Ascension Day is the crowning festival of the church’s year. It marks the consummation of Christ’s earthly assignment and manifests his royal glory. The days of his self-abasement are concluded and he rises to his enthronement to assume his universal authority. Christ is seated on high and all things are under his governance. The fact is magnificent, his Person is majestic. The Lord Jesus is supreme and there is no limit to his sovereignty. He occupies the white throne aloft and above his wide empire. Everything moves at his command. Every creature fulfils his purpose. All the people of the earth will summoned before his throne and bow to his judgment. His sceptre spans our skies and will one day point to our eternal destiny. The psalmist anticipates the moment of reckoning and the enunciation of the divine verdict: “Therefore you kings, be wise, be warned you rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take their refuge in him” (Ps 2:10-12). Rulers will be his subjects and their subjects will realize who it is that truly reigns.
It is the believer’s joy to apprehend the exaltation of Christ. As he ascends to heaven so their admiration soars. They delight in his elevation and confide in his power. His superiority is their security. They rejoice in his paramountcy and rely upon his provision and protection. The kingship of Jesus makes the hearts of his people glad, for he is worthy. Sometimes biblical passages of extraordinary and supernatural content are interpreted as symbolism, and there is much of that in Holy Scripture. Truth may come to us in varying costume, but there are also accounts of miraculous realities that we are to discern as the wonderful acts of God wrought in the stream of history. We cannot minimize the greatness of God when he chooses to amaze us by his might through surprising occurrences. His works elicit our worship and open our lips with praise. Sceptics can never be satisfied. On the one hand they demand that God should show himself and blame him for concealment (Russell). When he presents himself in ways appropriate to his divinity men cavil that such events are not possible (Hume). Scepticism, not honest and enquiring doubt, emerges from the sin of not wanting God, neither will they be forced to have him, and they will complain about that also.
Luke’s narrative of the Ascension is infinitely reassuring. His story is not nullified by objection to the ‘myth” of a three storey universe any more than we should ridicule and reject reports of the flights of the shuttle simply because the launching rocket “went up”. If you wish to take leave of this planet the trajectory has to be upwards wherever you may be headed in the stratosphere or beyond. Jesus ascended in triumphant demonstration of his lofty status and divine pre-eminence. He is from above and his sojourn with us was a gracious act of condescension. We can never think too highly of him. Our concepts of the Lord are always too small and that hinders our growth in faith and causes our hesitancy in prayer.
The testimony of Luke is eminently credible. We must never underestimate the rational approach to reality of our distant ancestors. Every generation believes its own version of nonsense, but there are always those who analyse and adapt and break through popular illusions. Luke was a clear headed man of medical science, a student of human nature, and an enquiring Gentile who had no interest in subscribing gullibly to Jewish fantasy. What he had heard about Jesus could be validated through thorough investigation and careful interviews conducted with credible eyewitnesses. The facts he sought would be as sound as any real life reports that he received on a day to day basis. Invention has the whiff of fishiness about it and is usually over-embellished. Truth has the ring of authenticity as does the voice of the teller of truth. A tall tale stands out. Luke is convinced, calm, and sober in his testimony. He has checked things out: “He has no desire to make a fool of himself before Theophilus or to mislead others. “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (Luke 1: 1-4). Such an intention precludes invention.
Luke is not constructing an artificial tale of mere imaginative and spiritual value to inspire his readers as do the authors of Christian fiction. He is a serious historian whose purpose is to establish the authority of Jesus before he relates the acts of the Spirit of Jesus in the life of the early church. Acts declares in pagan and multi-cultural settings the kingship of Christ. Men must turn from their idols and illusions to the one true, living God revealed in his Son whose sovereignty is displayed in his deeds and demeanour sufficiently obvious for them to see if only their eyes were opened and they were receptive to the information about him. Luke is only an instrument in the cause of the gospel. He makes truth known, but the truth and proof about Jesus come from Jesus. He prepares his disciples for witness through the wisdom of instruction and by the orders he gives to them (v2). He convinces his disciples of the truth through invincible and decisive evidence (vv3&4). His many appearances, visitations from heaven over a long confirmatory period of forty days, his consumption of food before their very eyes persuaded them that he was not a phantom or figment of their imaginations. Jesus was deliberately and gradually cultivating a certainty within the minds of his followers. Added to the intellectual certainty of the apostles would be the baptism of the Holy Spirit who would empower them to proclaim Jesus with boldness. Jesus confers authority and inspired speech upon his witnesses through the word and Spirit. He instructs, he inspires. Fearful men become fearless. They know that they are ambassadors of the king with his commission and enabling. Nothing can daunt them.
The ascension of Jesus was the culmination of the impression he was imparting as to the sacred trust he was bestowing upon them. The cloud of shekinah glory enfolded him, shielding them from his dazzling brightness, and they recognized his eternal bond with the Father and their calling to be actualized through the Spirit. The incentive not to delay came through the angelic promise that the same Jesus would come again. Their task had an urgency and a termination. Their mandate was to represent the king, hold forth his mercy in the era of amnesty, and warn of the judgment to come. The event of Jesus’ glorious departure and the expectation his august return prompted the disciples to diligent and eager obedience in preaching the word and reaching the world from Samaria to the ends of the earth. Whenever the kingdom will be complete in its composition is God’s secret, but we must be prepared and encourage others to be ready.