In case you hadn’t realised, and I am suspecting most of you haven’t today is Ascension Day or more accurately, The Feast of Ascension. Ascension Day is largely ignored by most protestants and while I am not a slave to the whole Church Year thing I do think the major points in the Church year are pretty important because they not only remind us about crucially important truths about Jesus and his mission and ministry they also help us reorientate our lives around those truths.
So what is Ascension Day? … well its the Thursday 40 days after Easter when we remember that Jesus ascended into heaven. However, Ascension isn’t simply about the day the disciples said goodbye to Jesus. Jesus’ Ascension was to His Father’s right hand, to the place of authority and the New Testament writers describe it as a crucial part of Christ’s saving work. We tend to think very narrowly about Christ’s saving work and connect it mainly with his death on the cross and perhaps the resurrection but if you look at passages like the one below you will see that the NT weaves all the great “events” together of Jesus ministry and mission when they talk about how He saved us.
6 who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness. (Incarnation, Christmas)
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death –
even death on a cross! (Easter, Atonement)
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place (Resurrection & Ascension)
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, (Parousia, 2nd Coming)
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
So through the Ascension the New Testament is saying that Jesus time of humiliation and death is behind him, as are His post resurrection appearances and that He has now been enthroned in heaven as King. The Ascension tells us then that something decisive has happened, the earthly part of Jesus ministry has been completed and all that He has done has been accepted and honoured by the Father. The writer of the book of Hebrews puts it like this “Hebrews 1:3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” We can be sure that our salvation has been secured and is secure because the Father has exalted Christ for what He has done. If Jesus is seated in heaven, no further sacrifice is needed for our sins, nothing needs to be added. Older writers used to described this as “the finished work of Christ” and say that we should “rest in the finished work of Christ.” Think that over for a moment!
So what does all of this mean in practice to us today, Steve Seamands teases out some of the main implications really well
“Proclaiming the ascension is therefore crucial in fully and properly exalting Christ. For Jesus is not only alive but sovereign, not only central but supreme. … whenever we fail to proclaim the ascended Christ, enthroned and exalted, something else — our personal agendas, the world’s agenda, the church’s agenda, moves into fill the vacuum. Mark it down when we fail to exalt and enthrone Jesus, something or someone else inevitably assumes the throne.”
Just ponder that final sentence because I think it takes us to the heart of what Ascension day should be for us.
Its about enthroning Jesus, God enthroned Christ as King its appropriate on Ascension Day for us to ensure that we have done the same, that Christ has not just been given the place of ultimate authority in heaven but also in our hearts and lives. When Paul, probably quoting some very early worship song, says that God the Father has exalted Christ so “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,” he is talking not just about Christ’s authority but our submission. If Christ is King we are to submit to Him as our Lord in word and deed, bowing our knees to and confessing with our tongues that Jesus Christ is our Lord. Ascension Day is a day to reconsider our discipleship and recommit ourselves to living surrendered and submitted lives for our Lord and Master. Ascension day reminds us that Christ is both our Saviour and Lord and we cannot choose to accept Him as the former if we are not willing to submit to Him as the latter.
If I am honest I do worry that sometimes in the way we talk about Jesus we portray Him as being someone who is there to serve us and make our life better. Jesus brings us joy, peace, better marriages, helps us deal with stress, helps us become well off. I have heard all of those things said over the last week and they are not necessarily wrong (well the last one needs a lot of clarification) my problem is that they put the cart before the horse. The Ascension reminds us that Jesus is not the one who exists to serve us, to fulfil our needs and desires. No! its the other way around He is the Lord and Master and our calling is to obey and serve him. Its only in serving Jesus as Lord that we experience, some of those things, peace, joy etc. So today why not take time to just reflect and ask yourself if Christ is enthroned, rules over, every part of your life?
Jesus was not just enthroned through the Ascension, He was also exalted. Ascension Day is not just an incentive to reconsider our discipleship but a day to express afresh our worship, to exalt the name of Jesus for all that He is and all that He has done. I think its sad that this Ascension theme is largely missing from most contemporary worship songs. So here is one of my favourite old Ascension Hymns
Why not ponder each verse and think about what its teaching you about what Christ has done and why you should exalt him and then just be moved to bow your knee and loose your tongue in praise?
Hail the day that sees Him rise, Alleluia!
To His throne above the skies, Alleluia!
Christ, awhile to mortals given, Alleluia!
Reascends His native heaven, Alleluia!
There the glorious triumph waits, Alleluia!
Lift your heads, eternal gates, Alleluia!
Christ hath conquered death and sin, Alleluia!
Take the King of glory in, Alleluia!
Circled round with angel powers, Alleluia!
Their triumphant Lord, and ours, Alleluia!
Conqueror over death and sin, Alleluia!
“Take the King of glory in! Alleluia!”
Him though highest Heav’n receives, Alleluia!
Still He loves the earth He leaves, Alleluia!
Though returning to His throne, Alleluia!
Still He calls mankind His own, Alleluia!
See! He lifts His hands above, Alleluia!
See! He shows the prints of love, Alleluia!
Hark! His gracious lips bestow, Alleluia!
Blessings on His church below, Alleluia!
Still for us His death He pleads, Alleluia!
Prevalent He intercedes, Alleluia!
Near Himself prepares our place, Alleluia!
Harbinger of human race, Alleluia!
Master, (will we ever say), Alleluia!
Taken from our head to day, Alleluia!
See Thy faithful servants, see, Alleluia!
Ever gazing up to Thee, Alleluia!
Grant, though parted from our sight, Alleluia!
Far above yon azure height, Alleluia!
Grant our hearts may thither rise, Alleluia!
Seeking Thee beyond the skies, Alleluia!
Ever upward let us move, Alleluia!
Wafted on the wings of love, Alleluia!
Looking when our Lord shall come, Alleluia!
Longing, gasping after home, Alleluia!
There we shall with Thee remain, Alleluia!
Partners of Thy endless reign, Alleluia!
There Thy face unclouded see, Alleluia!
Find our heaven of heavens in Thee, Alleluia!