If you have been following our walk with Jesus through the Gospel of Luke you may remember we started walking with Jesus just after his baptism with the Messiah’s manifesto and now 13 weeks later having walk with Jesus and hopefully learnt from him and deepened our relationship with him and also been to the cross with him and experienced the joy of His resurrection we arrive at his departure gate the Ascension.
Ok lets start by unpacking the word ascension, if like me you are not big on Bible talk you will have either no idea what that word means or very little idea of what it means, so ascension means - the action of rising to an important position or a higher level,
In Christian terms, the bodily rising of Jesus into heaven on the 40th day after his Resurrection. So in short the rising of Jesus up into heaven.
Luke’s gospel ends with an account of the ascension of Jesus, and as you know I am sure Luke also wrote the book of Acts, and Acts begins with a similar account.
It is worth noting that Luke see the crucifixion, death, resurrection, and Ascension as so important that he mentions them again to his friend Theophilus in his letter at the beginning of Acts most of which we covered last week, but with added enforces on the coming of the Holy Spirit, God’s life force in us, this is just to ensure that Theophilus had got the message.
Luke’s stress here in Acts is on the obvious and tangible nature of this event. He Jesus was taken up “before their very eyes.” This wasn’t a dream or a vision; they weren’t asleep, their eyes weren’t closed. As their eyes were glued to him he began to ascend a little, and then quite quickly a cloud of glory covered him and hid his reunion with his Father and the Spirit. Luke makes the factuality of the physical ascent of our Lord transparently clear.
He says, “They were looking intently up into the sky.” The ascension was something that could have been filmed; it was as much an historic event as the virgin birth, or Jesus’ baptism, or his walking on water, or his raising of Lazarus, or his cross work and any of his resurrection appearances.
Our reading opens in verse 50 with “When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them.” (24:50)
Jesus has been leading his band of disciples for three years. Now he retraces his steps the path he trod on palm Sunday he leads them out of the city of Jerusalem, down into the Kidron Valley, and up the Mount of Olives to a location near Bethany.They had often been to Bethany. Jesus’ friends — Lazarus, Martha, and Mary — lived there. But now they come for a different purpose.
Jesus says a few words, reminding them to stay in the Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit comes upon them (Acts 1:8). Then he lifts his hands and blesses them, much like a priest would bless the people. And that is what Jesus is our great high priest.
“Blessed” in our passage is a Greek verb, “to ask for or bestowal special favour, especially of calling down God’s wonderful power. We also see blessings by other leaders in scripture Jacob in Genesis 49 and Moses in Deuteronomy 33 blessing the 12 Tribes.
Now Jesus blesses the New Testament equivalent of the 12 Tribes — the 12 Apostles and their fellow disciples. Notice how Jesus’ hands are used in blessing. When Jesus heals the sick certainly an act of blessing, he often lays his hands upon the person. When little children come to him, he takes them in his arms, we read in Mark 10:16 ” And he took the children in his arms,
Placed his hands on them and blessed them. But when he blesses this group of people, he lifts his hands as if to encompass them all, and offers a blessing.
I would love to know the words of blessing Jesus offered on this occasion!
Our reading continues in verse 51 “While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.”
While Jesus is blessing them two other actions are taking place, he left them “to move from, separate from, or take leave of, go away from, and was “taken up” “to cause to move from a lower position to a higher, take, lead, bring up.”
But something caught my interest the other day while studying this passage Jesus was taken up, which means that this happened to Jesus, he doesn’t initiate the action. And this action was happening so it may be taken as “Jesus was being taken up into heaven.” A minor point, yes, but interesting.
Interesting because we have absolutely no clue to what this was really like. This is one of those unrepeatable events that can’t be studied by comparing it to other examples.The only thing in the Bible remotely close is the ascension of Elijah in a whirlwind and a chariot of fire in 2 Kings 2:11. But there’s no chariot or whirlwind here.
Why did Jesus rise up to heaven? Is heaven up? It is another sphere, another dimension from the earthly, physical dimension we live in. While Jesus’ resurrection body had the ability to adapt to the physical demands of earth, it was not limited to earth. It could adapt to the spiritual dimension as well as the Apostle Paul noted in 1 Corinthians 15:44.
While many passages allude to the ascension, only two other passages attempt to describe it. The first is in the longer ending of Mark: “After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19).
However, this does not occur in the earliest texts and is probably a later addition. The other reference is from Luke’s pen in Acts 1 as we heard read.
As Jesus ascends from the earth into heaven, he is ascending directly into the presence of the Almighty Father. As the Son of Man he appears before God the Father to receive an unshakable Kingdom, (Daniel 7:13-14), reinstatement of his former glory (John 17:5), of which he had voluntarily “emptied himself” (Philippians 2:7). Now it is fully restored.
From man’s viewpoint the ascension is the phenomenon of a man rising into the sky. From the Bibles viewpoint, the ascension is the Son of Man Jesus returning home to great power and glory.
As the Apostles Creed puts it: “The third day He arose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.”
And read in verses 52 and 53 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God. Imagine being one of the disciples witnessing this.
You are in the presence of the resurrected Jesus, receive his last command (wait in Jerusalem) and his last blessing. And as his hands are raised in that final blessing he ascends until a cloud hides him from site. I am sure we would be stunned. But notice the four ways the disciples react to the ascension in these verses:
- Then they Worship him. You may not have noticed, but for the first time in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is worshipped. Though doubting Thomas worships in John’s Gospel with the words “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). “Worshiped” in our passage is the Greek verb “to express in attitude or gesture one’s complete dependence on or submission to a higher authority figure, to fall down and worship, do homage to, prostrate oneself before, do reverence to, welcome respectfully.
- With great Joy. The disciples also respond with “great joy!” Rather than sadness at his departing, they are overcome with excitement.
- And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God. The disciples’ third reaction that Luke mentions is praise in the temple courts. “Praising” This is the same Greek verb “to speak well of, praise, extle.”
- Obedience. Finally, the disciples respond by remaining in Jerusalem, during the day in the temple courts. When, about a week later, the Holy Spirit is poured out at Pentecost, their obedient waiting is rewarded with the power and presence of the Spirit.
The Gospel of Luke closes with joy, victory, and anticipation.
Jesus ascended into heaven to be glorified. Now some may recall Jesus’ prophecy: Jesus said in Matt 16:27 “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done” .
And also in Matt 24:30 “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory”.
Jesus’ ascension “in the clouds” is an pointer and forerunner of his return. So in conclusion what Lessons can we and the Disciples learn.
- While Jesus’ physical presence is gone, his blessing upon his followers remains.
- They respond in worship, great joy, obedience, and praise, and so should we.
- Jesus disappears into the clouds, but the bible declares his return in the same way.
We have traced Jesus’ life and ministry from the beginnings up to this conclusion. Jesus is alive. He ascends on high and is seated in glory at the right hand of the Father.
Now his followers now await the Spirit with joy and expectation. And the Jesus’ ministry of setting the captive free and preaching good news to the poor is about to be released in a very needy, hungry world. And until he comes, we must continue this ministry, the ministry he has begun in us. We should take to others and share the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus and that God loves us.
Let’s pray: Jesus, put within my heart afresh that joy and excitement in you, that joyful heart that is my possession as your follower. And give me the firmness and boldness to spread the joy, your word and your love, until you come. In your holy name, I pray. Amen.