May 31, 2020
Acts 1: 1-11
1 In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2 until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.
It wasn’t all that long ago that we reached the 50year mark dating back to a truly remarkable event – the day when mankind landed on the moon. No doubt about it – it was a monumental moment in human history. And what made it so remarkable was not only that they successfully landed on the moon, that of course is a given, but also that they safely made it back home. Not surprisingly, when the astronauts returned to earth, there were parades held in their honor, they each received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and understandably so. It was not only an extraordinary accomplishment, but cause for celebration too.
And in a way, we as Christians celebrate and remember a similar event within the Christian calendar – what’s known as 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.
And just like those astronauts from 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. 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, all while defeating sin, death and the Devil himself.
And so for a few short minutes today, I want to talk about this key, yet often overlooked moment in Jesus’s life – his ascension. Now technically Ascension Sunday was last Sunday – that’s because Jesus’s ascension happened 40 days after Easter, marking the 40 days Jesus lived among his disciples after his resurrection, so we’re in fact a week late, but I’m trusting you’ll give me a pass on this one since, let’s be honest, if you by chance forgot that celebrating and remembering the ascension was even a thing, well, that makes two of us. Truth be told, we don’t give it all that much thought. Who knows exactly why that is, 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 as it may seem, it’s an important part of Jesus’s ministry for us to consider. So with that in mind, here are four reasons – four reasons why the Ascension matters for us as Christians today – and each point will be shorter than the one before it. 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? 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 this is no ordinary seat that Jesus currently sits in. As Jesus says in Revelation, “I . . . conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.’
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 COVID-19 or the racial injustice our country is experiencing, 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 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 maybe 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.
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 8.34 ‘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.’
Have you ever thought about how destructive and unbiblical gossip can be? 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. Pastor Jeff 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.’
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. Isn’t that wonderfully encouraging?
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, sitting in the most prestigious seat possible, who knows what it’s like to be human, who knows what it’s like to be one of us.
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
In my opinion, one of the craziest 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.”
Notice how right before Jesus ascends into heaven, he says,
8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
See that? Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, the ends of the earth. That’s the advantage of godly multiplication, people filled with the Holy Spirit. God’s presence goes with us wherever we go. Jesus’s ascension means we are filled with the Holy Spirit, which is for not only our good, but the entire world as well.
That’s the third, here’s the fourth and final.
Jesus’s ascension leaves us longing for his return
After Jesus ascended into heaven, two men in white robes said this to the disciples -
11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
You see, the ascension in itself leaves us longing for Jesus’s future return. Author and pastor Patrick Schreiner says this, ‘Jesus’s ascension keeps the church’s eyes trained on the future day. Where the ascension isn’t the climax or the end of the story. Rather, it’s the beginning of the end.’
One day, Jesus will return, bringing heaven down to earth, in all of it’s fullness.
And he won’t be coming back to have us all sit on clouds, singing songs and playing harps for the rest of time. No, we’ll have real bodies, doing real and meaningful work, we’ll be more alive then than ever before.
You see, when Jesus ascended into heaven, something remarkable happened – a human body, flesh and blood entered heaven, a human body has entered glory. A human body is forever in the very presence of God.
You see, 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 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. And because of the ascension we long for his return, knowing that we as humans can one day too enjoy heaven with him, living forever in the very presence of God.