The ascension of Jesus concluded his earthly life among us but also created a beginning for us.
Have you ever found someone who erases the distance between the spiritual and the physical, the earthly and heavenly, life and death, even human and divine? I found only one: the ascended Lord Jesus. As inconspicuously yet extraordinarily as he entered our world, so inconspicuously yet extraordinarily he left the world at his ascension. A paradox.
Who would believe this was the culmination of his earthly life? He simply walked with the disciples among the olive trees outside of Jerusalem. He preached; his sermon recorded by the gospel writers for me still rings in my ears. I can hear him express profound truth yet in colloquial, everyday story and speech. Who would expect that this would be the last time his disciples physically saw him? But it is the seemingly mundane and least expected moments that sometimes have the most impact.
Not my security but his
I have built things to last in my life. I built my little mountains and towers. Security. A home. A family. Savings. Investments. Partnerships. Ideals. A reputation. And on and on. I wonder, Lord, are you going to preserve my safe, little, earthly kingdom? Together with the rest of hubris humanity, I erected my tall mountain or Tower of Babel declaring my autonomy from God, desperately trying to build my little heaven on earth, rubbing sticks of darkness together and thinking I could spark light and life and comfortably remain there. Little did I know that it wasn’t a secure mountain, a tower to heaven, or a spark of life but the tree of death that I erected for my Lord. But where I erected the ancient, cursed tree, God’s earthly descent transformed it to the blessed, new tree of life.
The risen Lord built a different tower, a superior mountain for me. It’s one that truly lasts. In the days after his resurrection, he showed the disciples he was not a spiritual ghost or abstract presence; he was and is human. Fully human. Alive even after he had died. Then that fully human body ascended and disappeared from sight. Human and divine. God in a body.
I know he is gone to heaven now. My heart is filled with joyful excitement mixed with fear, uncertainty, and loss. Another paradox. Although my Lord Jesus may have disappeared behind a cloud, he is closer than I can even imagine. The distance between my God and me is not fixed, inactive, and silent but alive through his active, powerful, eternal Word.
His Word proclaimed by me
The ascension is a culmination of Jesus’ magnus opus of saving me and all humanity; it is also just the beginning of my life’s greatest work. He has prepared great things for me to do until he comes again at the very end of the age or my life. The gospel writers share his words, “I am sending you . . . baptize . . . teach . . . you will be my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth.” My acts and those of all his disciples are really the acts of Jesus who surely is with us always “to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
Who should he choose to carry and deliver his all-important Word? The crescendo of the ascension is not Jesus disappearing behind the clouds and taking his throne in heaven but him working through even me, erecting his body that doesn’t just end at his physical flesh and blood. He is also fully divine. He crucified and replaced my pride with his love and has now made me his feet, his touch, his home as he dwells in my heart. He calls on his body, the church—me and also you!—to carry forward his good news. Jesus doesn’t stop at pardoning. He gives me purpose. His Word will be proclaimed to the ends of the earth until the Word in human flesh returns. Then every eye will see and tongue confess that he alone is the Lord, the One who stands forever.
Jesus doesn’t stop at pardoning. He gives me purpose.
And so, I hope you’re beginning to see that the ascension is far from the end of the story. Over two thousand years later, I have witnessed distorted gospels, unorthodox theologies, and conspiracy stories that promise to be the downfall of Christianity, but I do not shrink away. I know the ascended Lord still sits and rules at the right hand of God the Father. How do I know that? Well, I trust the accounts of those who saw him, touched him, and heard him, and I trust the promises they wrote that Jesus will be with us all to the very end of the age. So I do not live defeated by every plot that threatens to defeat him and his promises. Instead—no matter what—I take him at his word, his promises.
Do you still remember the name of Jesus, or is his name and memory as forgotten as the name and life of a great-great-grandparent? Do you read and meditate on the limitless mountain of his Word? Do you go to the unending tower of centuries of writings and hymns and confessions and meditations and sermons from the saints and martyrs when you feel all alone? In all of your life’s trials, do you still confess that “he ascended into heaven”? Are you a part of this story that will never fade away?
Maybe for you the commemoration of the ascension is a bit inconspicuous, falling between school days, work days, or meetings on an uncertain Thursday in May, but the ascension itself continually gives me a sigh of relief. He is gone home, so I will go home. I pray his ascension is your freedom from the despair of the impossible standard and your unending failure to earn heaven. You have an ascended-all-powerful-ruling-all-things-for-your-good-future God. He will be with you in your life and in your death.
Jesus’ ascension makes his entire human life not just a throwaway event in the dust of human history. Instead, he intimately shared and continues to share in your humanity, extending his own body and life even now to you and promising that he will return for your body and soul to be forever alive with a new, glorious body. You may not have seen him when he dwelt on Earth, but you will when he returns. A paradox for sure. It’s a life you will not fully experience until you die to this world.
Meet the ascended Lord Jesus and all of the beautiful Christian life paradoxes that come with him. Happy Ascension!
Featured image is of the ascension window at St. John, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. Photo by Robert Koester.
Author: Brian L. Wrobel
Volume 109, Number 05
Issue: May 2022