident that we are on the winning side.


The Easter story begins with the disciples filled with confusion and sadness and fear and ends with these same disciples filled with worship and joy and praise, because they have met and encountered the risen Christ and understand the necessity and goodness of both his resurrection and ascension.


So that’s the first, here’s the second.


Jesus is our priest, interceding on our behalf


Truth is, Jesus isn’t only ruling and reigning in heaven, from his place of authority and dominion. He’s also interceding on our behalf to God the Father. And in this way, he functions as our priest, interceding on our behalf, continually putting in a good word for us.


Romans 8 says, ‘Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.’


As followers of Jesus, as people who put their faith and trust in Jesus, that’s what Jesus is doing on our behalf right now – he’s speaking a good word about us, interceding on our behalf, praying for us. Isn’t that beautiful?


Even more, the book of Hebrews tells us that we come boldly before the throne of grace, knowing that we have an Advocate there who has walked our road and felt our pain, who can sympathize with our weaknesses. And so right in this moment, we pray to God himself, currently in heaven, who knows what it’s like to be human, who knows what it’s like to be one of us.


This truth alone should break our brains a little bit – right now, as we speak, there’s a human in heaven. I repeat, there’s a human in heaven. After all, notice the progression here at the end of Luke. Jesus appears before his disciples. To prove to them that it’s truly him and that he’s truly human, He shows them his hands and feet. And then he asks for something to eat and they give him a piece of broiled fish, which he chews with real teeth, swallows down a real esophagus, and is digested in the stomach and intestines and we’ll conclude our field trip of the digestive system there. And then, this same Jesus in verse 51, was taken up into heaven. It wasn’t as if his soul just floated up into the sky. No. Rather, there’s a human in heaven. Who can sympathize with our weaknesses and knows what it’s like to be human.


Now, as to what difference this all makes? On one hand, we can pray and rest knowing that there’s a human in heaven, who serves as a translator of sorts between heaven and earth, bridging our world and his, who prays on our behalf. That’s one application and yet Pastor Jeff Vanderstelt offers this application as well.

He says, consider the destructive power of gossip. When we gossip, we’re talking about someone behind their back, saying something we’d likely never have the courage to say to them face to face. When we do, we not only inflict damage on our relationship with the person we’re talking about, but also damage the relationships of the people we’re talking to. Vanderstelt recalls a time where some of his friends were speaking poorly of one of their neighbors and Jeff stopped them in their tracks, saying something to the effect of, ‘You guys, stop it. Our neighbor doesn’t deserve this, speaking poorly of him behind his back. And yet, right now, out of our sight and out of our control, Jesus isn’t gossiping about us, rather he’s interceding for us, speaking a good word about us to God the Father. So let’s do the same for our neighbor.’

Jesus is the Great High Priest, interceding on our behalf. That’s the second, here’s the third.


Jesus’s ascension means we are filled with the Holy Spirit


Jesus says to his disciples here in Luke, “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.”


He’s talking about the promised indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which will come upon them shortly after his ascension.


One of the most mind blowing things Jesus ever said was that,


“It is for your good that I am going away.’ In addition, he even said, ‘Whoever believes in me … greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.’


How could that possibly be true? This is a man after all who healed the sick, cast out demons, raised people from the dead, a man who walked on water, fed the 5000, calmed the seas, he turned water into wine for goodness sake! How could you and I possibly do better than, do more than that?


Well, Jesus can say that because we as followers of Jesus are filled with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, and so that means, wherever we go, the presence of God goes with us.


And Jesus, during his earthly life, took on the limitations of a human, he could only be in one place at one time, only with one group at any one time, whether he was in Jerusalem or at the temple or in a disciple’s home.


But now, for some 2000 years, followers of Jesus, millions of Christians filled with the Holy Spirit are spread all across the entire earth, being the hands and feet of Jesus wherever they live, work, play or learn. As followers of Jesus, God’s presence goes with us, as we go to our neighborhoods, our schools and classrooms, to parks and coffee shops and grocery stores, businesses and offices, ranches and farms. That’s how Jesus can say, “you’ll do greater works than me.”


We’re even given a hint towards this end when Jesus says that they “preach in his name to all the nations”. Consider that for a moment, how is it that the good news of Jesus can start local and now go global? Well it’s because we as followers of Jesus are filled with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, and so that means, wherever we go, the presence of God goes with us. And in a nice bit of timing, these dresses decorating the sanctuary today are a beautiful symbol of the cross cultural, global, Holy Spirit driven, missional calling of the church today.


Jesus’s ascension means we are filled with the Holy Spirit


That’s the third, here’s the fourth and final.


Jesus’s ascension serves as both mission accomplished and mission continued.


On one hand, Jesus’s ascension signals this key moment in biblical history. It’s this moment of mission accomplished. Through his death and resurrection and ascension, Jesus accomplished all that he had set out to do. He says as much when he says that “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law, and Prophets and Psalms.”


Mission accomplished, yes, and yet, mission continued as well.


Jesus says, “and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all the nations.”


I imagine the disciples must have looked around at one another thinking, “Gosh, who’s going to do that? Who’s he going to choose for this role?”


Jesus says, “You will.” “You are witnesses of these things.” And then he lifted up his hands and blessed them.


All in all, the gospel ends where the bible begins, with blessing and mission.


God looked upon the first humans and blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply”


And here Jesus with the first disciples does the same.


All together, the ascension shows us that Jesus is alive, ruling and reigning from above, which ought to give us comfort no matter what comes our way. The ascension reminds us that Jesus is our priest, interceding on our behalf, which ought to give us confidence to come before God in all things. The ascension paves the way for the Holy Spirit, who empowers us to live for him as his called and sent people, to gather and scatter, on one hand it’s mission accomplished, on another, it’s mission continued.


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