Monday, May 13, 2013

Don't Forget the Ascension!

According to the Church Calendar, yesterday was Ascension Sunday.  Of course, we Baptists are pretty selective with our attention to the Church Calendar.  In fact, if you ask most Baptists what they have on the Church Calendar they’ll reply, “We’ve got Deacons Meeting this Sunday night and a church picnic the next Sunday.”  See what I mean?  So yesterday was Ascension Sunday so we celebrated Mother’s Day (definitely not on the Church Calendar).  What are you going to do?

And it’s no great surprise that we would ignore Ascension Sunday; we tend to ignore it all year long.  I got a picture of that one time when Doug Scott.  I knew Doug at the University of Arkansas.  He came from Chicago, graduated from a Catholic high school there, and he told me what happened at his school’s annual passion play during Easter of his senior year.  All was going well in the last performance until the crucifixion scene.  Every performance, the Roman guard would take a collapsible spear and thrust it into the side of Jesus on the cross.  No problem, right?  Well, during the last performance, for whatever reason, the spear didn’t collapse.  The guard literally stabbed Jesus, and the boy portraying Jesus looked down at his wound and shouted, “Oh my God!  I’ve been stabbed!”  Definitely not in the script.  So the curtain quickly closes.  The boy is helped off the cross and taken to receive medical attention at a local emergency room.

But the show must go on, right?  So Jesus’ understudy stepped in.  The resurrection scene came off without a hitch.  All that was left now was the ascension scene.  And they did this with a pretty cool effect.  Jesus was wired to a sandbag weighting system.  He would share the Great Commission with his disciples, conclude with the words, “And lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age,” and then he’d push off the floor to engage the weight system and he’d gently rise into the rafters of the stage.  Curtain closes,  Audience applauds.  Play over.  But what the crew failed to account for on that last performance was the weight difference between the main Jesus and the understudy.  The understudy was several pounds heavier.  So when he gave his little speech and pushed off the floor, he went up about two feet and came right back down.  Three times in all he did this (to the growing snickers from the audience).  And that’s when it happened: the panicked back-stage crew quickly hurled a couple of more sandbags on the weight system, and poor Jesus shot up like a rocket, hit the rafters, someone came unhitched in the collision and crumpled back to the stage floor in a heap.  I suspect that’s the only time an emergency room took care of two Jesus’ characters on the same night.

I don’t tell this story to make light of Jesus or these events.  I suspect even God got a chuckle out of an unintentional misadventure at the end of a passion play.  I tell you this because it presents a graphic picture of an important biblical doctrine—the Ascension of Christ.  In this passion play that doctrine ends up in a heap on the floor.  Isn’t that what happens to the doctrine of the Ascension for most of us?  We talk a lot about the cross, and we should.  We give a lot of attention to the resurrection, and so we should.  But there’s scarcely a word about the Ascension.  It lays around on church floors like a heap of laundry.  We bypass it.  We step over around.  We walk around it.  We figure whoever's job it is to deal with it will do so.  We move from resurrection to second coming and pay so little attention to Ascension.  And when we do, we miss something valuable for our faith.

Consider why the Ascension is important, why it’s a doctrine we can’t ignore.  Consider why it’s important that Christ ascended back into heaven.

1.   So Christ could provide yet another confirmation that His resurrection was a bodily thing rather than merely a spiritual thing.  After His resurrection, Jesus spent forty days hanging around earth, making appearances to His disciples.  His disciples (as many as 500 at one time even) witnessed the resurrected Jesus in the flesh.  They recognized Him by His scars.  And they watched His body ascend into heaven (Acts 1:9-11).

2.   So Christ could be exalted.  In that wonderful hymn in Philippians 2, Paul writes of Jesus, “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the oint of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore also God highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:8-11).

3.   So Christ could send the Holy Spirit to us: “But I tell you the truth,” said Jesus to His disciples, “it is for your good that I am going away.  Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you” (Jn. 16:7).

4.   So Christ could serve as our Advocate before the Father.  In His post-ascension position, Jesus Christ is described as “sitting” at the right hand of the Father in heaven (with the one exception of the martyr Stephen seeing Jesus “standing” at the right hand of the Father while Stephen was being pummeled by an avalanche of hurled stones).  But don’t think Jesus’ sitting means inactivity: “My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin.  And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with eh Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 Jn. 2:1).

5.   So Christ could prepare a place for us.  In getting the disciples ready for His Ascension, Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled: you believe in God, believe in me also.  For in my Father’s house are many mansions.  If it were not so, I would have told you.  But I go and prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also” (Jn. 14:1-3).

6.   So Christ could return for us.  As the angels told the disciples after Jesus was ascended before their eyes, “This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

See what I mean?  This doctrine is no heap of laundry on the floor.  It’s important.  It matters.  It helps complete the story of who Jesus is and what Jesus did and does for all who believe.  So while most of us may not give it a whole Sunday of attention in worship, I hope that by taking a few minutes to read about it today, you will pause and lift a word of thanks and praise to heaven. 

Jesus came.  
Jesus died.  
Jesus rose from the dead.  
Jesus ascended into heaven.  
Jesus is coming again as King of kings and Lord of lords.  

Don’t you dare yank the Ascension out of that story.


  1. Love your Ascension story John. And thanks for the great outline & personal story from your friend, Doug...
    I'll probably use this in some way down the road if the Lord opens that door of opportunity.
    I'm guilty of not preaching a full message on the Ascension of Our Lord, but will do so.
    Charles Mays <>< Phil. 1:3

  2. Thanks, Charles. I guess I've only preached on the Ascension a couple of times in 32+ years of being a pastor. I've touched on it in a study of Acts and in a doctrinal study of Christ, but it's never been front burner for me either. Blessings, my friend.