This Thursday, May 18, 2023, marks 40 days since Resurrection Sunday. That historical moment is called Ascension Day, the day Jesus left the earth for heaven.
But for most followers of Christ, Ascension Day is uncelebrated, unnoticed, even unknown. As one reader told us, “I was not even aware of a celebration of Ascension Day until last year. Goodness! What an important day to observe and celebrate.”
We know the Easter story, but do we know the ascension story? For centuries too many have missed this critical event that deserves a bit of hoopla of its own—for at least four major reasons.
1. The ascension of Christ signals Jesus’ momentous completion of His Father’s will and work here on earth.
God always works precisely and intentionally, yet all that He did in those 40 days was not recorded. And don’t you wish we knew more of His work after the Resurrection?
We do know after the Resurrection that Jesus appeared many times to His followers. In that first week several appearances are recorded in the Gospel accounts. Then Paul records a list of others: “… He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time …” (1 Corinthians 15:5-6). It is clear He demonstrated His deity to hundreds. I imagine everyone listened intently to His every word, knowing He had risen from the dead. Wouldn’t you?
We can be sure Jesus continued to fulfill the Father’s purposes in those 40 days by preparing His followers for the church age to come. Then on that 40th day He spoke His most important last words: “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The baton was passed from His physical presence in a single location, a single body—to the Holy Spirit’s transforming presence in all believers from every tongue, tribe, and nation.
This command is often called the Great Commission. It’s the great responsibility of every believer to share the Good News of Jesus. When I was in college and learned about Jesus, I eagerly gave Him my heart and life. But I also learned almost in the next breath about the Great Commission, the opportunity that was now mine to be part of changing the world by introducing many to Him. It made sense … there were so many others just like me who didn’t know Him.
After college graduation I joined a ministry called Cru and have been part of a lifelong calling to make Him known. Just a couple weeks ago I traded texts with Jane, a woman who was one of my first disciples after God gave me the privilege of telling her how she could know Jesus. And she’s been walking with Him ever since. It’s been a great joy to watch her from afar making a big impact as the women’s ministry leader at her church.
Celebrating Ascension Day means celebrating the wonder of His call to use each of us in ways as amazing and significant as His first century disciples.
2. Ascension Day also signals the beginning of Jesus’ intercession for us before the throne of God! Hebrews 7:25 tells us, “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” Every accusation made by our enemy, the father of lies, is met by the living Christ’s victorious rebuttal before the seat of all authority in heaven. Now that He resides in heaven once again, “God has highly exalted Him” (Philippians 2:9). What bold confidence that should give all of us who love Him—to know He is defending us always!
3. His Ascension opened the door for the sending of His Spirit. Jesus said plainly, “… I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7). I’ve written an entire post on this topic called, “Why the Holy Spirit Is Better Than Jesus,” not to divide the Trinity, but simply to explain the benefit to all of us that we have the Spirit who is in and with each one of us simultaneously while Jesus could only be in one place at one time confined as He was to a physical body.
There is so much more to say about the Spirit and His coming at Pentecost. But for now we are planning to release a Bible study on the Holy Spirit soon! Understanding the person of the Spirit and His work in our lives is crucial so join us for this new study.
4. Most exciting for me personally, the Ascension signals the commencement of a future-filled promise. John 14:3 reads, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself; that where I am you may be also.”For over 40 years I’ve carefully decorated and redecorated my own home; therefore this idea of a place prepared for me—by Someone who knows the depths of me better than I do—fascinates me.
Someone once said, “if He’s been gone two thousand years, what mansions must He be preparing for us for all those years, and He’s not finished yet!” It’s beyond my imagination. Still the simple hope of that beautiful glittering possibility reminds me to anticipate all that lies ahead with expectation and joy. The Ascension was simultaneously a striking ending and a marvelous beginning.
These four promises related to Ascension Day make me want to throw a party!
Remembering the benefits that are mine because of Ascension Day is a great encouragement to keep looking up because as the angels said to the disciples, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
Hebrews 12:1-2 tells us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.” This fits perfectly with Ascension Day. Where should I be fixing my eyes? On Jesus. And where is He? Up! He is in heaven, so lifting my eyes to heaven, looking up, brings hope to my soul in these days of immense change in our world.
May you find a way to mark this day in your life. Read the story in Acts 1. Remind your family or friends about this day and what it means for you as a believer. And for six specific ways to celebrate with your family, click here.
Happy Ascension Day!