Ascension Day, Thursday, May 26
Reader: “But you will receive power”
Response: “when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.”
Scripture: Acts 1:1-12
In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven after giving his chosen apostles further instructions through the Holy Spirit. During the forty days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God.
Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”
He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”
Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, a distance of half a mile.
In driving around in the Amish country around Lancaster, PA, it would be normal to see on the door of an Amish business “Closed for Ascension Day.” Though recognized in most liturgical churches, this day is seldom acknowledged in non-liturgical churches. Yet it is an important part of the whole gospel story. We often hear phrases like “the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus is the heart of the gospel.” It seems to me that such is only part of the gospel story. Practically speaking, if there had been no ascension, Jesus would still be walking around on earth somewhere with his mission not yet completed. The Holy Spirit would not have come upon all believers,(no Pentecost), and Jesus would not be at the right hand of God interceding on our behalf. The enthronement of Christ would still be in the future. He would not be preparing a place for us as mentioned in the fourteenth chapter of John’s gospel. The Church would not have been launched. The New Testament would not have been completed! We would never have heard of Paul!
The Ascension of Christ, forty days after the resurrection, is a further step in God’s overall detailed plan to bring redemption to the whole created order. The number forty, occurring often in Scripture, is a number indicating fullment or completion. Note that Jesus’ public ministry began by being led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness for forty days to be tempted by the devil. Following the resurrection and the defeat of the devil, he remained on earth forty days appearing at various times to different groups of people who believed in him. It is interesting to me that he chose not to appear to people who had rejected him. What would Caiaphas or Pilate have done had he appeared to them?
At the end of the forty days, his earthly mission completed, he returned to heaven with the promise of sending the Holy Spirit to take his place as a presence among his people. Rather than believers being limited by the physical presence of Jesus being in one place at one time, the Spirit would indwell all believers everywhere. John’s baptism began Jesus’ public ministry. Now, the baptism of the Holy Spirit began the disciples’ public ministry. You would think God had this all planned out!
It is interesting that, even after the resurrection, the disciples were still expecting Jesus to set up the earthly kingdom of God (Israel) in which he would rule as King. In spite of all that Jesus had taught them, a Kingdom on earth was still their perception.
The Ascension and Christ’s return to earth at some point in the future was the last thing his followers were expecting! Once again we see two angelic witnesses affirming the truth of what Jesus said and encouraging the disciples to get moving about the Father’s work. Notice also the appearance of a cloud indicating the presence of God as Jesus is enveloped into the cloud. It may also be worth saying that Jesus did not go to someplace else in the universe as though heaven were a physical place in a far off galaxy as I once heard a preacher suggest. Jesus entered into heaven, into another dimension from the world in which we live. All of heaven rejoiced as Jesus was enthroned at this Father’s right hand, the place of honor, authority, and power to assume his kingly rule. His authority extends over the entire created order, over angels, over his Church, over nations, and all of mankind. The Ascension marks the completion of Jesus’ personal earthly work. Ten days later came the inauguration of the Holy Spirit’s work on earth until the return of Christ. The same Holy Spirit is at work in the life of each believer today. We are now the hands and feet of Jesus’ work as the Spirit empowers us. Today is a good day to look for work!
Music: “At the Name of Jesus” First Plymouth Church
Lord Jesus Christ, ascended and hidden from our sight, yet really present to our faith, we acknowledge you to be Savior of the world and King of the new creation. Above our weakness and despair, above our strife and disunity, above our sin and rebellion, above the impersonal forces which threaten to crush us, you rule. Your love reigns supreme and can bring hope and peace and pardon and freedom. In our need of these gifts, we look to you. Lord Jesus Christ, alive forever, lifted high over all, unlimited by time or space, universal king, we worship and adore you. We pray this prayer in your own glorious name, Jesus the King. Amen. ―from Prayers for Sunday Services, p.100