Alright, I need some participation. I’m also going to need honesty, so no matter how bad it hurts, remember, you’re in the Lord’s house. Who here has ever forgotten an anniversary? Ok, who has ever forgotten a spouse’s birthday? One of your kids’ birthday? Parents’ birthday? You get the drift. Who has forgotten an important occasion that they were supposed to remember?
As Low Church Protestants we have forgotten some important occasions. We’re good at remembering Christmas. Every advent we remember and celebrate that the Father sent the Lord Jesus Christ in the incarnation. We celebrate his birth and we anticipate his return. We’re good at remembering Easter. While we celebrate the resurrection of Christ every Sunday, every year during Passover we acknowledge the actual time in the calendar that Jesus died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, he was buried, and he was raised on the 3rd day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Cor 15.3-4). We’re really good at remembering Christmas and Easter.
As Low Church Protestants we’re really bad at remembering Ascension and Pentecost. My guess is that we’ve seen abuses by Roman Catholicism and Pentecostalism and so we’ve thought that ignoring these days is better than looking like those who are wrong. But just because a bad wife celebrates an anniversary in a poor manner, doesn’t mean we should ignore the occasion all together.
This Thursday is Ascension Day, 40 days after Easter. Sunday June 9 is Pentecost Sunday, which begins the season of ordinary time on the church calendar. It’s important for CCC that we remember and celebrate Ascension and Pentecost just as we do advent and Easter. The Ascension of Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is just as important to the gospel as the incarnation, the death, and the resurrection of Christ.
Luke begins the book of Acts by actually showing us that it’s really part 2 of the Gospel of Luke. In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. Like his Gospel, Luke pens this word to Theophilus. The name Theophilus means “lover of God” (theos = God, phileo = love). Maybe it’s a real guy, maybe it’s a pseudo name representing all Christians; it doesn’t really matter.
Luke wrote about all Jesus began to do and teach in his Gospel. Now he will write about all Jesus will continue to do and teach through his apostles. These are the apostles that were taught by Christ himself. These are the apostles that were chosen. We see later in the book that God chooses the Apostle Paul as well. This is a theme that drips off the Bible like thick molasses. All believers are chosen by God. God unconditionally elects us for our salvation.
Luke says that Jesus spent 40 days teaching his apostles about the kingdom of God before he ascended. This is why we celebrate the Ascension 40 days after Easter. Jesus orders them to stay in Jerusalem until they’re baptized in the Holy Spirit. This is what we’ll consider on June 9; this is Pentecost.
And you’ll already start to notice that these 11 verses are fit to burst with references to the Holy Trinity. Nine times in these 11 verses is a member of the Trinity mentioned. It’s a healthy reminder to us that the gospel is the work of God himself. At advent we celebrate that the Father sent the Son to be born as a man. At Easter we celebrate that the Son died in the place of rebels, bearing the wrath of the Father. At the Ascension we celebrate that the Son ascended to the right hand of the Father and at Pentecost we celebrate that the Father and the Son sent the Spirit to regenerate and indwell his people. All of that is necessary for salvation. All of it is the complete and utter work of God. We don’t merely believe in monotheism (one God), but we also believe in monergism (salvation is the work of God alone).
At verse 6 we come to the last question the disciples ask their teacher before his ascension. So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” You’ll notice that even after Jesus’ death and resurrection, even after he taught them for 40 days, they still don’t fully understand the kingdom of God. They still think that Jesus is going to overthrow the Roman Empire and that the kingdom is merely about Israel. They don’t yet understand that Jesus’ kingdom is a spiritual kingdom that is comprised not only of Israel, but also of the nations.
Jesus’ deeds and his words reveal that he’s bringing a spiritual kingdom comprised of the nations. Jesus is redefining Israel with his apostles. He spends 40 days with them in his glorified body before he ascends. That’s not coincidental. Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness before they inherited the Promised Land. Israel is comprised of 12 tribes. The 1st thing the apostles do before Pentecost is replace Judas with a 12th apostle. Luke is telling you that the kingdom is being restored to Israel, just not the way they thought. Israel is a whole lot bigger than ethnic Jews. Under the New Covenant Israel is comprised of those who take Christ by faith. The Jews and Gentiles are being grafted into the church – the final Israel of God (Gal 6.16).
But Jesus also reveals he’s bringing a spiritual kingdom comprised of the nations through his words. He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” When they ask when the kingdom’s coming this is how Jesus answers them. When they receive the Holy Spirit they will be witnesses of Christ to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the earth. This is the theme verse for the book of Acts; it’s the outline.
This is the inauguration of the kingdom. They’re wondering when they’re going to take up their swords and sack Rome. Jesus tells them that they’re headed to Rome, but it’s not as warriors, but as witnesses. His kingdom is not of this world. His fight is not against flesh and blood. It is a spiritual kingdom. Its weapons are words, water, bread, and wine.
This is the commission given to the apostles, but it continues with us. We are called to be witnesses to the death and resurrection of Christ. We are called to be witnesses in Sterling Hgts., the state of Michigan, the USA, and to the end of the earth. We are called to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We are called to teach them everything that Jesus has commanded us. The Ascension is imperative to the gospel because without it we wouldn’t have the Holy Spirit. If we didn’t have the Holy Spirit we wouldn’t have the power to be witnesses to the good news of Christ.
And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Jesus ascends into heaven. This is the final picture we have of the Lord Jesus on the earth. It’s a picture of exaltation. It’s a glorious picture of the son of David ascended to his throne. This picture of Christ should beckon our hearts to worship! Who is worthy to ascend to God? He is. Jesus is the 1st born of the dead. He’s the head of the church. He’s the lion of the tribe of Judah. If you’re annual rhythm of worship includes the sweet baby of the incarnation, the slaughtered lamb of the crucifixion, the risen conqueror of the resurrection, but stops short of the exalted king of the ascension, then you are selling Jesus short.
There’s some comforting truth here as we consider the exaltation of Jesus Christ. With Jesus’ ascension he becomes the Lord or creation. He’s the king on the throne who rules the world. Now you’re asking, “hasn’t God always ruled the world?” Of course, but Jesus is both truly God and truly man. So now there’s a man who rules the world. There’s a man who’s the king on the throne at the right hand of God the Father. There’s a man who knows our temptations, yet without sin. Without the ascension the covenant with David would be unfulfilled. Without the ascension, God would be a liar.
And you’ll notice that as the disciples stand watching Jesus ascend, 2 angels appear. Again, your biblical theology spidey senses ought to be tingling right now. When have we seen angels before in connection to Christ? They announced his birth. They were there at the empty tomb. And now they’re here at the Ascension - Advent, Easter, Pentecost.
And while we’re called to witness and to worship, the angels also instruct us to wait. Our witnessing and our worshipping are within the context of waiting. This Jesus who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven. We are waiting for Jesus. We don’t have an over realized eschatology. We believe that the kingdom has been inaugurated, but it has not yet been consummated, and so we wait.
The Ascension of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost are just as essential to the gospel as the incarnation, the death, and the resurrection. Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. He can’t come again if he’s not gone. We can’t witness, worship, and wait, if he didn’t ascend. The Ascension of Christ means that the man Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father almighty. It means that he’s interceding for us as we witness, worship, and wait. This is such an important day for the present reality of the gospel. Don’t forget this anniversary.