The Commandment of the Ascension

I can’t ever remember being in church for a worship service on Ascension Thursday.  This struck me with particular force the first time I read David Bosch’s magisterial book Transforming Mission (Orbis).   Towards the end of it he named the six things that Jesus Christ did to save us:

1. He came – The Incarnation (Christmas);
2. He died – The Atonement (Good Friday);
3. He was raised – The Resurrection (Easter);
4. He returned to Glory – The Ascension (Ascension Day);
5. He sent the Holy Spirit – Pentecost (Pentecost Sunday); and
6. He will come again – The Parousia (The Second Coming – Advent).

The Ascension is on the list – #4 – but it is far from the attention of most Christians I know, including myself.  I mean, how many of us even knew that today was Ascension Day, or that in order of importance, that today ranks right up there with Christmas and Easter as one of Christianity’s big days for commemorating and celebrating one of the saving acts of God in Christ?

To gain some understanding and appreciation for the significance of the Ascension in the faith of the church I recommend that you spend some time with –

“The Ascension of Jesus: A Story Still with Us”
Jerrod Hugenot @ http://www.ministrymatters.com

“The Meaning of the Ascension for Christian Scholars”
Stephen T. Davis @ http://www.rcs.org

tozerAs to the spirituality of the Ascension, I have found the writings of A.W. Tozer to be the most helpful to me personally.  He draws tight the tie between the Ascension and Pentecost, and that just feels Biblically “right” to me, and his focus on the Ascension command of the Risen Christ for the disciples to “tarry in Jerusalem until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49) makes a crucial contribution to the faithful conversation about the church’s mission today. Here are two excerpts from his writings that get us to the heart of Tozer’s concern –

Recall what happened when Jesus said to the disciples, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15).  Peter jumped up right away, grabbed his hat and would have been on his way, but Jesus stopped him, and said, “Not yet, Peter! Don’t go like that. Tarry until you are endued with power from on high, and then go!” I believe that our Lord wants us to learn more of Him in worship before we become busy for Him. He wants us to have a gift of the Spirit, an inner experience of the heart, as our first service, and out of that will grow the profound and deep and divine activities which are necessary. (I Talk Back to the Devil, 139.)

The task of the church is twofold: to spread Christianity throughout the world and to make sure that the Christianity she spreads is the pure New Testament kind….  Christianity will always reproduce itself after its kind. A worldly-minded, unspiritual church, when she crosses the ocean to give her witness to peoples of other tongues and other cultures, is sure to bring forth on other shores a Christianity much like her own…. The popular notion that the first obligation of the church is to spread the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth is false. Her first obligation is to be spiritually worthy to spread it. Our Lord said “Go ye,” but He also said, “Tarry ye,” and the tarrying had to come before the going. Had the disciples gone forth as missionaries before the day of Pentecost it would have been an overwhelming spiritual disaster, for they could have done no more than make converts after their likeness, and this would have altered for the worse the whole history of the Western world and had consequences throughout the ages to come. (Of God and Men, 35-37).

The Ascension is the church’s festival of the Lordship of Christ, our faithful affirmation of the spiritual reality of Philippians 2:9-11 and I Corinthians 15:25.  It is our call into the mission of God in Christ.  Just as the Father sent Him, so now He sends us (John 20:21). But before the “go ye” of that mission comes the “tarry ye” of our spiritual formation by the Holy Spirit as Tozer pointed out.  And in the practice of the church the nine days (“novena”) between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost Sunday is the formal “tarry ye” season on the church calendar.  As I wrote in Monday’s blog – “Praying for a Personal and Permanent Pentecost” –

This coming Thursday (May 14) is Ascension Day, and the “novena” for a fresh experience of Pentecost begins first thing on Friday morning.  So, this year, won’t you join me and countless others throughout the church universal in praying for that fresh infusion of the Holy Spirit’s power, presence and provision into our life both personally and corporately? 

To assist you in doing this two resources have been prepared by the Northway staff for your use: (1) A daily Scripture, challenge and prayer will make its way first thing each morning for the next 9 days to everyone who is signed up for our email blast (If you are not signed up it can be accessed through the church webpage); and (2) each day for the next 9 days a very brief devotional by different members of the Northway ministerial staff and partners will be posted on the church’s Facebook page on one of the fruit of the Spirit that gives powerful evidence of the renewal of the Holy Spirit in our lives both as individuals and as a church.  By making use of these two resources between now and Pentecost Sunday our prayer for the renewal of the Spirit in our lives will have prepared hearts to receive the gift that the day of Pentecost holds for us as Christians. DBS+


heartHoly Spirit, sent by the Father, ignite in us your holy fire;
strengthen your children with the gift of faith,
revive your Church with the breath of love,
and renew the face of the earth,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


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