Ascension Day

TEXT: Acts 1:1-11

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. (Acts 1:6-9)

Those of you who are of my generation—all you “baby boomers” … Do you ever wonder what became of some of the famous celebrities from the 1950s and 60s?

I do. I ask myself, “Whatever happened to so-and-so?” Like the actor Jim Nabors, for example. Remember him? From 1964-1969, he was “Gomer Pyle” on TV: “Gomer Pyle, U.S. Marine Corps.” He was also a pretty good singer.

How about former teen heartthrob—and fellow Canadian—Bobby Curtola? He had “top 10” hits like “Fortune Teller” in 1963 and “Aladdin” in 1964. He even did a cover version of “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”

Or how about Juliette Sysak … “our pet, Juliette”? If you watched her on CBC television back in the day, you’ll surely remember this great Canadian singer, who was born in St. Vital, Manitoba (before it was part of Winnipeg).

Where are they now?

Well … predictably (but sadly, for all us baby boomers) … they’re all dead! Bobby Curtola shuffled off this mortal coil in 2016, while Jim and Juliette passed in 2017.

Gulp. As if I didn’t feel old enough already.

Okay. Let’s try some celebs from the 1980s. Like Tom Selleck—the original “Magnum P.I.”

Thankfully, Tom remains with us, going strong at age 78, and still on a hit TV series, playing  New York City Police Commissioner Frank Reagan on Blue Bloods.

How about Dana Delany, who briefly played Magnum’s love interest on the original series? She rose to international fame as Army nurse Colleen McMurphy on the Vietnam War drama China Beach (1988–1991), for which she twice received the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress.

Delany has been constantly busy on large and small screens ever since McMurphy hung up her stethoscope, and today—yet stunningly beautiful at 67—she can be found on Paramount Plus, playing Margaret Devereaux, the owner of the Fennario horse ranch on Tulsa King.

By now, you may be asking, “What’s with the trip down memory lane?” Why the nostalgia?

Well, this is Ascension Day. In Luke’s account from the Book of Acts, Jesus was “raptured”—lifted up into the sky as the disciples watched. They kept looking up until “a cloud took him out of their sight.” As you read that story … I wonder: did you think to ask, “Where is he now?”

Where is he, now? Where is Jesus, now? This is actually a very important question. And the way we answer it demonstrates how real Jesus is in our lives.

Where is Jesus now? How we answer this question reveals whether we believe Jesus is able to change lives … or not. After all, if Jesus is absent from this earth, then he cannot be at work in our world. But if he is present—if he is here—then he is still able to affect people’s lives. He can touch us. He can bring us hope, and heal our diseases—both physical and spiritual.

Jesus’ words to his disciples—which he spoke just before his departure—speak of his abiding power. He said: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

We who believe in Jesus have the hope—more than that, we have the promise—that his spiritual power will be alive in us. The Holy Spirit, who was present at creation, lives in us and empowers us to bear witness for Christ in this world.

Jesus’ ascension illustrates this power. Jesus has gone on to heaven before us to prepare our way. And he is already at the right hand of the Father with all things under his feet. Jesus—who lives in us—is piloting the universe until that day when he returns in clouds of glory.

Where is Jesus now? On Ascension Day, that is a legitimate question.

After his resurrection, Jesus continued appearing to his disciples for 40 days. He taught them. He healed them. He broke bread with them. According to the Gospel of John (21:1-14), he even made breakfast for them! Then he ascended into heaven to take his place with God the Father. But before he left, he promised that the Holy Spirit would quickly come.

Where is Jesus now? Yes, he is in heaven; the Bible clearly tells us this. And yet, somehow, he is also here. He’s still here! We continue to feel his presence, do we not?

And we say that wherever two or more gather in his name, he is there with them. When we assemble for worship, we proclaim that the risen Christ is present with us. He is in heaven—and yet he is here! How can that be?

As a bright teenager once said to me: “I guess it’s one of those paradoxes.” In the same breath, we declare that Christ is with us—and also that he is on a throne in heaven.

Where is Jesus now? As you might have guessed, this is a trick question! There are actually two correct answers. Jesus is beside his Father in heaven, and he is also here with us now. Both answers are important to our understanding of Christ as Saviour and Lord.

When the Bible tells us that Christ Jesus ascended to heaven and sits at the right hand of God, that means Jesus is in a position of authority over the entire world. Jesus has taken the high ground of the universe.

It is from that position of might and strength that he will finally overcome evil. And it is from there that Jesus will rule his eternal kingdom in perfect peace and wholeness—in shalom, to use the Hebrew word.

When Jesus began his ministry, he said that he had come to bring release to captives and freedom to the oppressed. Through his death, he freed us from the bonds of our own sin; and from his position of authority, Jesus will liberate the human race from all that afflicts it: hatred, greed, prejudice, hunger, disease, death, and all the other enemies of shalom.

Because Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, he is in a position to establish his Kingdom. But Jesus has not left us alone until that day. Ten days after Jesus ascended, he sent the Holy Spirit. At Pentecost God’s presence came to the church to stay with it until Christ comes again. And through the Holy Spirit, Christ is present with us.

Where is Jesus now? I guess each of us has to answer that question for ourselves. And how you answer it, I suppose, depends both upon your personal experience and upon how confident you are in the testimony of Scripture.

If you believe that Jesus is dead, then your faith will be dead, also. If you believe that he is way off in a distant heaven—and not here—you will not look for the working of his Spirit in your life. But if you believe he is alive and well and dwelling among us, then you will discover him to be real to you, and present for you. You will be open to the life-transforming love and grace that he brings, and that each one of us needs. Then—and I suspect, only then—will you be able to go into the world like his first disciples did, testifying to his love and grace and power.

The way we answer the question, “Where is Jesus now?” makes a tremendous difference.

There’s no point in having a God who is exalted and majestic, if he does not touch our lives. There’s no point in having a Saviour who is transformative and redemptive and powerful if we do not allow his power to redeem and transform us. You see, Jesus not only ministers to us—he ministers to others through us! That’s what it means to be an apostle as well as a disciple—and we are called to be both disciples and apostles.

Where is Jesus now? He’s standing here among us, simultaneously ascended and present. And he is saying to us: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth.”

May God grant us eyes to see and ears to hear the Risen One who beckons us—and also grant us the power of faith, that we may indeed become his witnesses … to the ends of the earth. Amen.

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