Fellow CREC pastor, Steve Wilkins, offers a good summary of Ascension Day.
Matt O’Reilly directed my attention to a great new work by Gerrit Scott Dawson entitled Jesus Ascended: The Meaning of Christ’s Continuing Incarnation. In the work he describes Jesus’ continual humanity at the right hand of the Father:
“If he dropped the hypostatic union with humanity, then he dropped us, and we are left forsaken on this side of the great divide, unable to fulfill our purpose, find forgiveness and restored communion, or enact our mission” (6).
He elaborates on the continuation of Jesus’ incarnation:
“A human hand will grasp us as we make our way into heaven. We shall be greeted by a face – the face of Jesus – that has a form to recognize. The incarnation continues, and so we are included in the life of God. That is the essential meaning of the ascension. We are not left alone. Jesus has gone before us in a way we may follow through the Holy Spirit whom he has sent, because the way is in his flesh, in his humanity. Jesus is himself that new and living way. The fully human one has gone within the veil in our name and even in our skin. United to him by the Spirit, to the one who remains united to us, we may follow where he has gone” (7).”
This Sunday, our congregation, together with many others in the world, will celebrate the Ascension. The Ascension is not just another event in the life of Jesus, but the fundamental declaration that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to the God/Man who sits at the right hand of the Father.
The Church celebrates the Ascension of our Lord this Thursday. Since most churches are not able to have Thursday services, traditionally many of them celebrate Ascension on Sunday.
The Ascension of Jesus is barely mentioned in the evangelical vocabulary. However, it is biblically necessary to establish the eternal reign of Jesus over earth and heaven. In fact, the Ascension is to be viewed through the eyes of vindication. Though the Resurrection unlocks the events of history, the Ascension begins to put victory in concrete terms. The Great Commission is only relevant because of the Ascension. Without the Ascension the call to baptize and disciple would be meaningless. It is on the basis of Jesus’ right-hand seat next to the Father, that we–image-bearers–can de-throne rulers through the power and authority of our Great Ruler, Jesus Christ.
The Ascension then is a joyful event, because it is the genesis of the Church’s triumph over the world. Further, it defines us as a people of glory and power. As Jesus is ascended, we too enter into his ascension glory. This glory charges us to embrace full joy. As Alexander Schmemann once wrote:
“The Church was victorious over the world through joy…and she will lose the world when she loses its joy… Of all accusations against Christians, the most terrible one was uttered by Nietzsche when he said that Christians had no joy.”
 Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World. Paraphrased
In the first introductory lecture on Political Ethics, Greg Bahnsen reminded his students that there are three main types of Christians: Doctrinarians, pietists, and transformationalists. Bahnsen reminded his students that if we isolate any one of those qualities we fail in our calling. The problem, according to Bahnsen, is when we are forced to make a decision without realizing that these are connected realities of a mature Christian expression.
Marva Dawn has been one of the most gifted voices into my own life. Over the years I have been struck by her profound insights into worship, and her counsel to bathe our souls in the psalms. In preaching through the psalms this Lenten Season, I have been meditating on her book I’m Lonely, Lord–HOW LONG? Her Lutheran background offers helpful liturgical observations as she works through many of the psalms of lament. In a section entitled YHWH Understands Even Betrayal, Dawn pauses to meditate on the poetry of Psalm 55. She focuses her attention on the importance of rest, and concludes:
“We Christians need a better theology of rest. We are often so eager to serve the LORD or are so caught up in our occupations or projects that we forget to balance our work with genuine rest. Somehow we have neglected the importance of the First Testament Sabbath in our New Testament faith. The Jews worked hard for six days and rested on the seventh. They recognized the rhythms of life; they realized that we need space to be restored, to rest, to find healing.”
In one of the most scholarly works against Sanders’ thesis, entitled Justification and Variegated Nomism (two volumes), D.A. Carson concludes:
“One conclusion to be drawn, then, is not that Sanders is wrong everywhere, but he is wrong when he tries to establish that his category (of covenantal nomism) is right everywhere.”
Though many non-New Perspective advocates have come to acknowledge that Palestinian Judaism was not universally characterized by a works-righteousness world view, yet it does appear that Sanders has made first century Judaism into a universal grace-system, thus overlooking the diversity within Second Temple Judaism. Carson is correct to assert that much of ancient Judaism is “widely infected with a legalistic works-righteousness.”
There is no such thing as solo glory. There is only glory in community, glory bestowed and received. When Jesus calls us to be light, He’s calling us to serve one another, and to look for ways to do good to those around us. That’s how our Spirit-light shines. It shines when we glorify others, when we serve them, bless them, and meet their needs. This always means that we must die like Adam, go down into a deep sleep, and trust that God will raise us up to glory. When Adam named His wife, he spoke the first poem in all of human history. His naming was not only a blessing; his name was spoken beautifully. And when we serve our neighbors and do good deeds before men, we should do so in order to make the world a more beautiful place, in order to bring more glory to our Father in heaven.
We have glory. We are image bearers, which means we share the glory of the Triune God. We are made partakers of the divine image. We are glory, and becoming glorified. Glory is given, not earned. Jesus takes this glory at Transfiguration revealing that he is the new Adam. The old Adam lost his glory and ours. Jesus is the glory of the Father, and so gives us this glory as his children.
The modern situation of the church can be summarized by the theme: “The Wilderness comes to the Synagogue.” This what we see in the inception of the kingdom ministry of Jesus (Mk.1). Jesus overcomes the devil in the desert. The desert is symbolic for its lifelessness, but now death comes into the holiness of the worship place, as Jesus battles the unclean spirit in the synagogue. Similarly, the disgrace of modern worship is the assumption that the arid and lifeless environment of the wilderness can be brought into the church without compromising the holiness of the church.