The Ascension of Christ
“Unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, when he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it, but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”—Ephesians 4:7-12
Our blessed Lord and Master has gone from us. From the mount of Olives, the place where in dread conflict his garments were rolled in blood, he has mounted in triumph to his throne. After having shown himself for forty days amongst his beloved disciples, giving them abundant evidence that he had really risen from the dead, and enriching them by his divine counsels, he was taken up. Slowly rising before them all, he gave them his blessing as he disappeared. Like good old Jacob, whose departing act was to bestow a benediction on his twelve sons and their descendants, so ere the cloud received our Lord out of our sight, he poured a blessing upon the apostles, who were looking upward, and who were the representatives of his church. He is gone! His voice of wisdom is silent for us, his seat at the table is empty, the congregation on the mountain hears him no more. It would be very easy to have found reasons why he should not have gone. Had it been a matter of choice to us, we should have entreated him to tarry with us till the dispensation closed. Unless, peradventure, grace had enabled us to say: “Not as we will, but as thou wilt,” we should have constrained him, saying, “Abide with us.” What a comfort to disciples to have their own beloved teacher visibly with them! What a consolation to a persecuted band to see their leader at their head; difficulties would disappear, problems would be solved, perplexities removed, trials made easy, temptations averted! Let Jesus himself, their own dear Shepherd be near, and the sheep will lie down in security. Had he been here we could have gone to him in every affliction, like those of whom it is said, “they went and told Jesus.”
It seemed expedient for him to stay, to accomplish the conversion of the world. Would not his presence have had an influence to win by eloquence of gracious word and argument of loving miracle? If he put forth his power the battle would soon be over, and his rule over all hearts would be for ever established. “Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; whereby the people fall under thee.” Go not from the conflict, thou mighty bowman, but still cast thine all-subduing darts abroad. In the days of our Lord’s flesh, before he had risen from the dead, he did but speak, and those who came to take him fell to the ground; might we but have him near us no persecuting hand could seize us; at his bidding, the fiercest enemy would retire. His voice called the dead out of their graves; could we but have him still in the church his voice would awaken the spiritually dead. His personal presence would be better to us than ten thousand apostles, at least, so we dream; and we imagine that with him visibly among us the progress of the church would be like the march of a triumphant army.
Jesus immediately reached out His hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” – Matthew 14:31
Each of us carries a word in his heart, a “no” or a “yes.” ~ Martin Seligman
For in Him every one of God’s promises is a “Yes.” – 2 Corinthians 1:20
The first time I ever skied was in the Swiss Alps. A friend who ran a winter sports camp flew my wife and me from Scotland, where we were living on the meager funds of a graduate fellowship, paid for our ski rentals, and bought us lift tickets. After two trips down the bunny slope, I told my wife, an avid skier, that I was ready for something more adventurous. We got on a chair lift, and it quickly rose hundreds of feet off the ground. My wife, you may remember, does not like heights. She grabbed the metal pole that stood between us and wrapped herself around it like a boa constrictor.
“Honey,” she said, paraphrasing Ken Davis. “I love you. You’re my husband, and I’d do anything for you. But do you see this post? This is my post. If you touch this post, you’ll meet Jesus today.”
“Don’t look down,” I suggested.
We got off the chair lift and took something called a T-bar up the final ascent. Unfortunately, when we were almost to the top of the mountain, we fell off the T-bar. For a while we lay in the snow, waiting for the St. Bernard who never came. Dozens of skiers whizzed up the Alp beside us, yelling advice to us in German. The only word I could make out was “Dumköpf.”
Another couple fell off (or jumped out of pity) at the same point. Hans could speak a little English, and he guided us an hour through hip-deep snow to the nearest slope. The slope was marked by a black diamond with skull and crossbones. It went downhill at an angle of about eighty-five degrees.
Hans then gave me the only skiing lesson I have ever had. “Don’t look down,” he said. “You will be frightened by the slope and overwhelmed by the distance. When new skiers look down, they panic; and when they face straight ahead on a slope this steep—” He made a whistling sound and a motion with his hand that was not encouraging; it was vaguely reminiscent of the “agony of defeat” guy on the old television program Wide World of Sports. “I think you can make it.” (The word think bothered me a little.) “Just remember one thing: Don’t look down.”
Don’t look down became the number one rule in my life.
I would not look down for anything. Six-year-old skiers would ski between my legs to try to tempt me to watch them go down. I set a record for Most Zigzag Turns that day. People would ski past me, take the chair lift up, go past me again – just to see how many times they could lap me. I suspect I pulled off the ugliest ski run that particular Alp had ever seen. Even when making snowplow turns, I would arrange whenever possible to execute them in front of small children so they could break my fall if necessary.
I got only one thing right: I never looked down. I became the world’s expert at not looking down. It wasn’t pretty, but it got me to the bottom of the hill.
When Peter was walking on the water, the text does not tell us whether Jesus said anything to him or not. But if He did, I imagine it being along these lines: Peter, whatever you do – don’t look down. Keep going, one foot in front of the other. Think light thoughts! Just remember, whatever you do – don’t look down. I imagine that Peter’s eyes were locked on Jesus – that during this experience an awareness of Jesus simply dominated Peter’s mind. Like master, like disciple.
Why did Christ ascend into heaven? Out of all the important things Jesus did, it’s one of the few that we recite every week in the Creeds. But Ascension Day itself is often forgotten, sandwiched in on a Thursday (40 days after the Resurrection) and overshadowed by Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection.
I want you to put yourself in the disciples’ place this morning. Jesus, the Messiah died, but then He was resurrected. You saw Him, and He taught you on and off for 40 days about the Kingdom of Heaven. And then He tells you to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit, and He ascends into heaven. And now He’s gone.
You might be forgiven for continuing to stare into heaven for a long time. (Of course you stop the minute the angels embarrass you by asking “Why do you gaze up into heaven?”)
As His disciples, we might pause a minute and think about the meanings of the Ascension of our Lord. Too often I think we skip from the Resurrection to the Second Coming in our thoughts and imaginations, and we don’t adequately meditate on or grasp the importance of what in the world Jesus is doing now.
We left the disciples, gazing up into heaven, standing in awe of and probably in confusion over their ascended Lord. The angels ask them, “Why do you stand gazing up into heaven?” with the implication that they should not continue to do so. And I want to ask you all, as disciples of Jesus Christ, “Why do you stand gazing up into heaven?” Because if you’re like me, you do that. As disciples of Jesus Christ, there is a sense in which we should and a sense in which we should not be continually gazing up into heaven.
Why should we stand gazing up into heaven? The first response of the apostles in Acts 1:10 was to look steadfastly into heaven. The first response to God’s glory and rising up into heaven should be to humble ourselves and fall down before Him in worship. More specifically, we find just such a response in Luke 24:52. There we find that they worshiped Him because of His kingdom and power and glory. They returned to Jerusalem with great joy: they went home with joy. What a contrast to the Crucifixion, after which they return home with emptiness and meaninglessness.
In Luke 24:53, they praised God because of what He had done for His Son, and for what was therefore promised to them. And they blessed God. This is, of course, after Jesus had first blessed them in Luke 24:50. God blesses us so that we can bless Him. In all things, that is, they followed Christ. They suffered with Him, and one day they would be raised with Him.