The Ascension is a key event in the whole Gospel story. Just as Jesus came into the world as God become man so it is essential that He returned to take His place back at the Father’s right hand as the Crucified and risen man who is God– the conqueror Christ, the God Man Saviour. One with Man and one with God.
Christ has died – Christ is Risen – Christ will come again!
Imagery is an interesting thing. It can illuminate or confuse. In the life of Jesus imagery is a huge part of His ministry.
As we celebrate the Ascension we build on imagery of a God that is above the heavens of a Jesus going to this far off place from where He reigns, the Theological term for this is transcendence (the other-worldliness, the superiority the greatness of God) and we see Jesus go into the clouds to reclaim this transcendence – to reclaim this heavenliness, Jesus is going far away…
Well today I want to break down your image of the Ascension and rebuild a new image for you to consider.
Acts chapter 1 vs 9b and a “cloud took Him from their sight”
In the Old Testament, The cloud symbolized God’s presence not His absence.
Exodus 13:21 “The LORD went ahead of them. He guided them during the day with a pillar of cloud,
Nehemiah 9:12 “You led them with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, to light for them the way in which they should travel.”
The cloud was an image of God’s presence –an image of God’s leading. When we read that Jesus was veiled from their sight as He returned to God it was not a disappearing into a far away place but a promise that God is with us, He is guiding us, Jesus said “I go to prepare a place for you” I lead. you in the cloud, I am with you! The Ascension is not Jesus leaving us, it is Jesus leading us.
It is Jesus the Christ, ascended above human restrictions, human limitations, united with us and with God, fully man and fully God, fully with us and in the cloud showing us the way to live and love and have our being.
I hope that this imagery will change your thinking about the transcendence of God He is not far away, but He is with us, but not subject to the nature He created, as He was in the flesh, but superior to all things, over all things; radiant in splendour, worthy to be praised for He is the overcomer.
The imagery is important… listen to the context of the Ascension, Numbers 9:21 “Whether it was by day or by night, when the cloud was taken up, they would set out. “and in Luke 24: “having had their minds opened to the scripture and being blessed the went back to Jerusalem full of Joy!” Jesus sent them out.
May the Ascended Christ lead you in the cloud, into an ever deepening relationship with God, for He lives and reigns. One God, Father Son and Holy Spirit.
So today I want to speak of what we are expected to set out and do in this phase of the salvation plan of God.
Jesus has not left us; He is guiding us. The Ascension is a move of the spirit of God – we are to take the tabernacle, our lives, and go to where He leads us.
Too often we are like the disciples as recorded in Acts who were looking up into the sky waiting for Jesus to return as He said He would.
That is not what the People in the wilderness did, when the cloud moved they moved…..
Often our understanding is that we are just waiting for God to return and as long as we are saved have oil in our lamps and wait for the bridegroom without falling asleep – do you remember the parable – then we are okay.
That is not the story of the OT.
The cloud is a reminder of God’s presence and of God’s guidance….
In Luke’s Gospel we find the disciples on the move…
Luke 24 vs 52/53 – Then they worshipped Him…
Returned to Jerusalem with great joy and they stayed continually in the temple praising God.
This shows that primarily the Church of the Ascended Christ is a worshipping Church.
It is out of our desire to worship that we do everything else; Jesus summed up the Law and the prophets by saying “ love the Lord Your God with all your heart with all your soul and with all your mind and love your neighbour as you love yourself.
This is true worship: – that is why we can say that to love God and to serve Him is perfect freedom – because it is worship and worship is what we were created for.
In order to worship we need to enter a Holy place within us. We need to go to where the action in our lives is:
I like to use the imagery of Jerusalem, for this.
We must all return to our Jerusalem – for the Jews Jerusalem was the centre of worship the place of the temple – For Jesus it was the place of the crucifixion – the place where he gained victory over death where he turned everything upside down and turned the scorn of the tree into the blessing for all of us.
Jerusalem was where He made His act of total obedience to God – where He humbled Himself even to death on a cross.
Jerusalem was where Jesus fulfilled His purpose and won the victory –
I believe therefore that our personal Jerusalem must be where we obey God’s command – to go and make disciples of all nations –
Our Jerusalem is our mission: for us that is the cross that we must carry – the cross of the truth of the Gospel preached in our actions our words, our very beings.
It is our duty and our Joy – it is what we find fulfillment in it is who we are.
Like Christ who turned the symbol of shame into a symbol of joy when He endured the cross so we are to turn the activities of our lives into a blessing so we carry the cross that brings freedom and joy and hope and peace.
This calls us to not just believe in God but to do what He says; in technical terms it is a shift from orthodoxy to orthopraxis (Orthodoxy – right belief); (orthopraxis – right actions).
Understanding our Jerusalem, for us who are children of God and Co-heirs with the ascended Christ, is seeing our lives in context and in place.
It means seeing our place as missionaries in every place that God has sent us to be – it means doing whatever you are doing to God’s praise and glory it means that teaching a class of children, playing bridge, working in an office block or from home , running a business, going to school, or schooling at home – whatever it is that keeps you busy in the day– must be an act of worship it must bring glory to God –
Our homes must be filled with worship – every meal we cook, dish we wash, person we greet in the street, book we read – TV programme we watch, telephone conversation we hold – must be an act of worship…
To do this you have to have the right attitude -your demeanour your actions and your words need to be holy. Preaching the Gospel is not about reading to others out of a Bible it is about living its contents in your context.
It is about being a Christian not just doing Christian things – not just believing in Christian principles but living in a relationship with JESUS.
Jesus’ Ascension, is a move of the Spirit of God it is God leading us to worship…
Jesus’ ascension caused the disciples to return to the Lord their God with all their hearts all their souls and all their minds – to go to Jerusalem – to live out their faith – are you with them?
Lastly, Luke tells us that the disciples stayed in the temple praising God – now to put that in context Jesus had told them to go and wait for Pentecost – for the filling of The Holy Spirit. Acts 1: 4b Jesus says” Do not leave Jerusalem but wait for the gift that my Father promised”
We can learn from this instruction that we are to do nothing in our own strength or of our own desire but that we are to be led by the Holy Spirit. For the Holy Spirit leads us to the places and equips us in those places for us to do what God requires of us.
This is not a once off thing – every time we are going to do something for God, we are to wait in Jerusalem until the Spirit comes and leads us. This means that we are to turn to God, we are to pray, we are to seek His wisdom – we are to reflect on the situation, Our behaviour is to become a Godly response to our decisions, not our conditions, our responses are not to be reflexes which are governed by our circumstances our responses are to be in obedience to the Spirit of Christ –
Between the stimuli and the response there is the freedom to choose – Animals behave instinctively and we have reflex reactions to many stimuli – but we were designed to be able to control our responses – decide upon them and if we want to do that successfully we must do it in our Jerusalem. We must live out of our souls not out of our heads. Our actions must be a response to God’s Spirit and not to our circumstances.
The disciples stayed in Jerusalem waiting for the Holy Spirit to send them out – be Holy as the Lord your God is Holy – seek the Lord in all things do what you do because He has led you to it – do not be tossed about by every wave – stay focussed stay in the love of Christ – stay in Jerusalem – Keep the mind of Christ.
So as we celebrate the return of the KING to the Throne as a victorious warrior returning from battle to His palace – so we celebrate that Jesus Christ is our saviour and our king and our brother and we will continue defending that which He has won here on earth and that which He is establishing.
I pray that we will respond, to our ascended Christ and that we will worship, and we will receive the Holy Spirit and we will live out our God given purpose.
For Christ is with us, the immanence the closeness of God is emphasized in the Ascension.
He is All powerful, He is mighty, He is holy, He is Righteous, and He is relational. He is not far off and abstract, but here.
And in Him we live and move and have our being.
In the name of the Ascended Christ.