My thesis for this fifth Wednesday in Lent is that the ascension of Jesus Christ is the greatest event in the history of the world.
If we took a vote of the greatest events that make up this series, this is the one that would easily finish last. Indeed, I’ve long referred to this as the Rodney Dangerfield of Christ’s acts: it gets no respect.
How can I say that? Look how we celebrate Christmas. And venerate Good Friday. And rejoice on Easter Sunday. Then, forty days later—always on a Thursday in the spring, which doesn’t help—Ascension Day arrives to, by most Christians, a yawn.
Yet, that the Lord Jesus left the earth and returned to heaven is the event under which we are living, and a vital reason we can be Christians—that we are able to know the Father by faith through the One who is the Way and the Truth and the Life (John 14:6).
After His resurrection, Jesus now lived in a body that could no longer die, was glorified, and was spiritual. He now transcended the laws of this natural world. He could eat, but didn’t have to eat to live. He would never get tired. He could walk through walls. He could transport Himself from one place to another—snap—just like that, as He did after walking Easter evening with those two chaps on the way to Emmaus (Luke 24:13ff).
Why couldn’t Jesus have hung around longer than forty days? Wouldn’t it be cool if He were here on earth for us, the way He was before His crucifixion?
That’s the problem. It would be cool. And that Jesus lived and died and was resurrected wasn’t to be cool, but to be lifesaving.
If Jesus had not ascended to heaven, His disciples would have hung around Him. They would not have wanted to go out into the world to spread the Good News about Jesus the Savior. Jesus would have been a rock star, the miracle worker—as when He multiplied the loaves and fishes—whom people would only have wanted as their Burger King.
No one would have been moved to go out and spread the Good News that Jesus is the Savior. The Lord would have to shoo them, and they would easily drift back, looking for His next mind-boggling act, their next free meal, the healing they desire.
And if He were still with us now, He’d be this miracle-working man who never dies. He would be a two-thousand-year-old curiosity. We would turn Him into a circus sideshow.
If Jesus had not ascended to heaven, He would not have taken His place at the right hand of God the Father, the position of power and authority He earned by wearing our flesh, dying in our flesh, and being raised from the dead.
If Jesus had not ascended to heaven, the Holy Spirit would not have descended from heaven, meaning there would be no people being born again of water and the Spirit, as Jesus says is the only way we can enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5-8).
Baptism would not have its power of rebirth and renewal in the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:4-6). Jesus could not fulfill His promise to feed us on His body and blood in His bread and wine Supper (Matthew 26:26 & 28).
The Word of God would have no effect on sinners. There would be no repentance of sins through faith in Jesus Christ. Why? The Holy Bible would not have been completed. There would be no New Testament, because the disciples would not have gone forth in the power of Pentecost, because Pentecost would not have happened.
Following Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter, the ascension to heaven of Jesus Christ is the greatest event in the history of the world because it gives saving benefit to His birth, death, and resurrection. Having ascended and taken His seat of power at the right hand of the Father, Jesus puts His life, death, and resurrection to work. On Pentecost—ten days after He ascended—He sent the Holy Spirit. The Spirit put power into the Gospel (Romans 1:16) to convert sinners to saints. Baptism has power to unite with Christ. Holy Communion has power to dine with and upon Christ.
At the right hand of the Father, the Lord Jesus fulfills His promise, “Whoever confesses me before others, I will confess that one before my Father in heaven (Matthew 10:32).” Picture it: at the right hand of the Father, your Lord Jesus tells Him, “That one belongs to us. Nothing shall separate that one from us (Romans 8:39).”
The Lord Jesus’ ascension is a vital aspect of His glorification, the glory He earned by laying down His life for the sins of the world, the glory that results in His ascending “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come (Ephesians 1:21).”
Even more, in Christ’s ascending to heaven “God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way (Ephesians 1:22-23.”
If He had remained on earth, Christ would not fill everything in every way. He would not have taken the power given Him by His Father. In many and various ways, in these paragraphs we have seen why the ascension of Jesus Christ was the next of the greatest events in the history of the world.
Through this greatest of events, the Lord Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit to earth. The Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel. By the gift of faith, you live in the forgiveness of sins earned by your Lord Jesus, the eternal life He grants to all believers, and the salvation from death, devil, and damnation.
The Son of God was born in the flesh of us humans, died for our sins, was raised to new life, and ascended to power and glory in heaven so that He would live with you and you with Him.
And so you do.
And so you do!
These are the days in which you live, under the ascended and reigning King of the universe, who has performed the greatest feat in the history of the world by bodily leaving the world so that He could fill the world with His spiritual presence to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20).
But, this can’t remain the greatest event in the history of the world, because the world simply cannot go on as it is, and, besides, Jesus has promised one, final, glorious greatest event. Amen.