by Pastor Dave Strem
Used by permission
“And after He said these things He was lifted up before their very eyes and a cloud received Him out of their sight.” Very little has been written about the ascension. It seems like it is overshadowed by the cross and outshone by the resurrection. It seems that the ascension of Christ is thought of as a mere postscript on Jesus’ life. But it is not. It was a phenomenal event.
What does the ascension of Jesus Christ mean for you? I believe it holds some truths that will encourage your heart. Acts 1:9-11 describe what happened. Verse 3 tells us that it is 40 days after the resurrection. Jesus had appeared to the disciples and to over 500 people throughout that 40-day period. “It was not long after he said this that he was taken up into the sky while they were watching, and he disappeared into a cloud. As they were straining their eyes to see him, two white-robed men suddenly stood there among them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why are you standing here staring at the sky? Jesus has been taken away from you into heaven. And someday, just as you saw him go, he will return!’” Parallel passages in Mark and Luke, who also wrote Acts, tell us that He did all this in the vicinity of Bethany, which is near the Mount of Olives. This is the same place where they found the colt that Jesus rode on His entry into Jerusalem. Mark adds in chapter 16:19 that Jesus was taken up into heaven and now sits at the right hand of God. That is exactly what Jesus said would happen when He stood before Caiphus the priest. He stood before Caiphas and Caiphas asked, “Are you the Messiah?” And Jesus’ answer was, “I am. And you shall see the son of man raised up in the clouds and sitting at the right hand of God.” That is exactly what happened.
An exhaustive Greek study will not find any magical words in this passage that will suddenly illuminate the text for us. What you see, basically, is what you get. The event itself is the message that holds meaning for us. If it sounds a little simplistic, realize that God’s greatest truths are often very simple. The bread and the wine represent His death and resurrection in the new covenant. The rainbow represents how He preserved a remnant and that He will never again destroy the world with water. And now we have the clouds. A reminder that Christ came, went, and is coming again.
The ascension teaches peace of mind. We have a God who is in perfect control. He has a plan. Every day in this world we are barraged by problems. Barraged by things that seem to be out of our control. It is easy to lose sight that we do have a God that is in perfect control. We can have peace of mind. God wants us to have peace of mind based upon our confidence in God.
How else might Jesus have ended His earthly ministry? What do you think Jesus should have done? He died; He rose again. He appeared for 40 days to people. Should He just keep doing that? Popping up here and there all throughout history? “Hey, we had us a Jesus sighting in Afghanistan last week. China this week and Northern California tomorrow and maybe tonight He will be here.” I do not think that would be a good thing. Should He just have disappeared out of sight, without a trace? The appearances would taper off and then stop. Or, should He have been with somebody when it happened? He could have been sitting and talking with Mary and then is raised up and disappears. Can you imagine Mary talking to Peter and telling the disciples, “Guys, I was talking to Jesus and He just disappeared and said He is never coming back until the end times!” Do you think Peter would have believed her? Or, as Jesus is walking along the Sea of Galilee talking with Peter and suddenly Peter sees Him just disappear? Do you think Thomas would have believed Peter? No! Scripture says that they were all together, with many others, and they all saw it happen. We have many witnesses to this event.
Isaiah 52:13 says, “See my servant, he will act wisely. He will be raised up and lifted up and highly exalted.” God had a plan. The ascension, first of all, affirms our heart that God has a plan. God does not leave any loose ends. Secondly, I want you to see in this that God also has the power. Some Christians are a little embarrassed to talk about Jesus floating up into space. Floating out of here. Defying the laws of gravity. That is pretty hard to swallow. That is pretty hard to believe. Some might say, “I can imagine how some of these other things could happen, but what you are saying just does not happen. It is impossible. The law of gravity prevents it. I will tell you folks. I would be more embarrassed about thinking about a God who cannot overcome the law of gravity. That is no kind of God that I want to follow. That is no kind of God worthy of our worship. Consider a jet airliner. Fifty tons of metal and plastic and it flies. It does not look like it is going to fly, but it does. It looks absolutely impossible. Our experience tells us something different though, doesn’t it? Those GE turbines start spinning faster and faster and suddenly that big old mass of metal starts rolling. Faster and faster it runs down the runway and then before you know it, it is flying. Why? Because there is something more powerful than the law of gravity. And if an airplane is more powerful than gravity, why can’t God overcome gravity, as well?
Jesus came for a purpose. The book of Hebrews tells us that He finished His work and then sat down at the right hand of God. He accomplished His purpose. We can have peace of mind because Jesus accomplished exactly what we needed. He saw our brokenness and offered wholeness. He saw our sin and offered forgiveness. He saw our lack and offered fullness. The ascension should bring you peace of mind when you think of it. The ascension should bring you hope for the future. There is something ahead for you, something that is assured for you. The ascension is a vivid reminder that we have a physical, tangible destination. Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you.” It is a real place. Not a state of mind. Not a condition.
The cross symbolizes our redemption. The resurrection symbolizes His ability to overcome death and bring life–eternal life. Suddenly, we are not just forgiven, but now we have a life to live in that forgiven state. But where and how is it going to happen? Is it really going to be real or just be imaginary. Are we disembodied spirits or something else out there? What’s going on? The ascension shows us and reminds us that we have a destination, a real destination. Turn over to Ephesians chapter 2. Ephesians is full of pictures of Christ in glory and describes Christ on the throne at the right hand of God. Ephesians 2:4-5 tells us that because of His great love for us, He made us alive in Christ, even while we were dead in transgressions. It is by grace you have been saved. Now watch this: “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us in the heavenly realms in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace expressed in the kindness to us in Jesus Christ.” Did you catch something important in this passage? God raised us up. Raised. Not is going to raise. Not is raising, but raised in the past tense. And seated, not will sit us, but has seated us with Christ. That is what Paul means when he says, “We are in Christ.” God sees us now through Christ. We are present before God with Him. And that gives us cause to smile. Smile because you have a hope that is certain. It is past tense. It is done. It is sealed. First Peter teaches that it is an inheritance that will never perish, never fade, never disappear, never spoil, never rust, and never expire. We have a real destination and future because God has given them to us. All other sources for eternal meaning and purpose will fail and disappoint because all other things are not God. These things can only offer temporary satisfaction and meaning. Only the Eternal One can give everlasting purpose and meaning!
We have a champion on our side. Psalm 24 describes it: “Lift up your heads, O ye gates and be lifted up you ancient doors that the king of glory may come in. Who is the king of glory, it asks. The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle.” We have a champion on our side that has accomplished everything that we need for life and holiness, for restoration before God, for strengthening through the Holy Spirit. You can trust Jesus standing as your representative before God the Father. Satan accuses us all the time. “Did you see what he did?” “They are never going to get that straight.” “They are always falling down in that area.” We have an accuser, but it says also in 1 John that we have an advocate. And Jesus is the kind of advocate that I want to have because I know about Him. I know how He looks at me. I know how He thinks about me. I am glad He is my advocate. He has not just seen my outward actions. He knows my heart. He knows my love for Him. We have an advocate with the Father that we can trust.
Jesus has a continuing ministry on our behalf. That cannot be said about the other religions. Buddha is not standing up for any Buddhists. Confucius is not representing Confucianism to anyone. Mohammed is not doing anything for anybody. Only Christianity has a living founder that continues to work on behalf of those who follow Him, a founder whose history did not stop with His death. It did not stop with His resurrection. It has not stopped with His ascension. When He was on earth for 33 years, He was limited in geography, time, and space, but now He is not. Through the Spirit He is with you in your home, He sees you at your workplace. He is not limited.
Jesus is the one who sent the Holy Spirit to help you, to be present with you, to guide and strengthen you, to nudge you along in life. Jesus told His disciples, “I am going to Him who sent me. I tell you the truth, it is good, it is to your advantage that I go away for if I do not go away the helper shall not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you.” We have a champion in heaven and a helper on earth. The Holy Spirit is here to communicate with us, to guide, and strengthen our lives. The ascension should cause us to nod and say, “Ok, I have someone on my side. I have got the potential for spiritual and moral strength. I have a helper. I can do this! I am going to be your man (or woman). A person of action.”
All these things focus on what we are to know and how we are to feel, but that is not where Jesus left His disciples. I want you to look at Acts 1:11, again. The two angels asked the believers that were present, “Why are you standing around looking at the sky?” Literally, it says, “Why do you stand gazing into the sky?” He has not put you into a waiting room until He returns. He says, “Get out there and share my truth with others. Be my hands, be my voice of peace, of truth to those around you. Get up and get going.” The disciples were not to stay on that hillside in Bethany. They were to go back into Jerusalem. They were to go to Judea, to the uttermost parts of the world. They were to share the truth that they had seen that others may also know that truth that their lives will be benefited, also. Jesus said: “I have been given complete authority in heaven and earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of this age” (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus ascended so that the Spirit could come and be our helper so that we can become more like Him. Jesus ascended so that He could be by His Father’s side once again. Jesus ascended to prepare a place for us so that we can dwell with Him forever. ‘Oh, what a great friend and advocate we have in Jesus!”