The collect for Ascension Day summons us to a definite declaration of faith in a real event.
The message of the gospel, foretold in the Old Testament and confirmed in the New, is derived from a series of historical events explained by the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures he has inspired. History is the bedrock of Christian faith. If Scripture may resort to various genres to convey the gospel in terms of imagery, poetry, parable, symbolism, etc., the easily traced narrative itself concerning the divine action contains neither fiction nor fancy. From the Creation to the Consummation of all things the facts are clear and the divine deeds discernible to sanctified common sense. Illustration, where present, impacts us with the divine power and presence behind every assertion. The reality of miracle is an ever-present phenomenon in the great biblical story that concentrates on the Lord Jesus from the promise of the Messiah to Eve to the prediction of his glorious return at the End of Time. Only “blind unbelief is sure to err” in discounting the wonders that surround the Son of God in his sojourn on earth and its millennia-long preparation.
Events concerning the Messiah are exceptional, as much as he enters into our normalcy through great condescension.
Unbelievers can never make up their minds. When they demand signs as evidence for faith they do not believe them. The Bible abounds with signs but mankind ridicules them. Mankind’s hatred of God rejects both the supernatural and -
Like Paul, St. Luke is a highly educated professional and a responsible witness to the facts concerning Jesus Christ. As a physician he exercises a sober appraisal of human life and death. He is in touch, intellectually and physically, coolly and calmly, with the realities of our mortality. He knows what is, and is not, possible. He does not hesitate to affirm the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. He is absolutely convinced of the ascension.
In writing to Theophilus he commits himself to thorough investigation of the truth concerning Jesus. He carefully analyses the case of the Nazarene. He is embarking upon an important assignment. He prepares a highly researched and organised account of Jesus’ activities and the aftermath of his resurrection for an inquisitive Roman official. This literary outreach could produce favourable repercussions for the gospel in Roman society and throughout the empire.
Luke does not set out to entertain Theophilus’ curiosity but to assure him of the truth to the point of his reader’s conversion. Just as the Roman nobleman has interrogated Luke, so Luke interrogates the many surviving companions of Jesus, and he compares their testimonies detecting no discrepancies, or anything of a dubious nature. Confident in all he has heard and evaluated Luke passes it on to a man who will be looking for flaws in the information he receives.
The reliability of Luke as a historian has been amply verified by historians and archaeologists (especially Sir Mitchell William Ramsey, classical scholar and archaeologist, 1851-1939). There is no need to doubt Luke’s accuracy or his integrity.
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).
Luke’s record of Jesus himself and the acts of the early church has been scrutinised and validated over and over again and he constitutes part of the “apostolic witness” available to us in the New Testament. Luke’s gospel became favourite reading among the first followers of Jesus for its descriptive and linguistic quality. It possesses an aura of loveliness and tenderness in its presentation of the Saviour of the world. The truth it relates has the same effect as the ascension and attendant promise of Christ’s return had upon the eyewitnesses who watched him ascend to heaven - it cultivates joy and praise in the mercy and might of the Lord (Luke 24:50-53).
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:1-3).
E.V. Rieu, editor of the Penguin Classics, took it upon himself, as a non-believer to translate the Gospels for this important series of publications. When he had completed his task he became a believer. J.B. Phillips mourned a clergy friend of his who took his life in a moment of vulnerability as a consequence of various modern assaults upon the veracity of Scripture. Phillips examined and translated the Gospels and then completed the entire text of the New Testament. His verdict on the authenticity of the NT is found in his brief book entitled Ring of Truth. Heinz W. Cassirer taught Philosophy at Glasgow and Oxford Universities. As a man of Jewish heritage he came to embrace Christianity as a translator of the New Testament (God’s New Covenant). Each of these men vouched for the vivid reality of Jesus himself conveyed through the documents they were examining and by grace they arrived at a position of firm faith. One of the best books backing up their personal discoveries is Theology and the Gospel of Christ by E.L. Mascall.
The ascension of the Lord Jesus assures us that we have an advocate in heaven. The one who presides over all reality pledges himself to his purchased people - their provision and protection. He has prepared a place for us with him (John 14:1-4). What an incentive to trust and prayer. As the resurrection has surely occurred so his return to gather us to himself will also occur. In the meantime we have a great and enthroned High Priest who sympathises with us and supports us all through our days on earth (Hebrews 4:14-16 cf. 7:23-25). He is our constant companion, witnessing to his written truth through the Holy Spirit for our comfort.