What is the most important event in the Christian calendar?
There are four major events in the Christian calendar: Christmas, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost. We are all familiar with Christmas, Easter and Pentecost, but the Ascension is another question. Christmas we get, Easter we get, and Pentecost we get, but the Ascension? Is that just for theologians? Does it really matter? The fact is the ascension is like a piece missing piece from a little child’s four piece jigsaw – it’s a major part and without it, the picture is most definitely incomplete – it’s that important!
Andrew Murray said, “Faith has, in its foundation, four great cornerstones on which the building rests—the Divinity of Christ, the Incarnation, the Atonement on the Cross, the Ascension to the Throne. The last is the most wonderful, the crown of all the rest, the perfect revelation of what God has made Christ for us.” Andrew Murray, The Holiest of All, 46. The ascension is the one piece that ties all the others together.
What do you think of when you think of the ascension?
- If you were to paint it, what would it look like – artists have always struggled to do this?
- How did Jesus go? Was it like a rocket – up, up and away, but still in a material universe, and he’s way out there somewhere, like some astronaut?
- Or did he go through some portal – from one dimension to another, if so how?
- And, if so, did his body dissolve away as he went or stay the same?
- And what does it all mean for Him, for us?
When we think about the Ascension it seems fantastical, a bit like science fiction, one of those things you can conjure up in stories or produce on film with special effects, CGI, but in reality, it’s a thought too far! In the same way that the human mind grapples with the incarnation – God becoming flesh, it grapples with the ascension, a man ascending to Heaven, and asks the question, how?
- For some, the body is a problem, and something to be left behind as you go to that other, purer, spiritual world – other ascension stories go a similar route.
- To others, this is it, there is nothing else, we are born, we live, we die, full stop. End. Remember the Sadducees?
- And to the modern scientific world we live in, of course, we’ve examined it and it’s impossible.
There is more to this world than more than meets the eye!
The fact is reality is more than the world we can taste, touch, dissect and analyze with microscopes. There is another dimension, a spiritual dimension – its written into our DNA, an ‘other’ awareness. Its seen in the general desire of something beyond, and it’s not a hangover from our so-called evolution – it’s fascinating how our 21st-century scientific world loves stories that speak of other dimensions of reality, be they fairy, sci-fi, or otherwise.
The idea of God taking on flesh, living in flesh, then dying, rising and ascending in flesh, seemed absurd to people then as now. There either wasn’t another world, or dimension to life, or if there was there could be no interaction between them as they were incompatible.
Heaven and earth we should remember are not two different locations, far apart from each other, but rather different dimensions of God’s creation that overlap and interlock. “Earth is crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God, but only he who sees takes off his shoes; the rest sit round and pluck blackberries.” Elizabeth Barrett Browning
The connection has been ruptured but Jesus came to restore it!
His continuing incarnation
In thinking about the ascension we must first understand that Scripture teaches that just as Jesus, took on real flesh in the incarnation, not by becoming less than God, but by adding humanity to himself, in the ascension he doesn’t stop becoming man, but takes his humanity with him into the very heart of the Godhead! That is the astounding nature of the ascension of Jesus – there is a Man in the glory.
We were made for God, to live in union with him. Humanity had broken that union, and was cut off from the true life, even to the point as the Church Father Athanasius put it of being on the road to ruin and in danger of lapsing into non-being.
In order to redeem and renew Jesus had to enter that existence and re-establish that union, inside it’s alienation and rebellion. As the writer to the Hebrews says, he had to be made like us in every way, or Paul says, Jesus came in the likeness of sinful flesh.
So he was born, so he lived – tempted in all points as we are, yet never giving in, and so he died in our flesh, and rose again, not to die again but to ascend and present himself and our redeemed and restored humanity back to God.
Now “dust sits on heaven’s throne” (Someone’s paraphrase of a Church Father). The incarnation continues. He has taken our humanity with Him right into the Godhead. He did not return to His former state but continues as the Man in the glory.
Take time to ponder on these verses:
Crown Him the Lord of Love:
Behold His hands and side;
Rich wounds yet visible above
In beauty glorified:
No angel in the sky
Can fully bear that sight,
But downward bends his burning eye
At mysteries so bright.
Thou hast raised our human nature
On the clouds to God’s right hand;
There we sit in heavenly places,
There with Thee in glory stand.
Jesus reigns, adored by angels;
Man with God is on the throne.
Mighty Lord, in Thine ascension
We by faith behold our own.
Having considered His continuing incarnation we can now think of His exaltation. Psalm 110:1 is the most quoted or referred to verse in the New Testament, quoted or referenced some 20 times! And what does it say, “The LORD said to my Lord, sit at my right hand till I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” What a prophetic utterance regarding Messiah, Jesus, David makes!
When we come to the language of scripture regarding the ascension it is large and expansive, reaching its very limits in order to describe the significance of this one-time event.
- Jesus, ascended higher than the heavens (Eph 4:10), to the highest place which Heaven affords (Hebrew 7:26). He is exalted to the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:33), as the Holy One, the Lord, Christ (Acts 2:36), Prince, and Saviour (Acts 5:30,31) and crowned with glory and honour (Hebrew 2: 8, 9). Everything, and everyone, that has been created is and are under his feet, and He is far above all rule and authority, principality and power, and every name that can be named – both in this age, and the one to come (Eph 1:21). He’s the head over the church, which is his body (Col. 1:18), the fullness of him who fills everything in every way (Eph. 1:23). He is The Lord of all (Acts 10:36).
The hymn writers made much of it, Look ye saints the sight is glorious, see the Man of sorrows now… The head that once was crowned with thorns is crowned with glory now… God has gone up on high with a triumphant sound… and more.
If Jesus had not ascended….
- We would assume that like Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead, he must have at some point died again. If this were the case then death would have had the last word, not life.
- And if He had continued to live on earth he would have been confined to a particular place, and we would all be looking for him.
- His ministry would have been restricted and the age of the Spirit and the church would not have begun.
- Our salvation would be incomplete.
- We’d have no hope because Jesus was not enthroned.
So, what does it mean for us?
1. God is for us – If He is a bodiless Christ, he has left us and we are on our own, forsaken, and there is still a great divide between us, but praise God he still carries our humanity and what difference that makes.
- a. Because he retains our humanity, he raises our value!
- b. We needn’t withdraw from the world. We can positively engage with it. We now serve him by serving others in the same way.
2. We are fully accepted and have complete access – he has opened up to us the same communion he has with the Father! John 14, 15, 16, 17.
3. We are safe and secure – our lives are hidden with Christ in God. “Because Jesus lives forever, his priesthood lasts forever. Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him.” Heb 7:24
4. We have a Great High Priest who still feels for us and intercedes for us – Heb 4:15; 7:25.
5. We are seated in Heavenly places in Christ…! Eph. 2:6
6. He has given the gift of the Spirit – the promise of the Father (Acts 2)
- a. His Presence – The Spirit brings or makes real to us not another Jesus but the same Jesus of the gospels. We do not encounter him by going outside of our space and time, but encountering him within it.
- b. His enabling for growth in Christlikeness
- c. His Empowering for the advancement of the kingdom
7. We have a full and certain hope… his ascension is his pledge of our resurrection and eternal life!
8. He is coming again! A truth that has been left behind, but still much needed. Acts 1:11.
What a difference the Ascension makes!