The Ascension used to be a significant Christian festival in the calendar. It celebrated how after his resurrection Jesus ascended to heaven – returning home to his starting point until His return at the end of the age to wrap up history. Funnily enough I don’t hear the whoops of joy or the clapping of hands. Many consider it a strange idea with little relevance. But look again at what happened:
“Then they gathered round him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they 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 1v6-11].
So, why did the ascension fill the disciples who witnessed it with praise and lead to their adoration of the ascended Jesus? Why should it be the same for us today?
The ascension of Jesus establishes His sovereignty over the world, even if the world doesn’t yet recognize it. It also sets out that the mission of His people, the church, is to make this known and call people to live under Christ’s rule.
The ascension of Jesus completes His work on the cross, since His self-sacrifice, His dying in our place as a perfect sacrifice for sins (the righteous for the unrighteous), has been accepted and truly deals with our sins.
The ascension of Jesus means that He is now in heaven, directing the mission of His people towards the goal of the new creation, which when He returns one day.
The ascension of Jesus means that He now is our great High Priest, having made obsolete all other animal sacrifices and the temple priests who offered them. He is sympathetic, as He knows exactly what everyday life is like with its pressures and temptations.
Finally, the ascension of Jesus fulfilled His promise that they would witness this and it would result in His sending the Holy Spirit as His presence amongst His disciples.
Perhaps this brief summary will enable you to approach the start of May with a different attitude to a somewhat neglected festival. It is something to celebrate.