Story 204: Ascension

Matthew 28:16-20; Acts 1:1-12

Jesus comes from heaven

Jesus told the disciples to meet Him on a mountaintop in Galilee. Perhaps He had them gather there so that those who believed in Him up in the north of Israel around the Sea would have a chance to see with their own eyes that He had risen from the dead. We can’t be sure. We do know that at one point, He appeared to over 500 people. It is interesting that Jesus only seemed to come to those who showed true faith. He was not interested in coming back and proving Himself to the chief priests or to Pilate. He came to those who loved Him and had put their hope in Him.

When Jesus revealed Himself on that hill in Galilee, they saw Him and worshipped Him. Yet even then, some of His followers had doubt in their hearts.

In one way, it is easy to judge His followers. How can they still doubt after all that they have seen? In another way, it is comforting. For all the times any one of us has struggled to have faith, to trust the Lord in the midst of tough circumstances, to believe in His love, we can take heart that those who walked with Him felt that way too.

Jesus had a message for them. It was His final teaching about the Kingdom to the crowds. Only this time, He was giving marching orders. For this was no mixed mob of malicious religious leaders, curious bystanders, and thrill seekers. These were the faithful, and a glorious responsibility lay before them. There was a task to be done!

After all the times Jesus had preached overlooking the beauty of the Galilean Sea, this was His final teaching in bodily form. Things were about to change seriously.   He wasn’t going to be their main Teacher any more. The Spirit was going to come, and Jesus was going to ascend on high. This is what the Lord said:

“‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’”

Matthew 28:18b-20

These powerful words are the way Matthew chose to close his book. They were so important to him that they were the final image he wanted to leave in the memory of his readers.

These were more than the marching orders for the generation that lived and walked with Jesus. They are the marching orders for everyone who has followed Christ ever since. The Good News of what Christ accomplished has to go to all the nations of the world! We are all disciples who are meant to draw others into the same discipleship. In every generation there are people who God the Father has given His Son. As His disciples of each era proclaim the Gospel, His chosen ones will hear His voice through their teaching. As they put their faith in Jesus Christ, their commitment would be sealed through the Spirit and expressed through baptism. They, too, would be bound up in the love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And because of their devotion to Christ, they will long to honor His commands.

This wonderful purpose statement for all believers is topped off with some even more amazing news. Jesus was given all authority in Heaven and on earth. The final victory was won when He died and rose again. He is seated at the right hand of the Father. Love truly rules the universe.

Yet in the perfect, ordained plans of God, the cursed world continues to grind on. Satan and his evil minions continue to do their best to bring destruction and evil to the human race. But the new, bright, golden seed of God’s Kingdom has been growing for two thousand years, and nothing in the universe can stop it, ever. Christ the Lord will always and forever be with His disciples, empowering them through His Spirit to spread His Word and live in the power of His beautiful, righteous ways.

For forty days Jesus appeared at various times and ways to His own, teaching them about their new life in the Kingdom. He came to James, His brother, who hadn’t believed in Him before He rose again. It was only after the resurrection that James truly believed. God would go on to make him the leader of His church in Jerusalem.

At some point in those forty days, the disciples all travelled back down to Jerusalem, for Jesus said that was where the mighty, new work would begin.   Jesus continued His teaching, telling them not to leave Jerusalem until it happened. They were to wait until God gave them what He had promised them, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Then He said, “‘…for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’”

The disciples were full of questions. The death and resurrection of Christ had taken them back, but they still remembered the promises of the Messiah. In the book of Isaiah, a time was foretold when God would renew Israel and make her the greatest nation in the world. Now that Jesus clearly had power over life and death, that seemed even more possible. Would the Spirit give them power to bring it all about? So they asked Him, “‘Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom of Israel?’”

Jesus said, “‘It is not for you to know the times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth’” (Acts 1:7-8).

The Lord and His disciples had begun to walk, crossing from the high walls of Jerusalem, down into the Kidron Valley. Imagine their thoughts as they walked through the Garden of Gethsemane, which lays along the sides of the Mount of Olives. When they had climbed the Mount, Jesus lifted up His hands and blessed them. These blessings were not just nice, thoughtful words. They carried tremendous power to bring about God’s good and pleasing and perfect plan.

As Jesus was blessing them, He began to rise as One who was being lifted up. The disciples looked on until He disappeared in a cloud. Still they gazed up in wonder at this Man who was God. As they continued to stare, two men dressed in white appeared beside them. They said, “‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into Heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into Heaven.’”

Wow. Someday He is going to return, and we know exactly how and where! The only thing we don’t know is when. That is only known to God the Father.

The disciples witnessed something breathtaking that day, but something else happened that was even more epic and amazing that they didn’t see. When Jesus arrived in Heaven, He took His rightful place, seated at the right hand of God on His eternal throne! WOW! Can you imagine the homecoming that must have been?   Can you imagine the heavenly celebration as Christ came in utter victory? What worship was offered by the angels? What joy flooded the throne room? The dark work of defeating sin and death was finished!

Meanwhile, the disciples walked back down the slopes of Mount Olive and into the city of Jerusalem. They were filled with an unexplainable joy, praising their Lord, anticipating the things that were to come.

John would go on to live much longer than any of the other disciples. He would continue to serve the Lord and oversee His Church long into the second generation of Christ followers. Even as the followers of Christ went through terrible persecution by the Roman government, the Church would continue to grow in faith and strength and numbers. In the years before John died, he would write his Gospel, filling in extra details that could not be found in Matthew, Mark, or Luke and displaying a magnificent vision of Christ as Lord.

Three of John’s letters to the Church are also found in the New Testament. We can read them and learn his heart’s concern for God’s people. How he longed for them to love one another! It was the same longing that Jesus has had throughout time!

John also wrote the last book of the Bible. It is called “Revelation.” In his later years, the Lord Jesus brought John up into a vision of the heavenly places. He showed him the things that are going to take place when God finally brings this cursed world to an end. We can read it and learn what is to come! In the meantime, we live in the same era, under the same New Covenant that Jesus won for His first disciples. We are a part of the Church that God used Peter and John to begin! May we be as faithful as they were in their persevering faithfulness to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

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