Ascension Day

“So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.””
Acts 1:6-11

There are two great reasons for Christians to remember the ascension. The first is to remind ourselves that Jesus is coming back: just as certainly as he has ascended to heaven, so he will certainly return. This world is not all there is, or all there will ever be, and it is in this wider perspective that we are to set our lives as Christians. Paul sees this as a tremendously encouraging truth for Christians: “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1Thess 5:9-11) .

The second is to remind ourselves of the mission given to the church – to be witnesses of Jesus Christ in all the world (Acts 1:8). Jesus’ disciples were to understand that Jesus’ kingdom was not the political, ethnic and geographic one they were expecting, but one that is not of this world (John 18:36) and which is to be proclaimed “to the ends of the earth”. Calvin commented on the disciple’s question in 1:6, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” that “there are as many errors in this question as there are words” and it remains a telling and valid point! It seems the disciples still need to be told that Jesus’ kingdom is not the materialistic worldly kind; but something much different and much better. The expansion of this Kingdom requires, however, that the disciples go from Jerusalem, outwards in the concentric circles the Book of Acts is structured around, to the ends of the earth. Their task remains the task of every generation of Christians since them – to be witnesses of Jesus Christ to all the world; bringing people into Jesus’ Kingdom, which will be fully revealed and realised at his return.

The Ascension reminds us of both of these elements of the Christian life, which is why celebrating Ascension Day is such a good idea (even if, like me, you’re not an Anglican!)

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