St. Paul’s Anglican Church
Ascension Thursday, 2017
Acts 1:9 “Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.”
Tonight we celebrate an important feast of the Christian year: the Feast of the Ascension. Ascension marks the end of Christ’s time on earth, or, as one commentator put it, it is the “capstone of his earthly ministry.” 1 It also clearly identifies Christ as Divine, as he is received up into glory in the sight of the disciples. It has important theological reasons for its pre-eminence as well. Chief among these is Christ’s physical ascension, as he took his body (and Man’s nature) to heaven with him.
One may surmise that if Christians really understood the significance of the Ascension, attendance would be high. If we really understood that the Ascension tells us that Christ isn't just another great Teacher, but is Lord and God, our churches would be full on this night.
First, let us recognize that the Ascension does sum up Christ’s ministry. He told his disciples, “I came from the Father and now I go back to the Father.” Christ came from on high, to tabernacle with us and to take our nature upon him. He was born naturally; he grew, matured, and became a man. He taught, healed, did miracles, drew crowds and amazed many. He gathered disciples, drew the ire of the Jewish authorities, was accused falsely and ultimately killed by sinful men.
If this was all, Jesus Christ would have been just another great man. But, we know that this was not all. On Easter morning, Christ rose from the dead, and showed that death had no power over Him. As St. Paul says in Colossians 2:15 15 “And having spoiled 1 principalities and powers, he 2 made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in 3 it.” The Geneva Bible notes say, “The cross was a chariot of triumph. No conqueror could have triumphed so gloriously in his chariot, as Christ did upon the cross.”
The Resurrection is the greatest phenomena that mortals can imagine. By it, man’s greatest nemesis, Death, is defeated. Yet, even the Resurrection is not enough to completely fulfill Christ’s Ministry. If He had risen from the dead, merely to spend another 70 or 80 years before succumbing to physical death, there would be no ultimate victory.
Christ led His Disciples out to Bethany, teaching them on the way. As He blessed them, lifting up His Hands, He was lifted up into Heaven, until a cloud received Him out of their sight. This is the same Cloud that covered the Tabernacle in the Wilderness when Moses spoke with God. It is the same Cloud that Ezekiel saw from the inside out, full of innumerable saints of God.
Christ entered into this Cloud and into Glory, but not just as the great Teacher, not just the great Miracle worker, nor even as the Great Martyr for Righteousness’ sake. He entered as the Son of God returning to His Father. Imagine the scene in Heaven as Christ returned to take his rightful place at the Father’s right hand. What a celebration, what a mighty shout of triumph there must have been from an innumerable
number of angels! Yet, even at this mighty moment of victory and joy, Christ does not forget His Disciples. He dispatches two angels, who say to them, “Acts 1:11 "Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven." Even in His hour of triumph, Jesus thought of us.
Thus, Jesus takes his rightful place at the right hand of God the Father. Having done all that He was to do, having served as the Lamb “slain from the foundation of the World”. He is enthroned on high to receive everlasting glory and honor and dominion.
He thus completes the great Cycle of Salvation, beginning with his Incarnation, His Nativity, His Atonement, His Resurrection, and finally, His Ascension.
Ascension also defines our salvation. When Christ ascended into Heaven, He wasn’t just an ethereal spirit, or an apparition. No, Christ took a real flesh and blood body with Him to Heaven. This is important. We know that just as Christ rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven, so shall we. He took our human nature with Him to be glorified and exalted forever. What Christ did not assume, he could not justify. What he did not take to Heaven, He could not glorify. Yet, He did. In his Incarnation, He took our human nature upon Him and atoned for it on the Cross. In His Resurrection, He arose in his Human Body, thus giving it (and us) victory over the grave. Finally, in His Ascension, He arose to Heaven, glorifying our natures and sealing our Salvation.
On the Last Day, Christ shall call all from their graves and they shall appear for judgment in their flesh. Those who have trusted in Christ for their salvation will reign with Him in eternal glory. Those who rejected Christ in their lifetimes on earth will also be rejected. There will indeed be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” I weep for the unredeemed, for those who know not Christ, for they know not what they are going to lose forever. Pray God that we can minister to some of them, to give them the Good News of Salvation.
Thus, it is fitting and right that we give thanks and praise this night. For now is Christ our Lord glorified and magnified. Now has Christ our Lord taken His rightful place as Son and Heir to the Kingdom, to regain the glory he had from everlasting with the Father. He accomplished his mighty mission of salvation. His cry from the Cross, “It is finished!” attests to that. Pray God that those words ring in our innermost souls.
Without the Ascension, there would be no transcendent Holy Ghost to cheer, guide and strengthen us. Remember that Christ said in John 16:7: Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.”
These are blessed words. Jesus is promising that He will send us a Helper if He returns to Heaven. This Helper, this Comforter is the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, God Himself, to be with us forever.
This is the promise that Christ sealed for us in His Ascension. This is how he defined our salvation, for, as He is, so shall we be.
Acts 1:11 "Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven."
1 Merill Unger Commentary