Today is forty days since we celebrated Easter and the glorious resurrection of our Lord Jesus from the grave. Now He is preparing to return back to the father and no longer be visible to the disciples and others whom He has just spent the last forty days with teaching and instructing them. The disciples fail to grasp the real significance of what is about to transpire. Their minds are focused on Jesus restoring the kingdom back to Israel and getting rid of the hated Romans. However Jesus has something altogether different in mind. As He is standing there spending the last few moments with his disciples His thoughts are all together in a different direction from those of the disciples looking forward to a future event that He wants His disciples to wait for. So why is this day important? Why does Ascension matter and what does it mean for us today in the 21st century?
Earlier in the Garden of Gethsemane as Jesus and disciples are talking prior to His betrayal and arrest Jesus tells them that it is expedient that He goes so He can send the Helper to them.[i] So what is Jesus talking about here? The word used for expedient means to be profitable and to bring together. The word for helper means intercessor, consoler, advocate and comforter. Thus Jesus is saying it is profitable for Him to go so the helper can come as our intercessor, to console us, to comfort us and act as an advocate for us. Why is this important?
To answer that question there are three things we need to look at here.
First it says in the Book of Acts that Jesus ascends into heaven from the Mount of Olives approximately a half mile to 2/3 miles from the eastern gate of Jerusalem. The name Jerusalem means city of peace yet there had never been peace between Jerusalem and Jesus, The political leaders of Jerusalem tried to kill him at his birth.[ii] The religious leaders of Jerusalem were constantly following Jesus trying to trip Him up so they could denounce Him. Finally through a kangaroo court, false witnesses, a mob controlled by them that threatened to riot if their demands aren't meant they succeed in having the man condemned and killed. Now just a short distance away from where the events of Holy Week i.e. Maundy Thursday/Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the laying in the tomb on Holy Saturday had all taken place possibly well within view of where Jesus and His disciples stood they all waited. It had tried to oppose, silence, stop and finally destroy the man and His ministry. However all that had been thwarted with Easter morning and the resurrection. Now Jesus is alive and well walking around again. However He is still confined to one place at a time. If you want to see or hear Him you still have to find out where he is at and go there. However in the Ascension that is no longer the case. In just a few days will come Pentecost and in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit Jesus can be now everywhere impacting our world in ways that were impossible before. Whether it's the frozen tundra of the Arctic, the jungles of Africa or Asia, the metropolitan areas in which many of us live, the poor villages and refugee camps of our world to the furthest outreaches of Outer Space Jesus is there. Now he can live in the hearts and be with all believers in Him numbering in the millions as we go forth as the hands, feet, eyes and voice of Jesus to a lost and dying world.
In the same manner Jesus can transcend what appears to be our greatest failures and defeats and turn them into powerful tools of change for us and for our world. What the enemy may have intended for our destruction and failure Jesus can change for His glory. Instead of just one Jesus confined to one place now there can be millions of little Christ's affecting the world as each of surrender to Jesus and His will for us and then in the power of the Holy Spirit together acting as Jesus would we will change our world and defeat the enemy Satan. Bringing us together Jesus will triumph over all.
It also says Jesus ascends from the Mount of Olives so called because of the olive groves that grew on the mountain and from which oil was made for anointing purposes in the anointing of kings, priests to service, sick for healing and so forth. The oil is made from the crushing of many olives. On the last night before His death after supper Jesus and His disciples go to the Garden of Gethsemane where He is betrayed. Gethsemane means oil press. In the garden as Jesus prays it says he becomes so burdened that His sweat becomes as drops of blood.[iii] Jesus was being pressed down by all that was about to befall Him as He would take the sins of the world upon Himself and die for us. It was not an easy decision for Jesus and He was definitely interested in another way being found that could accomplish the same goal. It takes Him three times over a three hour period before He can finally surrender and accept the will of the father for Him. On Calvary that crushing would be completed and now He is about to ascend into heaven where ten days later He would be poured out in the oil of the Holy Spirit to anoint the church with power to go and take His message to the ends of the earth. That word is dunamis from which our word dynamite comes. Thus we have the power to blow up and destroy the works of darkness that cover our world. How can we do this? Again in Acts it tells us we will receive power to be witnesses for Jesus to the ends of the earth.[iv] The word for witness in the Greek is martyr. A martyr is one who lays down his or her life for a cause. It is my belief that you do not have a cause worth living for until you have a cause worth dying for. We become witnesses by dying to self, becoming the real deal, acting as Jesus would if he were here in the flesh and to let Jesus shine through us. However that is not just for us or those who claim to be Christian. Let me explain.
In Matthew it says Jesus ascends into heaven from a mountain in Galilee.[v] Galilee means circle. It referred to the area outside Judean territory but which surrounded it, It was where the Gentiles were and Jewish proselytes and therefore considered inferior and unclean. They were not pure Jews like the religious ones in Judea and Jerusalem and seen as second class citizens. Many of them were banned from entering the temple and participating in its religious rites. They could enter the court of the Gentiles but could go no further. If they did they would be immediately be put to death for defiling the temple. One of the things the religious leaders had against Jesus was that He was a Galilean and nowhere in the scriptures did it mention anything about a prophet arising from out of Galilee.[vi] Yet it is from Galilee that Jesus ascends into heaven according to Matthew. What is the significance of this?
As I mentioned earlier Jesus was crushed and made into oil that would be poured out on Pentecost to anoint the church with power to be witnesses. Who are the witnesses? Galilee points us to them. They are the outsiders, the outcasts, the marginalized, the 'losers' the rejects of society, the ones whom the "church" has in her actions have decided are not worthy to be allowed entrance into their churches so they have slammed the door shut in their faces. These are the ones for whom Jesus has ascended on high for so in ten days He can come back to anoint the church with power at Pentecost to go to all the hurting, wounded, despised and rejected people of the world. It is to bring them all in into one body united together into one church, one family, one kingdom that will help usher in, in love, the Realm of God until it covers every inch of earth and His peace reigns over all the earth.
Finally in closing there is a third reason for why the Ascension is important, For that we have to look beyond Pentecost to the next liturgical season which is Ordinary Times. In closing then the Ascension opens the way for Pentecost and the empowering of the church to be witnesses in ordinary times. It's not just for church on Sunday mornings, or for special holidays or ceremonies, but for all times, for all we meet for every situation we encounter nothing is beyond the power of the Holy Spirit and his anointing oil. That is why Ascension is needed as without it Pentecost is impossible and we are powerless to do anything. However with the Ascension Pentecost is possible and a present reality. With that power we cannot lose and the gates of hell shall not prevail against us. Satan will be defeated and cast into the lake of fire to be tormented forever.[vii] The rest of us who believe will be welcomed into the new kingdom prepared for us by Jesus.[viii] All this is made possible by the Ascension of Jesus and why this event is important today and should be celebrated by us either today or for those who don't have services today then on Sunday. As always these are my views and also all comments and thoughts are welcomed.
[i] John 16:7
[ii] Matthew 2:13-18
[iii] Luke 22:41-44
[iv] Acts 1:8
[v] Matthew 28:16
[vi] John 7:52
[vii] Revelation 20:10
[viii] Matthew 25::31-40