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You could not make this up.

Ascension Day was last Thursday, May 26, 2022, a principal feast of the Church year. Without our Lord’s ascension, He could not have sent His disciples the Holy Spirit on that first Pentecost, which is the Church’s birthday.

In 2022, we read Luke’s Epistle and Gospel accounts of that miraculous event of Jesus returning to His Father to sit on His right hand in glory.

However, Anglican clergy chose not to discuss that.

On May 29, the Daily Mail reported that the Archbishop of Canterbury opined on social media instead. Another clergyman discussed colonialism.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

Social media is polarising society and destroying the ‘common narrative’ of the Christian story uniting Britain, the Archbishop of Canterbury warned yesterday.

Justin Welby criticised online platforms for giving people ‘a very loud voice’ and creating colliding ‘waves’ of opinions.

The Archbishop, who has 173,000 Twitter followers, said social media had led to the erosion of shared experiences.

‘People don’t know the narratives and the stories of the Christian faith – the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the Lost Sheep,’ he added.

And whose fault is that?

Anglican pronouncements are no better than an op-ed page in an average newspaper. They tell us nothing about the Gospel story.

Here’s another secular perspective, from the Dean of Trinity College Cambridge, the Reverend Dr Michael Banner.

This was his Ascension Day message:

A leading clergyman has accused Christianity of spreading colonialism around the globe – and wants the Church of England to make reparations for its ‘corporate and ancestral guilt’.

Preaching in an Ascension Day service broadcast on Radio 4, the Reverend Dr Michael Banner said Christians had marched around the world, ‘subduing and rendering it one vast kingdom hand in hand with merchants and colonialists’.

Dr Banner, Dean of Trinity College Cambridge, said Christ urged disciples to be his witnesses, but added: ‘We were not witnesses, but a scandal.’ He told worshippers at St Martin-in-the-Fields, central London on Thursday: ‘Now is the time for moral repair and reparations.’

In September, he became the first clergyman to call for the Government to make reparations, but said it was not ‘a demand for a pile of cash’ but ‘a holistic healing of the wounds of colonialism’.

Well, there you go. There is much spiritual enlightenment there for Ascension Day, wouldn’t you agree?

It is highly unfortunate that Banner omitted that it was an English MP, William Wilberforce, a Yorkshireman, who made it his life’s ambition to abolish slavery.

Wilberforce became an Evangelical in 1785 and began looking at the world entirely differently, all thanks to his Christian faith. He became England’s leading abolitionist. His 20-year campaign in Parliament resulted in the Slave Trade Act of 1807.

Even when he left Parliament in 1826 because of ill health, he continued to campaign against the evils of slavery. He died three days after the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 was passed.

Wilberforce was also instrumental in persuading the US Navy to co-ordinate interdiction efforts with the Royal Navy off the coast of West Africa in an effort to stamp out slave trade.

I did like the way the Mail‘s piece on Banner’s sermon concluded:

Last week, black commentator Calvin Robinson told The Mail on Sunday he was blocked from becoming an Anglican priest because he refused to endorse the view that the Church of England was racist.

Indeed. Here’s my message to senior C of E clergy: mote, meet plank.

Readers can learn more about Calvin Robinson’s sad situation that has caused him to join a less judgmental and more traditional Anglican movement, GAFCON, here.

francisco_camilo_-_ascension_-_-672x1024-1Ascension Day, which is remembered 40 days after Easter, therefore, always on a Thursday, is May 26, 2022.

The Spanish artist Francisco Camilo painted Ascension in 1651. It can be seen at the Museu Nacional d´Art de Catalunya in Barcelona. (Image credit: canadiancatechist.com)

Readings for this important feast day can be found here.

My exegesis for the first reading, Acts 1:1-11, is here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 24:44-53

24:44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you–that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”

24:45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,

24:46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day,

24:47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

24:48 You are witnesses of these things.

24:49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

24:50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them.

24:51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.

24:52 And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy;

24:53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Unlike the other three Gospel accounts from the Resurrection to the Ascension, Luke’s is quite short, although it contains some of the same events, including our Lord’s giving the Apostles the Great Commission.

That said, it is worth keeping in mind that Luke also wrote the Book of Acts, which recounts the Ascension in the first chapter: the first reading for this feast day.

John MacArthur explains the various Gospel accounts:

When you come to chapter 24 … indeed, Jesus Christ came; the Son of God suffered, died, rose again the third day; and provided forgiveness of sins in His name. So the Book ends having proven what it promised at the beginning.

Since He died and rose again, He is the Son of God, He is the Lord, He is the Redeemer, salvation is accomplished, forgiveness of sin is available; and now you go tell the world. And by the way, Luke moves quickly to his conclusion. Verse 43 ended the night Jesus arose when He met with His disciples. On that first day of the week, the third day after He was crucified, you remember He appeared to the disciples that night. And to prove that He was literally physically alive, He took a fish and ate it.

And then Luke moves in verse 44 to the final commission and the ascension. Luke tells us nothing about the forty days, nothing at all. Jesus made many appearances to His own during the forty days; at least ten of them are indicated in the New Testament. Luke doesn’t tell us anything about them in his history.

However, in the book of Acts, which is Luke’s second volume of history, which tells the story of how the apostles and the disciples obeyed the Great Commission, he opens the book of Acts in chapter 1 by telling us about the Lord’s appearances during those forty days, and thus he overlaps and interlocks these two histories. So he comes all the way to the ascension here; and then when he starts Acts, he backs up, describes what happened in the forty days, and retells the ascension in detail, so that this is one history overlapping and interlocking. It’s one story, and it’s a story you will notice from verse 44 that goes clear back to Genesis, this one great, vast, unfolding mural of redemptive history. So the words of our Lord here in verse 44, very likely spoken at the end of forty days. Luke 1 tells us it was forty days that Jesus appeared to His disciples before He ascended.

It’s not unusual for Bible writers to vary their approaches. John gives us details about our Lord’s appearance in Galilee during those forty days. If you want to know about the Lord appearing to the disciples, the most interesting description of it is in John 21. But John tells us nothing about the ascension.

Matthew tells us nothing about the ascension either; doesn’t even mention it. But he tells us more about the Great Commission. And this is the beauty of Scripture. You put it all together and you get the whole picture.

So these final words are designed to launch the history of the proclamation of the gospel. You say, “Well how does it relate to us?” Well, the baton just keeps passing generation, to generation, to generation, to generation. This is our time to be obedient to this commission.

Jesus told His disciples that He had told them while He was with them — during His ministry — that everything written about Him in Scripture, in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms, must be fulfilled (verse 44).

Then Jesus opened the disciples’ minds to understand the Scriptures (verse 45).

Matthew Henry’s commentary elaborates on the importance of those two verses:

(1.) He refers them to the word which they had heard from him when he was with them, and puts them in mind of that as the angel had done (Luke 24:44; Luke 24:44): These are the words which I said unto you in private, many a time, while I was yet with you. We should better understand what Christ does, if we did but better remember what he hath said, and had but the art of comparing them together. (2.) He refers them to the word they had read in the Old Testament, to which the word they had heard from him directed them: All things must be fulfilled which were written. Christ had given them this general hint for the regulating of their expectations–that whatever they found written concerning the Messiah, in the Old Testament, must be fulfilled in him, what was written concerning his sufferings as well as what was written concerning his kingdom; these God had joined together in the prediction, and it could not be thought that they should be put asunder in the event. All things must be fulfilled, even the hardest, even the heaviest, even the vinegar; he could not die till he had that, because he could not till then say, It is finished. The several parts of the Old Testament are here mentioned, as containing each of them things concerning Christ: The law of Moses, that is, the Pentateuch, or the five books written by Moses,–the prophets, containing not only the books that are purely prophetical, but those historical books that were written by prophetical men,–the Psalms, containing the other writings, which they called the Hagiographa. See in what various ways of writing God did of old reveal his will; but all proceeded from one and the self-same Spirit, who by them gave notice of the coming and kingdom of the Messiah; for to him bore all the prophets witness. (3.) By an immediate present work upon their minds, of which they themselves could not but be sensible, he gave them to apprehend the true intent and meaning of the Old-Testament prophecies of Christ, and to see them all fulfilled in him: Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures,Luke 24:45; Luke 24:45. In his discourse with the two disciples he took the veil from off the text, by opening the scriptures; here he took the veil from off the heart, by opening the mind.

Also:

The design of opening the understanding is that we may understand the scriptures; not that we may be wise above what is written, but that we may be wiser in what is written, and may be made wise to salvation by it. The Spirit in the word and the Spirit in the heart say the same thing. Christ’s scholars never learn above their bibles in this world; but they need to be learning still more and more out of their bibles, and to grow more ready and mighty in the scriptures. That we may have right thoughts of Christ, and have our mistakes concerning him rectified, there needs no more than to be made to understand the scriptures.

Jesus then said, ‘It is written’ — meaning that this was foretold in the Old Testament — that the Messiah would suffer then rise from the dead on the third day (verse 46), emphasising the truth of Scripture.

He instructed the disciples to preach the repentance and forgiveness of sin to all nations, i.e. including Gentiles, beginning at Jerusalem (verse 47).

MacArthur explains why Jerusalem was going to be a problematic starting point:

this was very, very difficult, because the Jews didn’t believe Jesus was the Messiah. The Jews had seen Jesus as utterly disqualified to be the Messiah, because He was the enemy of their religious system, their false religious system, which they thought was the true. Jesus was killed, rejected by the leaders, died, disqualified, had no army, triumphed over nothing. They had a theology of Messiah that only included the triumph and the glory; they didn’t have a theology that included the suffering, and dying, and rising again. They had totally missed that part.

So now the disciples and the apostles are going to have the responsibility to start in Jerusalem to overturn everything the people believed, to change everything. And they were going to have to convince the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah. How would you do that? You can’t use the New Testament, there isn’t any. And the one thing they did revere was the Old Testament. So what did they have to use? The Old Testament.

But they had shown a lack of understanding of the Old Testament. They had shown a severe lack of understanding of most of what Jesus said, even when He said it to them face-to-face in very simple, clear, straight-forward terms. They had been subject all their life to a rather inadequate, if not downright wrong interpretation of the Old Testament at the hands of their rabbis; and so they were in no position to rightly interpret the Old Testament unless somebody helped them. They needed a total correction of their theology and their hermeneutics.

So what’s so very, very important is this: They needed to understand that Christianity was not a disruption of Judaism, it wasn’t a new religion; it was continuity, it was the same great redemptive plan of God rolling through history; and that Judaism without Christ is a false religion, because Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. And so in order to get the gospel in its right context, in order to understand redemptive continuity and redemptive history, you’ve got to go back. And that’s exactly what He does. He says to them in verse 44, “These are My words, which I spoke to you while I was still with you.”

MacArthur cites a few of the relevant passages from the Old Testament, which has more:

The Old Testament promised the Messiah would come and the Messiah would be from the line of Abraham, the Old Testament, Genesis 12; promised that He would come through the tribe of Judah, Genesis 49; that He would come through the line of David, 2 Samuel chapter 7; that He would be born of a virgin, Isaiah 7:14; born in Bethlehem, Micah 5:2; that He would be betrayed by a familiar friend, as the psalmist puts it; that He would be beaten, spit on, beard pulled, gambling would take place for His clothing. He would be pierced, Zechariah 12, Psalm 22, Psalm 69. His death would be vicarious, Isaiah 53. And He would rise from the dead, Isaiah 53 end of the chapter, Psalm 16:8 to 11; many other details.

The Christ of gospel history did not invent Himself, nor is He the invention of a little group of people in the first century. He is the unmistakable fulfillment of divine prophecy. That’s at the heart, that’s at the foundation of the gospel. So we say that if you’re going to carry out the mandate of the gospel and fulfill your mission – and it is your mission – you must understand that as to its foundation, the gospel is Old Testament, biblical.

MacArthur addresses the importance of repentance and forgiveness of sins:

What is the provision that transforms? It is the forgiveness of sins. The gospel message to be proclaimed across the world, folks, is just one simple message: repent and ask for the forgiveness of sins in the name of Christ. That’s it.

We say, “You know, we want people to be saved.” And the obvious question is, “Saved from what?” From their sins, and the punishment of those sins that is everlasting in hell. This is our only message. We don’t have a social message. There are social implications in the gospel, because godly people behave differently. We don’t have an economic message. We don’t have an educational message. We have one message: forgiveness of sins. That’s it. And that’s what was laid out at the beginning.

Let me show you something … Back in chapter 1, verse 77 … in the prophecy of Zechariah, which sets the course of the Book. “He is coming” – this Son of God, the Messiah – “to give to His people the knowledge of salvation.” Okay? How they going to get that? How are they going to be saved? “By the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God.”

Another point to bear in mind that the Apostles, being Jewish, did not associate with Gentiles. Therefore, preaching to all nations was going to be another stumbling block.

MacArthur explains how this unfolds in Acts:

… the gospel now, while starting there and capturing the remnant, is to go to the world. It’s a very new idea to even Jewish believers. Gentile salvation was never popular with them. Testimony to that comes from Jonah, who chose to take a short ride on a big fish rather than go and preach to Ninevites, because he didn’t want them to repent and get in on the blessings that God provided Israel.

Even the early apostles seemed reluctant to buy into this global extent. Do you know there’s not really any evangelism of Gentiles. They started where they were supposed to. Matthew says, “Go into all the world.” And in Luke’s account, he says, “You are to be witnesses of Me in Jerusalem, Samaria, and the whole world.” But this was a hard pill for them to swallow, because they were basically anti-Gentile. And I think they were reluctant to think about this until Acts 10.

You see, the problem they had with going to the Gentiles was they were convinced that their religion, if they were faithful to it, isolated them from Gentiles. They couldn’t go to a Gentile house. They couldn’t eat with a Gentile utensil. They couldn’t consume non-kosher food. They couldn’t go into a Gentile country without being impure. So they had created this idea of holiness that isolated them.

So how were they going to do this and get across what they believed to be things that honored God? I mean it was God, wasn’t it, who gave them all the dietary laws. It was God who gave them all the restrictions that isolated them from the nations around them for their own preservation and protection. But God never intended it to cause them to be so isolated they wouldn’t take the truth of Him as the true and living trinitarian God to those nations. But they didn’t do that.

And they’re still confused, I think, because God has to come to Peter. God says to Peter – shows him a sheet full of all kinds of animals clean and unclean, and says, “Rise, Peter, kill and eat.” By the way, that is a meat-eater’s dream, that passage. For you vegetarians, you’ve got a problem there in Acts 10. “Rise, Peter, kill and eat.” So Peter says, “No, can’t do it. I’ve never touched anything unclean.” And this whole thing is a metaphor for how are you going to evangelize the Gentiles. You’ve got to get past this.

So they’re very reluctant. And God has to go into very dramatic means to get Peter to do what He wants him to do, and that is, “Go, give the gospel to a Gentile centurion named Cornelius.” That’s a big hurdle, huge.

Peter does it. Turn to Acts 10; and this is the first occasion, really, where they get past Samaria. They go to Samaria, remember, with Philip in chapter 8. The gospel is moving through Jerusalem in the early chapters, and it gets scattered belong Jerusalem. And how does God do that? Did they do it on their own? No, they don’t do it on their own. Chapter 8 begins with a great persecution brought against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered into Judea and Samaria.

You know, God had to scatter them, because it was so hard for them to go. Even Samaritans they despised. They despised them for what they thought was abandoning the truth of God and coming up with a false religious system, which they carried out on Mount Gerizim; and they were the half-breeds who betrayed their people, and their nation, and their heritage, et cetera, et cetera. And they had a hard time going there; that’s why no Jew ever walked through Samaria …

And the apostles finally got it, as we showed in chapter 10. In chapter 9, Paul is converted, and he becomes God’s very special tool to begin this massive enterprise of taking the glorious gospel to the Gentile world; and he launches his ministry in the thirteenth chapter of Acts. Paul understood Gentile salvation. It was explained to him at his conversion, right? Just read it in chapter 9: “You’re going to be a light to the nations.” He understood the responsibility that he had to go to the world.

Jesus told the Apostles that they were witnesses to these things (verse 48).

Henry says this means that they were not to be passive but active in their forthcoming ministries:

The instructions he gave them as apostles, who were to be employed in setting up his kingdom in the world. They expected, while their Master was with them, that they should be preferred to posts of honour, of which they thought themselves quite disappointed when he was dead. “No,” saith, he, “you are now to enter upon them; you are to be witnesses of these things (Luke 24:48; Luke 24:48), to carry the notice of them to all the world; not only to report them as matter of news, but to assert them as evidence given upon the trial of the great cause that has been so long depending between God and Satan, the issue of which must be the casting down and casting out of the prince of this world. You are fully assured of these things yourselves, you are eye and ear-witnesses of them; go, and assure the world of them; and the same Spirit that has enlightened you shall go along with you for the enlightening of others.”

MacArthur says that this act of witness also extends to us:

He can’t just be talking about the apostles, because they couldn’t get to the uttermost part of the earth. They would be dead long before the gospel ever got there. So this is to all of us. Sure the apostles are witnesses.

By the way, the word “witness,” martus, is used all through the book of Acts. “You are My witnesses. You are the ones I’m going to depend on to proclaim this. You, the first generation apostles and prophets” – apostles and disciples I should say – “you are the ones who know Me personally.”

The Apostles — and present-day witnesses — received divine help to spread the Gospel:

So the gospel is biblical, historical, transformational, Christological, global, personal, and finally, one more component: the gospel is supernatural as to its power, supernatural as to its power, because “the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly,” 2 Corinthians 10. The gospel of the King and the kingdom does not advance by human power, human creativity, human ingenuity, human cleverness. It doesn’t even advance by human zeal.

Jesus alluded to the divine power behind witnessing for the Gospel. He told the Apostles that He would be sending what God the Father promised, ‘power from on high’; therefore, they were to stay in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit arrived (verse 49). Some translations have ‘Behold’ instead of ‘And see’, indicating that the Apostles should pay special attention to His words.

MacArthur tells us why Jesus said that and how it was prophesied in the Old Testament:

Their responsibility to personal witnesses in the doing of this, they’ve got it all down, and they have the zeal and the passion and drive, and they’re ready to go.

But, verse 49: “And behold,” – it’s a surprise what he says, that’s why “behold” is there, it’s a surprise: there’s something you’re missing – “I’m sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you’re to stay in the city until you’re clothed with power from on high.”

“With all of that you have going for you, correct theology of the Messiah, the correct historical understanding of the Messiah, eyewitnesses of the death and resurrection of Jesus, with all that you know about the responsibility you have, proclaim the forgiveness of sin in the name of Christ, don’t go anywhere until you’re powered from on high. Don’t go. Even with all of this, you’re inadequate.”

“I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you,” epangelian. This is the only time this word is used, by the way, in the four Gospels. “I’m sending forth the promise.” It’s all over the book of Acts and the Epistles as the promise begins to unfold.

What is the promise? Promise of the Holy Spirit. Promise of the Holy Spirit. That’s the promise. And by the way, that promise also was given in the Old Testament. Listen to Joel 2:28, “It will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, young men will see visions. Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.” And on the Day of Pentecost, you remember when the Spirit was first poured out, Peter stood up and said, “What you’ve just seen is the fulfillment in part, in part.” Maybe a pre-fulfillment of the words of Joel; and he recites the very words that I just read to you.

But it isn’t just that passage. There are other passages that promise the coming of the Holy Spirit connected with salvation. You remember the promise in Ezekiel 36: “I will put My Spirit” – verse 27 – “within you, cause you to talk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. I will put My Spirit within you. That’s a prophecy connected to the New Covenant. Ezekiel 37:14, “I’ll put My Spirit within you and you’ll come to life.” Even in chapter 39, “I will not hide My face from them” – verse 29 – “any longer. I will have poured out My Spirit on the house of Israel.” The Old Testament promises then the coming of the Holy Spirit. And so our Lord says, “Don’t go anywhere until that prophecy is also fulfilled.”

You remember that in the New Testament in that last night in the upper room, John 14, Jesus said, “The Spirit has been with you. He shall be in you. You’ve had power; you’ve been given authority and power. You’ve had power; you will now have full power.”

John 20:22 says that on resurrection Sunday Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” They didn’t have that reception then, this was by way of promise. Forty days later, or during the forty-day gap, He repeats that: “I’m sending forth the promise.” And the Spirit actually came on the Day of Pentecost, ten days after the ascension of Jesus.

Then we come to our Lord’s ascension, His return to Heaven.

Luke tells us that Jesus led the Apostles out of Jerusalem, as far as Bethany, and, lifting up His hands, He blessed them (verse 50).

MacArthur tells us more about Bethany, the home of siblings Mary, Martha and Lazarus:

We saw from verse 49 that they were in the city and he told them to stay there. Bethany is a suburb I guess you could say of Jerusalem. If you go out the eastern gate of Jerusalem and you’ll see the Mount of Olives and just a little to the south and over the edge of the Mount of Olives, you will arrive in Bethany. It is a little village on the back slope of the Mount of Olives. Literally, the original text can be translated, “He led them in the vicinity of Bethany.” Acts 1:12 says it was at the Mount of Olives. That is consistent. Just to the east of Jerusalem is the Mount of Olives, and just on the back slope of that hill is the little village of Bethany. I have a lot of memories of Bethany, having visited it a number of times. And what makes it so memorable to me is of course visiting Lazarus’ tomb there …

But that little village to this day is still a very simple and humble little village. It was a very familiar little village to Jesus. He had stayed there often during his ministry because he had a family there that he loved, two ladies, sisters, very famous, Mary and Martha, and their brother Lazarus whom he had not long before this raised from the dead. And during Passion Week it seems that he would stay there with that family if he wasn’t in the deeps of the Mount of Olives in prayer with his Father. So it was a very familiar place for him, and because of its proximity to Jerusalem, it was a great place to go to get away from everything, because it was the Mount of Olives, which is right there near the village of Bethany where the gardens were. People inside the city wall very often had gardens outside the wall, and of course Jesus went into the garden that we call Gethsemane. Olive press, olive trees covered that area. Still many exist today there. So it was a restful place. It was a park-like environment. It was a place that he had familiarized himself with many times in prayer.

And then of course during Passion Week it was there that he went with his followers after the Last Supper, and it was there that he agonized and sweat as it were great drops of blood in anticipation of his sin-bearing. It was there that they came and arrested him, and it was there that Peter pulled out his sword and there that he healed the servant’s ear. It would be there that the Mount of Olives that he would return. Zechariah 14:4 says, “He will come back in his Second Coming to the Mount of Olives.” So this little hill on the backside of Jerusalem has a very, very important place in God’s plan. And so he leads them out in fulfillment of Zechariah 14:4 because he’s going to leave and an angel’s going to come and say, “He’s going to come back the same way he left.” So it had to happen near Bethany at the Mount of Olives, because that’s where he’s coming back.

There Jesus blessed the Apostles, and while doing so, He withdrew from them and was raised up to Heaven (verse 51).

We can think of it as our Lord blessing the Apostles on Earth then, as He rose, blessing them from Heaven, as it were, although He was on the way there before He vanished from their sight. It was a continuing blessing for them. He would not — and did not — forget them when He returned to His Father.

Henry tells us:

While he was blessing them, he was parted from them; not as if he were taken away before he had said all he had to say, but to intimate that his being parted from them did not put an end to his blessing them, for the intercession which he went to heaven to make for all his is a continuation of the blessing. He began to bless them on earth, but he went to heaven to go on with it.

Of the blessing, MacArthur says:

So he led them out as far as Bethany, and then he lifted up his hands, which would be a common gesture for people to make upon offering blessing. By lifting up your hands, you’re pointing in the direction of the source of all blessing. “Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of lights.” And he lifted up his hands pointing toward heaven to symbolize the place from where all blessing descends, and he blessed them. I don’t want you to short circuit that statement, “He blessed them,” because I think sometimes we might think of that as some kind of a symbolism, some kind of a symbolic gesture. It isn’t that at all. It isn’t some kind of a mystical sign. When he blessed them, it simply means that he pledged to them blessing. Now, according to Ephesians 1:3, “We have been blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus,” right? According to Ephesians 2:6 and 7, the promise through grace is that God will demonstrate in Christ through all the ages to come his mercy and his kindness toward us. He will lavish us with the riches of his grace forever and ever and ever. And so I think what happened here, I think the last thing Jesus said was blessing. He had given them the commission; that’s responsibility, that’s duty. But the final word is the word of blessing. What would he have said? “Everlasting grace is yours. Everlasting mercy is yours. Everlasting salvation is yours. Comfort is yours. Peace, everlasting peace is yours. I pledge to you my care, my love. I promise you all the things again that I have promised you all along. I am going to heaven to fulfill all my promises to you.”

The Apostles worshipped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy (verse 52).

Henry says the Apostles’ joy was a sign that they were finally beginning to fully understand the prophecies of Holy Scripture:

This was a wonderful change, and an effect of the opening of their understandings. When Christ told them that he must leave them sorrow filled their hearts; yet now that they see him go they are filled with joy, being convinced at length that it was expedient for them and for the church that he should go away, to send the Comforter.

The Apostles were continually in the temple praising God (verse 53).

MacArthur explains the significance of the Ascension:

It marked the completion of his salvation work. It marked the completion of his salvation work. After the cross and the resurrection, there was nothing more to do to provide any aspect of salvation. That was summed up in the words on the cross, “It is finished.” “I glorified you on earth,” he said to the Father in John 17, “how having finished the work you gave me to do.” The work of redemption is done.

Secondly, it is the end of his limitation. He says in John 17:5, “Take me back to the glory I had with you before the world began.” He set aside the independent use of his divine authority and power to become a slave to the Father. When that was over, he came back to his preincarnate glory. He came back in once sense more than when he left. He left as Spirit; he came back as Theanthropos, the God man, whom he remains forever. And even when you go to heaven to worship him, according to Revelation 5, you’re going to see a Lamb who has been wounded.

Thirdly, the ascension marked his exaltation and his coronation. It was then that God gave him the name above every name, the name Lord and called on all to bow. Fourthly, it signaled his sending of the Holy Spirit. John 16:7: “If I don’t go, I can’t send the Holy Spirit.” “It’s better for you,” he said, “that I go so that I can send the Helper, the Holy Spirit who will be with you all the time. He has been with you. He shall be in you.”

Number five, his ascension marked the start of his preparation for our heavenly home. In John 14, when they were all moaning and sorrowing over his leaving, he saw it so very differently. “Do not let your heart be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many dwelling places. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself that where I am there you may be also.” He is there preparing our heavenly home.

Number six, the ascension marked the passing of the work of evangelism to his followers. That’s why the Book of Acts begins with Luke saying, “The former treatise, namely the Gospel of Luke, I wrote O Theophilus of all that Jesus began.” Yes, there is the finished work of Christ; that’s the redemptive work. The work of evangelism only began, and he passed the baton to his followers.

Number seven, the ascension signaled our Lord’s headship over the church. He, who is named Lord, he according to Ephesians 1 who is far above all rule, power, dominion, and authority is given as head over the church, which is his body in in which all the fulness dwells. He is exalted then to be Lord and ruler of his church, which embodies his person. That all is launched at the ascension.

Number eight, it marked his triumph over Satan. First John 3:8 says, “He came to destroy the works of the devil.” And in his triumphant coronation, the Father was affirming that he had done that destruction in full. The serpent’s head was crushed, and Christ is supreme. Hebrews 2 puts it this way: “He took away from Satan the power of death, by which he held men in bondage all their lives.”

Number nine, it signaled our Lord’s giving the work of ministry to gifted men. He was the gifted man with his disciples. He never seemed to pass the teacher’s mantle to any of them, but according to Ephesians 4:8, “When he ascended on high, he led captive a host of captives and gave gifts to men.” Because of his work, when he ascended into heaven, he had provided a salvation that would capture souls who would be given back as gifts to men, some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastor-teachers for the equipping of the Saints for the work of the ministry. So in his earthly provision of salvation, he secured the salvation of all future leaders of the church who would be given to the church for its own edification to make it strong for the work of evangelism.

And then as we’ve indicated, number ten, the ascension marked the start of his high priestly work. He now ever-lives to intercede for us. He is our advocate before the Father no matter what accusations are brought against us by Satan and his emissaries. “Who is going to lay any successful charge against God’s elect? Not Christ who justified us. He has been in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” So he’s a “sympathetic and merciful High Priest,” the writer of Hebrews says, “who can come to us and nurture us in all our struggles.”

And finally, the ascension guarantees and secures his Second Coming. “He has been taken from you but he will come in like manner as you have seen him go,” Acts 1:11. What an amazing event. Talk about something worth celebrating. If we can go all the way from the birth of Christ to the ascension of Christ, from his arrival to his departure, we’ll get a picture of the whole thing. He is exalted by his ascension, crowned as Lord. He sends the Holy Spirit. He begins to prepare our eternal home. He takes the headship of the church. He defeats Satan. He passes evangelism and ministry to his followers. He begins the blessed work of intercession on behalf of his people and stands ready to return in God’s perfect time. Yes, in the words of Paul to the Corinthians, “He who was rich became poor, divesting himself of all heaven’s riches, that we through his poverty might be made rich.”

Some of us will be going to church, where possible, on Ascension Day. Others are likely to have the Ascension Day readings this coming Sunday.

Ascension Day has never really been given the universal glory in worship that it deserves. It is to be hoped that more churches will offer services on this important feast day, withouth which we would not been able to have the first Pentecost and the Holy Spirit resting upon all believers from that point forward.

May all reading this have a blessed Ascension Day.

File:Himmelfahrt Christi.jpgThe feast day of the Ascension of the Lord is Thursday, May 13, 2021.

The painting at left is German, Himmelfahrt Christi (The Ascension of Christ), by Mattheis Störbel. It was painted between 1515 and 1519 and is in the Deutsche Museum Nürnberg. This is likely to be the only depiction of the Ascension showing our Lord’s feet alone. (Image credit: Wikipedia)

Relevant posts follow, including the readings:

Readings for Ascension Day (same regardless of Lectionary year)

Ascension Day 2016 (John MacArthur on Acts 1-11)

A Reformed view of the Ascension (Christ as prophet, priest and king)

Acts 1:9-11 on the Ascension (addresses errors of preterism)

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Acts 1:1-11

1:1 In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning

1:2 until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.

1:3 After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

1:4 While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me;

1:5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

1:6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”

1:7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.

1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

1:9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

1:10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.

1:11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Commentary is from John MacArthur.

The first verse should be no mystery, although I hope that celebrants everywhere explain to their congregations that Luke is the author of the Book of Acts, or Acts of the Apostles.

John MacArthur gives us the details:

Luke is the author of Acts. And Luke was closely associated with the apostles from about the time of Jesus’ death, around 30 A.D. to about 60 or 63 A.D. when evidently he penned this book; and in those intervening 30‑plus years, as Luke travelled in the companionship of the apostles, he penned what was going on …

Now, there are many reasons that Luke wanted to write this, and we could, perhaps, pull out as many reasons as there are truths in the book. It’s important, because it gives us the pattern of the church. It’s important, because it shows us the pattern of world evangelism. It’s important, because there are principles of discipleship. It’s important for a multiplicity of reasons. But in Luke’s own mind, as he is writing, he is directing this book to a particular Roman high official whose name we shall see in a moment; and in writing to this man, he is evidently – as one of his purposes – attempting to commend Christianity to the Roman world.

MacArthur tells us about Theophilus:

Now, if you go back to the beginning of Luke and look at chapter 1, verse 3, Luke addresses this gospel to Theophilus. He says, “To write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things wherein thou hast been instructed.” Luke wrote Luke, the gospel of Luke, to Theophilus, and we know that. Now, here in chapter 1 of Acts, verse 1, he says, “The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus,” so we know it’s the same writer

Now, picking just a moment, some thoughts from the name Theophilus, which is a combination of two words meaning beloved of God, or friend of God, or lover of God. Theophilus we know little or nothing about except historically. In the second century, his name appears, and is some indication in the second century sources that he was an influential wealthy official in Antioch. There’s also some indication that Luke was originally from Antioch, and therefore Luke had a knowledge of this man; and perhaps because he was a well‑known physician had some connection with Theophilus.

Undoubtedly, Theophilus had become a believer; and consequently Luke had addressed these particular volumes to Theophilus to give him information, as he states in Luke, concerning Jesus Christ that he might well understand the things in which he had been instructed. So evidently he had come to Christ, and now he needed detail; and perhaps Theophilus was a man who demanded detail. Also the fact that he commends Christianity to the Romans would be in back of his mind as he writes to a Roman like Theophilus.

Now, we may also assume from Luke chapter 1, where he calls him “excellent Theophilus,” that he was a high-ranking Roman official, for the term “excellent” also appears in connection with Festus and Felix who were governors. So it is very likely that this man Theophilus was a very high-ranking Roman official who had come to Christ; and it is this one to whom Luke pens this two-volume set on the work of Jesus Christ, His work on earth and His work through His church, Volume 2. And you’ll notice that this is indicated very simply in verse 1. It says this: “I’m writing to you about all that Jesus” – what’s the next word? – “began, began to do and to teach.” In other words, “I only got it started.” Jesus on earth in the gospel accounts only began to do the work.

Luke writes that his first book — the Gospel — was about the ministry of Jesus up to His ascension to heaven, having given Spirit-inspired instructions to the Apostles, whom He had chosen (verse 2).

Readers of the New Testament know that the Apostles, especially Peter, did not understand the purpose of His ministry very well. Jesus knew that He needed to send them the gifts of the Holy Spirit, otherwise they would not be able to expand the Church.

MacArthur explains Luke’s use of ‘taken up to heaven’, repeated in verses 9 and 11:

Verse 9 emphasized it. It say He was taken up, verse 11 says He was taken up, and verse 22 says He was taken up. And the Holy Spirit is trying to tell us something: He was taken up. Physically in His glorified body, Jesus went up into heaven.

… the same Jesus Christ in the same glorified body that was touched by those disciples is sitting at the right hand of the Father, no different than He was when He left …

When He comes back He’ll be the very same that He was when He left. That’s why we can have confidence in what the writer of Hebrews says that we have not a high priest that cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities. He knows how we feel, because He’s there even now in a glorified body.

After His resurrection, Jesus continued appearing to the Apostles — eleven in number — teaching them about the kingdom of God (verse 3).

Jesus no longer appeared to everyone, as He had done before He was crucified. He appeared only to His disciples.

Luke says that Jesus told His disciples not to leave Jerusalem but to wait until God fulfilled His promise (verse 4): a baptism not of water, as in John the Baptist’s time, but of the Holy Spirit (verse 5).

That baptism of the Spirit would be a first. MacArthur explains how the Holy Spirit operated through prophets previously:

in the old economy, the Spirit would come and go according to the need. If you’re going to do a special work, the Spirit would come in, and then when the work was done He would depart.

The Old Testament says the Spirit of God descended upon Elijah then the Spirit of God departed. This is how the Spirit of God worked, never indwelling, but just moving in-and-out for a specific purpose. But the promise now is that the Spirit will come and be in you. That’s John 14:17, one of the really key verses in all the Word of God.

Note that when they gathered around Jesus before His return to the Father, the Apostles asked if He was going to restore Israel’s kingdom (verse 6). They were still thinking temporally, not spiritually.

Jesus deflects that by saying that only God the Father knows when He will accomplish His purpose according to His timeline (verse 7).

He then returns to discussing the imminent arrival, ten days hence, of the Holy Spirit which will enable the Apostles to be Christ’s witnesses, not only in the lands nearest to Jerusalem but also ‘to the ends of the earth’ (verse 8).

MacArthur paraphrases that verse:

“Don’t concentrate on when I’m coming; you concentrate on doing the job until I get there.”

He discusses the word ‘witness’ in Greek, from which we get the word ‘martyr’, and applies it to Westerners’ practice of Christianity today:

It’s interesting; the word “witness” here is martures. “Witnesses unto me” is mou martures, “My martyrs, My martyrs.” For some of you maybe it’ll be that. So many Christians died that the word “witness” finally came to mean martyr. So many of them died. Are you willing?

It’s sad; not only are we not willing to die for Jesus, most of us aren’t even willing to live for Him. We haven’t even learned not only what it is to be a dead sacrifice, but we haven’t learned what it is to be a living sacrifice.

Do you know what it is to be a living sacrifice? I think maybe Hosea knew a little bit about it when he said, “I’ll offer God the calves of my lips,” – in other words – “the real me.” I think Abraham knew what it was about when he went to sacrifice Isaac. Isaac would have been a dead sacrifice; Abraham would have been a living one. He was sacrificing all of his dreams, and promises, and everything God had ever given him when he slew that son. But he was willing to do it for God’s sake.

And that’s what a living witness is all about; that’s what a martyr is all about. God doesn’t necessarily want you to die for Him, but He wants you to live for Him as if you couldn’t care less about anything, sacrificing everything you have for His glory: a living witness, a living martyr, a living sacrifice.

As soon as Jesus had spoken about the Apostles’ upcoming mission, He was ‘lifted up’ and a cloud took Him out of their sight (verse 9).

As He ascended — returning home — the Apostles looked upward, when, suddenly, two men in white robes appeared beside them (verse 10).

The two men ask why the Apostles were looking heavenward, then say that Jesus will return to us in the same way that He left (verse 11). What a glorious day that will be.

The rapid growth of the Church was the result of the Holy Spirit entering into the Apostles, then those to whom they preached, not just for a time, but throughout their lives, just as we do:

The early church did it right. They did it from the day of Pentecost for thirty years. And you can follow the church by the blaze of their witness: super-charged with divine power. Witnessing fearlessly to the world, they turned the currents of civilization, they changed the face of the ages for God; and they had no more equipment than you have – none at all.

Admittedly, the Apostles did have particular Spirit-led gifts, such as healing. These were only for the Apostolic Era in order to spread the growth of the Church.

MacArthur’s sermon ends with this:

My grandfather had a poem written in his Bible, and I memorized it; and it goes like this: “When I stand at the judgment seat of Christ and He shows me His plan for me, the plan of my life as it might have been, and I see how I blocked Him here and checked Him there and would not yield my will; will there be grief in my Savior’s eyes, grief though He loves me still? He would have me rich, but I stand there poor, stripped of all but His grace, while memory runs like a haunted thing down a path I can’t retrace. Then my desolate heart will well nigh break with tears I cannot shed. I’ll cover my face with my empty hands, I’ll bow my uncrowned head.” Then this prayer: “O Lord, of the years that are left to me, I give them to Thy hand. Take me, break me, mold me to the pattern that Thou hast planned.”

I don’t know how much time we have, but I know whatever you do for Christ needs to be done today, because Jesus is coming. Christian, do you see it? Chapter 1, verse 1 to 11. You’ve got it all, you’ve got it all. It’s only a question of your will.

There is much for us to contemplate between Ascension Day and Pentecost Sunday — the Church’s birthday — in ten days’ time.

Thursday, May 21, 2020, commemorates the Ascension of the Lord.

Our Lord’s disciples saw Him ascend to Heaven to return to His Father, where He sits at God’s right hand forever.

These posts have more about this significant day in the Church calendar:

Readings for Ascension Day (same regardless of Lectionary year)

A Reformed view of the Ascension (Christ as prophet, priest and king)

Ascension Day 2016 (John MacArthur on Acts 1-11)

Acts 1:9-11 on the Ascension (addresses errors of preterism)

The disciples rightly marvelled at the Ascension and were full of joy. It is impossible to imagine the glory they witnessed at that moment.

Later, they were also understandably at a loose end in the days that followed. It was a bittersweet time. They missed their Friend, their Teacher, their Saviour. They had no idea what the first Pentecost would be like ten days later.

Some of us who adhere to events in the Church calendar might share the disciples’ feelings. I know I do.

Therefore, the following posts, citing resources from James A Fowler’s Christ In You Ministries site on what he calls Resurrection Theology will help revive the joy we felt at Easter. I have also included a Lutheran resource on the same principle:

Remembering the reality of the risen Christ

Are we bypassing the risen Christ?

A call for Resurrection theology

Christianity IS the Risen Christ

Unlocking the meaning of the Gospel

The extension of the risen Christ

A Lutheran application of Resurrection theology

These help us to keep the joy of the Resurrection alive in our hearts long after Eastertide ends.

Ascension Day is Thursday, May 30, 2019.

What follows are readings and meditations about Jesus’s ascent into Heaven, returning to His Father:

Acts 1:9-11 on the Ascension (addresses errors of preterism)

A Reformed view of the Ascension (Christ as prophet, priest and king)

Ascension Day 2016 (John MacArthur on Acts 1-11)

Readings for Ascension Day (same regardless of Lectionary year)

I hope these help to enhance the significance of this important feast day.

Pentecost comes in ten days’ time.

Ascension Day is Thursday, May 10, 2018.

The feast of Christ’s return to Heaven is always on a Thursday and ten days before Pentecost Sunday.

The following post discusses the significance of the Ascension, as it points to Christ being Prophet, Priest and King:

A Reformed view of the Ascension

Below are the readings for the Ascension of the Lord, which are the same regardless of liturgical year. Emphases mine below.

In the first reading, Luke — the author of the Gospel and Acts — addresses the latter book to his friend Theophilus. I have more on this passage in the following posts:

Ascension Day 2016 (John MacArthur on Acts 1-11)

Acts 1:9-11 on the Ascension (Jesus will come again on the last day, which was not the destruction of the temple in 70 AD)

Acts 1:1-11

1:1 In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning

1:2 until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.

1:3 After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

1:4 While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me;

1:5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

1:6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”

1:7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.

1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

1:9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

1:10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.

1:11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

A choice of Psalms is offered. If Christ had not ascended to Heaven, He could not have sent the Holy Spirit on that first Pentecost. Therefore, this is a feast of joy. ‘Selah’ at the end of verse 4, means ‘pay close attention’:

Psalm 47

47:1 Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy.

47:2 For the LORD, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth.

47:3 He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet.

47:4 He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah

47:5 God has gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.

47:6 Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.

47:7 For God is the king of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm.

47:8 God is king over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.

47:9 The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted.

This is the alternative Psalm with the same themes:

Psalm 93

93:1 The LORD is king, he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed, he is girded with strength. He has established the world; it shall never be moved;

93:2 your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting.

93:3 The floods have lifted up, O LORD, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring.

93:4 More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters, more majestic than the waves of the sea, majestic on high is the LORD!

93:5 Your decrees are very sure; holiness befits your house, O LORD, forevermore.

The Epistle is from Ephesians, where Paul deftly explains the power of Christ and the gifts of the Holy Spirit:

Ephesians 1:15-23

1:15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason

1:16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.

1:17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him,

1:18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,

1:19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

1:20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,

1:21 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 age to come.

1:22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church,

1:23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Luke also included the Ascension in his Gospel (see ‘The Ascension’ above verse 50):

Luke 24:44-53

24:44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you–that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”

24:45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,

24:46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day,

24:47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

24:48 You are witnesses of these things.

24:49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

24:50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them.

24:51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.

24:52 And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy;

24:53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

I cannot imagine what it would have been like to witness the awe and majesty of the Ascension — as well as the promise of that first Pentecost.

Sunday, May 28, 2017 is Exaudi Sunday, which comes between Ascension Day and Pentecost.

My post from 2013 explains more about this particular Sunday, considered to be a very sad one by Jesus’s disciples because He had returned to His Father in heaven.

These days, as far as I know, only traditional Lutherans refer to this day as Exaudi Sunday. However, it was once a widespread term in the Church.

Exaudi is Latin, from the verb exaudire (modern day equivalents are the French exaucer and the Italian esaudire). It has several meanings, among them: hear, understand and discern, as well as heed, obey and, where the Lord is concerned, grant. The French version of the Catholic Mass uses exaucer a lot, as do hymns: ‘grant us, Lord’.

Exaudi Sunday is so called because of the traditional Introit, taken from Psalm 17:1. The two first words in Latin are ‘Exaudi Domine’ — ‘Hear, Lord’.

The New Testament readings for Year A in the three-year Lectionary are Acts 1:6-14, 1 Peter 4:12-14 and 1 Peter 5:6-11. The Gospel reading is John 17:1-11.

Commentary follows, emphases mine.

Acts 1:6-14

1:6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”

1:7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.

1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

1:9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

1:10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.

1:11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

1:12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away.

1:13 When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.

1:14 All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

It is important to know that St Luke wrote the Book of Acts — Acts of the Apostles. John MacArthur explains:

And Luke was closely associated with the Apostles from about the time of Jesus’ death, around 30 A.D., to about 60 or 63 A.D. where evidently he penned this book. And in those intervening 30‑plus years, as Luke travelled in the companionship of the Apostles, he penned what was going on. And the story of the book of Acts is the beginning of the church at Jerusalem and its explosion until it reaches the capital of the world, one of those uttermost parts of the earth, the city of Rome.

Note that the disciples still believed that Jesus was a temporal ruler of sorts (verse 6). Jesus responded, saying that only God the Father knows when that time will come (verse 7). Furthermore, they did not realise the full import of the power of the Holy Spirit that would soon descend on them days later at that first Pentecost (verse 8).

Suddenly, Jesus ascended to heaven (verse 9). Two angels appeared to explain what just happened (verse 10), saying that He will return again in the same way. They were talking of the Second Coming.

MacArthur states the importance of the Ascension:

That means that right now in this month in this year … the same Jesus Christ in the same glorified body that was touched by those disciples is sitting at the right hand of the Father, no different than He was when He left.

You say, “You mean He’s up there in that same body that walked on the earth, that same body that the disciples felt and touched and ate with and talked with, that same Jesus Christ in that same form is sitting at the right hand of the Father?” That’s exactly what I mean. He was taken up. And the proof of the pudding comes in verse 11 when it says this same Jesus who was taken up shall what? Shall so come in like manner as you see Him go. When He comes back He’ll be the very same that He was when He left.

Jesus’s friends and family returned from Mount Olivet to Jerusalem to pray (verses 12-14).

As I explained in 2013, Jesus had told them this would happen. All of His words on this subject are in the Gospels. My post has an exposition of the related verses as well as a warning about putting them into a postmodern context.

Believe what the New Testament says. Christ will come again in glory. Make no mistake. Unbelievers will be shaking in their boots on that fateful day wishing they had never been born.

1 Peter 4:12-14

4:12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

4:13 But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.

4:14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.

These verses have historical as well as contemporary significance. Peter wrote this letter some time in 64 AD, John MacArthur says. He explains that was the year when Nero fiddled and Rome burned:

The fire spread fast, and although it began on that day it lasted three days and nights, and it broke out again and again even though they tried to check it.  The Romans actually believed that Nero was responsible for burning their great city and their homes.  Why?  Because Nero had this strange fixation with building, and he wanted to build a new city and so they believed that he burned down the old one.

To divert blame away from himself, Nero accused the Christians, which worked in his favour:

Publicly he blamed the Christians for burning Rome.  It was an ingenious choice, frankly, on his part because the Christians were already the victims of hatred and already the victims of slander.  They were connected with Jews in the minds of most people who had been dispersed in the diaspora.  And since there was a rather growing anti-Semitism, it was easy to have an anti-Christian attitude as well …

Christians perished in a delirium of savagery at that time, and even lynching became very common.  Within a few years Christians were imprisoned, racked, seared, broiled, burned, scourged, stoned and hanged.  Some were lacerated with hot knives and others thrown on the horns of wild bulls.

This is the ‘fiery ordeal’ to which Peter refers in verse 12. Peter then tells his flock to rejoice in the face of brutal persecution, because believers will rejoice when they finally see Christ’s glory revealed.

Going further, Peter says that the Spirit of God, that of glory, rests upon the persecuted (verse 14).

MacArthur offers this analysis:

The point here is to expect suffering, expect it, don’t be surprised at it, don’t think it’s some strange thing, expect it.  Peter has consistently through this epistle said that persecution for the Christian in various forms is inevitable.  It is inevitable.  In fact, the surprise would be if it didn’t come … Godly lives lived in an ungodly world confront that world, and we become a kind of unwelcome conscience that is distasteful.  And, if we name the name of Christ loudly enough, we become offensive.  The goodness alone of a Christian can be an offense to a wicked world.  And when you add to that the proclamation of the name of Christ, we become particularly offensive.  It’s as if Peter is saying suffering is the price of discipleship. 

Also:

In view of our precious salvation, he said early in the epistle, suffering is nothing.  In view of our present situation, suffering is very important because how we react to it determines how effective our evangelistic testimony is.  And in view of Christ’s personal Second Coming and our ultimate salvation, it isn’t even worthy to be compared, said Paul, with the glory which shall be revealed in us.  So, are we are understanding already this far in the epistle that Peter is concerned that we see suffering in a right perspective.

Now for the meaning of suffering for Christ:

Suffering for the sake of Christ reveals who’s genuine, right?  The phonies aren’t going to hang around.  That’s why through the years we have always said the persecuted church is the pure church …

Readers who have been following my posts on the Book of Acts know about the purification of the church through suffering and persecution, from Stephen the first martyr to Paul the Apostle. Peter himself was martyred.

MacArthur explains persecution from Peter’s words:

if you can expect it, you can waylay its initial impact.  It’s part of God’s design.  It’s the way He proves the genuineness of your faith and it’s the way He purges your life.  It takes out all the pride and all of the sort of self, the illusion of self-control, the illusion that you can control your world and all of its responses.  It strips you and makes you totally dependent on Him, and that’s a good process.

The second thing that Peter wants to say to us is to rejoice in it.  Not only are we to expect it, but when it comes we’re to rejoice in it.  Notice verse 13 and 14.  “But to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exaltation.  If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you’re blessed because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”  Now, just take that little phrase in verse 13 “keep on rejoicing,” present tense, keep on rejoicing.  This is the right attitude in the midst of persecution.  This is the right attitude in the midst of affliction, rejection, anything the world brings against you for the sake of righteousness and for the sake of the name of Jesus Christ.  Any of that which comes against you should be cause for rejoicing.  Remember the words of our Lord?  Listen to this, Matthew 5:10 through 12: “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  If you’re being persecuted for righteousness, it’s evidence that you belong to the kingdom of heaven.  “Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely on account of Me.  Rejoice and be glad.”  That is a strange one, isn’t it?  “Rejoice and be glad for your reward in heaven is great and that’s the way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  You’re in good company.

Regarding the Spirit of God:

What it says is that when you suffer, God’s presence rests on you.  And God’s presence comes in the form of His Spirit, the Spirit who is glory in His essential attribute, even the Spirit who is God.  My, what a tremendous, tremendous truth.  The Spirit of glory, yea, the Spirit of God.  As the Shekinah rested in the tabernacle and the temple long ago, so the Shekinah glory of God, the Holy Spirit in glorious splendor and power rests upon suffering Christians. 

Now, what does the word “rest” mean?  What is that talking about?  Well, simply to refresh by taking over for you.  Rest, in the sense of refreshing by taking over, by becoming the dominant power in the midst of your suffering …

In the midst of the severest persecution and suffering, God grants a special dispensation of the presence of His Holy Spirit, and He rests on the believer, which means He takes over.  And the mind transcends.

MacArthur points to Stephen the first martyr as being a perfect example. I wrote about Stephen’s apologetic and his stoning in my concluding discourse on Acts 7.

1 Peter 5:6-11

5:6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time.

5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.

5:8 Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.

5:9 Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.

5:10 And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.

5:11 To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.

Peter exhorts his converts to humble themselves before God so that He may raise them up when the time comes (verse 6).

We are to cast our anxiety before God, the only One who cares for us (verse 7).

In the meantime, we are to increase our self-discipline, keeping ourselves on the watch for temptation and worldliness (verse 8). Satan never sleeps.

Therefore, we must resist Satan and remain strong in the faith, just like our fellow Christians (verse 9).

God is always aware of those who suffer in His name. He is the God of all grace and will restore those suffering temptation and persecution (verse 10). May we glorify God and His almighty, everlasting power over sin and suffering (verse 11).

John MacArthur analyses Peter’s letter as follows (emphases mine):

So Peter says then that the building blocks of spiritual attitudes include submission, humility and trust.  Now let’s move on tonight to the things that are ahead of us.  Starting in verse 8 we find the fourth necessary attitude for spiritual maturity, an attitude of self-control, an attitude of self- control … 

It means to be in control of the issues of life, having the priorities of life in the proper order and the proper balance.  It requires a discipline of mind and a discipline of body that avoids the very intoxicating allurements of the world … 

Abraham, through the eye of faith, understood spiritual priorities and didn’t get himself tangled up with earthly enterprises

Look at verse 8.  The reason we have to have our priorities right, the reason we need to trust God, the reason we need to humble ourselves under His almighty hand, and the reason we need to submit to those in authority over us and to God Himself is because our adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.  Peter says be on the alert, be on the alert.  Not only sober minded, not only having your priorities right, but watchful.  It’s an aorist imperative, stay awake, be ready, be alert, watch out.  Now strong trust in God’s mighty hand, strong trust in God’s care, strong confidence that we can cast all of our anxiety on Him does not mean carelessness and it doesn’t mean indulgence.  It doesn’t mean that because we trust God and because we throw all our care on Him that we become indolent and lazy and let down our guard or we will become victims of the enemy.  The outside forces that come against us demand us to be alert, vigilance.  The enemy, by the way, is very subtle.  According to 2 Corinthians chapter 11 he disguises himself as an angel of light and his ministers as angels of light.  He very rarely shows himself for who he isHe almost always masks himself as a religious personality, almost always endeavoring somehow in some way to be able to approach you subtly so that you can’t recognize the reality of who he is

He’s always active and he’s always looking for an opportunity to overwhelm us.  His aim is to sow discord, to break fellowship, to accuse God to men, to accuse men to God, to accuse men to each other, to undermine confidence, to silence confession, to get us to stop serving God.  He’s always after us.  He is called in John’s gospel three times the prince of this world.  He commands the human system …

In another sermon, MacArthur explains that Peter says not to attack Satan but to remain firm on the side of godly faith and truth.

Furthermore, we endure this battle together as believers, trusting God:

Suffering is a way of life as God is accomplishing His holy perfecting work in you.  Just look at the goal, he says, and realize everybody’s in it …

Wherever he comes from and in whatever form and manner, the solution is the same, spiritual weapons, stand in the truth, trust God.  And in my trust in God I go to prayer and I let the commander fight the battleIf I know the truth and obey the truth and commit my life to God, I stand strong.

MacArthur points out that Peter is not talking about daily grace from God but the grace He gives us to resist temptation:

while you are being personally attacked by the enemy, you are being personally perfected by God.  It’s personal. Himself[,] He’s doing it.  Marvelous thought.  He is intimately involved in the suffering of our lives.

God Himself is there battling and through the battle you become perfect, confirmed, strong and established.  Submission, humility, trust, self-control, vigilant defense, and hope. 

John 17:1-11

17:1 After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you,

17:2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.

17:3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

17:4 I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.

17:5 So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

17:6 “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.

17:7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you;

17:8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.

17:9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.

17:10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.

17:11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

The first ten verses are the initial part of what is known as the High Priestly Prayer. I wrote about them in 2014 for a Maundy Thursday post, as Jesus spoke the words in John 17 at the Last Supper. You can also read parts 2 and 3.

As we approach Pentecost Sunday, we should find today’s Exaudi Sunday readings encouraging and uplifting, in spite of the worldly and vicious clamour around us.

jesus-christ-the-king-blogsigncomThis year Ascension Day falls on May 25.

The feast of the Ascension is always on a Thursday, 40 days after Easter.

Here are past posts about Christ’s return to His Heavenly Father:

Acts 1:9-11 on the Ascension

A Reformed view of the Ascension (Christ as prophet, priest and king)

Ascension Day 2016 (John MacArthur on Acts 1:11)

I feel bad when I read of people who think this was a made-up event. In fact, I read a post on it just a few weeks ago by someone claiming to be ‘spiritual’.

I hope the aforementioned posts will convince those who are doubters that Christ had to ascend to heaven in order for the Holy Spirit to be present at the first Pentecost.

Incidentally, this coming Sunday is known in the Lutheran church as Exaudi Sunday. You can find out more in the post below:

Exaudi Sunday: between the Ascension and Pentecost

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.

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:

Acts 1:9-11 on the Ascension

A Reformed view of the Ascension

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.

In 2015, Ascension Day falls on May 14.

The Feast of the Ascension is always on a Thursday — 40 days after Easter — and ten days before Pentecost Sunday.

The Sunday between the two is known as Exaudi Sunday, particularly in Lutheran denominations. My 2013 post cites a beautiful sermon from my cyberfriend Dr Gregory Jackson of Ichabod which explains more.

On Ascension Day, the faithful recall Christ’s rising to heaven in order to send the disciples — and us — the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday. From that point, we were — and continue to be — in the ‘last days’, awaiting His coming again in judgement.

My 2013 post on the Ascension ties together Acts 1:9-11 with other passages from the New Testament which demonstrate that Christ will indeed return in glory. This event did not occur with the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, as preterists would have us believe.

Today’s post looks at a Reformed — Calvinist view — of the Ascension by Dr Kim Riddlebarger, pastor of Christ United Reformed Church (Anaheim, California) and co-host of The White Horse Inn radio broadcast.

A few years ago, Riddlebarger wrote an article for Modern Reformation called ‘Jesus Christ — our Prophet, Priest and King’.

He tells us that John Calvin brought the theological concept of munus triplex to prominence in Protestantism and says that the Lutherans later adopted it. Munus triplex states that Christ’s offices are threefold; He is our prophet, priest and king.

A later Calvinist reformer Francis Turretin took this Christological concept and tied it to the human condition (emphases mine below):

The threefold misery of men introduced by sin — ignorance, guilt, and tyranny and bondage by sin — required this conjunction of a threefold office. Ignorance is healed by the prophetic; guilt by the priestly; the tyranny and corruption of sin by the kingly office. Prophetic light scatters the darkness of error; the merit of the Priest takes away guilt and procures a reconciliation for us; the Power of the King removes the bondage of sin and death. The Prophet shows God to us; the Priest leads us to God; and the King joins us together and glorifies us with God. The Prophet enlightens the mind by the Spirit of illumination; the Priest by the Spirit of consolation tranquilizes the heart and conscience; the King by the Spirit of sanctification subdues rebellious affections. (5)

Riddlebarger provides copious biblical evidence as to why Christ is still our prophet. With regard to the Ascension:

Christ’s prophetic work does not cease, however, with the end of his earthly ministry at his Ascension. As Louis Berkhof notes, Christ “continues His prophetical activity through the operation of the Holy Spirit. His teachings are both verbal and factual, that is, He teaches not only by verbal communications, but also by the facts of revelation, such as the incarnation, His atoning death, the resurrection and ascension.” (7) Christ is the one who sends the Holy Spirit, and as the Spirit of Christ, he is the one who “will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment” (Jn 16:8). As Christ is the Word incarnate, and the central figure in biblical revelation, so too we cannot divorce the work of his Spirit from the written word. Since Christ fulfills the office of prophet, and since he continues to speak to us through his word — and only through his word — the Reformed are very reticent to give any credence to supposed “words from God,” or “words of knowledge” from modern day schwärmer such as Pat Robertson or Benny Hinn who repeatedly make such claims to speak forth Spirit-led utterances.

Throughout the Old Testament we find references to a coming priestly Redeemer ordained by God. Our Lord’s role as high priest did not end when He ascended to Heaven. Riddlebarger explains:

Jesus Christ presently intercedes for us when we sin (1 Jn 2:1-2). While we are correct to focus on what Christ has done for us as our high priest, we must not forget those things he is doing for us even now. He prays for our sanctification (Jn 17:17). He is now our “great high priest who has gone through the heavens,” so too we can now “approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb 4:14-16). Even now, our great high priest is building us “into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pt 2:5). What comfort we can take, knowing that our Lord is in heaven, preparing for us to see his glory (Jn 17:24). For the great high priest who intercedes for us never sleeps nor wearies, he never prays without full effect, and he is ever mindful of our continuing struggles with the world, the flesh, and the devil (Heb 2:18). Jesus Christ is both the author and the finisher of our faith (Heb 12:2). He is our great high priest and the good shepherd, who even now guards his flock. No one shall ever snatch us from his hand (Jn 10:28-29), and nothing will ever separate us from his love (Rom 8:37-39).

Concerning Christ as King, Riddlebarger rightly takes issue with certain Protestants who ask people to make Him their Lord when that is not a matter of human choice and dispensationalists (rapture believers) who purport that His divine kingship does not occur until the end of the world.

Riddlebarger says:

The Scriptures plainly declare that”the Lord has established his throne in heaven and his kingdom rules over it” (Ps 103:19). We don’t make Christ anything — He is the Lord over his creation. His throne is in heaven, and he is king over creation. This kingship is therefore to be seen as”his official power to rule all things in heaven and on earth, for the glory of God, and for the execution of God’s purpose of salvation.” (11) If Christ is not presently ruling in this capacity, we must ask ourselves, just who exactly is minding the store? Reformed theologians usually argue that there are two aspects to this kingly rule. The first is Christ’s regnum potentiae (kingdom of power) and the second is the regnum gratiae. Unlike the dispensationalists, who argue that Christ delays the full manifestation of his rule in this present dispensation, the Reformed argue that Christ presently exercises full dominion over all, even now. He is king and his kingdom is presently a kingdom both of grace and of power. He is in full control and he is ordering all of human history as he sees fit. This means that at his Ascension, Jesus Christ ascended to the right hand of his father and even now rules over all of creation (regnum potentiae) and over his church (regnum gratiae).

He provides numerous verses from Scripture to support this position.

Therefore, the importance of Ascension Day is as follows:

If the Scripture bears witness to Christ (Jn 5:39), then the Holy Spirit, who is Scripture’s divine author (2 Tim 3:16), will open our minds and our hearts to hear our Lord’s voice as we read his word (Jn 16:12-15; Acts 16:14). This is what theologians have historically spoken of as illumination. Since we are blind to the things of God, the Holy Spirit must provide the understanding we need through the Scriptures. Thus, Christ our prophet certainly speaks to us today though the pages of his word. In fact, whenever the minister of the word opens the Scripture for us, there is a profound sense in which Christ our prophet is speaking to us through his word every bit as much as if he himself were standing in our presence and speaking these words audibly. Therefore in Scripture, God’s word written, we find a voice that is certain, not like the extemporaneous musings of those today who claim to speak for God.

Similarly:

The same pattern holds true for Christ’s priestly work. Not only has Christ done what is necessary for our salvation through his sinless life (his active obedience) and through his sacrifice for sin (passive obedience), but at this very moment he has assumed his place at the right hand of his Father where he now intercedes for us

Christ’s kingly office provides us with a wealth of comfort and assurance. For while the nations rage one against another; while the earth groans beneath our feet; while there is sickness, disease, and economic hardship (Mt 24:3 ff.) Even now our Lord is ruling and reigning, until he makes his enemies his footstool (1 Cor 15:22-27). And so while unbelievers may look around at these world conditions and see the apparent chaos as an excuse to scoff, saying “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?” (2 Pt 3:3-4), the believer can take heart, for the signs of the end are exactly that. The tumult we see around us is, in fact, proof that Christ is reigning and that he is directing all of history toward a great and final consummation, when he will come with great glory with his angels, as the great conquering king (1 Thes 4:13-5:11).

I hope this gives us food for thought and reassurance on Ascension Day.

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