The Ascension

“The Ascension”
Part 7 of “This We Believe” Series
Sunday, July 8, 2012
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – BOTH Services
Mark 14:62; Acts 1:7-11

“…He ascended into Heaven and sits at the right hand of God the father almighty…”

The Ascension doesn’t get a lot of attention in the church these days…I think this is largely due to the fact that it occurs 40 days after Easter which means it always fall on a Thursday…Unless your preacher uses the Sunday before or after to talk about The Ascension, this event is largely ignored on the church calendar…(By the way, the date was May 17th this year.)  But, even if we paid more attention to this event, there is a bigger problem for us…Context.  The Bible is written from the viewpoint of people living in the First Century – These are people who thought the world was flat and that it had three stories stacked on top of one another…Human beings lived on the earth (the middle or second floor)…Heaven was directly above (a third floor)…Down below was Sheol – the place of the dead (the first floor)…The perspective was that these were fixed geographical places, and to move from one to another involved ascending and descending.  Obviously, we have a different concept in mind.  Because our worldview is so different, it’s easy for us to simply reject this story as hallucination and try to find ways to avoid talking about it…The thing is – it is an integral part of The Apostles’ Creed, which we have already agreed is a carefully crafted set of core beliefs that are universally accepted within Christianity.  This is not something we can just ignore.

I believe the real issue is framed by whether we can accept that the message of Scripture is more important than the language of ScriptureStay with me here…We have said before that The Bible is not a history book; it is His-story – God’s story…Within this story there are many different literary forms in use…poetry, drama, allegory, and so forth…Whenever we concern ourselves too much with the literal language in Scripture we risk missing the true message that God is sharing with us…Truth is carried in the many literary vehicles used to bring this story to life…It is important that we not get hung up on the relative geography of The Ascension and focus on the truth God seeks to communicate to us.

Here’s what I mean by that…Try not to think of this in the kind of space reality in which we live…Jesus is not literally sitting up there someplace in a great big chair next to God the Father in another great big chair…I don’t visualize a big, gaudy throne room somewhere in the clouds…God is much bigger than any physical location that we can imagine…The image we get here seems to be more about who Jesus is and how his role is played than it is about the literal space relationships described in the story…When Jesus is born into the world he takes on human flesh…At the same time he voluntarily limits his own divine power…As a human he is only able to be in one place at a time…as God he can be and is present in all places…

Dr. Tennent describes it this way: “Today, Jesus is omnipresent in his church and, indeed, wherever ‘two or more are gathered’ in his name.  Thus, when Jesus ascended into heaven, he ascended from here to everywhere, not simply from here to another location.  This is why the presence of Jesus can be with us when we pray, as well as commune with us as we receive the Lord’s Supper and so forth.”

Consider these 3 things we should know about the Ascended Jesus:

1. Jesus is waiting – Prophet Role

  • Prophets delivered their message then waited to see if the people repented or ignored them…
  • As The Prophet, Jesus is now waiting to see what happens in this world…
  • At some point, God’s plan will be completed and Christ will return in the same way he left and act as Judge over humanity…
  • Then, “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10, 11)

2. Jesus is interceding – Priestly Role

  • The Jewish priesthood dates to Aaron, the brother of Moses…
  • The priests were the only ones permitted to enter the holy of holies; they offered the peoples’ sacrifices and carried their prayers to God…
  • Jesus fulfills the role of the ancient priest by going to sit at God’s right hand…to be the perfect sacrifice and the perfect intercessor.

3. Jesus is reigning – Kingly Role

  • The most basic affirmation of faith from the early church is simply, “Jesus is Lord!”
  • Scripture points us to understanding Jesus as God and King…
  • The Ascension seeks to give us an image to help us hold on to this truth…
  • We see Jesus sitting at the Father’s right hand, ruling in power and glory…
  • Hear again Philippians 2:10-11…“every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”

I guess the really important question for us is: Why is it important for us to even try to understand The Ascension and accept it in some way as reality?

  • I think there are a couple of good reasons…

First, Jesus told his disciples that for them to receive the Holy Spirit – bringing God’s gifts of knowledge, power, and life – Jesus had to return to the Father himself…Jesus’ presence on earth was really pretty limited…His closest friends and followers, a few thousand people – maybe, were about as far as Jesus could hope to reach in his human lifetime…By returning to the Father and sending the Holy Spirit in his place, the universal spiritual presence of Jesus is now made available to millions of people across space and time…

Second, The Ascension offers us the most complete picture of who Jesus is…As we outlined earlier, The Ascension helps us to see Jesus as Prophet, Priest, and King…We see Jesus, not just as the sweet baby in a manger, but who he is now…We can see beyond the great teacher to understand more than just his words…We see beyond the cross, beyond the empty tomb, to the revelation of Jesus who is not some ghost wandering over the earth, but the One who is now and forever the ruler & judge of all human history.

The Rev. Robert Hansel puts it this way:

The Ascension helps to set aside the popular catch phrase: “What Would Jesus Do?” and realize – Jesus is alive and well and is still doing lots of things every day.  It’s a lot more important that we see what Jesus is doing, than worrying about what he “woulddo.

As difficult as it may be for us to relate to this picture of Jesus being lifted into the sky by cloud-toting cherubs…It is important that we find a way to grasp the truth that is expressed in these images…Jesus of Nazareth played many roles during his life on earth…But now, “he has ascended into Heaven and sits at the right hand of God the father almighty…”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…Amen

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