Living in Light of the Ascension
As Michael rightly pointed out in his message, the ascension of Jesus is likely the most often overlooked aspect of Christ's work. We have holidays devoted to celebrating his birth/life (Christmas) and his death and resurrection (Easter), but we rarely think about his ascension and what it means for us as believers. And yet, it is the ascension, that Christ has risen to glory and now sits at the right hand of the Father where he is reigning and ruling, interceding for and overseeing his Church, that is perhaps of the greatest importance in the daily lives of Christians right now.
Despite the fact that Jesus is God incarnate, while he was living among his people, he was in some sense limited by his human nature. In other words, he required food and water to survive. He had to rest and sleep. He could feel pain and die. His presence in time and space was limited to a fixed place. All of these limitations, while not inherent to the divine nature of God, are a part of what it means to be human. Jesus was both fully God and fully human.
Jesus told his followers that it was actually better for them that he was leaving them (John 16:7). Of course, they couldn't understand what he meant. What could possibly be better than having Jesus with us??? The answer, of course, is having Jesus in us, through the indwelling power of the Spirit.
Michael pointed us to several important truths about this power that we receive in Christ. It is necessary power. We need it because it empowers us both to believe in Christ's promises and to walk in obedience as we participate in his kingdom. We are invited into this kingdom by the king and we are privileged to serve as mediators of his invitation in the lives of others. It it the power of the Spirit that ignites and fuels this divine purpose in our lives. And finally, the ascension gives us a promise to hope in. Because Jesus went, we can live in hopeful expectation of his return. None of this would be possible without the ascension.
All of these things are true and helpful. So, why then do we so often live as if they are not? Why do we often live lives that are absent of this power that is available to us? Why do we not live in joyful expectation of Christ's return? Why are we more often content to worship a Christ entombed rather than a Christ enthroned? These are million dollar questions aren't they???
I think the answer lies somewhere in our negligence to reflect on the ascension and what it means. When you look at the New Testament writings of the Apostles and other early church sources, we see a sense of urgency. Often times you see references to the "last days." Early believers living in close context to the earthly ministry of Jesus, living as first-hand witnesses to the ascension, understood that every day forward was one day closer to his return. No one knows when the day will be, but for them, it was coming, sooner rather than later. So they lived with this sense of urgency that has seemed to diminish over time.
The longer that Christ has graciously tarried with his rebellious creation, the more we have become complacent as a Church. The sense of urgency has diminished with each passing generation. Because we have been given much time, we now take for granted that we have much time. Yet, this may not be true.
When we don't live in light of Christ's second coming, we fail to live lives that are intentional and focused on the work at hand. I don't need to get around to sharing the gospel with my family, friends, neighbors, or coworkers because I can always do it tomorrow. But what if tomorrow never comes? How would you spend your time and energy differently if you knew its expiration date?
The early church lived every day in light of Christ's ascension and because of that, they experienced the power that came with it. As his Church, we have been entrusted with the awesome privilege and responsibility of continuing what he started in his earthly ministry. And we have been blessed and empowered with everything that we need to do so. It is because of the faithfulness of former generations that any of us stand here today in the faith.
We celebrate that God is sovereign over even our salvation, because it means that we quite literally come to him completely empty-handed and bankrupt. There is nothing I have to do to earn my salvation, because there is nothing that I can do. That is a very freeing reality. At the same time though, the gospel that is necessary to bring us to salvation is a message that must be conveyed. It is a story and stories must be told. God, in his wisdom has purposed that his people would be the means through which he would fulfill his redemptive promises and purposes in this world.
Over the last month, we have been reflecting on gratitude. We have been studying the various aspects of the life of Jesus and being reminded of the truth of the gospel...all with the hope that through the renewing of our minds, our hearts would be inclined to thanksgiving, worship, and obedience. Knowledge when rightly applied produces belief and conviction. Likewise, belief and conviction produce action. My prayer is that as we reflect on these truths that we would be a church that is faithful to live in light of them. May you and your families be blessed this Thanksgiving season through the power of the gospel.
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Part 4 - Thank You Jesus For Your Ascension
Questions discussed in this sermon:
1. How did Jesus defy the expectations of his hearers?
2. Why is the power of the Spirit necessary in the lives of believers?
3. How does the ascension provide purpose and promise for believers?