Some Christian denominations celebrate a holiday known as ‘Ascension Day’. This day occurs 10 days before the beginning of Pentecost and celebrates the day Jesus’ body ascended to heaven. It’s important to note that Jesus’ soul didn’t ascend to heaven without His body. This is an important distinction because it emphasizes the point that our God is not a dead God. He is not a prophet who died or a martyr. Jesus Christ is God and He is alive. One day, He will come again, physically, to rebuild His kingdom on earth.
A Cloud of Witnesses
During the time between Jesus’ rising from the dead and the day He ascended, over 500 people physically saw Christ.
After his death he showed himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. During a period of forty days they saw him, and he spoke with them about the Kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3)
In fact, we have twelve different instances in the scriptures of Jesus appearing before different groups (Courtesy of AboutBibleProphecy.com):
- His first appearance was to Mary Magdalene, on that early Sunday morning. (Mark 16:9; John 20:10-18).
- Jesus appeared to the women returning from the tomb. (Matthew 28:9-10).
- Jesus appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus. (Luke 24:13-32; Mark 16:12-13).
- He appeared to Peter in Jerusalem. (Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5).
- He appeared to his disciples and other followers, and also a second time to the two men from Emmaus, in a locked room in Jerusalem. The apostle Thomas wasn’t there at that time. (Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-23).
- A week later, Jesus again appeared to his disciples behind locked doors, and this time Thomas was present. (John 20:24-29).
- Jesus appeared to seven of his disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. (John 21:1-24).
- Jesus was seen by 500 believers at one time. (1 Corinthians 15:6).
- He appeared to James. (1 Corinthians 15:7).
- He appeared to eleven disciples on a mountain in Galilee. (Matt. 28:18-20).
- He walked with his disciples along the road to Bethany, on the Mount of Olives, and then ascended into Heaven. (Luke 24:50-53).
- He was seen by Paul on the road to Damascus. (Acts 9:3-6; 1 Corinthians 15:8).
This becomes important to note because it contributes to the certainty we have in the resurrection and the ascension of Christ. Did you know that there is actually scant proof of the existence of many famous Greek philosophers? Furthermore, the character of many of these people differs greatly from story to story. Yet, no one questions the existence of Plato, Socrates, or Pythagoras. While there are only dozens of witnesses who wrote accounts of these men, there are hundreds who reported on their experiences with Christ after His resurrection. What does this say about the confidence we have in the accuracy of the reports surrounding Christ?
The Great Commission
When Christ was ready to ascend to heaven, He left His followers an important charge…
At one of these gatherings, he instructed them not to leave Yerushalayim but to wait for “what the Father promised, which you heard about from me. For Yochanan (John the Baptist) used to immerse people in water; but in a few days, you will be immersed in the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit)!”
When they were together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore self-rule to Isra’el?” He answered, “You don’t need to know the dates or the times; the Father has kept these under his own authority. But you will receive power when the Ruach HaKodesh comes upon you; you will be my witnesses both in Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) and in all Y’hudah (Judea) and Shomron (Samaria), indeed to the ends of the earth!”
After saying this, he was taken up before their eyes; and a cloud hid him from their sight. As they were staring into the sky after him, suddenly they saw two men dressed in white standing next to them. The men said, “You Galileans! Why are you standing, staring into space? This Yeshua, who has been taken away from you into heaven, will come back to you in just the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:4-11)
Jesus fundamentally commissions us to do three things: 1) Accept the Holy Spirit, 2) witness where we live, and 3) witness beyond our comfort zone.
A lot of people participate in service projects and mission trips. These things are very worth-while and definitely in-line with the work God asks us to do. It’s important for us to understand that, while good work, these things are necessarily what Christ asks us to do. He asks us to accept the Holy Spirit which empowers us to spread the gospel. He then asks us to witness to those in our home town, at our places of work, and in our social circles. Lastly, He asks us to go out beyond our comfort zone (‘all of Judea and Samaria’) to spread the Gospel.
While taking a trip to build community centers in South Africa is good work that gives you the opportunity to share God’s word, we have to use caution and guard against using opportunities that like as an excuse to not boldly proclaim God’s word to our friends and family and those in our home towns. Oftentimes those witnessing opportunities are harder than our opportunities in a strange land with people we will never see again! Likewise, shy Christians must understand that simply being a Christian inside the walls of the church isn’t meeting God’s purposes either. We are called to go out and share the gospel, not to remain inside the stone walls of our churches.
Do I Have To Witness To Be Saved?
A student asked a very good question, or rather made a good statement, towards the end of this lesson. “I mean, you don’t have to witness to people to be saved though, right?” she asked. Here is the deal: we live lives of purpose and if we don’t serve that purpose, what’s the point of even living?
I gave an analogy to our students to help them understand. Let’s say tomorrow you wake up with a Ferrari in your driveway and a note explaining that this car was now yours. You’d probably be bouncing off the walls; someone gave you a car worth a couple hundred thousand dollars! The Italian craftsmanship and hand built engine have a reputation that gives it intrinsic worth. Now, suppose you hop in your new Ferrari and it doesn’t run. The engine was never completely finished so you have a brand new Ferrari that doesn’t run. Is it no longer a Ferrari? No, it’s simply a Ferrari that isn’t serving it’s purpose and because it’s not serving it’s purpose we do not find joy and pleasure in sitting in it. As Christians, we function the same way. We can be Christians and not witness, but then we don’t serve a purpose. We do not get pleasure and joy out of serving our function and do not allow Jesus to make us all we are meant to be.
My life-verse has always been Philippians 1:21, “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” That doesn’t mean we all want to die, but that we all know what awaits us in the afterlife. What a wonderful day that will be when all God’s people reside together in heaven! In the meantime, we serve a purpose and that purpose is Christ. The challenge to all is to ask ourselves whether we are allowing Christ to worth through us to serve a purpose. The ascension of Christ compels us to serve a role and unless we serve that role we may never know the full joy Christ intends for our lives.