Jesus was taken up to heaven. Christians label this significant event as the “Ascension of the Lord.” It is hugely important for followers of Jesus because it means that Christ is now presently sitting at God’s right hand offering continual prayers on our behalf to the Father. We have an advocate, a champion who has gone before us and secured deliverance from sin, death, and hell. This is no small thing. On top of it all, Christ’s ascension means that Jesus is the universal ruler; he commands a kingdom which will never end. This is no small deal.
So, why does a day set aside on the Christian Calendar celebrating the Lord’s mighty and redemptive ascension over all creation, done for us, garner such little attention from the church? Perhaps the clue is the disciples’ response when Jesus ascended. “’The Holy Spirit will come upon you and give you power. Then you will tell everyone about me in Jerusalem, in all Judea, in Samaria, and everywhere in the world.’ After Jesus had said this and while they were watching, he was taken up into a cloud. They could not see him, but as he went up, they looking up into the sky. Suddenly two men dressed in white clothes were standing there beside them. They said, ‘Why are you men from Galilee standing here and looking up into the sky? Jesus has been taken to heaven. But he will come back in the same way that you have seen him go’” (Acts 1:8-11).
The picture that Luke paints for us in the account of our Lord’s ascension is a group of guys looking up into the sky slack-jawed and shoulders hunched. It took a couple of angels to come along and, in essence, ask them what in the world they were doing just standing there. Now is not the time to stand and gawk at the clouds. Jesus will come back when he comes back; you aren’t going to know when. So, now is the time to get busy with what Jesus just told you two minutes ago to do: Tell everyone about me.
The Ascension of the Lord is a deeply theological event; it is freighted with major implications for our prayer lives; and, it means that Christ is the King to whom we must obey. And he is coming again. In the meantime, there is to be no cloud-gawking. There is to be world evangelization. There is to be talking to not just a person or two here or there, a once-in-a-while when the feeling of guilt strikes me and I puke out the gospel of Jesus on some poor unsuspecting pagan because this is what I should be doing. No, rather it is to be such a well-developed and well-cultivated connection with Jesus that what (super)naturally comes out of our mouths is the gracious good news that Christ died, rose from death, and ascended to heaven for mine and your forgiveness of sins and a new clean slate on life.
The church is not to be found standing in the parking lot gawking at the clouds at the Lord’s return. They are not to be looking up into the sky having those destructive parking lot discussions after a church meeting. The church is not to be in some earthly holding tank with stained glass windows just waiting for Jesus to come back and beat up everyone we don’t like and take us to heaven. Rather, we are to be telling everyone about Jesus.
We are Christ’s church. The Ascension of the Lord means we are God’s people blessed with salvation from sin, confident in the hope of ultimate deliverance, and seeking to realize all of creation coming under the rule and reign of the Lord Jesus. The Heidelberg Catechism, question and answer 49, says:
How does Christ’s ascension to heaven benefit us?
First, he is our advocate
in the presence of his Father.
Second, we have our own flesh in heaven
as a sure pledge that Christ our head
will also take us, his members,
up to himself.
Third, he sends his Spirit to us on earth
as a corresponding pledge.
By the Spirit’s power
we seek not earthly things
but the things above, where Christ is,
sitting at God’s right hand.