Week #46: November 12-18
Jesus’ ascension in the book of Acts is not often talked about in church but I want to suggest it is the great transition in the New Testament. It is where the focus turns from Jesus to us, the church. It happens right at the end of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus fulfilled his ministry, suffered during Good Friday, rose from the dead on Easter morning, and now he is about to ascend to heaven, to be honored as the king that he is.
Some people are puzzled as to why Jesus waited around on Earth 40 days after his resurrection, but that period is no accident. Jesus had endured the Devil’s temptation for 40 days in the wilderness at the beginning of his public ministry, but now the tables were turned. In the post-ascension period Jesus triumphantly paraded his victory over the Devil and all his evil deeds. During this time, the conqueror of death displayed his supremacy before his faithful followers so that they might share in the joy of his victory.
But there was another reason. Those 40 days of his appearing after the resurrection were of immense value to the believers for they established the reality of his lordship. The ascension of Jesus is both an ending and a beginning. For the disciples who left looking up at the sky, the angel is telling them to stop staring and get moving. That’s because the ascension is also a beginning. It is a beginning to us, the church, taking over Jesus’ ministry. The disciples wonder how they can do anything, but we turn to Acts 1:8 for Jesus’ answer: “The power isn’t in you, but in the Holy Spirit, who promises to speak and work through you.” And if that’s the case then we should in utter confidence that God’s direction for our lives is the best direction to go.
The rest of the book of Acts highlights the work of the apostles to take the message of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. The epistles tell us what the apostles’ believed while Acts is the history of what they actually did. And what they did was significant. Peter puts off his denying ways and becomes a bold leader for Christ. Thomas puts off his doubting ways and becomes an evangelist with conviction. But no story is as impactful as that of Saul who becomes Paul. No story summarizes the meaning of the book of Acts more than Paul. We serve a God of grace who can transform the most rabid and destructive persecutor and murderer of Christian people into its greatest ally and missionary in the history of our faith. It’s one thing to tell people what you believe. It’s quite another to tell people what your faith can do. We have a faith that turns the worst of enemies into the best of friends.
Acts closes with a story of Paul in the most powerful city in the history of world, Rome, prepared to give his testimony. It tells us that the enemy turned missionary by the grace of God stayed there “two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered (Acts 28:30-31).” It’s as if Luke, the author of both the Gospel of Luke and Acts, is daring future generations of Christians “to go and do the same”. Oh that we would with that same zeal and faith!