Theology 101

On Ascension Day: Why Christ’s Absence Matters for Your Work

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Today is Ascension Day, a day celebrated by some Christian traditions to remember the ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven after his resurrection and the 40 days during which he appeared to his disciples and others (Luke 24:49-53; Mark 16:19-20; Acts 1:9)

Many Christians rightly emphasize Christ’s birth (Christmas), death (Good Friday), and resurrection (Easter), but too many minimize what comes after these important events (the Ascension).

The early disciples seemed to have grasped what we have missed. They were anticipating the future because of what Christ had done in the past. Jesus had taught them what to expect and they were beginning to see its realization.

If Christians today were to apply the truths of Christ’s Ascension to their everyday work life, they would experience incredible freedom and power to pursue excellence in all sectors of society.

It all starts with understanding the importance of Christ’s absence.

My Absence Better than My Presence

In the account of the Ascension in Luke 24:49-53, Jesus first tells the disciples to stay in the city in order to wait for the “promise of my Father”—Pentecost (v. 49). Then after blessing them, he ascends to heaven (vv. 50-51). But notice the surprising, counter-intuitive response of the disciples. It says, “they returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” It might make more sense if it said they returned with mourning and tears. Usually, when a loved one leaves on a long trip, there are tears. Why were the disciples so joyful?

They had begun to grasp the meaning of Jesus’ teaching in the upper room discourse in John 14-17. Particularly, note John 16:7-13. In verses 7-8, it says,

But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, righteousness and judgment.

Notice the stunning claim that “it is to your advantage that I go away.” How could that possibly be true?

It is because of where Christ was going, who he was going to send in his place, and what he was going to do when he got there.

Where

Christ was going away to be seated at the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:33-34; Mark 16:19; Eph. 1:20). This means that he was being placed in the position of power and authority (the right hand). All authority is given to him (Matt. 28:18). He is now the Lord of all.

It is hard to exaggerate the importance of this understanding for the early disciples and for us. Peter says on Pentecost, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). “Jesus is Lord,” was their earliest confession. But because of persecution, it was hard to say so. Paul says in 1 Cor. 12:3 that no one could say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

The Lordship of Christ still has radical implications for us. Even though we may not be persecuted for our faith, confessing Jesus as Lord deeply impacts our personal and public lives, both in the way we think and the way we work.

Augustine used to argue that all truth is God’s truth. Thus, we ought to learn everything we can about anything we can. Every particular truth leads us back to the God of Truth.

If we confess Jesus as Lord, then we will not fear investigating any area where truth may be discovered. This means every area of work, or every calling, is under the Lordship of Christ and must be pursued as unto him. This pursuit of excellence is not only faithful to our Lord and a way to develop the potential of our gifts and abilities but also a way to be more effective witnesses to Christ.

Who

Another reason for the joy of the disciples was the anticipation of the Holy Spirit whom Christ was going to send in his place.

At Pentecost, the Spirit was sent to be the helper or advocate (Paracletos) to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:7-11). Particularly, the Spirit was sent to convict “the world” concerning the sin of unbelief (v. 9), provide a conviction of the winsome attractiveness of Christ when he was no longer present as a visual example of it (v. 10), and to show that the problem of evil will have a culmination in the “ruler of this world” (Satan) being judged (v. 11). Note that the conviction being discussed applies not just to individual people but to “the world” (v. 8).

In other words, there is a public dimension to the Holy Spirit’s work, as well as a private and personal one.

When we confront the public issues of the day (from a biblical perspective), it is good to know that we don’t have to rely on our own intelligence and power alone, but can appeal to the Spirit to be our prosecuting or defending Advocate.

The work of the Spirit applies not only to evangelism and missions, but to other areas of culture. Christ empowers our gifts to be used both in the church and the world.

What

What does Christ as the ascended Lord continue to do? Among other things—pray for us. As the great High Priest, he “always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25). Christ died for us, rose for us, reigns in power for us, and prays for us (Rom. 8:34). When Simon Peter fell into denying Christ, the assurance of his return to faith was, “I have prayed for you” (Luke 22:31-32).

If Christ is praying for us, should we not be encouraged as we encounter difficulties in this world?

The Ascension and Your Work

The absence of the Ascension from the thought and life of the church has meant a focus on what Christ has done for us in the past, but not on what he is doing for us in the present in personal and public life. Here are some implications for us to ponder:

  • If Jesus is the ascended Lord of all areas of thought and life, are we making him Lord of all areas of our lives?
  • If the Spirit is sent to empower us in the church as well as in the world, do we draw on his power in all areas of our lives? Do we realize that the ascended Lord prays for us?

When we understand the where, who, and what of the Ascension, we will be better equipped through the power of the Holy Spirit to transform the spheres of our personal and public lives for Christ.

Editor’s Note: Read Art Lindsley’s full article on the Ascension and our work here.  

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