Thursday, May 17, 2012

Ascension Day

This year, May 17th in the church calendar marks Ascension Day, the commemoration of Jesus ascending into the heavens.  In Acts chapter 1, this event took place 40 days after his resurrection, so we mark this festival 40 days after Easter.

So what?

I just read an online blog saying that Jesus' ascension is really about him getting out of the way, making sure we could focus on the business of doing the work of the church instead of wondering when Jesus would show up again.  Here's a direct quote:
If he had just disappeared again, well there would have been more Jesuses seen in Jerusalem than Elvises in Las Vegas. It’s difficult to get busy with the important business of loving the Christ in your neighbor if you are constantly on the lookout for another resurrection appearance.
This is horrible theology and a bad reading of scripture.  What difference does the Ascension make?  The Apostles Creed lays it out.  "He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father."  Jesus ascends not to get out of the way, but to get IN the way.  He ascends to take up his authority as God's only begotten Son, who rules in authority over the heavens and the earth.  He ascends in fulfillment of Daniel 7 and so many other prophecies.  He ascends to take up his mantle as God's chosen judge (Acts 2:36, 17:30-31), God's chosen champion (Revelation 19:11-16), and in fulfillment of his title as the "Son of Man" (Daniel 7:13-14).  Jesus' ascension is not about getting him out of the way, not even so the Holy Spirit can come to the church; rather, it is Jesus taking up his authority, his exaltation (see Philippians 2:9-11).

Point is, Jesus ascends not to get out of our way, but to get in our way.  He is now Lord over all powers that we are tempted to serve.  He is God's chosen, the ultimate authority.  If you set out to do anything -- including "the important business of loving Christ in your neighbor" without acknowledging his absolute rule, his absolute authority, you are fooling yourself and engaging in idolatry.  Jesus' ascension means that he has the authority to evaluate your actions, to rule over your preferences, to demand your allegiance.

The ascension is Jesus taking up his throne as King.  If he were not also the ultimate loving servant-king, this would be terrifying beyond belief.  It is Jesus' love, his self-giving, other-serving love, that gives us courage to approach him.  But he is still King of kings and Lord of lords.  Too often theologians and teachers who ought to know better live with the illusion that he's gone, that he's out of the picture.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Praise God!

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