Luke 24:50-53: When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
John 14:1-3, 16-18; 16:7: Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am… And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you… But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.
Acts 1:6-11: Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
Hebrews 4:14-16: Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Reclaiming the Ascension
1. Perhaps it is because Ascension Day falls on a Thursday (40 days after Easter Sunday), but far less attention is paid to this event than the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus.
2. But this is the climax of the Jesus story – at least until he comes back in the same way the disciples saw him go into heaven.
3. Or maybe we find the account embarrassing – Jesus lifting off from the earth and gradually disappearing into the clouds – rooted in a cosmology that assumes heaven is physically above the earth and that is unbelievable in contemporary culture.
4. But, as so often throughout Scripture, we find God graciously accommodating to (as well as challenging) the culture and worldview of those involved.
5. The ascension of Jesus assures us of various things:
(a) The resurrection of Jesus is permanent – unlike those he had restored to life (Lazarus, the son of the widow in Nain, etc.), he did not and will not die again.
(b) Humanity, in the person of the Son of Man, has been taken up into the heavenly realms – there is a permanent change in the heavens, and the gulf between God and humanity has been bridged.
(c) Jesus is now exercising the ministry of a high priest, interceding for us, advocating for us, empathising with our weaknesses, offering the grace we need.
(d) The Holy Spirit is now available in a way that was not possible while Jesus walked the earth. The presence and power of God is no longer restricted to one time and place, embodied in one human being. The Ascension leads directly to Pentecost.
(e) Jesus is preparing a place for redeemed humanity and will return at an undisclosed time – history will have a climax, just as ascension was the climax to Jesus’ earthly ministry.
6. How does this relate to the theme of peace?
(a) When promising that the Spirit, ‘another advocate’, would come in his place, Jesus said that the Spirit would bring peace: ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid’ (John 14:27).
(b) It seems that the disciples were still hoping (in Acts 1) that Jesus would overthrow the Romans and establish an independent Israel. After three years with him, they still did not grasp that his ‘kingdom’ would not be advanced by force. Jesus instead encourages them to receive a different kind of power and to pursue the strategy of peaceful witnessing.
Ascension prayers from Take our Moments and our Days
God of glory beyond our comprehension,
you exalt the humble and raise the lowly.
Give us grace to know the mind of Jesus,
that we may follow him through death and into new life.
God of all life,
you break the cold chains of death and draw us into your glory.
Release our frozen hands and feet with the fire of your love,
that we may be forever bound to you
through the resurrection of your son Jesus.