1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.
4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
We celebrated Easter about 40 days ago, and next Sunday, we will be celebrating Pentecost. Easter and Pentecost are generally considered more significant holidays than Ascension Day, but Ascension Day also held significant importance in the early Church era. It was seen as a crucial part of salvation, along with the crucifixion, resurrection, and Pentecost.
Imagine the scene as the resurrected Jesus was lifted up before the very eyes of the disciples and taken up to heaven. The disciples stood in awe, witnessing this sacred event that affirmed Jesus’ divine nature, authority, and power. The early Church recognized Ascension Day as a milestone in the life and mission of Jesus Christ and celebrated it as a key event in the Christian faith.
Christ’s ascension into heaven took place 40 days after Easter Sunday. Last Thursday was Ascension Day. The ascension of Jesus was not merely a physical departure but carries spiritual significance for us. This morning, we are going to explore the meaning and implications of Christ’s ascension and what it means to us.
The Completion of His Earthly Ministry
Firstly, the Ascension marks the completion of Jesus’ earthly mission.
Through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus accomplished the work of salvation and reconciliation between God and us.
When Mary conceived Jesus by the Holy Spirit, the angel told Joseph, “He will save His people from their sins”. That was the purpose of Jesus’ first coming. In His last moment on the cross, He said ‘It is finished’. By His work of redemption, our debt for sin was paid in full.
We all know the Apostles’ Creed and let me remind you of a part of it.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell. The third day he rose again from the dead.
This is what Jesus accomplished on earth for our salvation, to fulfill the mission the Father sent Him to do.
In John 16:28, Jesus told His disciples, on the night before His death, ‘I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.’
Jesus assured His disciples that He would return to the Father in glory once He had completed His work on earth. After His resurrection, Jesus spent a period of time appearing to his disciples, teaching them, and providing them with further instructions. On the day of Ascension, Jesus ascended to heaven as He had foretold.
The Restoration to His Glory and the Beginning of His Work in Heaven
Secondly, the Ascension indicates that He was restored to His infinite glory and began His ministry in heaven.
In John 17:4-5, Jesus prayed to God the Father ‘I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.’
The glory was His before the world began and belongs to God alone. Now, He is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty, the place of divine honor.
In revelation 5:13, John said that the saints in heaven are gathered around God’s throne and said, ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!’
From the throne, He is working for His people.
The Savior is our interceding High Priest, giving us the grace that we need for our lives and services. He is also our Advocate before the Father, forgiving us when we confess our sins. He is also preparing a place for His people. The exalted and glorified Head of the church is now working with His people on earth and helping them accomplish His purposes through the Holy Spirit.
The Assurance of His Return in Glory
Thirdly, the Ascension assures us of His return in glory.
As the believers watched Jesus being taken up to heaven, two angels appeared and spoke to them. The two messengers gave the believers assurance that Jesus Christ would come again, just as He had been taken from them.
This is the promise and hope that Jesus will return one day in glory to judge the living and the dead and fulfill His ultimate plan. This is a great hope, comfort, and encouragement for faithful Christians.
The Beginning of Our Ministry as His Disciples
Fourthly, the Ascension signifies the beginning of our ministry as His disciples.
Our Ministry on Earth as His Disciples
The disciples had a close relationship with Jesus during his time on Earth. They lived and traveled with him, sharing everything and engaging in conversations, for three years. When Jesus spoke about his departure, the disciples were filled with grief because they had developed a deep relationship with him.
It may seem like a random question, but have you ever thought about why Jesus didn’t take His disciples with Him when He ascended to heaven? Have you also wondered about why you are living on earth in the 21st century and not in heaven yet?
While Jesus had the power to take His disciples with Him when He ascended to heaven, He chose not to. One of the reasons is that Jesus wanted to entrust His disciples with the Great Commission on Earth. Before His ascension, Jesus instructed His followers to be witnesses to His life, death, and resurrection, and to spread the message of the Gospel throughout the world.
In a similar way, we, as His disciples living in the 21st century, are also called to carry on the work of Jesus on Earth. While we may long for the joyful life of heaven, we have a purpose to fulfill in this world. Just as the first disciples were commissioned to spread the Gospel, we are also called to be witnesses of Jesus’ love, grace, and salvation, sharing the good news with others and making disciples.
While the disciples may have experienced sadness and disappointment at Jesus’ departure, His decision to not take them with Him was part of His plan to continue His work through them and through us, His followers in every generation.
Attending worship services, serving a church community, and striving to live righteously are essential components of our Christian life. But we need to recognize that they alone may not be enough to fulfill God’s calling for our lives.
We need to be cautious not to be confined within our own understanding or a limited perspective of what it means to be a follower of Christ. Our loving relationship with God is meant to transform every aspect of who we are and how we interact with the world around us.
As followers of Christ, we are called to be channels of that love to the world around us. It is not enough for us to lead moral lives and keep our faith confined within the walls of our churches. Instead, we are challenged to actively engage with people in our neighborhoods or the communities around us, demonstrating the transformative power of God’s love and pointing them towards our Lord, Jesus.
Remember that the Ascension serves as a commission for all believers including us to actively participate in the mission of Jesus, bringing hope, love, and redemption to the world until His return.
The Holy Spirit Empowering His Disciples
But the issue is that we can’t change people’s hearts. We can’t even change our heart either. Only God can.
We remember that when Jesus chose the first disciples, they were ordinary Jewish people. Even when they were with Jesus, they still had a strong political view of the kingdom and were concerned about their own positions and privileges. They anticipated the physical reign of the Lord on earth.
They couldn’t fully understand the life and ministry of the Lord, His resurrection, the kingdom of God, their mission, and the work of the Holy Spirit. After Jesus’ crucifixion, they were hiding in a locked room in fear for their lives. They felt scared and hopeless.
After His resurrection, Jesus remained on earth for 40 days to minister to His disciples. To strengthen their faith, He provided them with convincing proof that He was alive. He appeared before them many times, invited them to touch His body, and even ate with them.
And Jesus said in Acts 1:8
‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’
After His departure and when the promised Holy Spirit came upon them, they would be able to comprehend the great truths of the gospel. Only when they were clothed with the power of the Holy Spirit, they would be able to serve the Lord and accomplish His will as His witnesses to all nations. For this reason, Jesus commanded the disciples to wait until the promised Spirit was sent.
After leaving them behind, Jesus empowered them with the Holy Spirit to carry on His work and continue His mission. The disciples were to be His ambassadors, proclaiming the good news and making disciples of all nations.
Christ’ work on earth for our salvation was finished, but the work of proclaiming that salvation to all nations was and is still in progress. Jesus’ Ascension is the introduction of a new phase of His ministry through His church, empowered by the Spirit, and vital to the continuation of His work on earth through His body, the church.
The first disciples were the church. We are disciples of Christ. We are His church. Now, it is our turn. The purpose of their life is the purpose of our life given by God. We all need the first disciples’ newfound boldness to continue Christ’s ministry to all nations.
It is only through the Holy Spirit that believers from the first disciples to the church today are able to live His will and be His witnesses to the ends of the earth. As Jesus blessed His first disciples, He has blessed us with everything that we need in order to continue His work, so that we can be His representatives on earth.
All believers are priests to the Lord. We are all called to engage in His ministry wherever we are placed – whether in our homes, churches, places of work, local communities, or on mission fields – by doing everything in the name of Jesus Christ until He comes again.
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