“And when he had spoken all these things, while they beheld, He was taken up; and a cloud received Him out of their sight.” Acts 1:9.
Lenten weeks and Easter are now past. But Christ’s resurrection was not the last of His life on this earth. One great event was yet to come.
This event was anticipated by Christ for many years and now was near at hand. He mentioned it many times in His teachings before His death, especially to His disciples. On one occasion Christ said to them, “Yet a little while I am with you, and then I go unto Him that sent me.”
Yes, this coming event was the ascension, His going up to sit at the right hand of our Father which is in Heaven. Christ must have eagerly anticipated this great day. When finally he could go from this sinful world and be in a place where there is no pain, no hatred, no sin at all. This perfect man, born into this world for our sake, as humbly as the poorest; suffered, died, and rose again. He, who had done all this for His people’s sake, so that they might not suffer eternally, after thirty-three years on this earth was to go to His Father again! This surely was longed for by our Savior!
Only forty days to finish his work on this earth. What did He do during these days? We read that he appeared to the disciples and others often enough so that there was no doubt that this was the Jesus that had been crucified. The nail prints could be seen and felt in His hands and feet. He even ate in the presence of the disciples to convince them that He was no mere “ghost” or “spirit”.
Yet He was different; there was no question about it. He did not stay with His disciples as He did before His death. He would appear to them; talk with them and teach them of things pertaining to the kingdom of God; and then disappear again, as at the time the disciples were gathered together, with the doors of the room shut, when suddenly Christ stood in their midst.
Yes, of Jesus’ resurrection the disciples were sure. It was the same Jesus they had known, but He was changed. His body had been exalted; His humiliation was over. The relation between Jesus and earthly things as well as His fellowship with them were radically different from His life before His death.
In that period between the resurrection and the ascension the disciples must have constantly expected to see their Lord again. However on the fortieth day He led them out to the Mount of Olives. His last appearance to them on this earth was at hand.
Was this then the last appearance of Christ on this earth? Bodily, yes; but Christ in this last appearance to the disciples told them that they would receive power when the Spirit was to come unto them. Then they must be witnesses of Christ “unto the uttermost part of the earth”.
“And when he had said these things, as they were looking, He was taken up; and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” Acts 1:9, 10, 11.
Maybe Jesus just “disappeared” from them again? Oh, no! what they had seen and heard here on the mountain was enough for them to know that this time He had gone to heaven! But wouldn’t He ever be with them again to teach and preach to them? Not bodily as before, but He was going to send the “Spirit” soon, and the Spirit would guide them. In fact this same Spirit of Christ is yet with us today, even closer than Jesus was before His death to the disciples. That is insomuch as it never leaves us.
We are not always conscious of this nearness which never fails us. Even if at times we wander as a lost sheep, He does not forget us; He does not fail to bring us back. If, then, we are one of His elect, we also will experience that Christ, the ascended Lord, is ever present with us.
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So then, we see that Ascension Day is one of the links in the chain of our salvation; Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension Day, and Pentecost. Who of us would forget Christmas? Even Good Friday gains recognition, and Easter vies with Christmas in popularity. But who bothers with Ascension Day or Pentecost? In the church also the interest waxes warm at the following of these events. But we need a special note on our memorandum pad to remind us of Ascension Day.
Why should that be? Is not the Ascension just as important as any of the other days? For without His ascent into heaven there could be no outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost, no more than there could be an Ascension without the resurrection from the grave. Nor could there be a resurrection unless it was preceded by the atoning death of the cross, no more than there could be a cross unless the Son of God came into the likeness of our sinful flesh, born of the virgin.
Or is it because historical facts, which always have a special appeal to us, are somewhat lacking at the last two occasions? It is true that the story of Christ’s ascent to heaven is very brief. Yet, if we stop to think of it, do we have so many facts connected with Christ’s birth that Christmas should take such a predominant place in our churches? And, even so, what do we have left if we have nothing but historical facts? What spiritual value lies in a mere story, if we lose ourselves in that? A story cannot fill our hearts with praises any more than it can save us. Christ’s life must mean something real to us. Then we will know that the ascension and its consequences are the completion of His redemptive work for His people.
What is Christ doing for us, His people, now in preparing a place for us? Was he not finished after the resurrection and ascension to glory? No, His work still goes on. Our resurrected Lord has gone into heaven, where He now dwells and rules all things; where He blesses us with all spiritual and eternal blessings in the spirit, and whence we expect Him in that day to change our bodies into the likeness of His glorious body. He is preparing a place for us and some day will take us unto Himself in a perfect and eternal reunion in glory.
Oh, blessed Ascension, that helped to make this possible!