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Now What?

May 26, 2017

A Reflection for Ascension Day (May 26, 2017)

Today we remember a significant day on the Christian calendar that we as Bible believing people do not think about enough – myself included. Forty days after Jesus rose from the dead… and yes, today is exactly 40 days since we celebrated Easter Sunday – Jesus ascended to heaven. Thus, this day is known as “Ascension Day.”

Like me, you may have heard very little, if anything, about Ascension Day – even if you’ve grown up going to church most of your life. And that may be partly because the fact that Jesus went up to heaven after 40 days doesn’t seem to impact us too much. He’s up in heaven. We’re down here. (So what?)

That is exactly the question I want to consider: What does Jesus ascension mean for the Christian living 2000 years later? We know how to respond to the work of Christ in dying and being resurrected for our sins: accept Him as our Lord and Savior. But what does it matter that Christ who went up to heaven? Looking at the responses of Jesus’ first disciples provides an example of how we as His followers 2000 years later are to live in light of His ascension into heaven.

[READ Acts 1:8-11]

1. Don’t Sky-gaze

Unfortunately, our first indication of what to do in light of Christ’s ascension is not a positive, but a negative. It is not a what-we-should-do, but a what-we-shouldn’t-do. In Acts 2:10-11 we read that the disciples “were looking intently…looking into the sky?” In short, the disciples were sky-gazing. The two men dressed in white asked a rhetorical question. In other words, they already knew the answer. “Why do you stand here looking into the sky?” It was pretty obvious why they were doing that. Cause Jesus had just gone up into the sky and had disappeared behind a cloud (verse 9). But the point the two men dressed in white are really making is, Hey guys, quit sky-gazing. He’s gone for the time being. Yes, he’ll be coming back, but you staring into the sky won’t make it happen any faster.

You’ve probably heard it said that some people are so heavenly-minded they are of no earthly good. For this moment in time, that was the description of the disciples. And some of Christians are just like those disciples. They are staring at the sky, eyes all glazed over waiting for Jesus to come back. But that’s not what Jesus wants His followers to do in between his ascension and his second coming. He wants His followers to be doing more than sky-gazing. He wants them to be working.

Notice that the passage that follows is not one of the most glamorous or evangelistic sections of the Bible. Chapter 2 gets exciting with Pentecost but the rest of chapter 1 is about the selection of another apostle, namely Matthias. The disciples don’t go into some great evangelistic campaign right away. They get down to the everyday nuts and bolts details of life. Judas killed himself so we need to find a replacement apostle in accordance with the Scriptures, so let’s get to it.

Yes, God wants Christians to be witnesses for him and to serve Him. That’s obvious. But part of living for the ascended Christ is getting our eyes off the skies and getting them on the everyday details of life that need to be done. Colossians 3:17 reminds believers “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus…” Christians need to be living out the daily details of Christ.

2. Worship Him

Now there’s a second passage that talks about the ascension and it is back in Luke 24:52-54. You may remember that Acts and Luke were both written by doctor Luke and are sort of a part 1/part 2 account of Christ’s life and the start of the Church. Before they returned to Jerusalem to take care of the replacement apostle selection, they did what? “Then they worshipped him…” Later in verse 53 we read that after they got to Jerusalem, Jesus’ followers continued to praise God. So the second aspect of our response to Christ’s ascension is to praise God.

Worship and praise can take place anywhere. Christians can and should worship and praise God, as the disciples did, continually. Maybe that means that while you are walking or driving to work, you sing – as opposed to worry about the troubles of the day. Everything we do as Christians is supposed to bring honour and glory to God. In other words, everything we do should be an act of worship.

3. Be Joyful

A direct result of living a life that praises and worships Christ is identified in verse 52. “Then they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” As a result of Christ’s ascension Christians should live with great joy.

Can you think of some Christian people who never have a smile on their face? who look like they just lost their best friend… almost all the time? I’m not suggesting we should put on a plastic smile when life is hard or sad, but Christians should definitely be people characterized by joy… and I think your face should show it. Most of you are energetic as young people and you are having lots of fun – and that’s great! I hope that your energy and enthusiasm and fun are fueled by the joy of the Lord, not just by the next great activity you are going to do with your friends. I hope you have a smile on your face not just because you enjoy what you are doing, but because you enjoy the life God has blessed you with. Are you a joy-filled person? If so, why? If not, why not?

4. Live Expectantly

Back to Acts 1:11. After the rhetorical question reminding the disciples to quit sky-gazing and get back to what God has for them to do, the two men dressed in white continue. “This same Jesus…into heaven.” It’s as if they are saying “Are you expecting him to come back down right away? He told you he’d leave you for a while and the return. He told you He would send the Comforter to be with you. Now back to work.” And its as if the disciples say, “But we love Him so much. We don’t want to miss him when he does come back.” And the two men dressed in white assure them that just as he’s gone up before your very eyes (verse 9) He will come back again and no one will miss it. Live in the real world, and live expectantly.

How do you and I live “expectantly”? Think about the way the word “expecting” is commonly used today… of a woman expecting a baby. In the last couple weeks before our children were born, I gained a new understanding what it meant to live “expectantly.” First of all, my wife couldn’t wait for the baby to be born as it was becoming increasingly uncomfortable; not painful but definitely uncomfortable.

Meanwhile, I was mostly excited. Waiting for my cell phone to ring to say “come home, its time to go to the hospital.” And though I was mostly excited, I was a little bit nervous too – would everything go okay. Would the baby be okay physically, mentally, etc? What if we something happened at the last moment.

In some ways, I think there’s a parallel between being “expectant” parents and living “expectantly” for Christ to return. Knowing that Christ will come back a second time should give us a new or different perspective on life than the rest of the people on earth. When we don’t get something we really wanted, it’s not the end of the world. It feels like it for a couple days. But in the perspective of eternity, it probably isn’t that significant. God’s in control of every detail. Or maybe you didn’t win that sports competition you worked all season for. Yeah, it stinks and it leaves a bad taste in your mouth for a while, but then again, in light of living with Christ forever, it’s barely a blip on the screen of eternity. That doesn’t mean that pain doesn’t hurt, even deeply and immensely. But it means that we can try as much as possible in our human understanding to see the disappointments and suffering in life on God’s timetable rather than ours. Why? Because as Christians, the promise of Christ’s Second Coming and living with Him so far outweighs our “momentary troubles.” Paul says it this way at the end of 2 Corinthians 4:

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away,  yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

So Christ is ascended. That’s a fact we believe because the Bible clearly describes it. And what does it mean the Christian living in 2017? It means that we are to live not sky-gazing, but faithfully doing the work God gives us each day, worshipping Him in all that we do, being joyful in all that we do, and having an eternal perspective on life since we know that He is coming back again for us someday soon. May God help us to live faithfully, joyfully, and expectantly for His glory until He comes again.

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