Tomorrow (which is forty days after Easter) we celebrate Ascension Day (Himmelfahrt).
On the fortieth day after His Resurrection, while speaking to the disciples about the kingdom of God, Jesus ascended and was hidden from their sight by a cloud. As the disciples stood looking into the sky in wonder, two men dressed in white appeared to them and said, “Why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11)
This declaration communicated to the disciples that Jesus had not simply disappeared for the afternoon, that He had returned to the Father as He had told them He would. Still, the disciples did not understand the significance of the events they had witnessed. It did not fit their paradigm of the kingdom.
But at Pentecost (ten days after the Ascension), through the power of the Holy Spirit the disciples began to see the Cross and Resurrection, the Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit as God’s plan for the kingdom all along. Quoting from the Psalms and the Prophets, they began to speak of Jesus being exalted by God into heaven and being seated at the right hand of the Father.
In his Pentecost sermon, Peter quoted Psalm 110:1 “The LORD says to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’”
On the basis of this text, Peter told the crowd who had gathered that all Israel could be assured that God had made the crucified, resurrected and ascended Jesus both Lord and Christ. (Acts 2:34-36) Later to the Sanhedrin, he proclaimed, “God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior . . .”(Acts 5:31)
The Ascension at first must have seemed like reason for sorrow and despair. But soon it became cause for great celebration! Jesus had been exalted by God to rule as the Sovereign over heaven and earth. What joy to know that a good and just and merciful King had been elevated to the seat of ultimate power and authority, and that His kingdom of righteousness had been established forever! And what a difference such knowledge made to their everyday lives!
The disciples had been charged with a difficult task with impossible odds against success. They had been called to bear witness to the power and glory of a King the world could not see. They had been called to preach repentance in His name and forgiveness through His death on a Roman cross to the proud, the impenitent and unforgiving. They had been called to proclaim Jesus’ resurrection from the dead to a cynical and vicious world, who had no reason to believe them and many reasons to resist and persecute them. They had been commissioned to declare that Jesus is Lord to people who had no interest in His lordship, indeed, to people who would be offended by such declarations. And they had to do all this with the expectation that they would die in the process.
This is our calling as well, though most of us do not (yet) have to expect death in the process.
The disciples embraced their calling with an astonishing confidence—a confidence grounded in the joyful hope that Jesus had been exalted by God to the throne at His own right hand. May we embrace our calling with the same confidence, rejoicing that because Jesus reigns, all things are being (and will be) made right. All injustices are being (and will be) vindicated. All tyrants will be overthrown, not the least of which is the tyrant and enemy of our souls whose purpose is to bring us down with him into the abyss.
Let us then truly celebrate the Ascension Day, for Jesus is on the throne! And the gates of hell itself will not prevail against those who call Him King!
Hope to see you at Christ Church on this Ascension Sunday, where we will continue to celebrate the exaltation of Christ!