Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Ascension often feels like the poor cousin among church festivals. It is often overlooked and passed over without being missed. There are a few congregations that will worship today. Some congregations will observe the Ascension this coming Sunday, but that will bump the Sunday After the Ascension off the calendar. Most, I suspect, will simply not observe it at all. This seems like poor treatment for one of the feasts of Jesus, an event that appears in our Creeds and that St. Luke thought necessary enough to narrate twice. Maybe we really don’t like goodbyes, and we don’t know precisely how to celebrate this one.
We understand why we celebrate Good Friday: Jesus’ sacrificial, atoning death on the cross for the salvation of the world. We know why we celebrate Easter: Because of Jesus’ resurrection, the tomb is empty, and death is defeated. He is risen indeed! Alleluia. But Ascension Day? There are no Ascension Day parades and no Ascension Day sales at the mall. I have never heard anyone say, “Sorry, we can’t make it to Church. We’re going to Grandma’s for Ascension Day.” Compared to Christmas and Easter, Ascension seems not to be very important. So, what does the Ascension mean? And why is it important?
What does the Ascension mean?
Luke describes Jesus’ going up’ from earth into Heaven at the beginning of Acts. We call this “the ascension.” It’s summarized in the Apostle’s Creed, “He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father, Almighty.” The Ascension is not a return to the way things were before. The world has changed because now Jesus is its enthroned Lord. The Ascension is Christ’s coronation. When a king is crowned, he already has the power and authority of the office by descent. Charles will become the king right away when Queen Elizabeth dies, even before the coronation. The coronation or inauguration simply publicly certifies that he is entering in upon the exercise of his office. Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven publicly certified his exalted status for his disciples of all ages. The Ascension proclaims the reign of Jesus Christ over all things.
The feast of the Ascension is the celebration of the present reign of Jesus Christ over all things. The same one who was born of the Virgin Mary, nailed to the cross, raised from the dead, returned to His city, to His throne, to sit and reign. Now He reigns over all things. Christ’s blood alone has covered all Your sins. His resurrection proved that He has defeated death forever. Christ has conquered by His obedience and death and now lives and reigns for all eternity.
Jesus Christ reigns over all things. The Ascension proclaims that He rules and governs all things for the good of his Church, both individually and collectively. That’s so important for us today. It may look like your life is going downhill: Health problems, financial problems, family and relationship problems. Chaos and confusion and staggering from one crisis to another. And what about the Church? From our perspective, it may look like the Church is on its last legs. Numbers are down. People are discouraged. Has Christ forgotten his Church? Do not fear! Christ now reigns over this mess. His name is greater than the name of any other prophet, priest, or religious leader. He reigns over every king, every authority, every premiere, ever mayor, over the angels, the devils, the viruses. you name it, he reigns over it. They are all under his feet, the same feet that were nailed to a cross to save us.
To confess that Jesus has ascended into Heaven and sits at the right hand of God is to claim that God has exalted him. The same Jesus who welcomed the sinners, who suffered and died in shame and rejection by this world, is now exalted into the very presence of God himself. It is in Heaven where He receives kingly power. The Ascension tells us that Christ is still in charge. It means you owe Jesus your complete and undivided loyalty. Christ commands your obedience to his Law. Yet this king died to save you because of his exceedingly great mercy. Christ works all things out for the good of God’s children (Ro 8:28). When you hurt, he knows it. And your King Jesus knows your weaknesses, and he will give you the strength to do what he asks, to endure to the end.
Why is the Ascension Important?
The Ascension of Jesus is important because it gives us our Mission. Until Christ comes again, the Church must get on with telling others about Jesus because that is our mandate. Jesus didn’t leave His disciples staring into the sky. Nor did the angels who attended Jesus’ Ascension. Why are you staring up at the sky? The same Jesus who was taken up from you into Heaven will come the same way you saw Him go into Heaven. He will come with clouds descending at a day and a time you do not and cannot know.
But in the meantime, for as many days as we have, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Our job is to make disciples by baptizing and teaching. Our job is to preach repentance and forgiveness to all nations. It couldn’t be more straightforward than that, could it? We don’t need a mission statement or some fancy program. The Church has it straight from the King. To be a witness for Christ is to bring a really simple message: We are all guilty of high treason against the Creator God. Yet, Jesus Christ is God come in the flesh. He died to pay for our sins; he was resurrected; now Jesus is exalted in Heaven; he calls us to believe in him and receive forgiveness of sins. This is good news. There is no system to climb—just a person to receive and, in him, eternal life.
God doesn’t spread the Good News by sending out angels to proclaim it or writing heavenly messages in the clouds. God chooses to use us, despite our demonstrable weaknesses. Today, many Christians may shy away from this because they think they do not know enough. I’ve heard excuses such as “I don’t know the Bible that well”, or “I don’t have a theology degree”, or “What if they ask me some deep theological question?” God does not call all Christians to be scholars or pastors. It does not take comprehensive knowledge of the Bible or a theology degree to tell people—like a witness in court—what you have seen Jesus do for you and for others. All you’re asked to do is be a witness. A witness tells the truth about what he sees. He gives testimony about what he has observed. Others have to weigh the value of that testimony and even whether it is to be believed. The witness simply tells the truth. So, tell the truth about what God has done through Jesus Christ for you.
Jesus commissions us not to build empires but to confront sinners with the message of repentance and forgiveness of sins. And we will receive power by the Spirit to spread the gospel throughout the world. Christ will come personally, visibly, and gloriously. Meanwhile, we have work to do. So take heart. You do not need to fear death, the devil, or the world with all its hostility. Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ now reigns in glory – all of it to save you.
May, the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.