Three times in my life I’ve had to say goodbye to family, who were heading overseas for the gospel. Each time I was uncertain of when I would get to see them again. The first was when my oldest sister, Wendy left. Having to say goodbye was quite hard, especially not knowing when I would see her again.
A few years later, my parents also left for Central Asia. Again I had no idea when I would see them again, or even if I would see them again as they went to a near-impossible place to live.
The third time was the hardest. We said our goodbyes in their bedroom, in Central Asia. There were several turbulent things going on in my life and I had no desire to depart from them. This was several years ago – a dozen or so – and I remember hugging and not wanting to let go.
This past Sunday, I preached on the Ascension of Jesus in Luke 24. I would have thought the disciples would be heart broken at the ascension – as they had no idea when Jesus would return. But this departure of Jesus has a curious impact on his disciples. For them, it was a cause of great joy and worship.
Luke 24:50-53 records this great joy, “Then Jesus led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.
Early in preparing for this sermon, Pastor Scott asked if I had ever heard a sermon on the ascension. Worried that this was a trick question…that maybe he had just preached on it, I have no substantial reply. Thankfully, he hadn’t preached on it – nor could he remember hearing a sermon on the ascension. So it’s possible that you haven’t either – even those of you who have been in church for 50 or 60 years like Pastor Scott.
Not to sound too much like Jerry Seinfeld but I answer the question, “What’s the deal with the Ascension?”
The ascension occurs 40 days post-Easter. Where it to happen in 2016, it would be on May 5. (What a way to celebrate Cinco de Mayo!) The ascension has a wealth of significance – believe it or not, it is incredibly important to our lives today.
But – how can the departure of our Lord and Savior from this earth have such rich importance? Wouldn’t we be better off if Jesus had stuck around? Wouldn’t it be better for us if every time someone questioned whether or not Jesus is real, he could emerge out of a humble home in Nazareth, wave, and prove that everything he said is true?
In fact – as CRAZY as it sounds – there are several ways that we are better off as Christians because Jesus ascended into heaven. Just like every other part of his plan, what Jesus did (and does) is better than what I think would be the best plan – including the ascension!
The ascension is an example of a separation that is a blessing to both parties…like sending a student off to college. It is better for this world for Jesus to be in Heaven than it would be had he stuck around.
But the question still persists, how do the disciples respond with joy at Jesus departure? Why aren’t they weeping with heart break? How is Jesus’ departure an ascension of JOY?
At his ascension Jesus gives us several things, but I am going to highlight 3.The first is that Jesus is an advocate for his people.
The ascension is one of joy because in Heaven, Jesus is an advocate for his people.
There are several scriptures that are helpful in understanding this point, but I’m just going to look at one, Romans 8:33-34:
“Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” Romans 8:33-34
Jesus ascends to Heaven, is seated at the right hand of God’ the Father, and who intercedes for us. He is our advocate – an advocate is one who does certain things or says certain things on behalf of another.
One day I long to be in a place where I can turn to a security guard and say, “Don’t worry – that tall, sweater-vest wearing, grey-haired man? He’s with me.”
In the Old Testament, the High Priest would go once a year into the Holy of Holies to offer a sacrifice as an intercessor for Israel. Now, we have Jesus, the Great High Priest, constantly in God’s presence and interceding on our behalf.
If Jesus were on this earth, we would not have an advocate at God’s right hand, interceding for us.
Next, the ascension is one of joy because Jesus is a seal that secures salvation. Again, there are several verses that are helpful, but I am going to look at just Hebrews 9:12, “Jesus entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”
For our adoption of Parker to become official we had to go to the courthouse, recite official-sounding words, and sign paperwork. That ritual sealed Parker’s place in our family. There is nothing he, nor anyone else, can do to be out of it – his place is secure. (No matter how much he will protest as a teenager…)
By entering into God’s holy place in heaven, Jesus secured our eternal salvation. His blood paid the penalty for our sins, once and for all, and his place in Heaven acts as a seal – a binding agreement – that those who believe in him for salvation will not perish but have ever lasting life.
Again, we would be without that tremendous blessing from the ascension if Jesus had stayed on this earth. He would not be our seal for salvation if he didn’t ascend into Heaven.
The third aspect of the ascension is that it is a sign of his return. Luke 21:27 explains, “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”
Just as Jesus ascended into Heaven, he will return one day in the same fashion. The ascension is a promise of the descension. He left, but only temporarily, and promises to return again.
(Just like that kid who left for college who’s coming back home one day….)
Jesus is your advocate before God the father – interceding on behalf of those who believe in him.
Have you believed?
He guarantees the salvation of those who have surrendered to him.
Have you surrendered?
Just as he departed, Jesus will return one day.
Are you ready?