When my brother and I were little boys, our Dad read Bible story books and prayed with us every night as we went to bed. These were illustrated books with stories from the Scripture accessible to young children. One of the books was about the Ascension of the Lord. This one always left me a little confused. Jesus gathered his disciples on a mountain where he gave them the Great Commission, then he took off in the clouds. A picture showed the disciples all astonished, looking up in the sky where Jesus had just disappeared. I’m not sure what the artist was trying to communicate, but I experienced a sense of loss and abandonment. I didn’t like that story. I wanted Jesus to keep hanging out with the disciples.
That childhood first impression of the Ascension lingered in my heart and mind. The larger Church hasn’t helped. We don’t emphasize the Ascension. What church offers a special Ascension Day celebration outside the Roman or Orthodox expressions? We just don’t do the Ascension very well.
But think of what it means that Jesus is exalted and sitting at the right hand of the Father! He is the King of Kings. The right hand of a ruler in the ancient world symbolized authority and power. Jesus, the Son, possesses all the authority of God the Father. The most often quoted Old Testament verse in the New Testament is Psalm 110:1 “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool” (ESV). As Steve Seamands writes, “Jesus is not only risen but reigning, not only alive but sovereign, not only central but supreme.”1 So, when we worship Jesus Christ, we are worshiping the true King of all.
The Ascension of Jesus says something powerfully amazing about Jesus, but it also says something about his followers. When we profess Jesus as Lord, we believe that we are joined with him. As Paul says again and again, we are “in Christ.” We are united with the reigning King, thus we are acting as his royal representatives in a world that belongs to him and will ultimately bend to his loving leadership. We are the King’s men and women, boys and girls, carrying out his Kingdom business, serving his reigning purpose, because we are literally united with him.
Immediately before ascending, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to be the presence of God in our lives to empower us to live with his authority. For too long, I think Christians have seen themselves primarily as patient waiters, people who sit around and wait for Jesus to return. But as the Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25) makes clear, when the Master returns he expects to find his servants doing the Master’s business. Our Master is exalted. He is the one true King of all. His business is to make disciples for the transformation of the world. We serve our exalted Lord when we carry out this mission.
1. Stephen Seamands, Give Them Christ: Preaching His Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension and Return. (Kindle Loc. 1498-99). Kindle Edition.