2010-05-06 Ascension Day
On Sunday, I made the declaration that Ascension Day is the most important date in the church calendar year, more important than Christmas and Easter. Why is Ascension Day so important?
Really, why would someone say that it is more important that Christmas? Why would someone say that it is more important than Easter?
Consider the couples who are just married or are just about to get married. What’s the most important date for them, as a couple? Surely, their births are important. Without their births, we wouldn’t be talking about them. I guess their meeting is important, for that led to their dating stage. But more important yet, is their engagement. This shows intent, on both parts. Plans start getting made. Exclusive commitment takes place. Trust is invested and built. And it all looks forward to the wedding day.
If we were to try to trace Jesus’ life and ministry on earth, and his relationship with us, then Christmas is, of course his birth, important indeed. Then, Easter, though significant in a very, very great way, is like the process of dating, or courting. Jesus’ ascension is, truly an engagement. I’ll explain that a bit later. The wedding day is coming. That’s what will happen when Christ returns.
Now, this all sounds a bit weird, I know. It is odd to talk about Jesus in these terms. But this is the analogy that God has used throughout the scriptures. In Hosea, we see that God views himself as Israel’s husband, and Israel as his bride. Hosea was commanded to marry a prostitute in order to demonstrate how Israel was behaving. Their worship of other gods was like a unfaithful wife. And that’s exactly what Gomer did. She was unfaithful to Hosea.
But just like God, Hosea went after her and restored her. He took her back, she repented, and renewed her commitment to him. That’s what God does with his people, he takes them back, restores them when they repent, and he renews their commitment to him, God moves in us to produce faithfulness and trust.
This is how we ought to think of our relationship with God. It is a deep commitment. It is so much more than just saying I do! It is saying, I do, and I will, and I am, and I’ll keep trying, and I’m not good enough, but I love you and I can’t help it.
And, when we find ourselves like Gomer, God will be like Hosea, welcoming us back, indeed coming to rescue us, and
The marriage metaphor, actually, marriage is patterned after God’s relationship with his people! Look at Ephesians 5! That’s what it is describing.
So in our passage in Acts, and from our passage in John, we learn these three things: Jesus is who he said he is, Jesus is going to prepare a place for us, and Jesus is coming back.
Just a quick word on why we need to be reminded of these things. Atheists like Hitchens and Dawkins are constantly trying to erode the basis for faith. The accounts of the New Testament concerning Jesus are proof positive. Also, with the length of time since Christ ascended, we might be wondering when or possibly if he’ll come. Jesus will return, we must trust Him.
Jesus is who he said he is.
The ascension proves that Jesus is the Son of God. When John the Baptist was in prison, he sent some of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus replied, ““Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. 6 Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me” (Matt. 11).
Jesus proved himself to John and his disciples during his ministry. Jesus proved himself to his disciples by rising from the dead. Jesus really was alive. He ate fish, people touched his hands and feet. He appeared to people over a period of 40 days. He appeared to more than 500 people at one time.
But the biggest, most powerful demonstration that Jesus really, truly is the messiah, the savior of the world, the one who saves sinners from their sin, is that he ascended into heaven.
Think of it! At Jesus’ baptism, a voice spoke from heaven. When Jesus was on the mount of transfiguration, the Father spoke again from heaven, from within the cloud. Where else would the son go, but to be with the father? Where was the father revealed to be? In heaven. Just as the clouds concealed God on Mount Sinai when Moses met with God, just as the clouds concealed Jesus when he was transfigured, and Moses was there to witness that too! And now, at the ascension, the cloud covers Jesus.
This is proof positive, witnessed by many people, recorded by Luke, that Jesus truly is God’s son. But for us, the greatest news of this event is that Jesus has fully redeemed us! We can know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we are justified before the Father, on account of Christ’s work!
Jesus really, truly is the savior, and he really, truly did save. The ascension tells us it is so!
Going to prepare a place for us
So, what’s Jesus doing? Why’d he leave? What’s taking so long?
Jesus is sitting at God’s right hand, well what that means is, that Jesus is the ruler of the universe. All power and authority is his now. God has given it to him, restored it to him, because of Jesus’ faithfulness, because Jesus so perfectly glorified the Father. The Father is delighted to glorify the Son and bless him and give him authority.
Jesus is also interceding for us. Jesus is praying for us. And, we need it, don’t we? Have you ever wondered where you get the courage to do the right thing? Have you ever wondered where you got the strength to get through a difficult time? It is in part because of Jesus praying for you. It is because Jesus has sent His Holy Spirit to live in you, to empower you, to carry you through!
There’s one other thing that Jesus is doing, well, one other thing we’re going to look at this evening. This comes from our passage in John. Jesus says, “I am going to prepare a place for you.” This phrase is taken from Jewish engagement promises. A Jewish man, after meeting his arranged bride (the Father arranges our relationship with Jesus), makes the same promise. I am going to prepare a place for you.
That’s the moment of engagement. That’s probably what Joseph said to Mary. They were engaged, but it was as though they were married already. Joseph took his savings, and began to build an addition onto his father’s house. When the addition was completed, he would then return to his bride and escort her home that he prepared for her.
Jesus, identifying us as his bride, has promised to prepare a place for us. Jesus is making many rooms in heaven. He is providing the exact right number of spots so that everyone will have a place. Every person the Father has given to Jesus will be saved, and will have a place in heaven. We don’t know what it will look like, but we do know that it is beyond anything we can possibly imagine.
Jesus is readying his army, so that when he returns evil will be eradicated, and his kingdom will be perfect, where there will be no more tears, no more pain, no more sorrow. Jesus is our mighty king, our powerful groom. He is the judge. He will bring with him justice and righteousness. The cries of the saints who have asked, “How long?” will be answered! Jesus will come to make everything right!
Jesus is Coming Back
The hardest part is waiting. Jesus promised that he will come back. What’s the point of going to prepare a place, if he won’t come back? What’s the point of saving people from their sins, if he just leaves them to die?
Jesus will come back! We can trust him! We can believe it! We can take him at his word!
Have you ever noticed that it is easy to say you trust God, but much, much harder to actually do it? In talking to people lately, it has become clear that we don’t trust hardly enough. Oh, sure we say we believe, but how much do we act on that belief?
How often do we strike up the kinds of conversations we know we need to have, but fail to do because we don’t trust Christ? Our future is set, it is in Christ. We can freely live for Christ being the disciples, being his witnesses to the world.
But we sit back don’t we, just a bit? We can very easily become as unprepared and complacent as the foolish virgins. We can think, well, we’ll have further opportunities to witness Christ later. We can challenge people in their faith, their trust, later.
But think about your week. Think about the things you knew you should say but didn’t say it. Why? What’s holding you back?
Jesus, though he’s ascended into heaven, hasn’t left us alone. He’s given us his holy Spirit. In a few weeks Pastor Art Verboon will lead us in worship on Pentecost Sunday, the day we celebrate the giving of the Holy Spirit to all who believe.
Thinking about all that. Knowing that Jesus is who he said he is, knowing that he’s preparing a place for you, knowing that he’s coming back, and it could be tomorrow, what are you doing to prepare yourself for his return? How are you living your life? Are you living for you? Are you living for others? Are you living for Jesus? Are you living for the Ascended Lord? Does Jesus reign in your life?
If not yet, trust him. Let him reign. Let his thoughts be your thoughts. Repent and forget about the past. Look to the present. Ask yourself, “Am I preparing myself for Christ’s return?” If you find you are not, ask the Holy Spirit to help you! Amen.