The Significance of Jesus’ Ascension

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Edward Bolwell, ascension day, Acrylic Paint on MDF Board; 2017

Yesterday was Ascension Day, when celebrate the ascension of Jesus to the Father in heaven after His resurrection from death (Luke 24:49-51; Mark 16:19; Acts 1:3-10). I believe the ascension is one of the most-neglected aspects of the life of Jesus with greater significance for our life with God as disciples of Jesus than we usually realize.

I wrote three posts in 2018 about the importance of the ascension for our faith because of Jesus’ reign as King, Jesus’ mediation eternally, and Jesus’ future return in glory, and would encourage you to join me in considering the significance of Jesus’ ascension.

Read them here:

The Perfect King: Advent Devotional, Week 4

Read Psalm 72

During winter, one of our sons began cultivating seeds in the basement to plant in our gardens during spring. It was a lot of work to keep them watered and sufficiently warm during the cold months. When the weather finally turned, we planted the seedlings throughout our gardens. A new sort of work began, cultivating the seedlings outdoors with newly planted seeds so that tomatoes, radishes, peppers, and green beans could grow and later be gathered to our table to share with others.

In the winter of our world, Jesus comes to sow and cultivate the seeds of the kingdom of God in human lives, like Simon Peter and Mary Magdalene, like you and me. He comes as the chosen one, the beloved of God, the suffering messiah, and the eternal priest. And He comes as the perfect king, just as the angel Gabriel spoke to Mary:

“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
(Luke 1:31-33)

Waiting for Messiah Jesus to be born, Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, speaks about God’s plans, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David” (Luke 1:68-69). Here is this infant Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, born in the line of King David, in David’s town of Bethlehem. He is heralded by angelic hosts and worshiped by a ragtag group of shepherds. Exotic magi from other lands visit in His early years. His mother and earthly father watch in wonder.

Once grown, He calls out, “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15). But what is this kingdom and what throne will this king sit upon? All His earthly life seemed less than regal. He had nowhere to lay His head, yet always had more than He needed. He was rejected by elites, yet people from various nations searched for Him. Raised high upon the Cross, He became a sign to all of how far God will go to bring the good news of His kingdom into our lives.

But Jesus’ story does not end with the cross, resurrection, and ascension. The testimony of Scripture is that a new heaven and a new earth will arrive in God’s timing connected with the majestic return of King Jesus to rule over all the earth. “The Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings” (Revelation 17:14). Advent is a time of remembering Jesus’ incarnation, but also anticipating His future return as the enduring perfect King, even as Psalm 72 describes. May we be found ready!

 

REFLECTION QUESTIONS FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT:

  1. Why does it matter for this life and eternity that Jesus is the perfect King of God’s eternal Kingdom?
  2. What does the anticipation of His identity as King do to your celebration of Advent this year?

 


FAMILY TALK WEEK 4

INTENDED FOR FAMILIES WITH YOUNG CHILDREN

When a king comes to town, his arrival is announced by a trumpet fanfare, tum-ta-dum! He is greeted by a parade of people waving and shouting! A herald cries out, “Hear ye, hear ye, His royal highness has arrived!” When the king goes home to his castle, a special flag called a “royal standard” is flown from the rooftop, letting everyone know that he is there. It’s a colorful, noisy, joyful day!

But . . . when King Jesus was born in Bethlehem, his arrival wasn’t anything like that! Jesus was born in the quiet of night, in a stable, greeted only by some animals and shepherds.

Remember back to the first Savior Song in Week 1 of Advent? We learned that God set apart his own Son, Jesus, to be a king over all other kings. So, what happened?

Well, Jesus’ kingdom is a little upside down:

  • Instead of ordering people around, Jesus served them.
  • Instead of hanging around with the rich, important people, Jesus made friends with lepers, outcasts, and, sinners.
  • Instead of holding on to His own life, Jesus gave Himself up on the cross.

Jesus has been in charge all along, but His kingdom is unlike any other earthly kingdom! The Bible tells us that one day He will return with trumpet, heralds, even riding a white horse! (Revelation 19:11-16). People everywhere will have to admit that He is the one true king, and they will bow to Him. As God’s people, we are so excited for that day! We wait—just like God’s people did for Jesus’ first coming—and we say, “Maranatha!, Come Lord Jesus!”

[This is part of the Eastbrook Church 2019 Advent devotional, “Songs of the Savior.”]

Jesus the King of Another Kingdom

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After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.  When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him. (Mark 1:14-20)

As we look at this text, we see Jesus coming as the king, bringing the kingdom of God. But as Jesus brings that kingdom it comes into direct conflict with rival kingdoms.

What is a kingdom? Let me give a definition that is simple and clear. A kingdom is any area or sphere in which someone or something holds a preeminent position.

We may not think of kingdoms much in our lives today, but we still have them. We just use different terms. We say things like the president governs the nation, the principal runs the school, or the parents maintain the household. We say things like Jeremiah or Leticia has their click of friends. We certainly encounter all sorts of kingdoms today, even though we may not use that specific word.

Rival earthly kingdoms (1:14)

When we return to Mark 1, we sense the urgency of Mark’s writing. Mark does not take time to explain what happened to John the Baptist, only that he “was put in prison.”

For the back story, we must turn to Mark 6, where we read that it was Herod Antipas, the ruler over Galilee and Perea, who imprisoned John the Baptist. Herod Antipas imprisoned John because John the Baptist was critical of Herod’s marriage to his brothers ex-wife. Later on, this criticism leads to John the Baptist’s death. Herod represents all the power and authority of human kingdoms who do what they want and manipulate others for their own gain.

Herod’s life and rule certainly fits our definition of a kingdom: “any area or sphere in which someone or something holds a preeminent position.”

In his life, Herod lived like he knew he held preeminent position in the area of Galilee, if not beyond. That’s why he arrests John the Baptist when he criticizes something Herod did. Despots don’t like criticism.

But Herod’s rival earthly kingdom is the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. The lurching forward of Herod’s hand to imprison John becomes the momentum that leads Jesus into His ministry around Galilee. And it is in light of this rival earthly kingdom that Jesus pronounces God’s kingdom is near.

Jesus is saying that in the midst of the power struggles around Galilee and all Judea, He is presenting a different sort of way. It is a kingdom that is under the preeminent rule of God, and this is something the people were longing for. It was promised all throughout the Scriptures that God would one day reign over Israel Himself. In fact, in and around Jesus’ time there were a wide variety of rebellions that were directly linked to expectations of God’s kingdom coming.

But Jesus is presenting a different sort of way. It is the kingdom of God that comes hidden, humble, and yet full of power.

Rival personal kingdoms (1:18, 20)

There are other sorts of kingdoms, however. As Jesus turns from the setting of Herod’s power struggle with John and proclaims His message, He immediately comes into contact with four men. See here in verses 16-20 that Jesus walks beside the Sea of Galilee and calls Simon (who we know as Peter), Andrew, James and John to come after Him.

We will return to Jesus’ calling and message to them, but let’s talk for a bit about where these men stood. They were under no impression that they had authority like Herod Antipas. They were not trying to become the next president of the United States. But they still lived in their own little kingdom.

But just as Jesus’ message began to strike against Herod’s kingdom, so Jesus’ message begins to strike against these other men’s personal kingdoms. You see, a kingdom is any area or sphere in which someone or something holds a preeminent position, and these men were kings over their own kingdoms: kingdoms of fishing and business, kingdoms of ruling hired men and working with their families.

Now, there is nothing wrong with these sort of kingdoms in and of themselves, but we have to recognize them for what they are. They are areas or spheres in which someone or something holds a preeminent position, and Jesus is declaring that the kingdom of God holds sway over all rival kingdoms. God is the king and He holds no rivals.

Even in our personal kingdoms, God is calling us to recognize His rule and authority.

Rival powers and authorities (Colossians 2:15)

Later on in Scripture, the Apostle Paul describes the work of Jesus Christ in this way: He “disarmed the powers and authorities, making a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the Cross” (Colossians 2:15).

You see, as Jesus breaks into the world, He is calling the world toward a new way of living. He is calling us to bring our kingdom and rule, whether large or small, under His kingdom and rule. All of the places where we have authority; all of the places where we have power; all of the places where we have a role over something…we must bring it to the feet of the King.

Jesus is the King – over all kingdoms and over all our lives. So let me ask us all to consider a question today: What rival kingdoms is Jesus confronting in our world?

Faith Looking Forward [Daniel 8]

After a weekend off due to sickness (thank you, Pastor Jim Caler, for covering for me last weekend!), I continued our series on the book of Daniel this past weekend at Eastbrook Church by turning to chapter 8, the second of Daniel’s apocalyptic visions.

Daniel 8 continues the apocalyptic visions of the second half of the book. As with my message on Daniel 7, “Faith in God Amidst the Beasts,” this message, “Faith Looking Forward,” engages our imagination through God’s inspired symbols and images of what is really going on in the midst of human history. Daniel has this vision during the third year of the reign of Belshazzar, the last of the Babylonian kings represented in Daniel, and thus it takes place chronologically before Daniel 5 and 6. We are introduced to figures that stand against God which both reflect the antichrist spirit and the future Antichrist figure that is to come.

You can view the message video and sermon outline below. You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

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Faith in God Amidst the Beasts [Daniel 7]

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church, I continued our series on the book of Daniel by turning our attention to chapter 7, which begins the markedly different second half of the book. Chapters 1-6 are court narratives, while chapters 7-12 are apocalyptic visions. This first vision serves as a sort of parallel to Daniel 2 and overview of where the rest of the book is going.

You can view the message video and sermon outline below. You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

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Faith Speaking Truth to Power [Daniel 4]

As we continued our series on the book of Daniel this past weekend at Eastbrook Church, I turned our attention to chapter 4, where Daniel interprets another of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams. This is an interesting passage, and has been debated in its historicity. In the Dead Sea Scrolls the “Prayer of Nabonidus” (4Q242) echoes this chapter, both confirming the authenticity of the tone of Daniel 4, yet also raising some questions about the historical framework presented there. Nabonidus came to the throne in Babylon after overthrowing Neriglissar, who succeeded Amel-Marduk (after his execution) as king. Nabonidus ruled the empire for some time from Teima, a site in present day Saudi Arabia, while his son, Belshazzar (see Daniel 5), ruled in the city of Babylon.

Beyond the historical issues, there is a clear theme in the book of Daniel of God being the One who rules over all kingdoms and all kings. In this instance, the king learns that lesson, while in Daniel 5 the king pushes back against it to his harm. Even in the kingdoms of our own lives, we have the opportunity to either submit to God as ruler of all or push back against His rule.

You can view the message video and sermon outline below. You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

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The Ascension and Jesus’ Intercession (Part 2 of 3)

fullsizeoutput_93fPrayer is one of the most universal aspirations of the human heart, but what does it mean that Jesus, ascended with the Father, now eternally intercedes for us? In the second part of my three-part reflection on Ascension Day  this week, I want to reflect on the significance that after His ascension Jesus intercedes for us.

Forty days after completion of His work in the Cross and the Resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven to rule as King at the Father’s right hand. His sacrifice was a once-for-all event (Hebrews 9:24-28) that secured His place as the unique mediator between God and humanity (1 Timothy 2:5).

The writer to the Hebrews builds upon these truths to help us understand Jesus’ role in the presence of God not only as King but as eternal intercessor: “he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (Hebrews 7:25). Some see this as Jesus forever bowed in prayer for us, but the picture is different and richer than that. Jesus stands in the presence of the Living God simultaneously as our Advocate and High Priest and Sacrificial Lamb before the Father. His eternal sacrifice is eternally effective and eternally offered before God on our behalf (Hebrews 1:3; 7:25; 8:1). Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection and ascension, there is no one who and nothing that can condemn us before God (Romans 8:34; 1 John 2:1).

Even more, since Jesus’ stands in the presence of God, His effective advocacy on our behalf transcends geography and time. Jesus is not limited by time and space as He was in the incarnation. Now, as He stands in the presence of God He hears and answers our prayers no matter when or where we lift them. In fact, we can always “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:15–16).

So let us be encouraged that the death and resurrection of Jesus’ are always effective on our behalf because Jesus has ascended as Eternal King and Mediator. And let us always know that the grace of God flows abundantly through Christ to us when we reach out to Him in prayer.

[Read Part 1: “The Ascension and Jesus’ Enthronement” and Part 3: “The Ascension and Jesus’ Return”]