BY the REV.S KURT HERING and JASON KRAUSE
Forty days following Easter, Jesus ascended into heaven.
During those 40 days Jesus provided proof to His disciples that He had risen. During those 40 days, He taught them about His kingdom. At the end of the 40 days, He departs from the disciples.
Luke records, “And when he [Jesus] had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9 ESV).
This event in Jesus’ life is celebrated by Christians worldwide, after all, it was considered extremely significant for early Christians—they confessed its importance by including it in the Apostle’s Creed, “He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.”
Perhaps it seems like something odd to celebrate. Why after celebrating at Christmas, where Jesus comes to live among mankind, would His followers celebrate Jesus’ leaving? Isn’t celebrating it like saying, “We are glad that Jesus is gone?”
Far from it! Christians celebrate this major event in Jesus’ life because its not about His leaving but about His continued care for us. First, Jesus hasn’t left, He has ascended onto His throne. He is not separated from His people but now is with them wherever they are.
St. Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians:
“...the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, ... raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (1:17, 20-23)”
Jesus is ruling over the world and working all things to benefit His people in the end. Thus, He is with His people wherever we are on earth.
But not only that, Christians rejoice that as He is with us on earth, we are also with Him in heaven.
St. Paul writes later on in Ephesians, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (2:4-6).
Jesus shares His ascension into heaven with His people. We are blessed to have our Lord give us such a place with Him even though we have done nothing to earn or merit it. Rather, out of His mercy and love, Christians are honored by Christ’s gift to us.
And this compassion doesn’t end with God’s people. He also distributes His mercy and grace through His people to the ends of the world and age and brings the kingdom of heaven to earth that all might believe and be saved.
St. Paul continues, “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (2:7).
He wants all people to share in His grace and mercy—to trust in Him and His Word—and thereby receive the free gift of His kingdom and enter in.
The Ascension of Jesus is not a time of sadness or even a joyful farewell. Jesus is still with His people. We, thus, turn our eyes to the heavens in joy knowing that while Christ reigns invisibly, He is ruling all of creation for our greater benefit and need. He is our advocate in heaven. He is so completely above and beyond us in His power, might, and authority, and yet He has used it, indeed still and always uses it, like no other ruler, king, or president. He is the LORD of lords who defines and embodies lordship as service, graciously using His power and authority to serve and protect, love and care for all creation, especially His people.
This year, 40 days after Easter on Thursday, May 29, Christians across the world will sing hymns like “Crown Him With Many Crowns” and “See, the Lord Ascends in Triumph”, rejoicing in the blessing of Jesus’ Ascension.
The Rev. Kurt Hering is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Layton, and the Rev. Jason Krause is pastor of Cross of Christ Lutheran Church in Bountiful