Why the Ascension?

Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

Ephesians 4:7-8, 11 | May 22 - Sunday Evening,

Sunday Evening,
May 22
Why the Ascension? | Ephesians 4:7-8, 11
Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

Tonight we’re celebrating the Ascension. We’re used to celebrating different aspects of Christ’s work in the Church and hopefully you’ve heard of the Ascension, but it’s not every year that we would set apart more than perhaps a song or two on Sunday to really think about the Ascension. In the Reformation Church, moving away from some of the accretions that took place in the medieval church, the Reformers rightly said we’re not going to have all of these saints’ days and some of the Holy days that had come to be like barnacles sort of on the Church calendar.

Yet, many of the Reformers, Calvin included, encouraged the Church to celebrate, and they called them Five Evangelical Feasts.

One recent article I read said not holy, but helpful. So there’s a long debate in Reform churches and the Puritans would be more on the side of saying, “We shouldn’t do any of these days.”

In fact, when Oliver Cromwell, who was the Lord Protector in England, he did away with Christmas, which turned out to be not a very popular move. Not one of the Puritans most popular moves.

But you can understand. They said, well, the apostles, did they celebrate Christmas? Did they celebrate Easter?

Well, men like Calvin and Bucer before them, said, “Well, they’re not Holy days per se, but they are helpful. They do help us mark out certain high points and to remember the work of Christ.”

Ascension was one of those. So they had five of them: Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, and then Pentecost.

And you know about Ascension, Christ’s ascending into heaven, because most of you are familiar with the Apostles’ Creed. You may have heard me say before that you can look at the work of Christ, divided into two states. Of course, not states like we understand them, political entities, but states meaning Christ’s position under the Law.

So He had a state of humiliation as He was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, died, buried… All of those are aspects of His work of humiliation, as He was subject to the penalties and the prescriptions of the law.

But we also have the other side, which is Christ in His state of exaltation, and that’s what comes next in the Apostles’ Creed: So He rose again on the third day, He ascended into heaven, He’s seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, and from there He shall come again to judge the living and the dead.

Those are typically the four aspects of His work of exaltation: The Resurrection, which we spend a lot of time, rightly so, celebrating at Easter, but also His Ascension, His session, that is being seated at the right hand of God, and then His coming again.

So why is the Ascension important? There’s a lot of different reasons, but here’s just one for three minutes.

I would not be your pastor, Nathan would not be your pastor, Dave, Derek, all of them, you would not have pastors were it not for the Ascension. Now, I’m hoping you take that as, “Oh, I like the Ascension” and not, “Uhh, Ascension.”

Well, here’s what I mean. We read in Ephesians 4, and you’re familiar with the first verses, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

How many of you have heard that before?

But here’s verse 7: “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says,” and here Paul is quoting from Psalm 68, ““When He ascended on high He led a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.””

Then he picks it up again in verse 11: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers.”

Those are the gifts, at least chief among them the Holy Spirit, but then the Spirit’s empowering work to give these gifts to the Church, apostles, prophets, evangelists, and then pastor/teachers.

It’s always a very humbling thing to think about when Christ wanted to give a gift to His Church, He said, “Here, pastors, shepherds. These men, My under-shepherds, will help to rule and to exercise loving care and authority for My sake.” That’s a humble and holy calling.

But did you pick up on the imagery there? He led captives in His train.

So you sort of picture a king, and the king is out in battle. And if you have the citizens or the subjects of the realm saying to their king, “Well, when are you going to take care of us? When are you going to help us? When will you give us something to make our lives better and to help lead us? When will you give us presents?” The king might say, “Well, I’m currently in the midst of a fierce battle, and there’s death and destruction all around, but after I have proved victorious in this battle and after the king proves to be the conquering king, and then when he returns home, now as he finds his place rightfully, seated on the throne, he is there to give gifts.”

That’s the story of Christ’s work on the cross. Hopefully you can see that. His suffering, His death, but then our King who died, conquered by death, and so He rose and then ascended. See, Ascension is not just, well, how is Jesus going to get back to heaven? I guess He’s gotta go up.

It signals that the Resurrection not only really happened but accomplished all that Christ said it would. It vindicates the work of Christ, and as He then ascends into heaven and His session and ultimate coming again, it reminds us that He sits on the throne and from that place, yes, we see the world still filled with much turmoil and woe and yet we serve a King who has already dealt the decisive blow against sin, the flesh, and the devil and He currently reigns and because He is in a position of power, all authority given to Him, returning to the place from whence He came, He is in a position as the ascended King to give gifts.

What a mercy it is, not only that Jesus died for us, for our sins, but did you know, kids, kids, look, look, look, you’re about to sing. Listen. You like Christmas? You get presents? Well, I can’t promise that you’re going to get presents when you get home tonight, but Jesus not only when He was born but when He went back to heaven, He did that so He could give us gifts. This church, one of His gifts. People to care for us and love us and teach us God’s Word, those are His gifts to us. Which is why we celebrate and remember the Ascension. Not as a Holy day perhaps, but as a helpful day, a feast day, a day of celebration.

Let’s pray. Father in heaven, thank You for these musicians, thank you for the songs that we’re to hear, the musical pieces we can enjoy, and also lending our voices and giving worship to the One who is worthy and sits on the throne. We pray all this in His name. Amen.