Most Christians (and many unbelievers) recognize the two major Christian Holy Days that occur every year, Christmas and Easter. The most important of those two is Easter, the Resurrection of our Lord. (To be complete, that would also include Good Friday as the ancient church recognized one continuous service beginning on Holy/Maundy Thursday and concluding at the Easter Vigil -the celebration of the Resurrection held from Saturday evening into Sunday morning).
The second most important Holy Day is Christmas – the Incarnation of our Lord. (That may come as a surprise to many, but Christmas is meaningless without Easter). But there is a third Holy Day that plays just as important of a role in the story of redemption that is often forgotten. That is today, 40 days after the Resurrection, the Festival of the Ascension of our Lord.
The Ascension of our Lord is recorded in Luke 24 and Acts 1. However, the meaning of the Ascension is explained in numerous other places in the Bible (Hebrews 4, Philippians 2, Psalm 47, Ephesians 4). So why is the Ascension of our Lord to the right hand of God the Father in the heavenly places a reason to celebrate? To put it plainly, Jesus’ Ascension is the sign and promise that the Fall- the descent of man – is undone.
Humanity, after rebelling against God’s Word in the garden of Eden, the Fall, could no longer remain in God’s presence – could no longer be in the heavenly realm. Sin excluded humanity from partaking in that paradise. That punishment still remains over all human beings.
We, even today, are still under that punishment. We are barred from that paradise justly because of sin. Even our best efforts could not get us back into that right standing with God. In fact, our “best” efforts only seemed to push us farther away from God (see Genesis 11 for a very bad attempt at this). As much as we tried to contain and atone for our own sin, the more we realized sin increased in us (see Romans 3:20; 7:13). We descended farther and farther away from God. We need someone to make a way for us; to establish a right standing with God for us; to overcome that curse for us. We need a Savior.
Who is the Savior sent to rescue us?
God the Father sent His Son into the world to be that Savior. Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, lived a sinless life, offered His life to atone for mankind’s sin, and rose from the dead to prove all He had accomplished. Now, this Son, fully God and fully man, enters into the heavenly places on our behalf. This entrance is hugely significant for Christians: a way for mankind has been made back into God’s presence; right standing with God has been accomplished; the curse has been undone. But even more, now, that God-Man, Jesus, sits at the right hand of God the Father.
In ancient times, to be the right-hand man of the king was to have the full authority and power of the king. In Ephesians 1:15-23, Paul conveys this status about Jesus because of His Ascension. Jesus is there at the right hand of God, a position, as the ruler of all things. He is there interceding on our behalf right now. He is showing His wounds to the Father saying, “Do not look at their sin; look at what I have done for them.”
Paul then takes it a step further. He declares Christ “fills all in all.” That means wherever and whenever we gather in Christ’s Name to receive His Word, He is there with us- for us. Christ and His fullness are there. All that Christ has accomplished is there – His righteousness, His atonement, His promises – and they are there for us. The Ascension guarantees that.
The importance of the Ascension cannot be understated. Though it is quite often the “Forgotten Festival” in the Holy Days, remembering Christ’s Ascension is essential to our faith. Christ’s Ascension is essential for revealing what God’s end state for His people is: the redemption of body and soul in His presence forever.
For more information on the implications of the Ascension, check out this compilation.
Let us pray: Almighty God, as Your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, ascended into the heavens, so may we also ascend in heart and mind and continually dwell there with Him, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Collect for the Festival of the Ascension