Ascension Day

Luke 24:44-53 44 Jesus said to his disciples, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you– that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

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There has been a renewed emphasis recently about the descent of Jesus (and what that means both theologically and practically) and while that is vital, the ascent of Jesus, that returning back to where he originally came from, back to the Father’s side, back to the heavenly throne, that ascent is just as crucial as well. It informs us about essential things we absolutely must know.

Dosso Dossi

Dosso Dossi

The ascension story only occurs in the Luke gospel (and in his companion book “Acts of the Apostles”) and is curiously succinct. It has been noted that the book of Luke is lengthy for the typical papyrus writings of his day so we can almost imagine Luke running out of room on that particular gospel scroll. What a quandary! He had interviewed so many witnesses, had personally traveled with the Apostle Paul on many journeys, and therefore had so much to say and yet precious little room left to say it; so here Luke finds himself, at the very end, running out of papyrus to write on. Consequently, Dr. Luke’s telling of this story is very brief.

Despite being so concise, however, this Ascension of Jesus narrative is dense and packed with details for us to learn both about Jesus and also about us. In this devotional, we will break down this passage into seven segments (as they occur in order in this storyline) and we will see why this passage is so important.

1. The Resurrected Lord (v44).

The first item to notice, right away in verse 44, is that Jesus has indeed been resurrected as he had promised: This Jesus here talking to his disciples has a changed body that can now walk through walls and yet also eat fish. Ultimately what we should notice is that Jesus is undeniably alive; thusly confirming the authenticity of his life, ministry, and teachings, and he is now appearing to his friends a final time with something very important to say before he ascends to the Father.

This is not the first post-resurrection appearance; other apostles have spoken and written about other group appearances (the women at the tomb, the two men on the road to Emmaus, the disciples on the boat, the crowd of over 500, to Saul/Paul, etc) but this is the last time they see him in his post-resurrection pre-glorified state.

Jesus is Lord, the power of God has been majestically displayed in the reality of his resurrection, and that which he said would occur has already taken place: He is now ready to ascend to the Father.

2. The Revealed WORD (v44-46)

In verses 44-46, Jesus continues the theme found earlier in this Luke chapter 24 where on the Road to Emmaus the newly risen (and unrecognized) Christ walked beside two disheartened disciples, teaching them a compacted Master’s level “Messianic Survey of the Old Testament” course (so to speak) as he explained how all of those scriptures in the Old Testament were about HIM. They didn’t get it at first.

Here in this narrative, much like earlier in the Emmaus episode, Jesus speaks of the major categories of Old Testament scripture (Law, Prophets, and Psalms) and this is a synecdoche; where one part stands in for the entire whole. Our Lord Jesus has a high view of scripture, quoting it with the prefatory “it is written” (64 times), and his gist is that the Bible isn’t so much about the Jews or even mankind in general, holy or otherwise. Instead it is all about him.

It is not about us, nor about them. It is all about HIM!

Where this teaching may have been initially misunderstood (or at least not fully comprehended) by his disciples before his death, now they’re starting to get it. After the resurrection there comes a spiritual clarity that is bestowed upon them. How does this happen? Verse 45: “He opened their minds to understand the scriptures”.

This word “opened”, the Greek dianoigo, refers to a thorough opening of something that had been previously closed (never before opened). It is used 8 times in the all the New Testament where 7 of those 8 times is by Luke in his gospel or Acts. Some enlightening instances are found in Mark 7:34 (the ephphatha healing) where he opens the ears of the mute, and in Luke 24:31 in Emmaus where he opened the two men’s eyes so that they could recognize him. Then also in Acts 7:56 where Stephen being stoned saw the heavens opened as he was being martyred. And then additionally in Acts 16:14 where the Lord opened up Lydia’s heart to believe Apostle Paul’s evangelistic message.

The Apostle John writes that, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn. 1:1). Jesus is the revealed word of God and these disciples are now starting to get it as their minds have now been opened.

3. The Repentant Heart (v47)

Jesus connects repentance with forgiveness of sins in the next verse 47. In all honesty, this concept of repentance makes our modern (and postmodern) minds uncomfortable, so we like to sweep it under the rug. Why? Because repentance, the Greek word metanoia, means a changed mind, attitude, and behavior: We are called to be changed.

This distresses us as we don’t really want to change. Our self-centeredness kicks in here. We want everyone else to change, just not ourselves; but in order to be formed more and more into the image of Christ, we must.

This repentance, this internal (and ongoing) change, is intricately linked with the forgiveness here in this passage. Not that we work it or earn it in any way, but that instead we receive it; for our repentance signifies and proves that the Spirit is sanctifying us; changing us more and more into the image of Jesus Christ. All by grace and fueled by his love.

This speaks to a major aspect why Christ died on the cross: To forgive sins. Not simply our individual pet sin actions and behaviors, but our comprehensive foundational sin nature that works itself out (often at inopportune times) into regrettable sin actions.

And lest we fool ourselves that sin only signifies the large obvious negative categories like murder, war, adultery, and robbery, we must be aware that it also denotes the small subtle positive categories like family, church work, community involvement and acceptance; basically every way (especially these positive “good” ways) where we link our identity to anything outside of Jesus Christ.

4. The Responsibility of Witness (v47-49)

The good news of God’s love was never meant to be hidden or selfishly contained; it was always meant to be generously shared with all peoples everywhere. It is for every nation, tribe, tongue, and generation; everyone. To both the religious and to the irreligious; to the self-important and to the humble; to the leadership and to the outcasts: To all nations.

Because of this, his disciples are others-centered. We are called to be evangelizers; sharers of the great news of new life in the risen and ascended Christ; both in word and deed. This witness must proceed to the easy crowds who accept the message quickly, and also to the difficult crowds who do not; those who persecute and attempt to destroy the life of Christ within us.

Since the initial disciples were with Jesus as he walked the streets, teaching and healing, there is a double meaning in the word witness here in that they were not only called to go as witnesses (Great Commission), but they were also received as eyewitnesses; of his life, death, and resurrection. Luke himself gives us a peek into how he gathered the reports to include in his gospel (and Acts) in the first two sentences of his gospel: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.” (Lk 1:1-2)

To Dr. Luke, the historian, these accounts are historically accurate in that he has investigated and interviewed eyewitnesses who have testified to their experiences. So these initial eyewitnesses are also the witnesses who are called to propel the message forward: To Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8) and they did go on to do exactly that: To witness to the reality that the Messiah did suffer and rise from the dead on the third day (v46).

This was a great responsibility culminating in the martyrdom of many of those early apostles and disciples; the story of the early church is the story of the good news going forward despite the dangers and bloodshed that awaited them. This too is our responsibility and our joy.

5. The Remaining for Power (v49)

What the disciples were called to do would be absolutely impossible without God’s active intervention so Jesus instructed those disciples (verse 49) to wait in the city for what was promised; that they would become clothed with power from on high. This concept becomes clearer a bit later in Acts 2:33; Pentecost: The powerful arrival of the promised Holy Spirit who would rest upon and live inside each believer.

But all this would have to wait until Jesus ascended back to the Father, and then together they would send the Spirit to fill and empower the disciples for life and ministry.

What does this mean? That this life of the Spirit of Christ who is active inside our hearts is both a seal and stamp of our adoption as sons/daughters of God, but is also the energizing force for life and ministry.

So as promised, this power would indeed come at Pentecost and would then propel the disciples to spread across the known world (Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and beyond) sharing the good news of the suffered and risen Christ.

But as for now, in verse 49, Jesus called the disciples to wait. They could not carry on without this gift. Earlier, they had tried to heal diseases and perform miracles in his name and often failed (Mt 17:16); they needed to be empowered by the Spirit first before going forward.

6. The Rising to the Father (v50-51)

Upon blessing his disciples, and after teaching them what he had wanted them to know, it was now time. Jesus’ earthly work had come to a conclusion and he was ready to return to the Father; back to heaven. He had accomplished redemption on the cross (for both mankind and the cosmos) and with his resurrection had proven that his kingdom had indeed arrived.

Marc Chagall - Zurich

Marc Chagall – Zurich

Interestingly, this short text tells us very little about this ascension event. Luke simply says in verse 51 that Jesus “withdrew from them” and then that he was “carried up into heaven”. Very little description or detail accompanies it.

We do read a bit more about the ascension in the book of Acts where Luke launches into his second volume with a quick recap: In Acts 1:1-11 it is recorded that Jesus was “taken up to heaven”, that “he was taken up before their very eyes”, and a “cloud hid them from their sight”. Not much detail beyond that. Why might that be?

Perhaps there is a reason for this lack of detail. Perhaps it’s because it’s less important that future readers see an exciting Hollywood screen-reel in our minds and more important that we see the significance of the reality of what the ascension truly means.

And the ascension means that Jesus’ work on earth is done:

  1. Jesus could now send the Holy Spirit to empower us and would no longer be limited in location anymore.
  2. As Great High Priest, he performed the once-only perfect sacrifice for sins that all of the previous atonements from past millennia only partially accomplished and pointed towards; he had fully atoned for the sin and brokenness of both mankind and our world.
  3. As the spotless Lamb of God, he was sacrificed for sins, shedding his innocent blood for our redemption.
  4. As Advocate/Lawyer extraordinaire, he argued the case for justice (as it were) before the judgment seat of God and won; his case was airtight because the penalty had already been paid for, by Jesus himself.
  5. As Supreme Ruler, Jesus returned to and now sits on the very throne of God in heaven.  He holds together all things in the cosmos and is king and ruler of every realm.

The most quoted text in the New Testament is Psalm 110:1, “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’.” Jesus is Lord and King over all.

Jesus had to ascend in order for this redemptive chapter to come to its final conclusion (from God’s perspective) and it allowed for his presence to be spread abroad in all our hearts and not just remain proximally with that small group of disciples there in Judea.

7. The Repetition of Praise (v52-53)

The narrative (and Luke’s gospel) ends with the disciples in perpetual praise. As Jesus has ascended back to the heavenly throne to be with the Father, ruling and reigning over all things forever, the disciples responded in the only way they could: They worshiped him, they were filled with great joy, and they stayed in the Temple blessing and praising (Greek word eulogeo) God.

If the resurrection and ascension are true, then it changes everything. It validates Jesus’ teachings and his atoning death and proves that our redemption has indeed been accomplished. This is not only good news but fantastic news and should change every aspect of our lives.

To go forward rather with a lukewarm attitude towards Jesus (and the cross) would be absolute nonsense. To go forward with continued self-reliance, self-centeredness, and all accompanying idolatry would also be a ridiculous response.

Those initial disciples knew all these events to be true, as they were eyewitnesses (having been with Jesus from the beginning), and it changed them completely. They were propelled forward with joyful and repeated praise in spite of the dangers, persecution, and martyrdom that awaited them.

To summarize, the understanding about the ascension of Jesus Christ is vital and therefore should be given the rightful place in our minds and hearts. In a figurative sense, Jesus’ ascension was the very spark that ignited the towering timber pile: The logs had been chosen, cut, then placed in array, the tinder has been perfectly and strategically situated, and that spark initiated the brilliant and glorious fireworks of the next chapter in the life and growth of the Church.  The ascension was the event that proved to be the accelerant.

#Wade

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Categories: Ascension, Devotional, Historicity/Reliability of Bible, Holy Spirit, Repentance, Resurrection | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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