Today's scripture focus passage: Luke 24:50-53 - The Ascension
And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising God.Okay, so here we are at the last paragraph in the Book of Luke. After only eight months! ;)
MacArthur delivered the final sermon in his ten-year study of the Gospel of Luke four days before Christmas, and makes an interesting observation about traditional celebrations: At our time of birth, when the big celebrations are generally thrown, nothing has been accomplished yet. It makes far more sense to throw the celebration at the time of death, because that's when we know what that person has accomplished. There is nothing notable or of any lasting value worth celebrating at the time of someone's birth, and yet we make a pretty big deal of it. Jesus' birth is the ONLY birth in human history where the lifetime achievements were already recorded BEFORE He was born and so it was highly appropriate that His arrival in the stable, His actual birth, was celebrated.
But His ascension is generally passed over. Despite a life that fulfilled ancient prophecy and displayed the heart of God for mankind to plainly see, we don't throw the celebration at the end of His life, despite the fact that even His "end" is completely extraordinary. Interestingly, Luke is the only writer who records the ascension, and maybe it's because it doesn't get the attention and detail that His birth and death do, that we tend to think of it as an aside. MacArthur argues it should get every bit the celebration Christmas and Easter offer.
The significance of the ascension, he says, is eleven-fold:
- It marked the completion of Jesus' salvation work.
- It is the end of His limitations. Over 30 years earlier, He had set aside the independent use of His divine authority and power to become a slave to the Father. That was now over. He returned to His preincarnate glory, though He remains in His God-man form.
- It marked His exaltation and coronation. It was then that God gave Him the "Name above all names" that would cause every knee to bow, either in worship or in judgment.
- It signaled the sending of the Holy Spirit.
- It marked the beginning of His preparations for our heavenly home.
- It marked the passing of the baton of evangelism to believers. The work of redemption was His and His alone to begin and complete; He began the work of evangelism, but it is the on-going duty of believers.
- It signaled His headship over The Church. The Church is left behind to embody His person and presence here on earth, though as a man, He is no longer with us.
- It marks His triumph over Satan. His resurrection was the death-blow, but His ascension confirms the destruction was complete.
- It signaled the giving the gift of ministry to gifted men. In His earthly ministry, Jesus never seemed to "pass the mantle" to any of His disciples, but according to Ephesians 4, upon His ascension, He "led captive a host of captives and gave gifts to men." Because of the work He had accomplished on earth, when He ascended into heaven, He had provided a salvation that would capture souls who would be given back as gifts to men...some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastor/teachers for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry.
- It marked the beginning of His work as our Great High Priest.
- The ascension guarantees and secures His return! In the Acts account of the event, the angels tell Jesus followers they will see Him return the same way they saw Him go.
He is exalted by His ascension, crowned as Lord. He sends the Holy Spirit. He begins to prepare our eternal home. He takes the headship of the church. He defeats Satan. He passes evangelism and ministry to His followers. He begins the blessed work of intercession on behalf of His people and stands ready to return in God's perfect time.
Yes, in the words of Paul to the Corinthians, “He who is rich became poor, divesting Himself of all heaven's riches that we through His poverty might be made rich.” So as we come to Christmas this year, maybe we could go on to the end of the story, get pass the beginning and reflect on everything that He accomplished.
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year reading: Revelation 19; Zechariah 5-6
Friday's scripture focus passage: Psalm 1