Ascension—a day is worth celebrating. It’s easy to overlook Ascension Day in the liturgical life of the church. It is always Thursday, never fitting the Sunday cycle of worship and never fitting in with the Wednesday mid week services. At the same time it often is overshadowed by Mother’s Day and graduations.
That’s too bad. It is a pivotal event in the ministry of Jesus for two reasons. The first is often the only one given: Jesus ascends into heaven so that He can pour the Holy Spirit.
1) Pouring out the Holy Spirit
In my first book, Theophilus, I wrote about what Jesus began to do and teach. This included everything from the beginning ‹of his life› until the day he was taken to heaven. Before he was taken to heaven, he gave instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles, whom he had chosen.
After his death Jesus showed the apostles a lot of convincing evidence that he was alive. For 40 days he appeared to them and talked with them about the kingdom of God.
Once, while he was meeting with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait there for what the Father had promised. Jesus said to them, “I’ve told you what the Father promises: John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
So when the apostles came together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you’re going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Jesus told them, “You don’t need to know about times or periods that the Father has determined by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes to you. Then you will be my witnesses to testify about me in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
After he had said this, he was taken to heaven. A cloud hid him so that they could no longer see him.
They were staring into the sky as he departed. Suddenly, two men in white clothes stood near them. They asked, “Why are you men from Galilee standing here looking at the sky? Jesus, who was taken from you to heaven, will come back in the same way that you saw him go to heaven.” (Acts 1:1-11 GW)
2) Reigning until the end
But the second reason is critical as well. He ascends to His throne, having accomplished everything the Father desired. By doing so, Jesus begins to reign from that throne. Paul puts it this way:
Christ must rule until God has put every enemy under his control. (1 Corinthians 15:25 GW)
This is the background for Peter’s comment on that Pentecost when the Holy Spirit is poured out. Peter begins his response to the crowd with these words from the prophet Joel:
In the last days, God says,
I will pour my Spirit on everyone.
Your sons and daughters will speak what God has revealed.
Your young men will see visions.
Your old men will dream dreams.
In those days
I will pour my Spirit on my servants, on both men and women.
They will speak what God has revealed.
How comforting it is to know that Jesus is reigning right now. While our eyes might deceive us into thinking that Jesus is not in control of anything, the reality is that Jesus is reigning. His reigning work is to bring about His saving work through the preaching of the Gospel “to the ends of the earth” (great commission focus).
The Lord isn’t slow to do what he promised, as some people think. Rather, he is patient for your sake. He doesn’t want to destroy anyone but wants all people to have an opportunity to turn to him and change the way they think and act. (2 Peter 3:9 GW)
In other words, the Ascension sets in motion two things: 1) pouring out of the Holy Spirit and 2) inauguration of the end times.
May we celebrate individually this year (May 17, 2012). Perhaps next year we can celebrate Ascension together as a congregation.