COVER STORY – ASCENSION
Ascension is actually not our holiday, is it? Not really. It belongs, for the most part, to our Lord Jesus. Think of it. If you were Jesus, wouldn’t you be eager to return to heaven to be with your Heavenly Father and to exist in the perfect bliss of paradise—especially if you knew from personal experience what that place was really like?
Clearly. Who wouldn’t want to be there right this minute? The Apostle Paul certainly agreed. In his letter to the Philippians he said, “If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” (Philippians 1:22-23 ESV)
The Ascension was therefore the day Jesus got to go home—victorious! It was Jesus’ great day as He returned to the glory and bliss of His Father’s side in heaven.
That’s not to say that there’s nothing in the Ascension for Christians.
The word the Bible uses to describe how the disciples stood staring off into space is the same one it uses to describe how the children of Israel stared at the glowing face of Moses when he came down from Mount Sinai (2 Corinthians 3:13), and how Stephen stared at the vision of angels when he was being stoned (Acts 7:55). Clearly, this event was absolutely amazing to those who witnessed it. Who knows how long the disciples stood there, or how long they would have stood there had the two men dressed in white not arrived? The angels asked the same question anyone walking up to a similar group today would ask: “Why do you stand looking into heaven?” The angels obviously knew the answer, so with the question they offered both an explanation and a promise—and in that explanation we learn the promise that the Ascension of our Lord Jesus holds for us: “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11 ESV)
Pause for a moment and contemplate both the absolute reality and the dramatic import of that simple statement of truth from the angels. Jesus will one day return to this earth as He once left at His Ascension. What an awesome, heart-lifting thought. Jesus is coming back—at any moment!
And He is coming back for us. Because He made us clean. In fact, that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Jesus returned at His Ascension to the Father, and He could do so only if He was victorious; that is, He could return to His Father only if He had actually accomplished His mission to rescue fallen mankind. The fact that He returned to heaven means that He had successfully completed His mission. That is, in fact, how and why the Ascension serves as the “second great proof” of Jesus’ victory. The first proof was His Resurrection from the dead. The second great proof was the Ascension, which ought to hold the same place in the human heart as does the empty tomb of Easter Sunday. Jesus could not have returned to the perfection of heaven if He had failed to win our forgiveness. His Ascension means that we are forgiven.
As you celebrate the Ascension, pause and be reminded of the fact that that very Ascension is a declaration from God that the full debt for your sins has been paid by your Savior. But then move on. As Peter, James, and John could not remain on that Transfiguration mount—for their ascended Lord had work for them to do while they waited to rejoin Him—so, too, He has given us work to do. Be about your Father’s business. Yet as you go, carry with you the image of your glorified Savior. That is Jesus as He now exists, our all-powerful Savior-God for Whom nothing is impossible.
Michael Roehl is pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Bismarck, North Dakota.