Friday, January 18, 2019

What Goes Up, Must Come Down


The description of Jesus' ascension in Acts 1:9–11 is packed with comfort and challenge. Because we know that Jesus is alive, we know that we have life in Him and that He is coming back for us. Since He is, we have to complete our mission of telling the world about Him. Christians should keep one eye above to seek His return and another below to stay focused on the work He calls us to do.

Last week, we looked at Acts 1:1 and the important idea that Jesus is still at work through us. Staying in the same chapter, I want to talk about the ascension of Jesus Christ, which is recorded in Acts 1:9–11. There are a couple of implications to this event that I am not sure most believers are aware of. And even if we are, they are still valuable reminders.

Usually I just leave the hyperlink to whatever verses I mention, but I am also going to quote it here to make sure we are all on the same page:

After He had said this, He was taken up as they were watching, and a cloud took Him out of their sight. While He was going, they were gazing into heaven, and suddenly two men in white clothes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into heaven? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you have seen Him going into heaven.”

Christ's Ascension

What’s the first thing that stands out to you when you read that? It doesn’t matter, because I’m the one writing here and I am going to tell you what should stand out first (I kid, but I do have something in mind). The initial wonder of this passage is that Jesus ascended to heaven. Now before you start calling me Captain Obvious, let me explain what I mean.

It can be very easy to fall into the trap of over-spiritualizing Jesus. Or maybe that is impossible, since He certainly is spiritual. But sometimes that makes us lose sight of His humanity, of His reality. He can become an idea in our minds rather than a living, breathing person. None of us has ever seen Him, so I get it. But we need to resist the urge, and knowing about the ascension should help us.

Jesus is alive. I don’t mean He just exists, I mean He is alive with a living, breathing body. Not only did He return to life, He goes on living that way forever. Therefore, that life He has is the firm foundation for ours. Just as He has eternal human life, so will we if we place our trust in Him. A day will come when we will see Him as He is and be made like Him (1 John 3:2). The ascension is wonderful because it lets us know Jesus' story is ongoing.

A Cloud of Glory

So these verses start with hope, and obviously they end with it, but I will get there in a bit. A few other things bear mentioning, though. There is a loaded implication in v. 9 that is really easy for us to miss. The sight of Jesus is a reminder of His humanity, but the cloud that eventually obscured Him from view is a reminder of His divinity.

This is one of those places (among so many others) where we need to have an awareness of the Old Testament. In a number of important passages, God used the cloud to express His presence. You could arguably include Noah’s Flood as the first occurrence of this, particularly the Lord’s promise from Gen. 9:12–17 to set the rainbow in the clouds of the sky. Though they carry the threat of His majesty and judgment, they also allow for the expression of His grace.

That is a bit of a stretch, admittedly. Things get much clearer in passages like Ex. 40:34 and 1 Kings 8:10–11. In these places, God sent a miraculous cloud down to fill a place of worship. Known as the “shekinah glory,” it was one of the most magnificent ways the Lord showed His people He was with them. When Jesus was wrapped in this same cloud, it was a connection His earliest Jewish followers would not have been able to miss. To paraphrase John 1:1, it was yet another way for them to know Jesus was with God, and was God.

We don’t have the same cultural connection to the cloud, but we should be able to pick up the meaning here. This one verse in Acts tells us that our Savior has unending human life, and infinite godhood. Nothing can limit the fulfillment of His promises to us.

Look Both Ways

Which, of course, is how the rest of the passage plays out. We can’t fault the disciples for staring into the sky. No one could possibly see what they did without their jaw hitting the floor. Everybody would keep looking up, wondering what was coming next.

We can’t fault them, but we also can’t help laughing at them a bit. No matter how natural, they would have looked somewhat absurd. The angels pointed that out to sort of bring them back down to earth. Jesus wasn’t going to fall out of the sky. He wasn’t going to turn right back around because He had forgotten the keys to heaven. He was gone, and they had spent enough time gaping.

That is basically what the angels were saying, but they did so in a way that does not exactly say to take your eyes off the clouds. And that is the final lesson. Christians have something like a chameleon existence, not because we should change our appearance to fit the circumstances (that is a topic for another time), but because we have to be able to look in two places at once.

Jesus told His followers in Acts 1:8 that He had a mission for them. It is still our mission today. We are called to spread the gospel, and to do all we can to show the world that while there are consequences for sin, there is also salvation from them available in Christ. If all we do is look forward to His return, then we will not carry out our mandate.

Looking up cannot be all we do, but it is still something we must do. We cannot forget the promise. This world is a place of darkness. We can get caught up in it, and we can be run down by it. By meditating on and desiring the Lord’s return, we can be encouraged to maintain our will and our work (1 Thess. 4:13–18).

Yes, Jesus is gone, but He is not dead. He lives forever, and He is coming back. We await His appearance, but we can’t wait around. Until we see His glory again, there are places to go and people to reach for Him. That is a lot for one passage to hold, and yet it does so seamlessly. Scripture really is amazing that way. Let’s be grateful and take it to heart.

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