November 20, 2017

Appearances of the Risen Christ, 12

By Chaplain Mike

We are marking the Great Fifty Days of Easter with a series of devotional thoughts on the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus.

Today we look at the final narrative in Luke’s story of Jesus’ resurrection and appearances, from Luke 24:50-53 (NASB).

Text

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.

Thoughts

Luke provides a unique ending to his Gospel—a brief account of the Ascension. He does not tell the full story of everything that took place on that momentous occasion here (that is reserved for Acts 1), but summarizes Jesus’ departure from this world and the response of his disciples. In doing so:

Luke emphasizes the priesthood of Jesus.
Can’t you just picture our risen Lord, raising his hands in the traditional gesture of pronouncing a benediction? Can’t you hear him say, “May the Lord bless you and keep you…”? As a minister concludes a worship service, pronouncing God’s blessing and then sending the church into the world to serve as God’s blessed people sharing God’s blessings, so Jesus concludes his earthly life and ministry.

Luke emphasizes the worship of God’s people.
Note the “worship” words in this text: blessing, worshiping, joy, temple, praising. Having been blessed by their Lord, the disciples worship Jesus, are filled with joy, gather in the temple, and express their praises to God. The mission upon which they will soon embark is rooted in worship. They have experienced the living presence of Jesus, received his word of blessing, witnessed his exaltation to heaven, and bowed before him in adoration. Their movement into the world will be informed and inspired by this gathering.

These verses briefly describe the incalculable privileges of living as Easter people under the rule of our ascended and enthroned Lord.

A passage from Paul outlines the blessings and dynamic possibilities now operative in the world through Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. (Ephesians 1:3)

I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church. And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself. (Ephesians 1:19-23)

As Luke will make clear in Acts, here Paul reminds us of the significance of the Ascension for our faith. The fact that Jesus ascended to heaven, and is seated at God’s right hand, does not mean he is absent, as though he went on a journey to some place far away. As N.T. Wright reminds us, “heaven” is better understood as another dimension of existence rather than as a distant place, and the purpose for Jesus “going away” was not to leave us but to designate that he is now exalted above all things, ruler of all..

Basically heaven and earth in biblical cosmology are not two different locations within the same continuum of space or matter.  They are two different dimensions of God’s good creation.  And the point about heaven is twofold.   First, heaven relates to earth tangentially so that the one who is in heaven can be present simultaneously anywhere and everywhere on earth:  the ascension therefore means that Jesus is available, accessible, without people having to travel to a particular spot on earth to find him.  Second, heaven is, as it were, the control room for earth; it is the CEO’s office, the place from which instructions are given.  “All authority is given to me,” said Jesus at the end of Matthew’s gospel, “in heaven and on earth.”  (Surprised by Hope, p. 111).

So, Jesus “disappeared” from the earthly dimension, the place where we live and access life through our senses, and entered into the heavenly dimension, “the heavenly places” as Ephesians calls it. This heavenly realm, though invisible to us, is nevertheless all around us, and Jesus is now enthroned there, which is to say, he has taken the place of authority and rule over the entire universe. And, he is with us!

So, we delight in the privilege of living in Jesus’ blessing. Of offering him our worship. Of moving into the world with joy to announce the Good News.

Prayer

Remember, O Lord, what you have wrought in us and not what we deserve; and, as you have called me to your service, make me worthy of your calling; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

(Prayer appointed for the week from The Divine Hours)

Comments

  1. David Cornwell says:

    If the Church were to once again grasp this radical and transforming truth it would change everything about how we view our mission. Heaven is not far far away. Christ is with us. Each week our church studies the lectionary passage for the coming Sunday in a Wednesday evening bible study led by our pastor. This week our passage is from Acts 1. We were blown away by the implications of really understanding the truth of the Ascension.

  2. JoanieD says:

    I sometimes wonder what it was like to watch for the disciples to watch Jesus ascend. One of the Gospels even states that some of the disciples “doubted.” What did they doubt, I wonder? And what will it be like when he returns? The Bible says those who are alive will ALL see him. How will that happen, I wonder?