Reading Ramblings – May 8, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: The Ascension of Our Lord (Observed) – May 8, 2016

Texts: Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

Context: This is technically the last Sunday (seventh) in Easter. However Ascension Day always falls in the middle of the week and is often unobserved. I think this is a big mistake, and so I’ve chosen to use the readings for Ascension Day on Sunday. The Ascension is important because it helps to complete what we have to say about our Lord’s incarnation. Jesus is resurrected, but He is no longer here. He has ascended. And from his ascended location at the right hand of God the Father, He will return again to judge the living and the dead, as the Bible (and therefore the creeds) assert. Jesus is not in my heart, or wandering around bodiless. He remains incarnate and in heaven awaiting the Father’s perfect timing for his return. There He intercedes for us, just as the Holy Spirit within us intercedes on our behalf.

Acts 1:1-11 – Luke pens both the Gospel of Luke and the Book of the Acts of the Apostles – two halves of what was originally one complete work, but which was divided early on so that the section pertaining to the life of Jesus could be grouped with the other Gospels. Acts is the continuation of Luke’s report of early Christian activity and the Church. As such, the Ascension of Jesus forms both the conclusion to the Gospel of Luke, and the beginning of the story of the Church in Acts. The account in Acts is slightly more detailed than the conclusion of the Gospel of Luke.

The ascension maintains the incarnate nature of Jesus. He doesn’t just dissipate in front of them. There is no dissolution of his body. He bodily ascends into heaven, so the Church has traditionally taught that He remains incarnate now in eternity. The union of the divine and the human has not ended; it was not simply something Jesus did for a while but now He’s done with it. He remains in unity with humanity and creation through his incarnate nature. The question of the empty tomb – what happened to the body – continues to be answered in the ascension. We do not look for Jesus as a disembodied spirit, nor do we look for another tomb, somewhere else. He remains incarnate, and with the Father.

Psalm 47 – The language of this psalm emphasizes locality – specifically God’s position above and over us. This language permeates the entire psalm (vs. 2-3, 5, 7, 8). This language demonstrates strength and authority, from which we are to derive confidence and security. Our response should be joy (v.1) rather than fear or uncertainty. Certainly God has power and authority we can’t begin to comprehend (v.2), but it is his good pleasure to dispose the power in our favor – we are the recipients of his goodness, and towards that end He will subdue the powers of the earth that often abuse us and exploit us. For this He is worthy to be praised, and we can wait and endure the tribulations and trials of our day, knowing who is ultimately in authority, and that a day of reckoning and justice and mercy is coming.

Ephesians 1:15-23 – The reading picks up in mid-thought, as it were, from the previous two verses, wherein Paul stresses the salvation guaranteed to God the Father’s faithful through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who ensures we are strengthened and maintained in the faith until the day of our perfection in Christ. This certainty is working itself out in the Ephesians through their faith in Jesus and their love for the saints (love for God and love for neighbor, the summation of the Ten Commandments). For this reason Paul constantly prays for them, specifically. He prays that God the Father would grant them the Holy Spirit’s gift of wisdom, as well as divine revelation to further enlighten them. By this means they will grow in understanding and appreciation and awe of the extent of the inheritance they have through faith in Jesus Christ. The emphasis and purpose of God’s gifts to God’s people is the glory of God, not the self-glorification of his people. Such a misdirection of honor and glory is unthinkable to Paul! We are not to be glorified because God has blessed us and gifted us! Rather, we are to glorify God! Specifically, we glorify him for the promises He has made to us, and for the proof He has offered of these promises in the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and his raising Jesus to his right hand in heaven in power and glory, where Jesus receives and will receive the glory appropriate to him – glory denied him by the princes and principalities of this realm when they arrested him and executed him. Those who follow Jesus should trust that though He was despised by the powers of this world, those powers have been placed under him, and He stands in authority over them, specifically because of his innocent sufferings and death at their hands, in faithfulness to the plan of salvation architected by God the Father.

Luke 24:44-53 – Luke ends his account of Jesus’ life and ministry with the report of his bodily ascension. He leaves after providing wisdom to his followers, so that they might see clearly how the Old Testament points forwards to him and the events of his life. These events were not random, but rather carefully planned and prophesied. But there is more empowerment to come, and so they are instructed to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit’s arrival (as opposed to returning to their homeland of Galilee).

He departs as He blesses them. It seems reasonable to imagine him using the Aaronic benediction that is still used in churches today and that was given by God the Father himself in Numbers 6:24-26. He departs while blessing them in order that greater and continued blessing might come to them in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Note that He is worshiped by his followers – an act only appropriate to God. The divinity of Jesus is not some later teaching that filtered into the Church – it was part of the understanding and experience of the earliest followers of Jesus, anchored by his bodily resurrection and ascension, and attested to by Jesus himself.

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