It is Luke who records the event of the ascension in two versions, the first in the 24th chapter of his gospel culled from eyewitnesses, and the second, derived from similar sources in his tabulation of the experiences of the apostolic and early church beginning in the book Acts (ch1vv1-11). On the church’s calendar Ascension Day must inevitably fall on a Thursday which is not conducive to maximum observance. And yet this is a day of the utmost importance in our close concentration on the accomplishment and divine acknowledgement of the Lord Jesus which mark him out as Saviour and King. The ascension is the summit of the biblical accolades accorded to him. He now reigns throughout the universe, and, more specifically, rules over the destinies of all humankind. If the ascension were faithfully proclaimed and earnestly believed every knee would bow to Jesus now rather than await the day of judgment when universal homage will be constrained whether from love or fear.
The day that observes the enthronement of Christ is, for the believer, a day of glorious and exuberant celebration, and a day of colossal comfort. It brings to mind the exaltation of Jesus and arouses the exultation of his people. The crucified king ascends to his seat of sovereignty. The Holy Spirit is pledged to descend upon the Saviour’s chosen throng bestowing divine power. It is a crucial day on the divine calendar, for we observe the Lord’s well-deserved triumph over his foes and for his elect. The truth of his divine dignity was disclosed to human view and attested by angels - perhaps the two who spoke of his resurrection from the tomb (24:1-8).
In resurrection and ascension Jesus Christ is endorsed as the mighty Redeemer of sinners whom we may trust with absolute confidence. His might and majesty are revealed. His mercy is released into the whole world. The splendour of the Saviour is shown. As he departs bestowing blessing he is wrapped in the cloud of divine presence and a new era begins. Through the promised Spirit of holiness and power his presence is no longer confined to a body and a place, as he indicated to Mary (John 20:17).
The results of his saving achievement are now universally available to all who will call upon him, recognize that he is Lord, and confide in him as Rescuer from evil and the state of alienation from God. How wonderfully the course of Jesus’ assignment of redemption is crowned with success. Luke encapsulates it all: his self-abasement, his emergence from the tomb, his many proofs of aliveness, his rising to his reign in heaven. Jesus Christ is presented to us in all his magnificence, grandeur, sovereignty, and beauty. His perfection, power, and supremacy as victorious Son of God, through all that he endured and attained, cannot be exaggerated or over-stated.
We can only bow before him and worship, humbly and gratefully, and note the character of kingly rule over all his subjects on earth, and over the vastnesses of the far-flung, infinite cosmos.
His departure meant no desertion of his disciples nor any deprivation for those devoted to him. The One who so wonderfully ascended from this world also promised to abide with his people until the world’s end (Matthew 28:20). His infinite concern and royal conquest in the affairs of his kingdom would not cancel his intimate care for his own. He would indwell their hearts, guide their thoughts, embolden them in courage, and give them foretastes of the communion and safety to be enjoyed in heaven when eternity opens up to receive us.
That marvellous prospect is also, partially, a present possession. We glimpse something of the glory of Christ now (Ephesians 1: 18-23). We apprehend, here and now, something of the coming and incomparable glory we shall share in association with him, already commenced in our earthly lives as a guarantee (Ephesians 2:6-7). The immensity of our privileges is immeasurable when we consider to whom we have constant access, to whom we pray, and the power that is on the side of the children of God for provision, protection, and consolation.
At his ascension Jesus expressed his unfailing compassion to those who gazed wonderingly toward the sky. As he ascended he was also in the accustomed act of blessing, bestowing grace upon the bewildered spectators. Benefits pour from his uplifted arms and outstretched hands. Promises assure them of ceaseless favour. The Prince of heaven in no way and at no moment forgets his dependent people upon earth. His lofty height does not mean that they are ever out of sight. The church in a dangerous, wayward, and unpredictable world has his pledge of a Comforter and Counsellor.
The Holy Spirit has not come to pamper us personally in our private wants and whims, but to enable us to make the judgment and salvation of God known and near to others in their clearest consciousness.
Our welfare is secure but our witness is ongoing. It is an obligation incumbent upon the whole company of believers. Our strength and our endeavours are not to be dredged up from any capacity or resources from within ourselves, but from the enabling disposition, competence, and courage of the Holy Spirit. “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). All that we are in life, word, and deed, is to replicate Christ and commend him. We are not to accrue attention and acclaim for ourselves. We have an onerous and self-denying vocation and we are so frail and fluctuating in intent and behaviour. Inevitably, we tremble at the task when we realize its dimensions and our desired demeanour and dependence in its performance.
But the church and ourselves are authorized to declare Christ, and, as it were, deputize for him - but only through his aid and ability. Self-reliance does not enter into our consideration.
We are fixated on Christ to present the facts about him. Self recedes in the exercise of publishing the truth about him. The Spirit will not pump up our importance, or display our assumed skills in communication. His role is to train the spotlight upon Jesus and he does so through weak and unlikely vessels, emphasizing the power of God, and that mostly when we are unaware of his activity.
Our Pentecostal commission is daunting, our struggles daily. But we are to gaze upon the King in his might and majesty, and to admit, in sincere humility and reliance with Paul, that we accomplish all things through Christ who strengthens us. Our supply is sent from the throne - it is nothing of our own.