People of God, we are taking a short hiatus from our I Corinthians 15 study to concentrate on a few significant markers in our Church Calendar. This day we are going to delve into the Ascension of Jesus Christ.
I—like so many of you—did not grow up in a Church that had a Church Calendar. And I remember always wondering why was there no emphasis on the Resurrection or the Ascension or the Trinity. It was a great relief to me to realize that the Church did emphasize these truths continually, and every year.
One of the great advantages of following the liturgical calendar is that your life becomes centered on Jesus Christ. Your entire year is surrounded by the events that define us as a people. Our children will never have to wonder what the gospel is because they will hear it and see it week by week, year after year.
But another significant point about the Church Calendar is that it explains the mission of the Church. The Pentecost Season, which begins next week, celebrates the pouring out of the Spirit of God upon an infant church in the first century, but then we see this infant Church growing up into maturity and wisdom. This liturgical model is precisely what we see in Luke’s account this morning. We see today the Ascension of our Lord–when Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father. That’s the first part of the story. The other half of the story continues in Acts where we see the beginning of the Church’s labor in proclaiming the gospel of Christ and conquering the world through the power of resurrection. So, if someone were to ask: “What is this Church Calendar about?” You could say that the Calendar has two parts: First, Our calendar begins with the expectation of the birth of our Lord to His going up as the ascended and ruling King. Today, we conclude part one of the Church Calendar. The Second Part of the Church Calendar focuses on the mission of the Church from Pentecost to the gospel of Jesus spreading throughout all the nations of the earth. We are going to inaugurate this season next Sunday when we all wear red to symbolize that God has poured his holy fire upon us, and made us equipped to proclaim his kingdom to the world.
Liturgically, Ascension is a joyous event. It is a continuation of what started at the Resurrection. In fact, we are called to be defined by this joy.
Alexander Schmemann once wrote:
“The Church was victorious over the world through joy…and she will lose the world when she loses its joy… Of all accusations against Christians, the most terrible one was uttered by Nietzsche when he said that Christians had no joy.”
The Ascension puts our joy into perspective. It is Jesus’ triumphal entry into heaven; the king mighty in battle. He is the greater Enoch and the greater Elijah taken up into heavenly glory exalted and interceding for us and for the nations. The life of the Church is a joyous life because we are a Resurrection people, but we are also an ascended people. Our citizenship is in heaven, and because we are a heavenly people, we are called to live a heavenly ethic on earth. It means that we live like ascended saints.
And yet, Ascension is this strange event; an event that receives little attention in the Church today. It is tucked in between Easter and Pentecost, and so there is a tendency to overlook it; to not view it as important. It is generally a neglected episode in the gospel story. But the reality is we believe that Jesus ascended into heaven and sat at the Right Hand of the Father. This is a historical fact. And why is he sitting at the Right Hand of the Father? The Heidelberg Catechism asks that question:
Question 46. How dost thou understand these words, “he ascended into heaven”?
Answer: That Christ, in sight of his disciples, was taken up from earth into heaven; (a) and that he continues there for our interest, (b) until he comes again to judge the quick and the dead.
We need to understand that Christ ascended for our interest and He will remain in heaven until the end of history. The Gospel is more than Jesus died for our sins. The Gospel is also Jesus ascended for our good and interest. He has ascended for us and for the world. His ascension is the beginning of the work of conquering the nations. The authority and power Jesus receives at the Right Hand of the Father is the certainty we have that all the nations of the earth will be conquered by the power of the gospel; that our evangelism is not in vain
In Luke’s Gospel we see the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It brings together all the pieces. There is in fact a deliberate book-ending in Luke: “Chapter one starts out with the announcement of John’s birth…Zechariah is struck down because of unbelief. Dumbness in the temple at the beginning and at the end there is singing in the temple; from muteness to singing out. The world was fasting, now there is continual praising God.
In our passage, Jesus appears to his disciples and eats with them. And He affirms that all of the Scriptures speak of Him. He takes them to the Old Testament Scriptures and explains how his death and resurrection “fulfills the promises made to the people.”
“Before He could be crowned with glory, He needed to be crowned with thorns. Before he could be lifted up to the father’s right hand, He had to be lifted up on the cross. These events were foretold, and they unfolded exactly as God had planned. Christ accomplishes the Father’s plan, and He sits at the right hand of the Father to ensure that His Bride’s labors are not in vain.
In verse 48, Jesus says that “You are witnesses of these things.” This is legal language. “When someone needs vindication in a court of law, he is called on witness to vindicate His case. Jesus is saying that the disciples are living proof to the world that my claims to be king are true. “Your words and actions vindicate my claims to be king,” Jesus says. We are to give evidence to be the evidence that the kingdom of God has come.” But they will not be orphan witnesses with the departure of Jesus, the Spirit will clothe them. The Third Person of the Trinity will give them bright garments made of fire, so that the heat of their presence will be felt wherever they go. Pentecost will unleash the power of God in the world like never before.
Verses 50-51 read: 50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.
Jesus then leads them out to Bethany raises His hands and blesses them. This is a blessing of their new status as kingdom missionaries. This blessing is the Aaronic benediction in a New World. As Jesus is carried up into heaven in the glory-cloud, the disciples begin to understand the significance of this event; and the significance of Jesus’ ascension is that we are seated with Him in the heavenlies. Paul says in Colossians that if we have been raised with Christ, we are to seek the things above, where He is seated at the right hand of God. We are called to set our minds above where our citizenship is. We are dual citizens waiting the day when we will be citizens of only one re-created Heaven and Earth. But until that day, we are to seek those things which are above, and seeking those things above means that we pray earnestly that the will of God will be done on earth as it is already in heaven. We need a heavenly perspective on our earthly march. We need to cultivate the harvests of this world and plant the seed of the gospel, which will one day cover the whole earth with the glory of God.
The Ascension summons God’s people to joy and blessing in the temple; in the renewed temple, called the Church. We experience Ascension each Lord’s Day as we are taken into the heavenly places to worship as One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. On this Lord’s Day, we spend some time in a heavenly culture: we taste, we hear, we sing, and we rejoice. In that heavenly culture each Lord’s Day, we begin to understand what earth should look like; and we begin to develop a greater sense of how much more work needs to be done before the end comes. St. Paul says in I Corinthians 15 that all things must be put in subjection under the feet of Jesus. This is the continual process that the Church must exercise. The Church is composed of holy architects who see heaven and wish to build earth on the basis of the heavenly pattern.
How Shall We Then Live?
In Christ, we are also ascended. Our seats are in the heavenly places. Though that may sound too mystical and too foreign, this is our status. You may not feel like you are in heaven, but God has ushered us into heaven by His Spirit. We may not feel spiritual, but we are a Spirit-led people. We may not feel resurrected, but we are a resurrected people. Instead of attempting to rationalize our status, we should live our status in the presence of people.
For us, this means that worship becomes central to our lives. As Doug Wilson said recently, “the type of reformation and revival we want in our lives is one that begisn with biblical worship.” We are involved in a great liturgical dance each Lord’s Day. Again, Alexander Schmemann says that the idea of liturgy means acting on behalf of and in the interest of the whole community. Doing the liturgy means living the liturgy on behalf of others. We do not do liturgy for the sake of liturgy. We do liturgy for the sake of Christ and one another. If what we do here really matters, then what you do outside this assembly ought to matter also.
I mentioned in the beginning of the service that joy should define us. As ascended people we are to continually ask: “Are we entering into this joy?” In other words, how much are we living in light of our status? Parents, when you are driving to church on Sunday mornings, what kind of expectations are you instilling in your little ones? Are they thinking: “This is just another time to sit still and be quiet,” or are you giving them an expectation of joy? Do they know this is the place to rejoice with others? Do they know they too are ascended into the joy of Christ? Or are they expecting to grow up to some magical age when then and only then will they be able to enjoy the fellowship of the saints? This is not the worldview you wish to convey to the little ones.
In Jesus’ ascension He did not leave the Church behind, but He took the Church to a new place; a new environment. In the Ascension, heaven is open for us. We are called into the highest place. We are moving heavenward in our worship. Just as God used mountains as places of worship, just as He created Adam and Eve in Eden, which is a mountain, just as Abraham offered sacrifices on Mount Moriah, just as Moses and the elders ate and drank in God’s presence on Mount Sinai, we are in the words of Hebrews, a worshipping assembly in Mount Zion.
Biblically, what we learn from the Ascension is that Jesus is making earth a house. He is building it up the way He wants. And we can be certain, hopeful, optimistic, and joyful that when Jesus returns at the end of history this world will be purified and transformed; rejuvenated and matured. This world will be joined to God’s heavenly world forever. And because this is so, our task on earth carries with it eternal significance. The things we do on earth will endure for all eternity, because there is continuity between this world and the next
Luke ends by saying that the disciples were continually blessing God in the temple. This is precisely why our worship is not mournful. Our songs are not the songs of a dead prophet; they are the songs of an ascended King who rules and reigns for us until He makes the nations His footstool. Christ is risen and He reigns at the right hand of the Father! In the Name of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Amen.
 Mainly from Last Year’s Ascension Sermon
 Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World. Paraphrased
 Luke 1:20
 Lusk’s insights from sermon on Luke 24.
 Rich Lusk, Ascension Sermon.
 I am aware there is some dispute as to whether this is the actual ascension or a prelude to the ascension. I take it as another angle on the ascension.
 See Matthew 13.
 A comment he made during prayer last week when I was in Moscow,ID.
 For the Life of the World.
 Hebrews 12; see Lusk for references.