The Ascension

Good Friday is easy to understand – Jesus died on the cross to pay for the sins of the world. Easter is pretty easy, too – Jesus rose from the dead to give the assurance of eternal life to all who believe in Him. But what about the event forty days after Easter? What’s so special about Jesus’ ascension?

Our culture certainly has no clue about the Ascension. There are no Ascension Day parades; no Ascension Day parties; no Ascension Day sales at the mall. No one is giving the excuse to the pastor, “Sorry, I can’t make it to church Thursday night. We are going to Grandma’s to open Ascension Day presents.”

Though our society may not understand the importance of the Ascension Day, we Christians continue to celebrate this major festival of the Christian Church year.

The Ascension by Benjamin West (1801)

“The Ascension” by Benjamin West portrays the glory and magnitude of what Jesus’ ascension into heaven means for Christians. The disciples are gathered on the mountaintop looking up in bewilderment and amazement. Two angels are announcing to the disciples, “Why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

There are cherubim and other angels who are accepting the glorified Lord back into heaven. He will be seated at his Father’s right hand.

Benjamin West was an American-born painter who moved to England as a young man. He never returned to America. Benjamin became famous for his works of art depicting historical, mythological, and religious subjects. His work became so revered that he became known in London as “the American Raphael.”

West portrays the Christ returning to glory so that he might reign and put all his enemies under his feet (1 Corinthians 15:25). As sinners, though, we don’t like Christ reigning over us. Our sinful nature wants to be the one in control. We want to do what we want when we want it. We don’t want someone else telling us what to do. We don’t want to be responsible to anyone else – even if it is the Lord of heaven and earth.

For our sinful nature, the worst part of Christ’s reign is that he is a King who dies for his subjects. This is grace – sheer grace. And our sinful nature chafes at grace. It wants to do the work and be responsible for salvation.

Christ ascending into heaven in all his glory proclaims to the world – and our sinful nature – that his work is done. We need to do nothing. Everything has been accomplished. His work of saving mankind from its sin and hell has been completed.

Sketch for “The Ascension” by Benjamin West (c. 1782)

Jesus humbled himself by living in the womb of his teenage mother for nine months. Now Jesus rules for eternity.

He humbled himself to be laid in a feeding trough at his birth. Now he reigns supreme at the Father’s right hand.

He humbled himself to be worshiped by a handful of smelly shepherds and later by some visiting Wise Men. Now he is worshiped by the great multitude that St. John could not count (Revelation 7:9).

He humbled himself to endure the devil’s temptations in the wilderness. Now He has defeated the Ancient Serpent and crushed his head and made a public spectacle out of him (Colossians 2:15).

He humbled himself to suffer wounds on his beautiful head, hands, feet, and side. Now he wears these wounds with righteous pride. For it is by these wounds that we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).

Christ’s ascension proclaims to the world and our sinful nature that Christ’s time of humility is over. He now reigns supreme.

Your church may or may not be full this Thursday evening for the celebration of Christ’s ascension (or even have a service). However, it is by his ascension that Jesus has entered heaven to finish filling His Father’s mansions (John 14:2).

Parties, parades and presents are all nice additions to celebrating this Ascension Day. But if you don’t have time to get all of that ready by Thursday – simply worship him. The ascended and glorified Lord is inviting you to join him – in His Father’s house of worship … and then in his Father’s house for eternity.

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