Presence and Power

Acts 1:1-11

April 29, 2012 | Brian Bill

I heard recently about a church that was putting on an Easter Cantata.  When they came to the climactic scene of the Ascension of Christ, the actor playing Jesus was to be slowly hoisted out of view through an opening in the ceiling.  The cue for the guys pulling the rope was when he said, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  

The flight upward was progressing smoothly, until the stage crew briefly lost their grip on the rope and the actor nearly dropped back to the stage.  With enviable stage presence, he remained in character as his feet dangled inches from the floor and his bewildered disciples looked on in horror.  Without skipping a beat he said, “Oh, and one more thing…love one another.”  Immediately the rope yanked him up into the ceiling and out of sight.

We don’t think much about the Ascension of Christ, but we should.  It’s not just an afterthought but a cornerstone teaching of Scripture.  We celebrate the Incarnation on Christmas; we recognize the Crucifixion on Good Friday; we rejoice in the Resurrection on Easter; but we don’t really give much attention to the Ascension.  Actually, I found out that some churches do include this on their church calendar, but because it’s normally celebrated 40 days after Easter, and it falls on a Thursday, it doesn’t get the prominence it deserves.

The Bible records two other ascensions.  Both Enoch and Elijah detoured death and went straight to heaven (see Genesis 5:24; 2 Kings 2:11).  One day a girl in Sunday School was asked to tell the story of Enoch.  This is what she said: “Well, one day God and Enoch were just walking together and it came close to the end of the day.  And God turned to Enoch and said, ‘We’re closer to my house than to yours.  So why don’t you just come home with me?’”  It may have happened just like that .

When Jesus ascended into heaven it was unique.  First of all, He actually died.  Secondly, He came back to life.  Third, He was taken up into heaven.  1 Timothy 3:16 contains a brief synopsis of the Savior’s work: “He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.” One way the early church determined to never forget what their faith was based on was by putting together the Apostle’s Creed.  Let’s stand and recite this summary statement of Christian belief together.  Believers first stated this right before they were baptized as part of their confession of Christ.  What we read may be a bit different from what you remember because this is the “Modern English Version.”

I believe in God, the Father almighty, 
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, 
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, 
born of the Virgin Mary, 
suffered under Pontius Pilate, 
was crucified, died, and was buried; 
he descended to the dead. 
On the third day he rose again; 
he ascended into heaven, 
he is seated at the right hand of the Father, 
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, 
the holy universal church,

the communion of saints, 
the forgiveness of sins, 
the resurrection of the body, 
and the life everlasting.  AMEN.

I want us to look at three primary passages this morning.  These three texts, taken together, form a composite picture of the Ascension.

Luke 24

Let’s first turn to Luke 24:50-53: “When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them.  While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.  Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.  And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.”

1. They follow faithfully. 

Jesus has led them out to the area of Bethany.  The picture that comes to mind is that of the Good Shepherd leading His sheep.  He’s not behind them, forcing them to go where they don’t want to go; He’s ahead of them, calling each of them by name.  This is another example of what Jesus said in John 10:27: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”  

The area around Bethany was special to Jesus because it’s where Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha lived (John 11:1).  Bethany was about one and a half miles from Jerusalem, and Jesus often spent the night there (see Matthew 21:17; Mark 11:11).  It was at Bethany, when Jesus was at Simon the Leper’s house, that a woman anointed his head with very expensive perfume (Matthew 26:6).  According to Acts 1:12, the ascension took place on the Mount called Olivet.  This is not a discrepancy because the Mount of Olives was right next to Bethany.  Luke understands their proximity when he writes in Luke 19:29: “As he approached…Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives…” Jesus often met with his disciples at the Mount of Olives (Luke 22:39).  And it was here, at the place of the Olive Press, that Jesus agonized in prayer the night before his death.  Perhaps they are standing on the very ground into which six weeks earlier Jesus had sweat blood.

2. Believers are blessed. 

After leading them, Jesus then lifts up his nail-pierced hands and blesses them.  The last thing Jesus does is to give them His blessing.  As the high priest did when he blessed the people in Leviticus 9:22; the Great High Priest pronounces peace to His followers.  Like Jacob blessing his 12 sons before he left this earth in Genesis 49, Jesus blesses this band of believers.  I want you to notice how much Jesus loves those who follow Him.  He could have scolded them for all their sins.  He could have expressed disappointment about their doubts.  He could have given them grief for the ways they had let Him down.  But instead, He blessed them.  To bless means to bestow good on someone.  It’s to grant grace and measure out mercy to the undeserving.  It’s also used to convey thankfulness.  Wouldn’t it be fascinating to know exactly what Jesus said to the disciples?  Friends, Jesus is thankful for you today as well.  He is giving you grace and goodness.

3. Jesus is hoisted to heaven. 

While Jesus is blessing them, he is taken up into heaven.  Jesus not only blessed them when He was physically present; He continues to bless them even on His way up!  And He continues to bless believers today.  This is a supernatural event, beyond scientific explanation, much like the Incarnation and the Resurrection.  

4. They adore the authoritative One. 

Notice that verse 52 says that they worshipped after he was taken up into heaven: “Then they worshipped Him…”  They are not downhearted but are instead filled with praise as they worship the One they can no longer see.  That reminds us of the words of Jesus to Thomas in John 20:29: “…blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  

5. They return with rejoicing. 

Even though Jesus is now gone, they are filled with great joy.  Why is that?  I think it’s because they remembered the promise of Jesus in John 16:7: “But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away.  Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”  Peter put it this way in 1 Peter 1:8: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.”

6. They praise Him perpetually. 

Verse 53 shows us that they magnified His mercy in protracted praise as they stayed in the Temple.  We know that they remained there for ten more days, until the day of Pentecost, as recorded in Acts 2.  

Acts 1

Luke actually gives two reports about the Ascension.  The one here in Luke 24 is fairly brief.  In Acts 1, he gives us more details.  

1. 40 Days of Appearances. 

In verse 3, Luke mentions that after the Resurrection, Jesus appeared over a period of forty days, giving many convincing proofs to the disciples that He was alive.  There are several reasons why Jesus chose forty days.

  • It’s a common time frame in Scripture.  
  • Disciples needed multiple exposures so they would no longer doubt.  It was during this time that He established His Lordship over their lives. 
  • Jesus endured the Devil’s temptation for 40 days in the wilderness, and now the tables are turned as Jesus triumphantly parades His victory over the evil one. 

In verses 6-8, the disciples want to talk about end times and the restoration of the kingdom.  Jesus instead hones in on the Holy Spirit and their work of witnessing, beginning where they are and extending to the ends of the earth.

2. The Lord leaves. 

Look at verse 9: “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.” Jesus was taken suddenly, right before their eyes.  The phrase, “to lift up” is in the passive tense and was used of the hoisting of a sail.  The Father took Him up and it was unexpected, visible, and tangible.  They were eyewitnesses.  The mention of the “cloud” is fascinating, with many suggesting that this was the Shekinah glory of God that filled the Temple in the Old Testament and appeared to Jesus at the Transfiguration.  This cloud conveyed the presence and power of God, first seen in the wanderings of God’s people en route to the Promised Land (Exodus 16:10). 

This cloud also is seen hovering over the holiest part of the Mercy Seat, resting between the Cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant.  Robert Leroe perceptively points out: “Just as the blood of the Temple sacrifices was brought into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement and sprinkled upon the Mercy Seat, so Jesus ascended into Heaven as both Priest and Sacrifice.  His sacrifice was accepted, and it satisfied divine justice.” 

Friends, Jesus didn’t disappear; rather, He arrived at His destination

In verse 10, we read, “as He was going.”  In the Greek this meant “to go on a journey.”  Friends, Jesus didn’t disappear; rather, He arrived at His destination.  After Jesus ascended, the disciples were “looking intently” into the sky.  They were gazing into glory.  This is the same phrase that is used in Luke 4:20 when we read that everyone “fastened their eyes” on Jesus after He read from the prophet Isaiah.  I can’t imagine what that was like to be staring into the very Shekinah presence of God.  Their Lord has been lifted away and they can’t break away.  I’m sure their eyes were big, their mouths wide open, and their hearts racing.  

3. The Redeemer will return. 

And then two angelic messengers dressed in white stand beside them and bring them back down to earth in verse 11: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky?  This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” Twice in this verse the word “same” is used.  The very same Jesus who left will one day return, in the same way.  In Matthew 26:64, Jesus indicates that in the future He will be “coming on the clouds of heaven.”  Revelation 1:7 says the same thing: “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him.”  His departure is not final; there will be a reunion.

His return will be personal (it will be Jesus and not some substitute), literal (not a vision or a dream), visible (every “eye will see” Him), sudden (not a gradual return), and unexpected (like a thief in the night).  You might be surprised to know that the New Testament refers to the second coming of Christ in over 300 verses.  That means one out of every 13 verses deals with some element of the Redeemer’s return to earth.

Ray Pritchard writes: “The same Jesus who walked on water is coming again.  The same Jesus who raised Lazarus is coming again.  The same Jesus who was betrayed by Judas is coming again.  The actual, historical figure that lived 2000 years ago on the other side of the world is returning to earth one more time.” 

Incidentally, according to Zechariah 14:4, when Jesus returns, He will come back to the Mount of Olives: “On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south.”

Mark 16

While Luke 24 and Acts 1 help us see the details related to the Ascension, Mark 16:19-20 tell us where Jesus is now, and what we should be doing now: “After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.  Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.” 

  • Where Jesus is now.  Jesus is now seated at the right hand of God the Father.  To be on the right hand is a metaphor for power and authority.  There was no greater honor among earthly kings than for a trusted advisor to be seated at their right hand.   Psalm 110:1: “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’” In the ancient near east culture, a king would place his feet upon the neck of his enemy to symbolize complete subjugation.  This is a sketch where Pharaoh Ahmenhotep II (1448-1420 B.C.), places his feet upon his enemies.  Notice that their hands are tied behind their backs and they have been made his footstool. 
There is nothing outside of His sweet and sovereign control

Jesus is ruling.  The fact that He is sitting down indicates that His work has been accomplished.  Everything He came to do is finished.  The price has been paid.  Forgiveness has been purchased with His blood.  He is both ruling and at rest.  1 Peter 3:22 states that Jesus: “has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand-with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.” Everything is subject to the Savior.  The King has been coronated.  There is nothing outside of His sweet and sovereign control.  Nothing.

  • What we should be doing now.  After observing the ascension, the disciples worshipped and then they witnessed, as they “went out and preached everywhere.”  They were doing what Jesus had commanded in the Great Commission.  Notice that the Lord worked with them, confirming His presence and His power by accompanying signs. 

Implications of the Ascension

In John 6:62, after some of the disciples complained about the difficulty involved in accepting His teachings, Jesus asked a question: “What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before!”  In other words, if you think what I’ve said so far is hard to believe, what will you do if you see me ascend to heaven?  What will the Ascension mean to you?  What difference will it make in your beliefs and your behavior?  Those are good questions for us to ponder as well.  I can think of at least six implications of the Ascension that apply to our lives today.

  • Jesus has authority over all.  As we learned last week, “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given” to Jesus.  He is the ascended and seated Lord of our lives, this church, our country, and the entire universe.  He has defeated the devil! Ephesians 1:20-23: “Which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms,  far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.  And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.”  That leads to some questions.  Have you surrendered yourself fully to His right to reign supreme in your life?  Is He your Lord?  Are you leading your life, or is He?
  • Jesus has opened the way for us to follow.  Because He has been raised to new life and has ascended to heaven, He has prepared the path for us to do the same.  John 14:3: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”  The only way to get to Heaven is through Christ.  Have you received Him yet as your Savior? 
  • We have an advocate in Heaven.  We know that Satan is the accuser of believers (Revelation 12:10), but according to 1 John 2:1-2, we have an advocate in Heaven: “My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin.  But if you do sin, there is someone to plead for you before the Father.  He is Jesus Christ, the one who pleases God completely” (New Living Translation).  Did you know that one of the activities of Christ right now is to pray for you?  Romans 8:34: “Christ Jesus, who died-more than that, who was raised to life-is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” Hebrews 7:25: “He lives forever to plead with God on their behalf.” Friend, you are not alone and you’re not on your own.  The ascended, all-authoritative one is your advocate!  
  • We have power and authority.  Jesus is seated in the heavenly places and those who put their faith in Him are seated with Him.  This kind of blows our minds but it’s true.  Listen to Ephesians 2:6: “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” That’s our position.  And we’ve also been given power according to Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you…” Colossians 2:10 reminds us that we are not meant to walk around timidly or wonder why we feel so empty: “You have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.”  Are you accessing the power and authority that is yours in Christ?  
  • The Holy Spirit is with us forever.  In John 16:7, Jesus actually said that it was good that He was going away, for when He did, He would send the Holy Spirit to be with us forever.  I really like how Augustine put it in one of his prayers: “You ascended before our eyes, and we turned back grieving, only to find you in our hearts.”  Phillip Yancey perceptively adds, “Ever since the Ascension, Jesus has sought other bodies in which to begin again the life He lived on earth.”  

Barbara Taylor writes: “If they wanted to see Jesus again, it was no use looking up.  Better that they should look around instead, at each other, at the world, at the ordinary people in their ordinary lives, because that was where they were most likely to find Him…not in his own body but in their bodies, the risen, ascended Lord who was no longer anywhere on earth so that He could be everywhere instead… with nothing but a promise and a prayer, those 11 people consented to become the church, and nothing was ever the same again, beginning with them…and once they did that, surprising things began to happen.  They began to say things that sounded like Him, and they began to do things they had never seen anyone but Him do before…it was almost as if He had not ascended but exploded, so that all the holiness that was once concentrated in Him alone flew everywhere…”

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?