Ascension Day was last Thursday, the 5th.  That is 40 days after the Resurrection of Jesus at Easter. The theologian R C Sproul could write of this event: “If we underestimate the significance of the ascension, we sail in perilous waters. What could be more important than the cross? Without it we have no atonement, no redemption. Paul resolved to preach Christ and Him crucified. Yet without the resurrection, we would be left with a dead Savior. Crucifixion and resurrection go together, each borrowing some of its value from the other. However, the story does not end with the empty tomb. To write finis there is to miss a climactic moment of redemptive history, a moment toward which both Old and New Testaments move with inexorable determination. The ascension is the apex of Christ’s exaltation, the acme of redemptive history to this point. It is the pregnant moment of Christ’s coronation as King. Without it, the resurrection ends in disappointment and Pentecost would not be possible.”[1] So let us look today at the significance of the Ascension of Jesus. Luke 24:50 Then [Jesus] 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. What a transformation among the disciples.  These were the same disciples who had scattered into the night when Jesus was arrested, tried and killed. These are the disciples who denied even knowing Jesus at that time. These are the same disciples who scoffed at the women who had seen the risen Christ on Easter Sunday and said it that they were mistaken. What a difference a day makes, sang Dinah Washington, but in this circumstance it is “what a difference 40 days makes.” The same disciples who ran and hid now boldly worshipped God with great joy and went boldly to the Temple blessing God, no longer fearful of the religious rulers and the Temple guards. What changed? The recount of the same event in Acts gives us a clue: 

Acts 1:[Jesus said] you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

They had been in the presence of the glorified and risen Christ for 40 days.  He had taught and showed them things again that he had taught and showed them before but this time they had a better understanding of what he was talking about and showing them because they had seen his changed status. Between the resurrection and the ascension, new light dawned on them as they began to undergo a remarkable change of attitude. The result of this change was evidenced by their immediate reaction to Jesus’ visible elevation into heaven. They did not exhibit the normal human reaction to such a departure. The record says the disciples “returned to Jerusalem with great joy[2].  There was no sense of loss or abandonment or confusion, only joy, great joy. So what changed?

 

The change was that they had seen him die and be resurrected.  They now knew who he was.  Thomas could rightly pronounce “My Lord and my God” to Jesus.

They now had an expectation that he could and would do what he promised, so they knew that what he now said would happen. Jesus said, “It is to your advantage that I go away” (John 16:7). They believed it. He said ‘I go to prepare a place for you’ (John 14:2). They believed him. He said that he will be seated at the right hand of God the Father (Mark 14:62 and Luke 22:69), But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God." and they believed him. Peter could emphasize in his first sermon at Pentecost that Christ’s ascension was in fulfillment of Psalm 110:1 where the Lord said, “Sit at My right hand.” They knew that Jesus Christ is seated, a sign that his atoning work is complete and final. They knew from Scripture that Daniel in his vision in Daniel 7:13 had seen one sitting at the right hand of God the father.  ."In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. They knew that that person seen by Daniel had a name and the name was Jesus. They believed. He said he intercedes for his people (Matthew 10:32 "Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven) and they believed him. He said (again Mark 14:62) and in Mark 13:26 "At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory and they believed him. They heard the angels confirm that he will return as the final act in the establishment of the kingdom of God[3] This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” And they believed it. He said that he would provide another who would come and impart power:  you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and they believed him. In the period between Jesus’ ascension and Pentecost – 10 days, the disciples were full of hope and expectation because they believed Jesus. They had knowledge, they had hope, and they had expectation. The Holy Spirit had not yet come upon them in power, but they lived boldly in expectation of that promise from Jesus.  They may not have known the details but they knew the promise and they believed the promise maker to be a promise keeper. We too are post ascension. We are also post Pentecost. We too should be full of expectation and hope, doubly so because we have the ascension and Pentecost in our knowledge. We too should be in a position to believe that the promise maker is a promise keeper. We have received the power of the Holy Spirit, we have hope and expectation of the return of Christ that he promised to his disciples. John could write at the end of the Bible: “Come Lord Jesus.” We can say that too in full assurance that he will come. 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  

Can you say as Paul wrote:  I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ”?  Because that was what the disciples post ascension could do. Surely we who are post ascension and post Pentecost can doubly say “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.

Let us recite the Nicene Creed together:

We believe in one God, the Father almighty,
      maker of heaven and earth,
      of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, begotten from the Father before all ages, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made; of the same essence as the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven; he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, and was made human. He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried. The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures. He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead. His kingdom will never end.

And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life. He proceeds from the Father and the Son, and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified. He spoke through the prophets.
      We believe in one holy church.
      We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
      We look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and to life in the world to come. Amen.



[1] Sproul, R. C. (2009). Who Is Jesus? (Vol. 1, pp. 99–100). Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing.

[2] Sproul, R. C. (2009). Who Is Jesus? (Vol. 1, p. 101). Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing.

[3] Wright, J. S. (1996). Ascension. In D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer, & D. J. Wiseman (Eds.), New Bible dictionary (3rd ed., p. 91). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.