The church’s calendar not only includes a date to remember the birth of Jesus (Dec. 25), we also have a date to remember his coronation as King Omnipotent.
We call it Ascension Day.
This year the day falls on May 5. In sharp contrast with Christmas, most churches do not observe it, and the world does not believe it.
It isn’t so terrible to forget liturgical calendar dates. But the facts of Christ’s lordship and the reality of the Holy Spirit’s presence must figure big in our Christian confession and in our everyday living. Once I instructed a man who had grown up in Italy. He could think of Jesus only as a bambino whose caregiver was the virgin Mary. It was a big leap for him to go from that view of the infant Jesus to that of the present lordship of our Savior.
What happened at the Ascension? By going from earth to heaven, Jesus went from the place that is governed to the seat of government—God’s right hand. And just as Pharaoh did not do anything in the land of Egypt except through the hand of Joseph, so the sovereign God now deals with his world through Jesus.
Only through Jesus do we have access to God, and only through Jesus God comes to dwell in us. Only by Jesus God rules over us, and by Jesus God will judge this world.
The event of the Ascension is described only by Luke (24:51 and Acts 1:9). If we think of it spatially (“We are now cruising at 30,000 feet . . .”), we get into trouble. The Bible writers assume a three-story universe—which can bother us folks who live in the “space age.” However, the three-level world (heaven, earth, and the pit) is not the point of the Bible’s teaching.
When Paul writes that Jesus “ascended far above all the heavens” (Eph. 4:10, NRSV), he doesn’t want us to understand that spatially (“he went 20,000 feet above the angel gallery”). Instead height conveys the idea of position and power: “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name” (Phil. 2:9). It describes Jesus’ position and rank in the cosmic hierarchy.
Jesus of Nazareth fulfills the Old Testament expectation of a (Son of) Man whom God has set over “all things” and who rules until all his enemies have surrendered. This theme of the exalted king who, under God, rules in utter freedom (Ps. 8, 110) plays throughout the New Testament with rich variations. The church does not listen enough to that music. Churches make too much of Christmas and too little of the ascension. In that respect we’re out of step with the New Testament.
Jesus reigns! The devil has been kicked out of the driver’s seat. Satan is on a chain, and Jesus is Lord. For Christ “has ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.” “All things” means nothing is excluded. Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18)--nothing falls outside of his dominion.
Our job is to acknowledge and proclaim Jesus as Savior and Lord. We must do so extensively (“make disciples of all nations,” Matt. 28:19). And we must do so intensively because he is Savior and Lord of head and hand, house and hearth, money and business, dating and mating. All human activity must be performed under Christ’s redeeming reign.
Either Jesus is Lord of all, or he’s not Lord at all.