Ascension Sunday commemorates the ascension of Jesus into heaven. The Ascension of Jesus took place in the presence of His disciples 40 days after the Resurrection. It is traditionally thought to have occurred on Mount Olivet in Bethany. According to the gospel writers Jesus was lifted up disappearing into the sky before their eyes.
Ascension, according to the biblical witness, refers not only to the literal “being lifted upwards” but also to a theological reality of Christ’s new status of exaltation. Exaltation describes Christ’s return to the throne of God:
Ephesians 1:19–22 (NLT) I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power 20 that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. 21 Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. 22 God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church.
What is the significance of the Ascension? What does it mean to Jesus? And what does it mean to us?
Jesus commanded the disciples to wait: “Don’t leave Jerusalem until the Father sends the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
What does the ascension mean for us?
Presence: We are invited to experience a profound intimacy with the Father through the Holy Spirit.
Galatians 4:4–7 (NLT) But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. 5 God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.* 6 And because we* are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.”* 7 Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child.* And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.
Power: We receive power and authority even in the midst of the evil and suffering of this world.
1 Corinthians 1:24 (NLT) But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles,* Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Posture: We assume the posture of intercession on behalf of others in need.
Hebrews 4:14–16 (NLT) So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. 15 This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. 16 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.
As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. (v. 10) “Why are standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!” (v. 11)
Jesus left his disciples, who would soon receive the power and comfort of the Holy Spirit, to return to his Father’s right hand. The Ascension of Christ left the disciples feeling lost. Their Lord and Savior had left them. But God is gracious, he sent them two angels to encourage them and to remind them and us that the One who had just left them in the clouds would return again to usher in the Kingdom of God in totality. Although the end had not yet come, they (and we) should anticipate the day when Christ would return again.
Why are you still standing here staring up into heaven? Jesus will return, but until he does, we must be about our business of being his witnesses.
The Spirit has come. We live on this side of Pentecost. Through the presence of the Holy Spirit in us, we experience the presence of Christ in us. Everything that happens in Acts is what Christ continued to say and do through the Holy Spirit. The disciples were ordinary people filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit. We remain ordinary people, but we have access to the extraordinary resources of the Holy Spirit living in us.
Jesus will come. This knowledge gives us perspective. The world in which we live remains a fallen world, but we can see that nothing will prevent the coming of the Kingdom of God.
In 2014, the Pew Research Center conducted a Religious Landscape Study. They found that the number of Christians in the US has declined since 2007 from 78% of the population to 70%. The biggest declines have been among mainline Protestants and Catholics. Mainline Protestants have declined from 18% in 2007 to 15%. The only group that increased was that of the unaffiliated, the so-called “nones,” that is, those who professed no religion grew from 16% in 2007 to 22%. Whatever you think of the study’s results, the study points out the increasing secularization of our society. We are living in an increasingly post-Christian society. While some are wringing their hands together, for me, the study points out the need for the witness of the Good News of Jesus Christ in our society. Now more than ever in our history, people need the Lord.
The question of that the angels ask is still relevant today: Why are you still standing here?
The work of the church is not yet finished. We are called to be his witnesses, telling people about him everywhere – in Bowie, throughout Texas, throughout the United States, and to the ends of the earth.