During my formative years growing up in the church as well as my adult years attending church, I don’t recall ever hearing a sermon on Christ’s ascension. I heard countless words about the Lord’s crucifixion, salvation by the blood, and more than a few bombastic diatribes on the evils of sin. I even heard a few sermons on the Resurrection, mostly centered on the importance of the empty tomb and the fact that Christ defeated both death and the Devil. And, of course, there have been countless talks about the Nativity.
Not once, however, did I hear anything about the Ascension. Not one time!
Left to my own devices, I would have most likely never noticed this empty space in the biblical teaching that has come my way over the years. It is only because I am a book addict that I per chance (or maybe by design) discovered that a big hole existed in my celebration of the life of Jesus. I really have no one to blame for this reality except myself. I can’t blame the pastors and preachers I have heard during my life; chances are, they never heard a sermon on Christ’s journey back to heaven and subsequent seating at the right hand of the Father. Like I said, it is only through my habit of voracious reading that I happened upon this issue at all. Now, you’ll have to bear with me because I feel compelled to tell you about it.
Of course, you could just click this page shut and be done with it. I hope, however, you won’t do that. Instead, even if you don’t appreciate me as a writer, at least consider that I might say one thing of value in the time it takes to scroll down the page.
Gary Thomas is one of my favorite authors. Several of his books have been meaningful in my life, most notably Sacred Marriage and Sacred Parenting. The latter, in fact, has been of immense relevance in my life over the past few years. God, in his infinite wisdom and with what I consider his trademark sense of humor, gave me the surprise of my life in 2004. In August, 2003 we discovered that my wife was pregnant. She gave birth to our wonderful little girl, Salina Li, in May, 2004. What makes this event special is the fact that when Salina was born, I was 55-years-old.
Like I said, He does have a sense of humor.
I had planned to drift casually into my golden years devoting my time to my church and to my writing. Parenting was not in the cards, nor was it for Li, my wife. Salina was God’s gift to us and, although she was not in our plans, she was in God’s plans. That’s why I never use the term “unplanned pregnancy.” Although I am not a fanatical pro-lifer, I am pro-life. In my eyes, pregnancy is never unplanned; it is always God-planned. Li and I never considered abortion. Salina has been a blessed addition to our family and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
I apologize for that little digression, but this is a blog. Back to the point, Gary Thomas’ book on parenting has also been a gift to both Li and myself. We have learned much from its pages, particularly how God uses parenting as a way for us to overcome our inbred tendency toward selfishness.
A few months back I purchased Thomas’ most recent book, entitled, The Beautiful Fight. In this book, the author discusses the fact that we have often overlooked the eternal significance of Christ’s ascension and we have done this to our detriment. Reading Thomas’ book gave me pause to reflect on this theme in some detail, to pray about it, and now, to begin to write about it.
After reading the book I came to several pertinent realizations regarding the Ascension. First, by celebrating the event of Christ’s journey back to the spiritual world, we are honoring the fact that, because of the success of Jesus’ mission, we are all now operating under a new set of circumstances. Have you ever really reflected on that?
Christ told his disciples that he was going away and that his departure was necessary. Jesus said flatly, “Unless I go, the Advocate (comforter, counselor) won’t come. If I do go away, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7). If Christ had not returned to his home, the Holy Spirit would have never arrived to live inside of us. The implications of this are obvious. Without the presence of the Holy Spirit along side us and within us, we could never hope to attain to what Paul calls “the fullness of Christ.” Put in stark but realistic terms, we would never be able to live as committed Christians.
A second significant issue surrounding the Ascension has to do with Christ’s reign and his kingdom. Scripture teaches us that Christ not only will rule when he comes again some day, he is ruling right now. This doesn’t mean that Satan is not roaming around, as Peter says, like a roaring lion. What it does mean, however, is that he has been defanged. Granted, Satan may get hold of you, but the best he can do is gum you to death. If Christ did not occupy his honored seat in the spiritual world, Satan would be a more formidable enemy than he now is.
Finally, Christ’s ascension gives us something none of us could live without. The Ascension gives us hope! And one further truth – no longer do we really need to ask, “What would Jesus do?” With the Ascension, as Thomas points out, a more appropriate question is: “What is Jesus doing right now?”
Take just a few minutes and think about these realities. Do you now see the blessings associated with the Ascension?
Allow me to close with a quotation from The Beautiful Fight that speaks directly to the themes discussed above:
Celebrating Christmas gives us faith; it affirms that our beliefs have roots in the historical fact of the incarnation. Celebrating Easter gives us assurance; it affirms that Christ wiped away our sin by his great sacrifice and triumphed over death. Celebrating the ascension gives us hope and points us toward transformation; it affirms that we can become more and more like Jesus is right now….Without the ascension, we might look around and forget that Christ is the ruling Lord of this fallen, broken world….not just that he will reign when he comes again or that he did reign over death, but that he is reigning right now.
- Throughout the article, I have capitalized the word Ascension when it refers to the specific event in Christ’s mission. I do so because I firmly feel that this event deserves the same honor as the Nativity, Christmas and Easter. I did not capitalize the word in the quotation from Thomas because he did not.
© L.D. Turner 2008/All Rights Reserved