When we moved from Ohio, one of the things I was going to miss most was what I mentally thought of as our “Ascension Crew.” This was a small group of pastors and their families. Most were quiet guys, but powerful things happen when we sit in awe of a Resurrection God together.
The thing that got them really excited was… one often left unmentioned New Testament Story, sandwiched between two more-often-told accounts: Easter, when Jesus rose, and Pentecost, the arrival of the Holy Spirit on the scene.
Did you guess it?
Yes, they loved Ascension.
This fact originally cracked me up.
One day I walked through a meeting they were in and I kid you not, I saw actual faces lighting up… joyful man-boy faces of varying ages and stages lighting up…over Ascension.
I didn’t get it then, but after one time of sitting in the worship they designed to celebrate all that God does and says through Ascension, I was all-in right alongside them – face lit up, in awe of our Resurrection God.
What is Ascension and why does it matter?
Those are the Resurrection questions we are going to answer today.
Please read Acts 1:1-11 below:
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Remember that the timeline of Acts is right after the Gospel accounts. The Bible is not always chronological – it doesn’t run in a timeline start to finish from cover to cover. Notice in Acts 1:1 how Luke, the author of the book of Acts, references the “first book.” That book would be the biblical Book of Luke. Acts is Luke’s continuation of his witness of what God was doing through Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirt, and the early church.
What insight does Acts 1:3 give us about Jesus and the resurrection?
Jesus appeared alive to them…for 40 days…talking, teaching, interacting. This wasn’t a one-time shot on Easter morning. The Resurrected Jesus had some time and some relationships, and many proofs on this Earth. Acts 1:4 uses really cool terminology in my ESV Bible, “While staying with them…” Other translations include gathered with them, while eating with them, assembled or simply together.
Jesus’s time for those forty days was a gift – a gift of proof and witness (which we’ll discuss in our final week of study) – but also a personal gift for many of those disciples I am sure.
It’s never easy to say good-bye, but just like everything else, Jesus knew how to do it and do it well.
God had a plan from the beginning of time and Christ carried out the work He was sent to do. It was time for the plan to continue.
It was time for the Holy Spirit.
Acts 1:6 tells us that the disciples, at least some of them, recognized the incompleteness of the restoration that we live in, the time of waiting we live in, this side of Jesus’s return for us. Acts 1:6 reveals that the disciples had personal and communal concerns, desires, and needs, just like we do, and that Jesus allowed them to ask questions of Him about these concerns.
Were they going to get the restoration of the people of Israel, the nation of Israel, that they wanted? In Acts 1:8 Jesus tells them, I have a different plan, a bigger plan, a plan for Jerusalem, Israel, Samaria, and the whole world.
Reread Acts 1:9-11. In your Bibles, or on a piece of paper, note every “heavenly” reference you can find, descriptors reminiscent of pictures of heaven or passages you’ve read about heaven.
One minute the disciples are talking about Jesus and the next He’s reigning in heaven. Well, there you go. No big deal.
It is a big deal! Can you imagine?
Ascension reminds us of Who Jesus is and we often need to be reminded. I love that Jesus is my friend, that He’s my companion, my comfort, every present listener.
Every once in a while, I need to be reminded that He is God.
God with a capital G, not a little g. Jesus is God of the Universe, King of Kings, Mighty, Just, Ruler, Lord of Lords, and so much more.
Ascension reminds us not to make Him small.
Ascension reminds us that there is a time of waiting, but God does act and it’s not on our timeline. It is on His timeline.
Luke finds this experience so important that He bears witness to it twice. Read Luke 24:50-53, which is actually his first account, his first book written to his friend, Theopholis:
50 And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy,53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.
Here Luke gives us the tidbit that when they were done gazing to heaven, the disciples responded with the natural outcry of worship.
Next, in the Book of Acts, the Spirit will come and the Church will be born. We go to church to hear from a Big God. Sometimes we need Ascension to remind us of this. It is an honor and a privilege to meet with others and worship Him in the waiting.
We have a Great Big Awesome God. He is our Resurrection God. He is our Ascension God – on His throne, reigning in our lives and over this world, even when we cannot see it. One day, He will be our Restoration God, even as we are restored today through Jesus’ death and resurrection, just wait for the Restoration to come. I have no doubt it will leave us standing with our mouths hanging open, staring at the clouds, and worshiping in the fullness of joy.