The Meaning of Jesus’ Ascension (Luke 24:44-53)


Sermon by Daniel L. Sonnenberg | June 1, 2014


Text: Luke 24:44-53.

  • Continuing in the series of the life and ministry of Christ.
  • Today’s message on the ascension of Christ based on sermon by Philip Graham Ryken, “He Ascended Into Heaven,” (Luke 24:49–53).
  • Good writers know how to finish as well as they start.
  • For example…The Road Not Taken, BY ROBERT FROST
  • Begins – Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both and be one traveler, long I stood….
  • Ends – Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.

  • This is typical of a great work of literature: the beginning and the end are constructed to fit together harmoniously.
  • The conclusion brings things full circle, reminding us where things began while at the same time showing how much progress has been made.
  • There is a sense of completion, but also a sense of movement, and usually the future is full of promise.
  • Most of the books in the Bible end as well as they begin, and the Gospel of Luke is no exception.
  • Luke may have had a journalist’s love for facts, but he also had a poet’s love for style.
  • His gospel ends where it began: at the temple in Jerusalem – the place where people went to meet with God.
  • Back at the beginning, Zechariah the priest was in the holy Place, offering incense on the altar (1:5-23).
  • Here at the end we are back at the temple again; only now there is a large crowd of worshipers joyfully praising God for Jesus Christ.
  • The salvation that was only anticipated at the beginning has now fully come.
  • Another way to see how the beginning and the ending of Luke fit together is by comparing the “coming” or advent of Christ to what might be called the “going” or ascension of Christ.
  • Luke begins with the story of the first Christmas – the coming of the Son of God.
  • But he ends his gospel with the story of the Ascension, with Jesus Christ rising and returning to heaven.

The ascension.

  • The “going” of Christ reaches a dramatic climax at the end of Luke’s Gospel.
  • In the days and weeks following his resurrection, Jesus had been appearing to his disciples, and then disappearing, only to reappear again.
  • But he had promised that according to the Scriptures, it was necessary for him to “enter into his glory.”
  • How did this happen?
  • Luke simply tells us in vv 50–51 that “Jesus led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them.”
  • And while he blessed them, “he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.”
  • This was his visible departure from earth and triumphant return to heaven, from which he will return on the last day to judge the world.
  • Luke describes this miraculous event more fully in the Book of Acts.
  • There we are told that Jesus was with his disciples for 40 days, preaching the kingdom of God and giving many proofs of his resurrection.
  • At the end of that time, Jesus took his disciples to a place where they had spent much time together, the Mount of Olives.
  • Near Bethany, the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.
  • While they were there, Jesus ascended into heaven.
  • This was not like the other sudden disappearances Jesus made after the resurrection.
  • This time he did not simply vanish, but ascended into heaven, rising from their sight into a cloud.
  • The cloud represented the presence of God and gave the ascension an air of finality.
  • This represented the consummation of Christ’s earthly work,
    • and indicated to his disciples that his mission was accomplished,
    • that his work among them had come to a decisive end. (Leon Morris)
  • Because Jesus ascended into heaven in bodily form, we can have faith in the ascension of our bodies as much as we have faith in the resurrection of our bodies.
  • The same Christ who was born and suffered in the body also ascended in the body.
  • We believe in the bodily ascension of the crucified, risen, and glorified Christ.
  • This means that our own humanity has been exalted to the place of highest possible authority with him.
  • And one day we will see him for ourselves.
  • Thomas Boston said, “Since he will never lay aside the human nature, we will see, with our eyes,
    • the very body which was born by Mary at Bethlehem,
    • and crucified at Jerusalem,
    • the head that was crowned with thorns,
    • the face that was spit upon,
    • the hands and feet that were nailed to the cross,
    • all shining with incomparable glory.

A parting gift.

  • In the meantime, Jesus has given us two precious blessings – the blessings he gave his disciples when he ascended into heaven:
    • a parting gift and a farewell benediction.
  • These are both things that people often give their friends when they say goodbye, especially if they will be gone for very long time, perhaps never to see them again.
  • The parting gift Jesus promised to give is the best of all gifts.
  • As he said to his disciples in verse 49,
    • “I am sending the promise of my father upon you.”
    • “But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
  • Of course Jesus meant the Holy Spirit himself.
  • By giving them the Spirit, he gave his disciples the very power of God.
  • The word “promise” is the perfect word to use here because God had long promised to send his people the Holy Spirit.
  • God’s word had promised long ago, not only…
    • that the Christ would die and rise again,
    • and that there would be preaching of repentance
    • and the offer of forgiveness to all nations,
    • but also that he would send the Spirit to his people.
  • For example, in Numbers 11: 29, God took the spirit of Moses and gave it to his 70 elders.
  • When that happened, Moses said he wished that God would pour his spirit out on all
  • Ezekiel said that God would put his Spirit in people’s hearts (36:27).
  • Joel said that in the last days God would pour his spirit on all his people: men and women, young and old 2: 28–29).
  • And Jesus promised the coming of the Spirit John 14:16–17.
  • The gift of the Holy Spirit is the promise of God – a gift that would come only if and when Jesus returned to the father.
  • The gift of the Spirit is absolutely essential and totally necessary for effective ministry.
  • As we see in v. 48, Jesus was sending the apostles out to be his witnesses to the world.
  • As they preached repentance and forgiveness of sins they were totally dependent on the work of the Holy Spirit.
  • Without the Spirit, not even the preaching of the gospel would have any effect on people, because faith in Jesus and repentance are gifts of the Holy Spirit.
  • No one ever comes to faith in Christ without his regenerating work.
  • But Jesus has sent us the Spirit he promised to send.
  • He knew that we could never make it on our own; we need the power of God for ministry and for missions.
  • Since the day of Pentecost the Spirit has been with his people, clothing us with power from on high.
  • So that even our feeble efforts to share the gospel can bring people to salvation.
  • We can remain encouraged, believing that whatever we do for Jesus may yet succeed by the Holy Spirit, who is the power of God.

A farewell benediction.

  • With the parting gift of the Holy Spirit came a second blessing – a farewell benediction.
  • Look at v. 50. “Lifting up his hands he blessed them and while he blessed them, he departed from them and was carried up into heaven.”
  • This is the perfect way for Luke to end his Gospel.
  • It matches the way Luke began, with Zechariah’s blessing for the people of God in Luke 1:68–69.
  • The pronouncing of a benediction is an ancient tradition.
  • When Aaron was ordained to serve as the high priest of Israel, he lifted up his hands for the people and blessed them… and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people (Lev 9: 22–23).
  • This became the tradition for all of Israel’s priests.
  • The famous words of their traditional benediction are still used in the church as we will hear at the end of our service today.
  • So we too are under the blessing of Jesus.
  • That is the meaning of the benediction at the end of a worship service.
  • Whenever a minister pronounces the benediction, Jesus’ blessing is repeated.
  • It’s as if Jesus himself was lifting his hands over us to bless us.
  • He’s giving us strength for ministry, comfort in suffering, and hope for the future.
  • He is calling us to serve as a blessing to the nations.

Implications of the Ascension.

  • These are the two precious blessings Jesus gave to his disciples at his ascension: the parting gift of the promised spirit and his own farewell benediction.
  • The gift and the blessing are closely related, for they signify the ongoing presence of Christ with his church.
  • However, this is only the beginning of all that could be said about the implications of the Ascension.
  • Although most people rarely think about what it means that Jesus ascended into heaven, the reality of his ascension is full of comfort and joyful strength for daily Christian living.
  • The ascension of Jesus Christ means the forgiveness of our sins.
  • Now that he is ascended to heaven, Jesus is our advocate at the throne of God’s justice, pleading that the eternal judge will have mercy on our sins.
  • As our defense attorney, so to speak, he raises his wounded hands in the courts of heaven as the proof that the price of our guilt is fully paid – see Hebrews 9 verse 24.
  • At the same time, the ascension means the answer to our prayers.
  • The Bible says that Jesus is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them – Hebrews 7 verse 25.
  • It’s because Jesus ascended into heaven that he is able to present our requests before the throne of God’s grace.
  • The ascension of Jesus also guarantees the effectiveness of our evangelism and the ultimate triumph of the gospel around the world, for in ascending to heaven, Jesus sent the Spirit.
  • Now, by the Spirit, people all over the world are turning away from their sins and worshiping the ascended son of God.
  • The ascension means that Jesus is closer to us than ever.
  • Jesus told his disciples that actually it would be advantageous for them if he left and went to heaven, because then the Holy Spirit would come and enable them to do even greater works than he had done.
  • In his resurrection body, the person of Jesus could not be present in all places at all times.
  • But by the Holy Spirit he is with us always.
  • Yet the Spirit could not come to us unless he was sent by the Father and the Son, and he would not be sent until the Son returned to the Father.
  • Rather than keeping us farther away from Jesus, the ascension actually brings him closer to us. His bodily absence means his spiritual omnipresence.
  • Also, the ascension is the promise of our own exaltation to the presence of God.
  • Without the Ascension, there could be no second coming, and without the second coming, no return to heaven for the people of God.
  • When Jesus ascended into heaven, the angels told the apostles that he would come back to earth the same way that he departed – with heavenly clouds of glory.
  • When he returns at his second coming, Jesus will take us up to heaven with him, in our own resurrection bodies.
  • His ascension is our ascension, just as his resurrection is our resurrection.
  • As it says in the famous Easter hymn of Charles Wesley –
    • “soar we know where Christ has led,
    • following our exalted head;
    • made like him, like him we rise;
    • ours the cross, the grave, the skies. Alleluia!”

A benediction of our own.

  • Finally, whenever the truth of our own ascension has captured peoples’ minds and hearts, they have responded with praise.
  • Maybe that is why the disciples worshiped with such great joy in the days and weeks following the ascension.
  • The first time Jesus told them how soon he would be leaving, they were filled with sorrow.
  • Yet when he ascended into heaven, vv 52–53 tell us “they returned to Jerusalem with great joy and were continually in the temple blessing God.”
  • Having witnessed his ascension, they knew for sure that he was the Christ, the divine son of God, and that therefore he was worthy of all their worship.
  • Anyone who knows the same Jesus, will have the same joy, the same longing, and the same gratitude.
  • Anyone who does does know him can worship him.
    • Worship him for his miraculous virgin birth.
    • Worship him for his perfect obedience in temptation.
    • Worship him for his powerful miracles.
    • Worship him for his teaching.
    • Worship him for the love he showed in seeking all the lost and lonely people we meet in the gospel – sinners just like us, in all of their spiritual need.
    • And worship him most of all for his saving work: his courageous sufferings, his atoning death, his triumphant resurrection, and last of all, his glorious ascension.

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