There seems to be very little interest in this celebration of Christ’s coronation. Few churches are having services this evening. The ones that are celebrating it don’t appear to be very well attended. But that should not surprise us so much. After all, two of the four evangelists say nothing about the Ascension at all. Matthew and John do not bother to record it, and Mark merely states “afterward He was taken into heaven”. Luke, however, describes it not only once, but twice, in his Gospel, and again in the Acts of the Apostles. He really thought it was important.
The action of our story took place at Bethany, a little town on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives. It was a village of about a hundred inhabitants. But for Jesus, it was a home away from home. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus lived there. On the slopes of this mountain Jesus taught His disciples about the future, looked down on the city of Jerusalem and wept for it, cursed the fig tree, and generally prepared for any time that He entered Jerusalem.
Now Jesus did not just vanish. He did not sneak off to some private place to disappear. He ascended in front of everybody. As Jesus was walking out to the mountain He was joined by about 120 people who came to see what was up. How fitting that expression is here! They were wondering what Jesus was going to do next. When they got there, they found out. Jesus ascended slowly, because He wanted everyone to see and understand what was happening. No one could be mistaken about what Jesus was doing.
What did the disciples experience? They tried to prod Jesus into saying things. They asked Him if He were going to restore the kingdom to Israel. Jesus had taught them in many ways that Israel according to the flesh was no longer God’s elect people. He had fulfilled His covenant with them. All Israel according to the flesh had been reduced to one man, Jesus the Righteous Remnant. At one point during the last forty days He had taken the eleven disciples to Galilee and given them the Great Commission. Now He was going to give it again in a different form. He said, You will be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. He wanted them to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name. After He said this He blessed them. This blessing was both a call and a comfort, because it was the last time they would hear Him speak, yet it set them in motion to bring His message to the world. His departure became an exclamation point behind His words.
What did Jesus experience? We can only speculate, but to be consistent with the Bible we must say that He was glorified. This was His day of triumph. Imagine how He saw the earth getting smaller as He journeyed beyond the stars, then how He heard the trumpets of His own city announcing His return, the shouts of praise as He entered its gates, the thousands of Alleluias shouted by the angelic choir. He came in with divine dignity, no longer crowned with thorns, but with pure light.
And what does it all mean for us? It is good news for us. Since that first blessed Christmas, Jesus has been our Brother, the Second Adam in whom all of His disciples are blessed. A man, like us, sits on the throne of righteousness. He has opened the way so that we can ascend as well, yes; we can follow where He has led. Jesus was crucified as a man, rose again as a man, and ascended as a man. As a man, Stephen saw Him at the moment of his martyrdom. As a man, Paul saw Him in the vision through which the Lord called him. As a man, John saw Him coming to comfort him in his exile on Patmos. As a man you and I will see Him when, according to His promise, He comes again. Since we have His righteousness, we shall have His heavenly citizenship, His blessings, His divine nature. All saints can follow where the Lord has led. His Father is our Father. His house is our house.
Jesus now intercedes for us, pleading with His Father to be patient with us in our weakness, for He has been tempted in the same way. He knows that we have to fight the good fight in the devil’s territory. As the Jewish High Priest stood in the Holiest Place with the names of the tribes of Israel carved upon the ephod which he wore on His chest, so now the divine, yet also human High Priest stands in an even holier temple, in an even holier city, with all of our names carved into His flesh by the nails and the spear. Even though Satan may be given permission to harass us, Jesus prays that our faith will not fail, but rather that it will prove the victory that overcomes the world.
One thing the Ascension does not mean – it does not mean that Jesus is gone. He is not gone. He is seated at the right hand of the Father. That is not necessarily a place, for Jesus is everywhere. Remember that the right hand is the merciful hand, the hand that carried the olive branch rather then the sword. The cross was the sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins. Now the ascended Jesus is the Everlasting Lifeline, bringing the benefits of God’s grace to sinners. In Holy Communion the right hand of God even reaches into our mouths, and He who appeared to His disciples without opening the door gives Himself as vulnerable bread. He has become the Passover of the New Covena
What does it mean to us? Lay aside the burden of sin, set your thoughts on high whither our Lord has gone before us. Let us ascend to the Author and Finisher of our faith, who was lifted up from the earth to draw us to Himself. Let us ascend now in faith, in spirit, and in God’s good time in body as well.