A good way to undertake a brief study of the life of Jesus is through the significant events of his life. It is easy to overlook the finale. The ascension is a great fact of the New Testament, a great declaration of Jesus' nature, a great factor in the life of Jesus and in the lives of Christians. The ascension is part of a continuing story. Luke 24 and Acts 1 were written by the same author. We are moving from Volume One to Volume Two. Luke gives us great insight into the ascension. Read Lk. 24:50; Acts 1:8ff.
I hope you see in the events from the life of Christ the intrigue, the questions, the challenges, the rewards. We sing songs about the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus. We sing some songs about his life. There are few songs about ascension. There are few sermons preached on the ascension. Perhaps this is right, because there is little space in the New Testament devoted to the ascension. We have only meager detail for this sermon, we have in our texts read most of the New Testament on this topic. But something else is of interest here, a back door if you will. Christmas is emphasized, we spend money, it is a big thing even in the culture. Then Easter, and there is emphasis in the religious world again. This is what Cline Paden once called the "Holly-Lily Crowd." But did you know there is an Ascension Sunday? In our fellowship we do not make a big deal of it, even though it is on the traditional church calendar developed through the centuries. Most do not know when Ascension Sunday falls. So I am pointing out neglect and lack of discussion.
THE ASCENSION PERFECTS GOD'S PLAN
The ascension is the perfection and completion of God's plan for Jesus. Here is the gospel climax, culmination. This is essential, significant. There is meaning here. Jesus died, was raised. Will he die again? How? Now will he die as he exits earth? Remember the transfiguration. Moses experienced a unique death. Elijah was transfigured, Jesus.
For sinful humanity to reach heaven, two things are necessary: (1) the removal of sin--the negative; (2) the presence of righteousness--the positive. The resurrection demonstrated the sufficiency of the atonement to deal with sin. The ascension demonstrates the sufficiency of Christ's righteousness, imputed to us. Christ could return to heaven, having born the sins of the world, John 1:29 and other passages, but still sinless and righteous. In John 16:10, the Spirit convicts the world because of the ascension; the connection to righteousness is clear.
Perhaps this helps us understand why the ascension recedes from sight in comparison to the resurrection. 1 Cor. 15:1-4 does not mention the ascension in connection with the gospel. Glory and victory are in the resurrection. All else pales alongside resurrection. But, ascension is completion, declaration and validation of the resurrection. John 20:11-17; he was not yet ascended. What is this about? If Christ does not ascend, he will remain on earth. But his time here is short. The resurrection is prelude to the ascension. Of Christ's resurrection body we do not know. It was different from the body laid in the tomb yet essentially the same. It was recognizable, perhaps with difficulty. It was the same yet different.
The point of the ascension may be also that Jesus did not just fade away. He did not vanish. There is visible, viable, witnessed departure. Identify it. Know it. There is a place, time, persons involved. The ascension says, Jesus is now gone, and the way is open for the next steps in the spread of the gospel. He work is done, finished, at the cross. Perhaps Jesus is the only one who ever completed his work. He fulfilled the purposes of God. He is not coming back to earth, will not set foot on earth, we will meet him in the air. No renewed Davidic kingdom is anticipated, he did not fail to establish his kingdom, he did what he came to do. In the ascension, millennialism is defeated. Christ is not coming back, his earthly role is over. His position of authority, honor, and glory is at God's right hand. He reigns and rules. The ascension is culmination, it is necessary for heavenly exaltation. The ascension goes hand in hand with the resurrection, is demanded by the resurrection. This is a touching time, Luke 24:50ff. Christ blesses them, exhibits his love before they are separated. Did they know what he was doing? He lifts his hands, gestures, he is saying that he is going. At the transfiguration the apostles awaken to see Jesus, clouds, overshadowing, mysterious, then it is over. Bewildering, wondering. But at the ascension there is serenity, calm, sharing. God is present, yet leaving. God will remain, his presence is always. Eternity can touch time. So in Luke 24:52, they worship with joy. This is not fear, as at transfiguration, or at the crucifixion, or the unbelief at the resurrection. These have seen something that will change their life. Perhaps one of the most wonderful aspects of ascension is worship and joy.
THE ASCENSION IS PROOF
The ascension is historical. It is identifiable, visible, witnessed. Jesus returned to God. From Olivet you can see Jerusalem. This you can see in Mt. 23:37ff. This is the point from which the triumphal entry began, Mt. 21:1ff. This is a place of prayer, Lk. 22:39. This is a real place.
The persons are interesting. At birth, mother was there, perhaps angels, Jesus is not conspicuous to the world. At the resurrection, no human was there, angels rolled stone away. At the ascension, on clear day, plain, seen, witnessed, we have more than the two witnesses required by Jewish law.
THE ASCENSION IS PREPARATION
The ascension is preparation for Pentecost. Ascension and Holy Spirit connect. Christ promised the Holy Spirit after he left. He left so the Holy Spirit could come, John 16:7. After the ascension, Acts 2, Holy Spirit came, gospel was preached, church began. Kingdom inaugurated. Ascension is last great work of Christ, and one must not deny the reality, validity of ascension in the plan of God.
What shall I title this section? Who names a sermon point "potpourri"? Alliteration, it begins with the letter "P." There is so much more to be said, many points, miscellaneous matters, but also important.
Without Christ, outside of Christ, there is no meaning in the ascension. But in the body of Christ, there is life, vitality, and hope. We are destined for heaven, we are here only temporarily. Mk. 16:15-16. Believe and anticipate the glory which is Christ's, see the ascension.
We are frequently in danger of forgetting the glory and power and honor of Christ. Christ is coming. Are you ready?
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