We have all had those discussions where the longer someone speaks to us, the sooner we want it to end. They just seem incapable of normal conversation! Then when it finally does end, we breathe a sigh of relief, and perhaps find ourselves looking up to the sky with a mix of thankfulness, relief and protest. It is something we all do at different points in life: we look up to the heavens in search of God. Today as we join the disciples as their gaze ascends heavenward, as King Jesus ascends to be seated at the right of his Father. Then we are challenged to join the men from Galilee as they move to fulfil the Kingdom Commission on their lives. As they pick up the baton and carry on that which Jesus started.
Today, are going to look at the Acts account of the Ascension of Jesus. Thus, it is important to remember that Acts and Luke are written as two parts of one volume, what we read here is a different perspective of, and extension of the Ascension in Acts 1. Luke writes:
“50 Then he led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 And while he was blessing them, he left them and was carried up into heaven. 52 After worshiping him, they returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they were continually in the temple praising God.” – Luke 24:50-52
Leon Morris points out that here Luke is happy to leave us with a picture of the ascending Christ and “worshipping ad rejoicing disciples.” He further highlights that this is different to the resurrection appearances of Jesus, like on the Emmaus Road or in the house with the twelve. The Ascension then marks a “decisive case of one chapter ending and the beginning of another.” 1 For the readers of Luke’s Gospel the Ascension of Jesus is “the consummation of Christ’s earthly work, the indication to his followers that his mission is accomplished.”
Additionally, there is a wonderful picture of the victory Christ earned through the Cross, a picture hope for the children of God: This is not some spiritual ascension, but a bodily ascension. It is the fullness of Jesus that ascends into heaven, both his humanity and his divinity. Thus the Ascension is ‘a powerful expression of the Redemption of this world, in contrast to mere escape from it.2
In Luke’s Gospel, the Ascension marks the end of the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. It does not mean; however, he is finished with humanity and the work that he started. No his ministry continues through the agency of the Church (the Body of Christ). Thus, the Acts Ascension marks the beginning of that new era in God’s activity in the world: The ministry of the body of Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit who would both bring, and wait for the Kingdom of God. An Era that we are still living in today, and as we see the mission that is ours to continue.
Acts 1:1-11 | The Ascension of Jesus Christ & The Wait for the Spirit | CSB
I wrote the first narrative, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach 2 until the day he was taken up, after he had given instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After he had suffered, he also presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
The Holy Spirit Promised
4 While he was with them, he commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the Father’s promise. “Which,” he said, “you have heard me speak about; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit in a few days.” 6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
The Ascension of Jesus
9 After he had said this, he was taken up as they were watching, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going, they were gazing into heaven, and suddenly two men in white clothes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into heaven? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you have seen him going into heaven.”
THINKING THROUGH THE ASCENSION
There are six things I want to draw out of these first eleven verses in Acts. Today we are living in a changing world, where the context is shifting daily, and no ground seems solid. This Passage offers us the hope of a victory that cannot be taken from us no matter who we are, or where we live. Furthermore, this Passage challenges us to reexamine the call that has been placed on every disciple of Jesus regardless of context or situation: The work of witnessing to Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. There are six ways I think the Passage both encourages and challenges us as disciples today:
- A Summary of the Gospel (1-3)
- The Assurance of God (4-5)
- Understanding the Nature of the Kingdom (6)
- The tension of living in Christ’s Kingdom (7)
- The Disciples Call (8)
- The Ascension of a King (9-11)
1- A SUMMARY OF THE GOSPEL (1-3)
At the beginning of Lukes Gospel, he wrote that he was joining with the other Gospel accounts to compile a narrative concerning “the things that have been fulfilled among us.” Specifically, he was writing so that all who will read will “known the certainty of things you have been taught.” (Luke 1:4).
As we read Acts, we must remember that Luke is writing on the same agenda. He addresses this book to the same person Theophilus and then summarises his previous volume. Yet, Acts 1:1-13 is more than just a summary of a previously written volume; it is a summary of the good news of Jesus – the Gospel. Here in these first three verses, we are reminded that what Jesus did and taught was the beginning of something: “all Jesus began to do and teach” (CSB), inferring that in Acts we will see a continuation of what Jesus started in word and deed. Verse two reminds us that God the Father is at work at this moment, as Jesus is taken up (an inference of divine action), meaning the Father took him to himself. God the Father has been at work in the world through the life, death, and resurrection of (God the Son) Jesus Christ. Thus the ascension narrative as presented in the Gospel of Luke and extended in acts is an act of assurance from God: Specifically, it is the confirmation of the victory of the Cross and the validation of the empty tomb. Thus, as the God the Father was at work in the life and ministry of the Son, so too will he continue to join in the work through the Spirit empowered Body of Christ. Every facet of all that has happened has been part of God’s redemptive plan. Furthermore, everything that will happen from this moment is still part of God’s plan. Here Luke is providing assurance that these events are really the work of God, that Jesus was the Son of God, and that the disciples and all with them are the people of God.
The Suffering Saviour
Verse three read with verse two presents a full picture of Jesus. That he brought the Kingdom of God in his teaching and actions. Yet, he also suffered, (the Cross), and then was vindicated in his suffering by “many convincing proofs.” and “appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” These verses are in a way a brief summary of the more broad suffering the Emmaus road disciples gave, they serve in the same way for us as they remind us of the historicity of the Gospel and its reality. Furthermore, this summary of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus in its placement right at the beginning of the Church works to remind us that these events are key to the identity and life of the Church.
Continuing what was Started
As Church we are not called to something new, or unseen. No, we are called to mirror that which our saviour displayed for us in his life, death, resurrection. Luke wants to be clear by his placement of these verses right at the start of Acts! As Jesus is our hope, so too is he our identity and way. The Ascension validates all who Jesus was, and all he did for us. The coming of the Holy Spirit empowers us to pick up the baton, and carry on the work that Christ began. Thus, this summary of Jesus and the Gospel is validated by the Ascension. Furthermore, the Ascension is key because there is a presented finality around it; this is not like previous appearances over the forty days. No, in seeing him ascend combined with the call to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit it is being made clear that this is a new era. Jesus has ascended because he fulfilled what he set out to do, the Holy Spirit comes to enable us to continue the work of the Kingdom of God, and here at the beginning of Acts we are reminded that “Luke is associating what Jesus began to do during his ministry, with (implicitly) what he continued to do after his ascension, the ministry of Jesus was the beginning of Christianity.” 3
2- THE ASSURANCE OF GOD (4-5)
“And look, I am sending you what my Father promised. As for you, stay in the city until you are empowered from on high.” – Luke 24:49
“Don’t let your heart be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever. 17 He is the Spirit of truth. The world is unable to receive him because it doesn’t see him or know him. But you do know him, because he remains with you and will be in you. – John 14:1,15-17
One last time we hear Jesus instructs the disciples to wait for He who they have been taught about and promised – The counsellor, The Holy Spirit. God, the Holy Spirit, will come to come to enable the Church to continue the work of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is the assurance of God. A truth that is expanded in several different ways in the life of the Church:
An Assurance of Salvation
First, the dwelling presence of the Holy Spirit is the assurance of salvation for those who have put their trust in Jesus Christ:
“23 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.”
1 John 3:23–24 (ESV)
The presence of the Holy Spirit in the believer is the visible assurance of Redemption. He is the deposit of faith who actively equips us for the work of God, earned through no effort of our own. As the disciples received him, so too all the children of God receive the presence, power and assurance of the Holy Spirit; there is nothing we could do to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and there is nothing we can do to lose His presence. This raises the question: Have we saving faith in Christ that gives us the assurance of the presence of the Holy Spirit? Today let us either delight in our assurance or seek that assurance.
God Is Active In The World
Secondly, the Holy Spirit is the assurance to all that God was, and still active and working in the world. The Ascension of Jesus is not a withdrawal or retreat, it was the end of that specific period of the work of God. An end that allowed another to begin: Thus, the promise that had been offered throughout Scripture comes to the point where it will be fulfilled when the Holy Spirit comes. The coming of the Holy Spirit assures us that whoever we are, whatever we are facing that God is with us, working through us and active in the world for his cause and Glory.
Unchanging Assurance in a Changing World
Today’s it feels like the world is changing fasting than the minute hand of the clock. We wonder where God is in these moments, yet, the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit assures us that God is as invested and active in the world today as he ever was. The assurance of God is that in an ever-changing world, we have an ever constant God who is with us, working in us and thorough us. Whether we find ourselves in the middle of a global pandemic, or in one of the best seasons of life, the assurance of God is our ultimate hope and confidence.
Furthermore, we remember that the coming of the Spirit is a continuation and empowerment to the ministry of Christ, for the Body of Christ. It is not a deposit of grace that we just set aside in the assurance that one day we will go up like Jesus, not it is assurance than gives us the confidence and power to be active in the world today. To live out what Jesus modelled to us in the Gospels, empowered by the Holy Spirit to advance his Kingdom and in the hope that others too might receive the same assurance of salvation.
3 – UNDERSTANDING THE NATURE OF THE KINGDOM (6)
Have you ever tried to explain something to someone who just cannot seem to grasp it? You think you are getting somewhere and then at the last hurdle, you end up right back at the start? I wonder did Jesus ever feel this when he was teaching the disciples the specifics of the Kingdom of God. How many times they seemed close to grasping its upside down, inside out nature and then it just seems beyond them, even as they walked and witnessed Jesus teaching and demonstrating it in his earthly ministry.
Verse 6 marks the beginning of a fresh scene in Acts 1. The final scene between Jesus and his disciples, as one last time he teaches them about the things of God. They know now and believe that he is the saviour of Israel and the world. Yet, we see that their understanding of that redemptive work is still off. They are still thinking and seeing with an earthly mind. Even though they have seen the pinnacle of Kingdom Logic and victory as displayed on the Cross. They ask Jesus:
“Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?”
A question that probably represents the fervent Jewish hope that God’s people would one day be freed from Roman oppression, and all oppression. They had just seen Jesus defeat death, so you can understand their desire for the next stage of God’s work in the world. They wanted Israel to return to the glory days of old, the grandeur of the joined Kingdom under King David and Solomons. They still had a wrong understanding of the Kingdom of God. It was the right hope, with the wrong outworking.
The Kingdom of God is not like any Kingdom of this world. It is a kingdom stripped of nationalism, tribalism, and selfish desires, it is ruled not by earthly notions of power, rule or class, but by the suffering King who declares that the first shall be last and the last first, and that strength is found in weakness. This Kingdom would transform the world as it swept with the advancing Gospel and body of Christ. It is the Kingdom of the now, and not yet.
Today as we look to the victory of the Cross, the vindication of the empty tomb and we marvel at the validation of Christ’s Ascension let us remember the nature of that victory won, that at every turn it confronted and confounded the world, and let us be right in our understanding of the Kingdom and what it means for our lives in this earthly Kingdom, as we seek to witness to the Kingship of Jesus by our word and example.
4 – THE TENSION OF LIVING IN CHRISTS KINGDOM (7)
The disciples would have known from their reading of Scripture that the coming of the Spirit of God was tied with the coming the Kingdom (Joel 2 & Ezekiel 36). Verse 7 shows that the disciples’ expectation of a literal earthly kingdom (the nature of redeemed Israel) was based on what they had been taught by Jesus; or else he would have rebuked, not corrected this assumption. It can be easy for us to look at the disciples and think that they are slow to grasp something simple. Yet, what we are talking about is the deconstruction of one worldview and the construction of another. In response to their over-eagerness to know the plan, Jesus reminds them:
” It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.”
We see similar teachings and reminders about the nature of God’s Kingdom in the Gospels, and in the Prophet Zechariah:
- “But as for that day or hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” – Mark 13:32
- ““But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” – Matthew 24:36
- “But it shall be one day which shall be known to the LORD, not day, nor night: but it shall come to pass, that at evening time it shall be light.” – Zechariah 14:7
In each verse, the point is the same. That as citizens of the Kingdom of God, there are things that are beyond our comprehension, things that are not needed to live out that citizenship. It is the tension of living in the Kingdom of God that is both here, and yet to come. That by the victory of the Cross Christ inaugurated his kingdom rule on earth, yet, that rule will not be consummated until he returns again in Glory. The disciples (with a wrong understanding) want to know when this will be; here Jesus teaches them (and us) of the tension that is living in the Kingdom. We live in the tension of knowing that we have received fully through grace, and yet knowing there is more still to receive, as we look to that moment when Christ will come again in Glory:
“Is the kingdom of God a future reality to be hoped for or a present reality to experience now? That’s today’s question. The answer is that it is partly present and partly future. Many of its blessings are here to be enjoyed now; but many of them are not yet here. Some of its power is available now but not all of it. Some of the curse and misery of this old age can be overcome now by the presence of the kingdom. But some of it cannot be. The decisive battle against sin and Satan and sickness and death has been fought and won by the King in his death and resurrection, but the war is not over. Sin must be fought, Satan must be resisted, sickness must be prayed over and groaned under (Romans 8:23), and death must be endured until the second coming of the King and the consummation of the kingdom.” – John Piper4
Thus, we are a people who live in this tension, we live knowing that we are citizens of another world, yet we are called to acknowledge that we live in this world, and witness to our King in it. The disciples would live joyfully intension of the Kingdom of God as they went about and fulfilled the call that was placed on their life. As it was for the early Church, so it is for us today. We live in the tension of the ‘now and not yet’, and we live out the call of Christ in that tension. Verse seven acts as a guide for our discipleship.
Firstly, it reminds us not to become obsessed with the ‘when.’ There are no secret codes in the bible that need to be figured out; there will be no new prophets who have some new insight that will enable us to know the time of the Lords coming, this knowledge is not ours to need or ours to use – it belongs to the Lord. Hence, while we look to the certainty of a future coming, we live in the now with the assurance that Christ will come and defeat sin.
Secondly, verse seven reminds us that Christianity is not about the great escape. Salvation is not waiting for Jesus to come and take us up to be with him. It is about him coming again as Lord and victory to redeemed all the citizens of earth and to redeem his creation. Thus, we trust and live out that which he commissioned.
5 – The Disciple’s Commission
They (and we) would not receive knowledge of the Lord’s timing, but they (and we) would receive something far greater – the presence of the Holy Spirit and a commission to the mission. There is a reason for our waiting: the work of the Lord! As we wait for him, we work for him, through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the disciples’ commission no matter the context or culture we find ourselves waiting in. Our waiting is not passive, it is active. Hence Jesus instruction and almost prophetic declaration to how the Gospel will go out. The Spirit will come, he will be witnessed to in Jerusalem, then Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. As the Spirit came at Pentecost, so the Gospel goes out from there.
This Is Who We Are
Let us never lose sight of this – the Gospel is still going out. We are still witnessing to the Lordship and rule of Christ. The commission remains the same on all who follow Christ, it is not optional, as CF Henry once said: “The gospel is only good news if it gets there in time.” So today in this fast-changing world let us perhaps think of our context and this call to carry the good news in time for people to hear it. How is God calling us to witness to the Lordship and rule of Jesus Christ right where we are. To our family, friends, town, places of work, and the online world that is now so vital to our lives. How are we witnessing to the coming King in word and deed and showing people the hope that is ours in Jesus? We have been commissioned by the King of kings! What greater honour could there be by the power of the Holy Spirit to live that commission out, so that this world can know the hope of Christ?
Today The Time Is Right
I wonder as we navigate our way through this pandemic has the great commission been on our mind? As the world changes around us, as normal crumbles and people search for security, meaning, identity and foundation do we see the opportunity for the Gospel to positively affect this world. Today, let us be individuals and churches that in the power of the Holy Spirit are praying and preparing for the work of witnessing that is ahead. Let us be ready to offer hope, defend our faith, and share the love of Jesus in word and deed. Perhaps the call of nowis to prayerfully consider what Church, community and mission might look like in the months and years ahead, and how we might best offer the hope of Christ in word and deed. How might the Spirit empower us to make Christ known?
6 – The Victorious Ascension of a King (9-11)
Remember that Luke and Acts are written as two volumes of one piece of work. Luke intends for these to be read together and with reference to one another. His introduction before the Ascension of Jesus confirms that! By writing this way, Luke wants us to be clear on one thing: the Ascension of Jesus is not the end of Jesus ministry on earth, as we have already said it is the beginning of something new. Luke wants to clearly emphasise the unity of his account of the ministry of Jesus and the beginning of the Church.
The Gospels tell us about Jesus and his redemptive victory through the Cross. Yet, more than that it tells us what Jesus did and taught: Acts then is the historical account of what Jesus continues to do and teach through the agency of the Spirit empowered Church – the body of Christ. As they live out his teaching in word and deed and declare to the world, the wonder of the Cross and the gift of grace that is offered to all through it.
A Glorious Witness
The Ascension of Jesus does not mark the end of Jesus concern with humanity, for he will come again of that we can be assured. No, it is a glorious validation of his ministry among us as God the Father takes the Son in his resurrection body to his rightful place at the right hand of the Father. Thus, as the Son goes, the Spirit comes to empower the Church to the same ministry of witness. The cloud here is for us today a visible reminder of the Glory of God that was present in that moment of Ascension. Yet, while Christ is not finished on earth, there is a finality to this moment, the remaining apostles were not to wait around for another resurrection appearance of Jesus. No, they where now to wait for another – the coming Holy Spirit.
I love the realness of this scene, as Jesus ascends and disappears from their sight behind a cloud, all the disciples can do is stare. It is the picture of disbelief, they are not quite sure what just happened, they must have wondered: “Did that just happen?” To affirm the finality of this moment, two messengers appear to the disciples and confirm that a new era is beginning: that Christ will come again (his Parousia) as victor and judge. Yet, there is work to be done until that coming.
The disciples would go on to be faithful to the commission of Jesus Christ, yet theirs lives would not be marked by prosperity, but suffering; in the eyes of the world they where fools following a dead teacher, but through the lens of the Kingdom they where faithful people living in the confidence that Christ would come again: Confidence that transcended any of their circumstances. Today, as we live in the Kingdom of God, and seek to witness to it, we live with the true and certain hope that the not-yet of the Kingdom will one day be no more and as Christ ascended in Clouds of Glory so he will return as King to claim that which is his. We can boldly declare that the curse of sin will be defeated no more will evil effect the world. Today, let the sure and certain hope of the coming of Christ be our confidence in these difficult days, as we can know for certain the victory of Jesus and the hope that he will come again!
CONCLUSION: AS WE GO FROM HERE
This day as we journey from Ascension to Pentecost, let us remind ourselves of victory of the Ascension. That it declares heavens approval to his life, ministry death, and resurrection. Then let us ready ourselves to live out the commission that he has placed on the lives of those who have put their faith in him. Let us witness to his Lordship and goodness, and through our words and deeds, speak the hope this world is looking for.