----- Luke 24:50-53
"At His Ascension, our Lord entered heaven --- and He keeps the door open for humanity to enter." ---Oswald Chambers
"Jesus departed from our sight that He might return to our heart. He departed, and behold, He is here!" ----Saint Augustine
This week begins with what many in the Christian Church call Ascension Sunday, the celebration of the remarkable departure that culminated Jesus’ post-Resurrection period on earth. As the passage above from Dr. Luke’s gospel indicates, Jesus’ limited time with His disciples after He rose from the grave came to its appointed end. It was time for “what comes next” for them as well as for Him. Sadly, for much of Evangelical Christianity, the event of Christ’s Ascension is relegated to relative obscurity in the theology and calendar of most churches. A surprising number of Christians know very little about this day --- the exception being that most have some knowledge of the “Great Commission” given just prior to His reentry into heaven.
Our ignorance of this moment in the life of our Lord can leave us without some wonderful encouragement and blessing. Considering the tone and negative environment of the places where so many of us live, work, go to school, or have other interaction with people, one of our greatest needs is encouragement! Many Christians feel as though they are under attack so much of the time, and most of us grow weary dealing with the sinful aspects of daily life. A “good word” would be like a rejuvenating tonic to us --- and that’s exactly what this marvelous passage can be to us this week!
In my years of Christian ministry, I have been continuously amazed at the similarities of the stories I’ve heard about the churches that were formative in many Christians’ lives. Sometimes Christians attended “home churches” many years ago; however, these churches still wield a large influence in their lives. If the home church’s teaching and nurture was healthy, this is a very good thing. BUT --- in so many cases, the influence was predominantly negative, guilt-ridden, and manipulative. Their God was disappointed in them and angry at them. They came to believe they were, as we used to say in the South, “a day late and a dollar short” with their heavenly Father. This is quite a burden to carry every day!
However, what a contrast this is with Jesus’ approach to His disciples. Having arrived in the vicinity of the little community of Bethany, the Scriptures tell us that He raised His hands in the typical Middle Eastern fashion and “blessed them.” Imagine that! He gave His divine blessing to the same disciples who had abandoned Him during His trials and ultimate crucifixion. He pronounced God’s benediction upon the same men who initially refused to believe the testimonies of the women that He had risen from the dead! To frail, woefully human disciples, He gave His approval and blessing! AND --- those who are His disciples now also receive His blessing every daily!
What a difference it should make in our lives that we are living under the scope of His approval. Rather than being tentative in our spiritual lives, our prayers, and our worship, we should revel gloriously in the knowledge that God loves us, that He accepts us, and that He embraces us as His own! One of the greatest lessons from the Ascension is that this divine pronouncement of blessing and approval was the final, culminating activity of Jesus just prior to leaving the earth. It was the last thing He did and it was one of the most important. Your life and mine are lived out under the scope of this blessing. With that in mind, what manner of life should we live, then?
As He was blessing the disciples, Luke records that “He left them and was taken up into heaven.” The great fact of the Ascension is echoed by the Apostles Creed each Sunday in its ancient words, “He ascended into heaven and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” The One who blesses us and gives His approval of those who are His now has taken His appropriate place at the right hand of the Father in heaven. What is He doing there? Making intercession for His own --- advocating for His covenant people --- interceding for those whose who belong to Him! Imagine that --- we have a “friend at court” Who knows us intimately and stands up for us before the God of the Universe.
Therefore, in our most lonely moments, you and I are never really alone! In our weakest times, the strength and power of Jesus Christ are employed on our behalf. When we’re guilty of sins and responsible for breaking God’s law, Jesus Himself appears before the Father pleading our case. We stand vindicated before God --- not because we are personally innocent, but because our Advocate at court has paid for our sins Himself once for all and pleads our case before the Judge of the universe! You are I can live without looking over our shoulders because we know Someone --- Someone who loves us and freely advocates for us with God the Father Almighty.
Is there any wonder, then, why the closing verses of Luke’s gospel records that they had great joy and continuing worship?! With such a grand blessing and the knowledge of our heavenly “friend at court,” our lives, too, may be filled with personal and corporate joyful worship! I pray that you and I will be gripped and changed by these wonderful facts, and that our lives and the worship of our churches will reflect such a joy! May Almighty God give you a week filled with unrestrained joy --- even in the midst of a sinful, crazy world! Live without fear and worry this week --- after all, you know Someone important at court!