Our salvation is complete and assured, and we have a job to do. But Jesus has not left us to carry on without him.
Troy R. Schreiner
In the summer of 2012, five Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary classmates and I went backpacking through Europe, from Sweden to Italy. Being seminarians, we hadn’t really prebooked any lodging. We simply would find a place to stay once we arrived in a city we liked. Amazingly, this usually worked.
However, when we stopped in a seaside Italian town called Levanto, everything in the city was booked except for one beautiful house at the top of a hill that overlooked Levanto—only a three-mile hike away. But we had to hurry, because the man who would let us in was leaving soon.
So, we sprint-hiked up the mountain. When we were about halfway, a man drove up on a scooter, excitedly speaking Italian. We did not understand a word. He continued with exasperated gesturing. Finally, one of my friends hopped on the back of the scooter and, with a backwards glance and a “here goes nothing” expression, rode off with this stranger.
I remember thinking as the scooter drove away, “Will we ever see him again? What do we do now? Who’s going to tell his mom?”
Don’t worry. The driver dropped our friend off at the house and returned for each of us. But I’ll never forget the fearful uncertainty of that moment.
What do we do now?
I imagine Jesus’ disciples had similar thoughts as Jesus was “taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight” (Acts 1:9). For the better part of three years, the disciples knew the blessing of being at Jesus’ side as he taught, proclaimed himself as Savior, and performed miracles. They knew the guilt of fleeing from Jesus in fear as he was arrested, abandoning him as he innocently suffered and died on a cross reserved for the worst criminals. They knew the life-changing joy of Easter, as the risen Christ showed them the marks in his hands and side, shattering their grief over the thought of their Lord in the grave. For 40 days after Easter, Jesus continued appearing to his disciples, his visible presence giving them peace, comfort, and hope because they knew Jesus was still with them.
Then Jesus disappeared from their sight in the clouds. Straining their eyes, craning their necks, hoping to catch a glimpse of Jesus, did they wonder, “Will we ever see him again? What do we do now?”
A catechism student once asked me, “Why didn’t Jesus just stay here so all the bad stuff in the world wouldn’t happen?” She assumed that since Jesus disappeared at the Ascension, he’s not with us anymore, that he ascended to a heavenly hammock with a good book and a lemonade and retired from caring for the world.
That’s exactly what Satan wants us to think. He wants us to look at our lives and the world around us. As war continues, diseases attacks bodies, and sin ravages relationships, the devil wants us to fearfully think, “Jesus isn’t in control. He left us.”
If Jesus left us to fend for ourselves, we should be afraid, because we’d have no hope! Fortunately, that’s not what the Ascension means. Jesus’ ascension gives us four joyful reassurances: Jesus is still with us. Jesus is in control. Jesus will come again. Jesus gave us an important task.
Jesus is no longer with us like he was with those first disciples. But Jesus assured his followers before he ascended, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). He did not say, “I’ll try my hardest to always be here for you, but sometimes things happen,” like a dad promising to attend his son’s soccer game. When Jesus ascended, he once again made full use of his power as true God. Jesus could promise to be with us always, and we can trust that he will never fail to keep that promise. Jesus is with us now. We are not abandoned.
As Jesus was “taken up into heaven and sat at the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19), he did so not as an unobservant bystander. Jesus ascended to a position of authority and power over everything in the world. We know what his sitting at the Father’s right hand means. It assures us that he is ruling over everything for the good of the church. So we can trust that even in and through troubling times, Christ is working for the good of us, his church. Jesus is in complete control.
The Ascension marks Jesus as our conquering hero, the one who perfectly completed the plan of salvation with his perfect life, the cross, and an empty tomb, to give us eternal life. He returned to his heavenly home, not to leave us on our own, but because his work is complete. Therefore, God’s children by faith can look forward to rejoicing with our Savior in heaven for eternity.
As the disciples stared up into the sky, wondering if they’d ever see Jesus again, two angels appeared to reassure them that Jesus would come back, echoing Jesus’ own promise, “I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3).
Although we do not see him as the disciple did, Jesus promises that one day, he will come back. At judgment day, every eye will see Jesus return. Believers staring into the sky as the disciples did at the Ascension will not fear or wonder, “What now?” They will shout with joy, for the Savior has returned to take them to be with him forever, just as he promised. Jesus is coming back.
However, as we await Jesus’ return, God doesn’t want us to spend our lives staring aimlessly into the sky. Just as the angels snapped the disciples out of their cloud gazing, Jesus reveals the important task he has for us. “You will be my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
We are Jesus’ witnesses, joyful messengers with good news to share to the ends of the earth. As the disciples evangelized, “the Lord worked with them” (Mark 16:20). He wasn’t physically at their side, but Jesus was with them. The work of the church is not just done for God, but also by God. As we carry out the work of evangelism, he goes with us too.
As we stand with the disciples this Ascension Day, we do so with comforted hearts. Our Savior is with us. He’s in control. He’s coming back. He’s given us an important task, and he’s with us as we carry it out. His presence gives us peace, comfort, hope, and reassurance, because we know Jesus is still with us.
Troy Schreiner is pastor at Mount Olive, Appleton, Wisconsin.
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Author: Troy R. Schreiner
Volume 104, Number 5
Issue: May 2017
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