This blog post comes on an important day in the Christian view of history. Today is Ascension Day, the day we commemorate Christ's taking his place at the right hand of the Father. Ponder scriptures like these:
Psalm 47:9, "The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted."
Notice the change from plural to collective singular. The peoples become the people of God. And the military metaphors. The princes of those peoples, by implication, recognize that their power comes from and belongs to God. Their shields belong to God. He is the final authority.
"Matthew 28:18, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me."
When Christians read verses like Psalm 47:9, we recognize that Christ is the fulfillment of that vision. Matthew 28:18 is a good example of the reason why we think so. Indeed, the whole New Testament orients itself around the conviction that Christ is Lord. He reigns. "Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father," Philippians 2 sings. There is no part of anything that stands outside this proclamation.
And the ascension signals this great truth. This coming Sunday, I and many other pastors will preach from Acts 1:1-11. After Jesus promises his disciples that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon them, and that they would be his witnesses "to the ends of the earth," the scripture says, "While they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight." In the following verses, the angels tell the disciples that the Lord has been "taken up" to heaven.
More important than the directional sense of "lifted up," "taken up," and "to heaven" is what the Apostles Creed affirms as the purpose of this action, "He ascended to heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty." The place at the right hand of the Father is the place of authority as Lord of all nations and, in fact, the whole cosmos.
So, "ascension" has to do less with "up" than with taking the place of rule. "Up" indicates the transcendent dimension of his rule. That Christ is surrounded by a cloud in Acts 1 is part of the picture of this transcendence. How many times does the cloud symbolize God's presence? The pillar of cloud (and fire) that leads the people of Israel through the wilderness. The cloud that surrounds Jesus and three of his disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration. In Acts 1, then, with his narration, Luke points to Jesus' entry into this glorious position.
Every heart set in order by Christ, and in Christ, and through Christ, bears witness to Christ's Lordship. Every community of disciples committed to living publicly in his kingdom shows Christ putting in order what has been disordered by sin. This work will continue until, finally and completely, all things are made new.
In our natural state, we take surface realities to be definitive truth. This inclination reveals part of the problem of human sin. It hides from view what Christ is doing now, smack in the middle of all the bad news. Every cup of water given in the name of Christ, every ride to the hospital surrounded by his love, every word of witness that speaks of the power of Christ to change lives, every time someone accepts the gift of justification and experiences new birth, every intercessory prayer, every season of refreshing; every act, individual and collective, of disciples' faithfulness comes with the presence of Christ the Lord, to set in order - to correct, to heal, to restore, to renew - all he, as the Word of God, brought into existence with the Father and the Son.
This work, his work, is happening now. Ascension Day reminds us of this great fact. May we live accordingly, in concert with Christ our Lord.