Then 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. Luke 24:50-53
As followers of Jesus, we rightly celebrate, with great gusto, the Christian holy days of Easter (his death and resurrection) and Christmas (his incarnation). We sing (sometimes kitschy) songs (‘Aussie Jingle Bells’ anyone?), we exchange gifts, we go on holidays, and we trundle off to church. And the importance of these days is quite obvious to us. Without Christmas, God would remain distant, and without the Easter days, we would remain in our sin.
But there is another holy day worthy of our celebration and reflection. It is a day we are not overly familiar with, yet it is vitally important. I’m talking about Ascension Day (for those unaware, ‘Ascension Day’ is next Thursday May 29). What is Ascension Day, you ask? Well, as the name suggests, it is a commemoration of Jesus’ ascension into heaven (Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:9-11), forty days after his resurrection. It marks the end of the Easter season, and is celebrated in anticipation of Pentecost (the outpouring of the Holy Spirit).
I read this week, that as an expression of Acts 1:13-14, which indicates that the disciples joined in constant prayer following the ascension of Jesus, many Indonesian churches hold a ten-day prayer meeting on the evenings between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost Sunday.
Now, you might be wondering, what is the big deal about Jesus ascending into heaven? Does it warrant a ten-day prayer meeting? Well, however we commemorate it, one thing is clear; just like the believers in Luke 24:51-53 (above), Jesus’ ascension, understood properly, should fill us with unquenchable joy and overflow into unceasing worship.
Think about it. Because of Jesus’ return to glory, we have access to God in an unprecedented way (Eph. 3:12). Jesus blazed a heavenly trail, which we, by grace, can follow right into the throne room of God (Heb. 6:19-20). Jesus sent us the promised Advocate and Helper (John 14:16-17, 26; 16:7); the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). We are the subjects of King Jesus, who is not simply a king with some authority, but a King with all authority over the entire universe (Matt. 28:18)! This means that wherever we go and whatever we do, we are never outside the jurisdiction and loving care of our King. And not only does our King lovingly reigns over us, but he graciously intercedes for us (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25).
I could go on, but Bruce Metzger sums up the importance of Ascension Day well, when he says:
“Ascension Day proclaims that there is no sphere, however secular, in which Christ has no rights – and no sphere in which his followers are absolved from obedience to him. Instead of it being a fairy tale from the pre-space age, Christ’s ascension is the guarantee that he has triumphed over the principalities and powers, so that at his name ‘every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’ (Phil. 2:10-11).”
Oh what joy to know the one true King who reigns and will reign forevermore (Rev. 11:15).
Grace and peace, Adam