“And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.”Acts 1:9, ESV
The complete line in the creed is “He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.”
One of the great days on the Church calendar is Ascension Day. It has fallen into the dark recesses of theological thinking in modern American Evangelicalism. Yes, we sing with all our might, “Our God reigns!” Yet we fail to live as if this is true. The reality of it is that most Christians believe the IRS reigns over the Church. The fear of losing our tax-exempt status has relegated preaching to general platitudes. We are to be bold. We are to be fearless. We are to say that we don’t care about getting tax exemptions for our donations. We give to God because it is the right thing to do. (I could go on about giving practices, but I will refrain myself.) Test yourself. Test your faith. Do we seek the kingdom of God first?
The ascension of Jesus Christ to the right hand (the authority) of God was the coronation of the King of the Universe. Our God does reign! If we believe it, we will expect our pastors to preach the word of God. We need to know what God thinks of our government and those who run it. We need to know what God says about abortion, the family, homosexuality, welfare, and more. And we need to stop being apologetic about it all. We are the subjects of the King of kings. What have we to fear? Nothing!
“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?”Romans 8:32–35, ESV
In the 1970s, comedian Flip Wilson used to say, “The devil made me do it,” to get a laugh. In a sense, Eve was the first to use such an excuse for her disobedience in the Garden. Nevertheless, there have always been stories of supernatural evils performed by the devil and his demons. My issue with all of these stories, from the Salem witch trials to Satan’s bible, is that we give the devil too much credit. But he was utterly defeated by the death of Jesus Christ on the cross.
“And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—”Jude 6, ESV
Talk of the devil and his power has led to all sorts of evil. But let’s tell the truth. The devil is in chains. He was put there by the King. When we are tempted to do wrong, it is our own sinful nature leading us astray. We are responsible for what we think, say, and do. And the reign of Christ ends with the judgment of the unjust. Judgment befalls us all.
“Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”1 Corinthians 3:12–15, ESV
The ascension of Christ marks the beginning of the reign he earned by conquering sin and death. For me, the Day of Ascension should be celebrated right up there with Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. It used to be that Christians gathered for worship on Ascension Day. I cannot say that this is not done anymore, but I can say that when I was ordained in the Christian Reformed Church, the attendance at such a service dwindled just like Sunday night worship. When I was called by a Presbyterian church as her pastor, there was no thought whatsoever about either of these services. Today, my heart breaks that most Christians act like God is only worth an hour of our time each week.
Christ is our King. The King has separated one whole day each week when we are to put aside all our worldly activities and bow in the courts of Christ Jesus. Only then will we have grown spiritually enough that we can stand against the evil in our world. When we are transformed into dedicated followers, disciples, if you will, of Jesus, we can turn the tide and impact the false religion of humanism. Such a stand is what seeking the kingdom of God entails.
I have one final comment. One of the reasons the Church has become relevantly impotent is due to the heresy called Dispensationalism. I was raised with a Scofield Bible in my hand. I attended a Dispensational college. One of the problems with Dispensational theology is that it is solely focused on the future Kingdom of Christ, and it doesn’t credit the current Kingdom. I once heard the famous J. Vernon McGee ask his radio listeners, “Do you polish brass on a sinking ship?” The answer to this rhetorical question is supposed to be no. But there are some problems with the premise behind the question.
The implication is that the world is the sinking ship. Therefore, the Church and her members have no obligation to work to improve society. You see, the Dispensationalist is taught that we are going to “jump ship” before it sinks entirely by means of a rapture. Thus, who really cares if the government mandates we either get vaccinated or lose our job? Certainly not Christians. The outlook of a Dispensationalist is pessimistic at best. It doesn’t feel that way because we’re going to a “better place.” But what is the mission of the Church? It is not to make believers because only the Holy Spirit can do that. It is to make disciples by teaching them to obey all Christ commands. In other words, to become servants of the King in his Kingdom.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’”Matthew 25:31–45, ESV
It appears that we are to “polish brass” because the ship is the Lord’s, and he is not about to let it sink. The “end of the world” is the end of the world of humanism and the sin that follows. I don’t know of a Scripture anywhere that says the created earth is going to be destroyed. God said it was good after he created it. The sin of man did not eradicate the goodness of God’s creation, nor could it. The sin of man is the breaking of the image of God in man. You see, Jesus came to redeem, not to completely destroy.
“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”Romans 8:20–21, ESV
I have continued on long enough to hopefully help my brothers and sisters more fully appreciate the doctrine of the ascension of Christ to his Throne. The end of the world is not near. Every day that Christians grow deeper in the Word, they move farther away from their sin and become obedient servants of Christ. And, Jesus is coming again. Seems to me that our most important function right now is to polish that brass for his arrival.