I used to watch with amazement Michael Jordan’s hang time. It was almost as if he defied gravity, as he made his way to the basketball rim for one of his jaw dropping dunks or reverse layups as a basketball god.
Jesus has some serious hang time. Jesus defies gravity in his ascension—sorry Air Jordan and Sir Isaac Newton. And yet, when the right time comes, he will return to earth, just like he ascended to heaven. According to Jesus, what goes up must come down. Like and unlike the Terminator and Jordan in their return to the screen and court, Jesus will someday say, “I’m back.”
One of the most neglected aspects of Jesus’ public ministry is his ascension. This past Thursday marked the forty days since Easter Sunday when Jesus ascended to heaven. Many Christians around the world celebrated the Feast of the Ascension (See here for more information on the feast). Some Christian groups dedicate this Sunday to its remembrance.
Luke gives special attention to the ascension: see Luke 21:26-28; 22:66-71 (cf. Matthew 26:57-68); 24:50-53; Acts 1:6-11; and 7:54-60. The apostolic community took great comfort from knowing that the crucified and risen Lord ascended to the right hand of the Father, and that he will return in glory. Paul, when he was named Saul, was present at Stephen’s stoning and heard Stephen speaks of seeing the ascended Christ (Acts 7:54-60). No doubt, at the time he (Saul) scoffed at Stephen’s vision. Later, as Paul, he highlights the significance of the ascension for the Christian life: Ephesians 4:1-16 (spiritual unity and gifting); Colossians 3:1-4 (identity in Christ and spiritual growth). Hebrews 1:1-3 reveals that Christ is prophet, priest, and king: he is the true Word of God who declared that he would reign regally in heaven with the Father, as the heavenly high priest who offered himself as the once-and-for-all sacrifice for sins. In John’s farewell discourse (John 14-16), the Lord speaks of the need for him to return to the Father so that the Spirit would come and abide with his people to comfort and counsel them. They are to wait for the Spirit upon Jesus’ ascent, just as they are to await his return (Acts 1:4-11). Christians celebrate the Spirit’s outpouring, gifting and empowerment (Acts 2:1-4) on Pentecost Sunday, which falls on Sunday, May 24th this year.
Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him (Hebrews 9:23-28; ESV).