I recently heard a sermon on the ascension of Jesus – the truth that after Jesus was raised, He ascended back to heaven and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
What struck me was not that we were hearing a sermon on the ascension, but that over the course of my decades in the church, I recall very few if any sermons on the topic.
I wondered why.
Jesus ascending to heaven has largely been a triumphal part of the resurrection story that closes out Easter services with intricate pully and harness systems to the delight of many in the crowd.
But when it comes to presenting the Gospel message, it seems we often leave the ascension out.
We gladly tell of God the Creator. We know He created all things perfectly, but mankind chose to rebel against God’s authority – seeking to establish ourselves as a rival authority. As a result of this, we have committed cosmic treason and have a sin debt we cannot pay. Jesus, fully God and fully man, lived a perfect life among us and paid the penalty on the cross that we could not pay. God raised Him to life three days later, showing His power and victory over sin. He calls us into resurrected life with Him, having our sin debt atoned for.
Amen and amen. This is the Gospel as we know it and tell it. But where is the ascension?
While the ascension often does not appear in our Gospel acronyms, it is often highlighted in the Scripture.
Paul, in Eph. 1:20-23 continues the Gospel story, noting the amazing work of God, “that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church…”
In the Scriptures, the ascension of Jesus to the right hand of God, reigning in all power and authority, is often an integral part of the Gospel presentation.
Consider Peter’s sermon in Acts 2, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God…” (Acts 2:32).
Consider Paul’s famous Gospel discourse in Rom. 1-8 which concludes, “Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God” (Rom. 8:34).
Consider Paul’s stark celebration of the Gospel in Eph. 2:1-6 which proclaims, “even when we were dead in our trespasses, (God) made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
Consider Heb. 12:2, Mark 14:62, Col. 3:1, Heb. 1:3, 8:1, 1 Pet. 3:22 and many other texts that highlight the fact that not only did Jesus die on the cross and raise to life, but was then consequently seated on the throne of God in heaven above every name, power and entity.
So, in sharing the Good News of Jesus, why do we often forget the ascension?
Would the Gospel of Jesus mean just as much if Jesus died for sins, was raised to life, then disappeared to live in a really nice condo?
The ascension declares Christ is on the throne. He is the supreme and eternal Authority.
Perhaps the reason we consciously or subconsciously often omit the ascension is that while we like not having condemnation, and we all want to go to heaven, we as a culture struggle with the idea of authority. Authority is a curse-word to postmodern ears. We like our autonomy, our individuality.
“You are accountable to, and called to obedience to, the reigning and perfectly sovereign King of creation who owns every aspect of your life,” somehow doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily as “Jesus loves you. Jesus died for you. Jesus is alive!”
It is easy to celebrate God’s grace through the cross and His power in the resurrection. But do we celebrate and acknowledge God’s authority? If we do, we recognize our lives are not our own. Our worldview is not our own. Truth is not subjective or open to debate. Our lives are not meant for our purposes and dreams but God’s purposes and plan for His glory.
In fact, throughout Romans 6, Paul describes our position as “slaves to righteousness.” That doesn’t get celebrated in a lot of our songs.
We are fully and completely under a Sovereign Authority. The fact that Christ ascended and sits on the throne of God in the place of honor and authority testifies to this. The Good News, and why this must be a part of our Gospel, is not only that there is a King, but that the King is good.
The Good News of the Gospel is not that we have been set free to become what we desire, but we have been set free from sin in order to become what God desires and live under His good and rightful authority eternally. Without this truth, we may celebrate our freedom but misunderstand or misplace our allegiance and authority.
What a powerful victory for our enemy if he can cause us to omit the authority of Christ in our Gospel presentation.
What a disservice we do to ourselves if we daily remember the Gospel activity in the past but neglect to celebrate the Gospel reality today of Christ’s eternal Kingship.
What great hope we have withheld if we share the empty cross and empty tomb yet neglect the occupied throne.
May we tell the FULL Good News not only that we have a Savior, but a King.
He lived. He died. He was raised to life. And now He reigns over all. Glory to the King!