Ascension: Luke 24: 50-53

The Ascension of Jesus

50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.

Luke 24:50-53, NIV

Horsham, 9th May 2024

You probably didn’t hear this on the news today or pick it up on social media, but today is Ascension Day.

When I was a child, my entire primary school were marched down the road to the village Church for the Ascension Day service. That almost certainly wouldn’t happen today.  Whilst it’s a really important date in the Christian calendar, I’m kind of disappointed that relatively few Christian Churches will be celebrating it today.

So, what is Ascension Day and why is it important to me? Let’s start with a bit of important context.

Good Friday

Jesus was crucified a Friday morning just before the start of the Passover festival in Jerusalem. His death was hugely dramatic, and restored the relationship between mankind and God. Because of his death on the cross, Jesus offers salvation to eternal life for those who believe in Him as the Son of God (John 3:16). In spite of the absolute horror of execution by crucifixion, Christ’s death opens the opportunity of a right relationship with God (which is a good thing) so we call that day ‘Good Friday’. You can read the story of His death in Luke 23: 26-49.

Easter Day

Good Friday, then, commemorates the day of Christ’s death. We regards the Friday as the first day of his death. The Saturday, the second day, was regarded as the Sabbath. Jesus’ friends could not visit his tomb to anoint the body on the Sabbath, so they went there at dawn on the Sunday, the third day. You may remember the story, that when they arrived, the large stone which had covered the entrance to his tomb had been rolled away and the body was gone. You can read the events of that extraordinary day in  Luke 24The eyewitness accounts speak of the risen Jesus.  Jesus rose from the dead on the third day – the Sunday – which we celebrate as Easter Day.

‘The disciples didn’t need to see Him rise, because they saw Him risen.’ (i)

Resurrection

The story of the Gospels is that the death of Jesus was not the end. The risen Jesus is seen by his disciples repeatedly after his death over a period of 40 days. We call this the period of his resurrection. Resurrection means ‘raised from the dead’. He appears to his friends and disciples. This isn’t a vague ghostly apparition. Jesus talks to them. He allows them to touch him and even eats with them. He speaks to them in ones and twos, and sometimes in much larger groups (see 1 Corinthians 15:3-8).

Ascension

40 days after his resurrection he leads them out to a hilly area just outside Jerusalem, above a village called Bethany. Jesus, we read, lifted his hands in blessing over his disciples, and as he does so, he is lifted up towards the sky. I have no idea how that worked – but he ‘ascended’ in front of them, until a cloud hid him from their sight. Because he ascended, this is commemorated as ‘Ascension Day‘ 40 days after Easter Day. That’s today.

‘The Ascension must always remain a mystery, for it attempts to put into words and describe something which is beyond description.’ (ii)

Why does it matter?

This is one of the most extraordinary moments of the account of Jesus. Theologian and preacher Charles Spurgeon describes the highlight dramatic events of Christ’s birth, death, resurrection and ascension as being like four rungs of a ladder, with the foot on earth and the top in heaven (iii).

So here are three reasons why  Ascension Day is important to me as a follower of Jesus.

  1. It marks the end of the ‘resurrection’ phase of Christ’s ministry in the most dramatic and extraordinary way;
  2. It is a moment of blessing, assurance and preparation for the next phase in the establishment and development of the Church at Pentecost; and,
  3. It is a visible point of transition from the experience of Christ on earth to the visible certainty of Christ in heaven.
(You can also read an account of the Ascension in Acts 1: 1-1.)

So there we are. Ascension Day and why it’s important to me!

Happy Ascension Day!

(i) John Wesley, Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles
(ii) Wm Barclay, Daily Study Bible, Acts, p.353
(iii) Spurgeon, ‘Commentary and Sermons on Acts’ Kindle Edition, ref 25673

Parables: Timeless Stories Mark 4:33-34

 

33 With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. 34 He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.

Mark 4:33-34 NIV

Horsham, 6th May 2024

These verses make clear that parables were really important to Jesus. We need to remember that the people he was speaking to had huge expectations of what God’s Kingdom and the coming Messiah would be like. They expected the Messiah to be a strong King of the old style, a true military leader who would restore Israel and evict the Roman occupiers. We begin to understand that when Jesus started his description of God’s kingdom as a tiny mustard seed, many people would miss the point he was making. He was trying to lead them through a transition to understand the truth of the Kingdom of God, one step at a time.

The parables are simple stories with a purpose and a meaning. I want to focus in this post on the timeless nature of them.

I’m really fascinated by the conversations which are going on right now about  a roman artefact, being called a dodecahedron. The word means ‘twelve sided object’, and very few of them have been found. It’s a fascinating and complex object, cast in bronze. The interesting thing is that we have no idea at all what it was called by the Romans, or what it was used for.

The reality is that the Roman world, and first century Palestine in particular, was rich in objects which would mean little to us today. In the same way that my grandson has no idea and little interest in what an 8 track stereo system was (very prestigious let me tell you in the late 1970’s), a story about a dodecahedron (or whatever it was called by the Romans) would have meant nothing to me today. It would have failed the test of time.

Mark offers a small selection of parables. Matthew and Luke offer several more. It’s almost certain that Jesus would have spoken dozens, hundreds even a thousand more which have not been preserved for us. The Apostle John affirms that not everything Jesus said or did was written down (John 21:25).

How incredible, then, that in those parables to which we have access, the images Jesus used make sense. For all of our technological advances, we understand the image of building your house on a rock, rather than the sand. We have a pretty good idea what an oil lamp looks like. We can get our head around the idea of a tiny mustard seed growing into a large tree.

We can still miss the point of Jesus’ parables. My point is that in spite of all the changes in culture, technology and human understanding, 2000 years later, the stories he told are still accessible. The parables of Jesus still make sense. Timeless.

Richard Jackson, West Sussex: LifePictureUK