Thursday, May 17, 2012

Why Ascension Day is still important for us - 17th May 2012

Many people  are asking themselves  today, on Thursday,  17th May 2012 :  Ascension Day. What on earth is that?” Christmas we know  , Easter we know – but Ascension day, what is that ?
The simplest answer we can give to them   is that Ascension Day marks that day when our  dear Lord Jesus  Christ, having completed His work on earth,  visibly  ascended ( he was lifted up by  a miraculous force) into Heaven to take up His  glory once more  : “ And now , Father , glorify me  in your presence with the glory  that I had with you before the world existed.” (John 17:5 ). He is now seated in heaven.  This all  happened  40 days after His resurrection from the dead.
Every year    I  observe  that  it  is an amazing fact that Ascension day still  forms  part of our  national calendar [1].  I say that this  is quite remarkable , for after all our country’s  constitution  claims  to be secular [2]. Technically we  should not  observe  religious  holidays.  But not only that!  It is amazing to think that against the background of so little   actual interest shown  in this day by the  general public   (and sadly even by the church)  it should   still  occupy  a  place on the list of national  holidays!   The fact  that  this day is  publicly  still  recognized  among us  singularly honours  the Lord  Jesus , and therefore I say :  God bless Namibia !”  In  remembrance  of this event then  I  wish  to  read   a few  texts  from Scripture that speak  about this  historical happening , and  draw some applications  from this  .

1.      Acts 1:6-11[6] So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” [7] He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. [8] But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” [9] And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. [10] And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, [11] and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”  This  text from the book of Acts  describes the  actual happening . Jesus had  appeared to many of His disciples during the 40 days following His resurrection. On the 40th day, He appeared again to the apostles and led them out to the Mount of Olives where He instructed them to wait for the promise of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem.  Then the  11 disciples  saw  Him ascending  into  the clouds, disappearing from their sight . As they continued to watch, two angels appeared and assured  them that  just as He ascended in visible form , He would also  return in  visible glory. ( see also Revelation 1:7)
2.      John 14:1-3[14:1] “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. [2] In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? [3] And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. This  text from John’s gospel tells us  what He is doing  in heaven  for us. He’s preparing a place for His people.  Heaven  is waiting for those  who  love Him now  and believe in Him now ( 1 Peter  1:8,9)
3.      In Romans 8:34 we read of another work of the Lord Jesus for us . He is  at the right hand of God… interceding for us . The ascended Lord Jesus prays for  His people even now !
4.      1 Peter 3:21-22[21] Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, [22] who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. This  text from  Peter’s epistle tells us  something about  the amazing authority  of  our  ascended Christ . He occupies a realm of power that  would dazzle us!
5.      History  :  Has  the church in history   observed such a day in her calendar ?  Yes! According to Augustine  the bishop of Hippo in North Africa (354-  430 AD) ,  the Feast of Ascension originated with the apostles. John Chrysostom and Gregory of Nyssa, contemporaries of Augustine, refer to this  as one of the oldest feasts of the Church, possibly going as far back as AD 68.   The older  denominations of the  modern church  have generally   kept this day as a holy day. Namibia’s  largely Lutheran   influence  has, I believe , secured this day  for us in our national calendar . 

So why should we  continue  to  remember this day  ?  8 reasons

1.  We remember  that Jesus is our  man in heaven !  He ascended to heaven as a man , and  He is seated at the right hand of the Father as a man  while also at the same time being ‘true God of true God’ ( Nicene Creed)! As a man  He is able to relate to us, and therefore the writer to the Hebrews calls Him our sympathetic  High priest ( Hebr 4: 14 -5:10). Thank God that we are so well represented  before God the Father  by  our Advocate – Jesus Christ the righteous , who is the propitiation for our sins ( 1 Jn 2:1)
2.We  remember  that  the  ascension  is also the promise of His descension. This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.  So,  we not only remember today that  Jesus  ascended  to heaven . We  also remember today  that He will return  as the coming Judge.
3.We remember  that  according to our  text  in John 14:1-3  our future  lies  where He is now,  as our ascended King .  This helps us to  maintain perspective on  our life , which does not consist only  of these feeble 70 or 80 years here on earth   , but it focusses our perspective on eternity ! Our  home is with Him!
4. We remember  this day that  Jesus  is  our ascended King  with great authority. (He) … has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. ( 1 Pet 3:22)  He has left His humble state  and is  now  exalted and enthroned at the right hand of God the Father, Almighty.  We remember  that He still rules this world and the Universe from  there . He  is above every other name and authority. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Ascension day is  a bold declaration  about ultimate  authority.  Jesus is in charge of all  things . Every knee must bow before  Him.  Abraham Kuyper  (1837 – 1920) ,  one time  prime minister of the Netherlands  and also  University professor and  pastor,   at  the turn of the 1900’s  declared : “There’s not an inch of this universe of which Jesus  does not say “Mine!”.  The  contemporary theologian  R.C. Sproul  says that “ there is not a  maverick molecule in the universe”.  Everything is under the sovereign control of our King Jesus. He rules. Oh how we need to hear this  truth in our fear  riddled society!   Currently the world is undergoing a huge financial crisis  , and no one knows how this is going to end.  What  fears  such  news  brings to the heart of  men . People  worry  :  How will  I eat , how will I drink ,  how  will I clothe myself ( see Matthew 6 ) .Ascension Day  affirms ultimate   authority in Christ , and my heart is therefore at peace!  Jesus authority in heaven  is not an abstract authority   simply related to heaven. The Bible tells us  that  from where He is  “ knows how to rescue the godly from trials  “ ( 2 Peter 2:9) .  From His heavenly throne He  has empowered  His church. So when she lives in His strength , and in obedience and submission  to Him , she shall have  His power and authority. Pentecost  ( remembered on Sunday , in 10 days time) proved this .
5. We have confidence  that our Great Commission  from Jesus must succeed ! This is why Jesus, knowing all this, could say to His disciples on the eve of His departure,  All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations . . . teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you . . .”( Matt 28:18-20.).  Our ascended, glorious , all powerful Lord guarantees the  success of the church’s mission!
6. We remember this day  because it  proclaims the Lordship of Christ everywhere  on earth and in all areas of life. Jesus has all authority  over every continent , country and city. He has authority  over every people group.  For  reasons known only to Him  some people  groups are presently more favoured with the gospel than others . Others have been more favoured in the past  (e.g.  North Africa ; Middle east ) . The reason why the gospel  is scarce in Iran  and Saudi Arabia  is not because  Jesus is powerless and helpless in those countries . They may rage  against Him now , but according to Psalm 2  He has the last say.  Mockers must tremble , and Christians  must be bold in  prayer.
Jesus  is  the King of the Universe. He  possesses  the hearts of the kings of the nations .  He  must rule over every area of our  life. Does Jesus  care what we see , and what we listen to ?  Is He not also concerned about our  business ethics, our legal  practices?  Is He not also  the Lord of  business, sports, entertainment, and government?  Is He not also  concerned  about  what is taught in our schools ? Does He not care  about how the sick are being looked after in our hospitals?  Is He not concerned about the decisions  that our  parliamentarians make? 
Indeed , there  is no area of life that is outside of the authority of Christ. Every doctor, teacher, policeman, parliamentarian, businessman, factory worker, mother, father, magistrate  etc.   will have to individually stand before  this ascended , enthroned  King and coming Judge, on the Day of Judgment. All will have to give  an account to Him (see Matt 25) .
7.  We remember this  day  because  it   reminds us  that  the ultimate  victory  over all  evil  belongs to Christ.  Many   rulers  think that they  have power  and authority in themselves . But where are they now ? Swept away in death.  Think of Caiaphas, the high priest, Herod  the king and Pontius Pilate the Roman governor,  who  thought that they were very important and powerful people. Where are they ? I tell you where they are. They are in hell  awaiting the coming final judgment  reserved  for all the enemies of God  at His  descension. They were so blinded by their self styled  notions of grandeur, that they  didn’t recognise that they were condemning their  Creator to death.   It did not occur to them  that  they who judged Him, would one day have to stand before  the righteous  Judge.  The Emperor Augustus who issued the decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world, requiring everyone to return to their town of birth,  did not  realize  , that this  baby born under his rule  to  lowly  peasant class  people  in Judea would one day judge him.
8. The Ascension is a great comfort to believers who suffer persecution.Therefore, since we have a great High Priest Who has gone through the Heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the Faith we profess.” Hebrews 4:14. Jesus will  soon judge our enemies. “For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.” (1 Cor 15:25).There will be a day of accounting.  Your suffering is  only for a brief period.  Your future  joy shall be everlasting.  Do not  fear evil men,   governments or evil systems.  Don’t fear them that can destroy the body… fear Him who can destroy of body and soul  in hell . Do not  bow before idols. Do not  compromise the essential principles of your faith.  Remember  that Jesus rules. Remember  that “. . . the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14)
Remember who is on the throne  of the universe right now : “Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the Name that is above every name, that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow in Heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the FatherPhil 2:9-11.
9. We remember  this day , because  it is presently entrenched in our national  calendar  as  a great testimony  to  our Lord Jesus  Christ!  It gives us gospel opportunities . Whenever people , or our children  ask, “ What day is this ?  we have  an opportunity to share  about the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.  ( See the example of the  Passover as a   day to be remembered  in Ex 12:26  ) . Such days are like  the erecting of a memorial  ( e.g.  the stones  in Joshua  4:6)  for future generations . The Lord commanded  Israel to observe  a number of  important  days in Israel. The most regular one was to be the Sabbath  (the 7th day). We have other such memorials  in our year : Christmas , Easter , Ascension  and  Pentecost , and although the NT does not insist that we shall keep them ( for  fear  that we make the day greater than  the person of Christ – Col 2:16,17) , we do well to see Christ  in them . 
Whatever  glorifies our Lord Jesus  must  be upheld by the Christian Church . So thank God for Ascension Day , when we can remember the Lord Jesus as He is now :   Our glorious coming King! Amen !

[1] The other Southern African countries  that still have this day are   Botswana , Swaziland  and Lesotho
[2] The Constitution of the Republic of Namibia , Preamble , p.1

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