WAKE UP, AMERICA! It’s Time to Give More Attention to the Ascension
[Editor’s Note: Today is Ascension Day, but do most Christians care? In this blog post, David Bryant reveals why we can’t ignore what he says may be “the most neglected doctrine of all.”]
In my previous blog I noted how this National Day of Prayer (NDP) happens to intersect with the worldwide celebration of the Day of the Ascension.
Observing that the 2016 NDP theme was “Wake Up, America!” I asked: What are we to wake up to?
My answer was this: If Christians in America would wake up to the profound implications of Jesus’ ascension to the Father’s right hand, this would unleash a spiritual awakening—a Christ Awakening—unlike anything we’ve ever known.
Possibly the Most Neglected Doctrine of All
So, here’s a follow-up quiz: Of the full panoply of doctrines that form the foundation of the Church, which one may be the most neglected doctrine of all? Which one hardly ever gets mentioned, let alone explored?
I suggest to you it is the Ascension.
The fact is that tragically in most of our country’s 400,000 congregations the Ascension is hardly ever recalled.
We make much of Jesus’ incarnation (Christmas), his crucifixion (Good Friday), and his resurrection (Easter). But does that go far enough?
In reality, apart from the Ascension everything else our Lord has done for us would be rendered null and void. Let me explain.
Think about this: If the Father had not invited Jesus to sit down on heaven’s throne, where would we be? What if the Father had not been able to say to his Son (in essence), “My dearly beloved Son, I am totally satisfied with all you have accomplished; it is sufficient for the salvation of the nations. So come now, sit at my right hand and reign over the universe, as your everlasting inheritance”? Would we have any hope at all?
Remember how the disciples celebrated as they watched Jesus rise and vanish into the clouds (Acts 1)? R. C. Sproul observes: “How then can we account for their great joy? They had come to realize the meaning of Jesus’ teaching, that it was to their advantage that he depart. Once they grasped the where and the why of the ascension they were able to rejoice in the when of his departure.”
On that day of unbridled praise, God’s dear Son—incarnated, crucified, and resurrected—was enthroned in the universe with all authority in heaven and on earth, forever.
The Scripture That Dominated the Early Church
Psalm 110 is the most frequently quoted or referenced Old Testament passage by New Testament writers. Why is that? I suggest it is precisely because it focuses on the Ascension, beginning with: “The Lord says to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand . . . rule in the midst of your enemies.’” The Ascension must have dominated the life of the early Church quite a bit.
Take a look at Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. The primary theme of his sermon is the Ascension. He made a beeline for that truth, climaxing his proclamation like this:
God has raised this Jesus to life and we’re all witnesses of it.
Exalted to the right hand of God
he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit
and has poured out what you now see and hear.
Then Peter presses on to conclude his sermon with these words (and here comes Psalm 110):
The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies a foot stool for your feet.’
Therefore, let all Israel be assured of this:
God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified,
both Lord and Messiah.
This is the emphasis that spawned the first Christian congregation. It was to this message that 3,000 responded and were baptized in one day. And it’s primarily about Christ ascended—sitting down with all power on high.
What Does “Sitting Down” Imply?
When the Bible recounts that Jesus “sat down” at God’s right hand, the phrase might be interpreted by some as fairly passive, like saying: “When he finally finished his redemptive work, he took a load off and relaxed.” But actually “sat down” means the very opposite.
Think about a courtroom. Right before the trial begins everybody in the visitor’s section is seated. The jurors are in the jury box. The lawyers for the defense and the prosecution are poised at their tables. Stationed in their proper places, everyone is ready to begin—except nothing happens. That is, nothing happens until the judge walks in and sits down at his bench, perched above the courtroom. The moment the judge is seated is when things start to really go into action.
The same could be said of our Lord Jesus Christ described as “sitting down” on heaven’s throne. At that moment the kingdom of God swung into a level of hyperactivity that will continue unabated until the consummation of the ages.
That is because the Ascension was the official inauguration and installation of the King of the Universe. It was the ratification of all aspects of his redemptive work. It was the proof of his incomparable dignity and total supremacy. It was the sign that he will never have any competitors or any successors.
From that moment forward Jesus became the locus of the fullness of God’s majesty, sovereignty, and saving grace. From that moment forward Jesus also became the focus of the fulfillment of God’s purposes in the Church and among the nations.
Today Jesus is not waiting to be crowned as king. He’s only waiting to be recognized as king.
Martin Luther described it this way: “When Jesus Christ utters a word he opens his mouth so wide that he embraces all heaven and earth even though that word be but a whisper. A word of the emperor is powerful, but that of Jesus Christ governs the whole universe” [emphasis added].
Pope John Paul II put it like this in his helpful book Jesus Christ, Son and Savior: “By his ascension, kingship has been conferred on Jesus over the whole economy of salvation. Therefore Christ is Lord of the entire universe. As Redeemer of the world the ascended Lord is the goal of human history, the focal point of the longings of the human race, and the answer of the yearnings to every heart” [emphasis added].
Let’s Join the Celebration of the Coronation!
When Jesus came into Jerusalem on the day the Church celebrates as Palm Sunday, prior to his crucifixion and resurrection, remember how the people crowded around him applauding him and welcoming him?
If we combine the cheers they joyfully shouted (compiled from different gospel accounts) we hear: “Hosanna!” which literally means “Lord, save us right now!” Or we might paraphrase it: “Come and save us. We’re ready. We’re willing. Let it happen.” Also they proclaimed: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” as well as “Blessed is the King of Israel!” and “Don’t be afraid; your king is coming!”
It gives me chills to think that there was a day, like today is a day, when similar acclamations arose in heaven from myriads of saints and angels at the very moment Jesus was inaugurated as Supreme King and sat down at the right hand of the Father.
Can you hear their chorus? Wouldn’t you like to join them?
All blessings rest upon our King! You have saved us now and forever.
Blessed are you, Jesus Christ, because you have done all that was needed
to fulfill for all creation the designs of God for the glory of God.
No longer do we need to be afraid because you have taken your throne
and so your kingdom is moving victoriously into all the earth.
“WAKE UP, AMERICA!” Wake up to what? Wake up to the Redeemer exalted and crowned, who is to have the supremacy in everything (Colossians 1) and who, therefore, is your only hope.
In the midst of 2016’s furious scramble for the presidency of our country, we need this Savior! We need this vision of him as our Redeemer King like never before!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: David Bryant
Known as a proclaimer of Christ and Messenger of Hope, David Bryant is the founder and president of Proclaim Hope!, a ministry whose goal is to serve a nationwide Christ Awakening. David is the author of five books, including Christ Is ALL! Join in the Joyful Awakening to the Supremacy of God’s Son.