You know how once you notice something, it’s very hard to un-notice it? I really enjoy Christian music. I enjoy sacred hymns and contemporary songs. But, I’ve noticed that a lot of them stop at the crucifixion.
For example, there’s an old hymn called “Nothing but the Blood.” It asks, “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” A couple of years ago, Kari Jobe released “Oh the Power” which ends with these lyrics: “Oh, the power of the cross. Oh, the power of your blood.”
I’m sure you can come up with even better examples.
It’s one thing for worship music to stop at the crucifixion, but our faith foundation cannot stop there.
The crucifixion of Jesus is important. Of course! But the crucifixion of Jesus doesn’t mean much without the resurrection and the resurrection doesn’t mean much without the ascension. We tend to lose sight of this, especially the significance of the ascension.
The Gospel of Luke says that Jesus “withdrew from [the disciples] and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:51). In Ephesians, we read that God the Father “seated [Jesus] at his right hand in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:20). In Acts, we read “Jesus was lifted up and a cloud took him out of sight” (Acts 1:9).
Why a cloud? Because in the Bible, a cloud signals the presence of God (Exodus 33:9; Numbers 9:17-23; Matthew 17:5). Jesus was lifted up and a cloud took him out of sight because Jesus was gathered into the eternal presence of God.
Jesus went away so that he could draw close.
I saw this meme in the lead up to Ascension Sunday:
It made me chuckle because so many of us have learned to work from home because of the pandemic. But the truth is, Jesus isn’t working from some far off heavenly location. Jesus doesn’t have to Skype in or get on a Zoom call.
Jesus is as close as the breath we breathe.
If Jesus had never ascended, if our faith really did stop at the resurrection (or, worse, the crucifixion), Jesus wouldn’t be able to say things like, “Remember, I am with you always, even to the end of everything” (Matthew 28:20)
Sometimes the uncertainty, the politics, and the polarization of the pandemic (not to mention the virus itself) make me feel that Jesus is working from some remote location. As if Jesus was lifted up into a cloud, removing himself from me and you, away from our problems.
When I feel that way, it helps to remember that on the day of the ascension, the disciples stood there watching the sky. They stood there as if they were waiting for Jesus to reverse course and come right back to them. It helps, because I know I’ve done that. I’ve slumped my shoulders and looked up in exasperation and said, “God, where are you?”
When the disciples stood there watching the sky as if Jesus had removed himself from them, two angelic figures appeared and asked, “why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” (Acts 1:10-11). The angels gently reminded the disciples of an important truth—God had not disappeared from them.
The ascension of Jesus was (and is!) as much about his coming as it is about his going. So much so, that Jesus can say to us even today, “Remember, I am with you always.”
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