Today — Thursday, May 5, 2016 — is Ascension Day, when Christians commemorate the moment when Jesus Christ left His disciples to ascend to heaven, returning to God the Father.
He then sent the Holy Spirit to them on the first Pentecost, which the Church celebrates in ten days’ time — a week from this coming Sunday.
Vanderbilt Divinity Library lists all the Lectionary readings, complete with text.
(Image credit: Feeding the Lambs)
The account of the Ascension is in the first 11 verses of Acts, the Epistle reading for this feast day. St Luke addressed the first verse to a Christian, Theophilus, stating that he (Luke) had written about all that Jesus had done and taught ‘from the beginning’. That refers to his Gospel.
Luke wrote that, when Jesus ascended to heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to instruct the disciples (verse 2). However, between His Resurrection and Ascension, He appeared to them ‘by many convincing proofs’, speaking of the kingdom of God (verse 3).
During that time, He told them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait there for ‘the promise of the Father’ (verse 4) which was the baptism with the Holy Spirit (verse 5). This refers to Pentecost and to the later ordinance — for Catholics, the sacrament — of Confirmation.
The disciples were eager to know when the kingdom of Israel would be restored (verse 6), but Jesus replied that only God the Father knew when that time would come (verse 7). They were not to concern themselves with that, but rather receive the Holy Spirit and be witnesses of Christ ‘in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’ (verse 8). And that is what happened.
Two of my previous posts discuss verses 9 through 11:
John MacArthur makes pertinent points about these first several verses of Acts, excerpted below (emphases mine):
You can never finish the work of Christ unless you know what the content of His message was. Wouldn’t it have been a horrible thing if the Lord had said, “Finish My work,” and never given us any information about it? But He’s given us the Word …
Make sure, people, that if we’re going to finish the work that Jesus began, we’re going to have to teach what Jesus taught, right? And Jesus didn’t stop teaching with the gospels. That’s why I tell you, I don’t like red letter Bibles. That assumes that only what Jesus said is important. Jesus taught all through the Epistles of Paul, did he not? Jesus taught all through the Epistles of John, James, Jude, Peter, and everybody else that wrote in the New Testament. The Lord continued to speak His truth, and it behooves us to know that truth.
Now, one note at the end of verse 1: “Jesus began to do and teach.” Did you notice that there’s an interesting parallel there? Whatever Jesus taught, He also what? Did. You know, this is the credibility factor, isn’t it? Don’t tell me what you tell me unless you show me that what you tell me is what you are. Practice what you preach …
Notice verse 3…I love this…talking of the apostles here, he says, “To whom also He showed Himself alive after his death”…that’s what His passion refers to…”by many infallible proofs being seen by them 40 days.” Stop there. Now Jesus knew it wasn’t enough just to have information. There had to be, to those apostles, a personal manifestation. And so He appeared to them at special and repeated intervals so that they might know that He was alive.
Then verse 8…then you will receive what? “Power after the Holy Spirit has come on you.” That’s why to wait. Because if you try to do it on your own, you wouldn’t have the energy. “You shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit”…that’s a classic use of the passive verb…”you shall be baptized.” You don’t earn it, you don’t generate it, you just get it from God sovereignly. There’s no effort involved. The Spirit of God descends and comes as the Father sends Him. And what happens? The result? Power.
Now, you see, it would be like Michelangelo saying, “Now MacArthur, I want you to finish this, but I’ll hold both your hands.” Oh, that’s different. Then it would be exciting, wouldn’t it? I mean then I’d feel like, “Wow, you know, I’ve held the hands of the master while he did his work. I’ve been a part of it.” And that’s essentially what God is saying here…what Christ is saying to his disciples…”I want you to finish My work. I’ll give you all the tools you need. And just to make it possible, I’m going to put My Holy Spirit inside of you, and He’ll do it through you” if you’ll yield to him.
The power to accomplish, the power to fulfill, the power to do the thing that God has given us to do, is the energy of the indwelling Holy Spirit … Releasing that divine power through the Holy Spirit …
So he gave us the proper message, manifestation, might, and mystery, and then fifth, the proper mission. While we’re waiting for Him to come, and as long as we’ve got the message and the manifestation and the might, or the power, what do we do? What is the Christian supposed to be doing? Verse 8…the middle of the verse…“And you shall be” what? “Witnesses unto Me, both in Jerusalem, in all Judea, and Samaria, and the outermost part of the earth.”
Incidentally, that is the outline of the Book of Acts. The first section deals with Jerusalem…Judea, the second with Samaria; and the third section of Acts from chapter 13 or 14 on deals with the outermost part of the earth. That’s the spread of the Gospel …
For Christians today, he has this message:
We cannot finish the unfinished work of Christ unless it flows out of a vital reality of Christ in our lives, unless we’re seeing and feeling and knowing and fellowshipping and sharing with Him.
Also, if we are to be proper Christian witnesses, we need to know Holy Scripture and base what we say on it rather than on our own happy experiences:
I’m not against giving out testimony because I’ve done it many times. But I’m just careful in my own mind to realize that true presentations of Christianity involve much more than a testimony. They involve proper content, and the truths of the Kingdom have to be there …
A more sure word than experience is the Word of the Scripture. We[‘ve] got to know the Word, or we can’t finish the work that Jesus began…it behooves us to study.
And it’s so easy. Sometimes you get trapped in that experience-centered Christianity, where all you’ve got to say to anybody is all about your experience, and there isn’t any content there. I mean this is my argument in one area with the charismatic movement as we see it today. It’s all experience. Everybody’s got an experience, but nobody knows anything about the Scripture. That’s a blissful ignorance of the Word of God.
If we are not experts on the Bible, let us begin to take gradual yet diligent steps, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to know it. We should strive to know where to go scripturally when someone asks us a question. And, these days, questions are many.
The Ascension was the first step in our Lord’s plan of sending the disciples — and us — the Holy Spirit. Let us rejoice and be glad.