While touring Israel years ago, I gazed upon what tradition claims to be the very spot. With mild skepticism, I shrugged. We were on the Mount of Olives near Bethany, beholding the Ascension Rock.
Our tour guide explained this was supposedly the very patch of ground from which the risen Christ lifted off and headed back to the Father. I was not convinced. Besides my youthful skepticism over the fossil-like footprint in the rock, I felt rather blasé.
My subconscious thoughts included: “How does anyone know this is truly the place? Even if it is, what’s the big deal? This location and event are not really that important. Not like the empty tomb, or Jesus’ Bethlehem birthplace, or the synagogue in Capernaum. It’s just the place where he ascended.”
Any soul-moving motivations from Jesus’ ascension were far from my thinking. In that season, my own theological appreciation was limited to a tight set of systematic concepts. Unfortunately, the ascension was not one of them. And I certainly had no notion of any ramifications for everyday life, love, and work.
What’s the big deal about Christ’s ascension?
I now possess an awakened personal intrigue. Recent study turns a steady spotlight on the implications of his heavenly rule and reign, the culmination of biblical prophecy, as well as his faithful intercession as our High Priest. I have also been learning how a fresh understanding of Christ’s ascension might serve as a portal for strengthened faith in our daily attitudes and influence at work.
With greater grasp of the ascension, a Christians’ everyday work can ascend to new levels of influence in the world. Let’s consider three new heights and their very down-to-earth implications:
With Christ’s ascension, we gain heightened anticipation for greater productivity.
Christ held hearty personal anticipation of his ascension. While speaking with Mary Magdalene, Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’” (Jn. 20:17).
Jesus had already expressed personal anticipation. In John 14:12, he said: “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”
Ponder the promise of greater things. What if we let Christ’s ascension motivate us with fresh anticipation for our labors? What greater things have you dreamed of doing lately? Might such an attitude shift be part of what the Apostle Paul meant by “work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord” (Col. 3:23)?
What a powerful implication of his ascension. Works matching the Lord’s works. And Jesus says we can anticipate even greater things!
Christ held holy anticipation for his own ascension plus correlation with his followers’ works to come. But why?
With Christ’s ascension, we receive gifts from the Spirit that equip us for greater daily labors.
Paul’s instruction to the Ephesians in 4:7-13 lends a new level of ascension insight.
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:
“When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.”
(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Paul’s vision is cosmic and comprehensive. Fullness, maturity, the built-up body of Christ. And catch it: his people are equipped for works of service. All of this happens through divine gifts. As Paul quotes from Psalm 68:18, he highlights how those gifts were given when Christ ascended.
What’s the big deal about the ascension? This stunning event serves as the catalytic portal, opening the way for Christ’s gifts to be given. Now, the work of Christ’s body rises higher and stronger.
With such gifts, the body of Christ is equipped for works of service in the world. In Work in the Spirit, Miroslav Volf boldly applies such gifting to “to particular tasks both inside and outside the church.” And Volf declares this “a stable foundation on which we can erect a theology of work that is both faithful to divine revelation and relevant to the modern world of work.” Such work in all its incarnations serves to advance the fullness of the Father, Son, and Spirit’s redemptive plans. Christ’s work in this world truly rises to new heights!
With Christ’s ascension, we hear fresh commission. We are his witnesses through our daily endeavors.
Ascension Day’s context includes Jesus commissioning his followers as witnesses (Lk. 24:45-53). In Matthew 28:18-20, his clear command is “as you are going, make disciples of all peoples . . .” Our on-the-go mission certainly includes our daily labors and the people with whom we serve.
Think about it! It’s here we have abundant opportunities for daily witness. In the ascension account of Acts 1:8-9, Jesus explained to those original disciples:
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
Ross Hastings reorients our vision toward the ascension. He reflects on “the underexposed glory of the ascension and its significance to our salvation and to our sense of mission.” Between Christ’s ascension and his second coming, Jesus’ disciples are engaged in his worldwide mission on behalf of the ascended King.
I am moved by these new heights. Christ’s ascension supplies the catalytic portal. We can rise higher in active witness, employment of our gifts, and anticipation for higher productivity.
There’s a bonus implication. Hastings emphasizes our Lord’s own endeavors for us in his session and intercession:
This is his ongoing work of sympathizing with us in our sufferings, imparting strength to us, and above all praying for us and enabling even our response to God in worship and in prayer so that it is delightful to the Father. I commend his sessional and intercessory work as your Great High Priest to carry you all the way through your life and mission here, no matter what may befall you . . . Even our work in the kingdom is therefore always fallible, and yet it has a sense of significance to it that anticipates the renewal of all things.
We all feel frustration, suffering, fatigue, even failure. But we don’t need to be overwhelmed. We need not succumb to weariness in our daily work, because our ascended King Jesus is praying for us, defending us, and empowering us.
I am making plans to tour Israel again in 2024, and I am anticipating our stop at the Ascension Rock. Perhaps this time, I won’t be nearly so skeptical or shrug quite so much.