This Sunday, many of us will be celebrating the feast day of the Ascension of our Lord (unless you live in in certain ecclesiastical provinces and have celebrated it already on Thursday). We observe the Ascension of our Lord as a holy day of obligation—it is a commemoration of the moment when Christ was taken up into heaven 40 days after his resurrection. But our commemorating of the ascension is not just a remembering of Christ’s going into heaven; when we read the scriptural accounts of the ascension, we are also reminded that his ascending into heaven marked the beginning of an evangelistic ministry that would change the world.
There are three primary accounts of Christ’s ascension in the Scriptures, two in the Gospels and one in the Acts of the Apostles. It is in Acts that we see the most detailed account, but each portrays a unique and important aspect of the ascension. In Mark 16:19, we read that after Jesus was taken into heaven, the disciples “went forth and preached everywhere” and that “the Lord worked with them.” In Luke 24:49–53, we read that the disciples went and were “continually in the temple blessing God” after Christ’s ascension. In Acts, right before Jesus is taken up, he tells the apostles that “you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” After Jesus disappears, two angels called out to the gawking disciples, “why do you stand looking up into heaven?,” as if to waken them out of a stupor.
What do all these accounts have in common? Other than the fact that Jesus is indeed taken up to sit at the right hand of the Father, the most important element in all these accounts is that Christ’s ascension is fundamentally tied to a call to evangelism and worship. The disciples did not lose heart when Jesus was taken up. They did not disperse in confusion. Instead, they “went out and preached everywhere” to be Christ’s witnesses “to the ends of the earth.” Looking at the Scriptures, we see that the concept of ascension is fundamentally died to the concept of ministry. When we celebrate the ascension, we are celebrating not just the sovereignty of our Lord as King, but also the promise that when Jesus goes, he leaves us the Holy Spirit to go and carry out his ministry while he is away.
The angels that appeared to the apostles remind us that Christ will come again, just as he has left. But in the meantime, we are given guidance and strength that the Holy Spirit provides as we carry out Christ’s ministry as his hands and feet. As we celebrate the ascension this weekend, let us remember not just our Lord’s ascension into heaven, but also our call to proclaim the Gospel on earth.