Ascension Day

The Rev’d Canon James T. Payne

St. Thomas’ of Canterbury Church

May 20, 2004

Ascension Day

"Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11).

Everyone has, at some time or another asked themselves the question: “When will the world end?”

The answer, according to the Bible, is that no one except God the Father knows the timing for the end of the world. Historic Christian theology does, however, identify the beginning of the end. According to Holy Scripture, theAscension into heaven of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the beginning of the end of the world. 

We like to think our world is permanent, but it is not. However permanent this world may seem, however impossible it may seem at times to resist the powers of this world, the last days of the world have begun with the Ascension of Jesus Christ and will be completed by his return to the earth on the Last Day, when He shall judge the “quick and the dead.”.

Make no mistake about it, the end of the world is, in the slang of today, "a done deal." God knows when, and how, and under what circumstances,  the world will end, even though he has chosen not to share the information about the precise time with us. 

It is enough that God knows it, and having put the Great Commission into play (the spreading of the Gospel to all the world) God bringing his work in this world to a close. 

Jesus Christ, God’s most important work is, in fact, complete already. Our Lord and Savior, the only begotten Son of God made man, came into this world to save it, and in His atoning death and resurrectionhe has already done this. As the Lamb of God He became asacrifice for our sins. He has risen from the dead to become our great High Priest, a glorified human being as well as the Son of God, making atonement for his yet-to-be-glorified fellow human beings that we may become by adoption and grace the sons of God in him. He has already been taken into heaven, into what the Book of Hebrews calls the Holy of Holies not made with hands, into the living presence of God his Father, to offer his one sacrifice of himself for all sin, for all time, to his Father. 

And now Jesus Christ is seated at the right hand of his Father, in the place of the highest honor and glory, because his work of salvation is done and he reigns now.  Christ is the way, the truth and the life. Every human being who will ever be saved is saved by that one sacrifice of Christ once offered. There is no other hope of eternal life. There is nothing that we can do to add to the gift of salvation that is offered to us and to all who believe in Him; and there is nothing that we can do, or that anyone else can do, to save those who reject the invitation or choose not to believe, except to pray to Jesus Christ that he will intervene and save them, not by dying again, but by giving them the gift of faith in his death, resurrection, and ascension.

Jesus Christ, by His Ascension,  has gone to the one place where a permanent offering for sin could be made. Not in an earthly temple, but in Heaven itself, before the throne of God the Father. His Ascension is also the final proof of our salvation, since he is fully man, as well as fully God, and he has taken human flesh and human life into the very presence of God. No one can ever say again that there is no place for man in heaven or before the throne of God, because Jesus Christ is already there in the fullness of His humanity as well as in His Divinity. In Jesus Christ, mankind is fit by salvation and grace for eternal fellowship with God, so that where Jesus Christ is now, one day, on the Last Day, all of redeemed humanity will gather before the Father’s throne in their own resurrected and glorified bodies.

Until Jesus Christ’s return to judge the living and the dead, opening the way for the redeemed to be judged righteous for his sake and to enter the courts of his Father in their sanctified and risen human flesh, there is only one main task before mankind, and that is getting ready for Christ’s return and the end of the world.

Getting ready for the end of the world, however, has nothing to do with attending so-called "End-times seminars" popular in some churches, or preparing for the “rapture”.  Since God has reserved the time and the hour of the end to himself, and told us that not even the Christ, the Son, knows the hour and moment, talking about the end or trying to predict the end is a complete waste of time. Getting ready for the end of the world has nothing to do with filling our basements with food and other supplies, as if we will need them when Christ comes to give the faithful a new heaven and a new earth ruled absolutely by a good and gracious God. And getting ready for the end of the world most certainly has nothing to do with sitting quietly and waiting for the end to come.

Jesus Christ told us what to do in order to prepare for the end of the world, and we heard what he had to say in our Lesson for the Epistle from the Acts of the Apostles:

     But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall bewitnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. (Acts 1:8).

Since the Holy Ghost did come on Whitsunday, our work in the world, and the way that we are to prepare for the end of the world, is to bear witness to the truth of Jesus Christ everywhere from our own homes and towns to the uttermost part of the earth. This witness is not merely "talking about Jesus," but showing people our Lord Jesus Christ alive and at work in us by the Christian lives that we are living in him. We should be living, walking billboards for Christ.

Meaning that when people see what Christ has done for us in our lives they should want what we have. 

The way that we work, pray, and do charity; the way that we stand up for truth and justice, even the way that we relax and amuse ourselves as the children of God and not as the children of fallen Adam or of the fallen angel; the way that we embrace the joys and the sorrows of our lives with hope and grace: if we do these things in Christ, knowing that Christ is alive and glorious at his Father’s side and that our salvation is the already accomplished work of the Son of God made man, then we witness to Jesus Christ by our living. Then we are preparing ourselves and our neighbors for the end of the world. Whenever it comes, we are ready. 

As the angels who attended the Ascension told the Apostles, we do not need to stare up at the heavens. What Jesus Christ has already done is a sure and certain thing. We do not have to watch it to make it true. So, also, is Christ’s Second Coming a sure and certain thing, making it completely unnecessary to watch for Christ’s return as if watching will make it so or change the timetable that God has established from before he created the world.

God will have his way. He will have the redeemed as his image and likeness in a fellowship of love forever. Jesus Christ has already made this so. Our job is to start living that fellowship right now, as much as we are able, knowing that God in heaven has already decided when he will make our lives perfect by sending his Son in his glorious manhood to bring this world to its perfect conclusion in him.

"Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven"