Why the Ascension of Jesus Matters to You
[Editor’s Note: Do you ever feel that God is far away? In this blog post, Dr. Russell Moore presents the reason God is always near, which doesn’t depend on the strength of your faith.]
It’s kind of terrible how Ascension Day is almost completely ignored by lower-church Christians. We could say it’s because we don’t observe the liturgical calendar, but we do when it comes to such major feast days as Christmas, recognizing the Incarnation, and Easter, the Resurrection. It’s a shame because the Ascension is a doctrine all of us need to remember, constantly, in order to make it in life. The Ascension, after all, tells us who we are and what’s going on all around us.
The Ascension of Jesus isn’t just the story of how our Lord “went away” between the Resurrection and the Second Coming. The Ascension means that you, Christian, are connected always to God. Our exile from God, an exile that started with the fiery sword outside of Eden, is over. We are connected to Jesus, by faith, as a head is with a body. Our head, then, is seated now at the right hand of God, always in God’s presence and always in communion with him. This is true of you always. That’s important to remember in those moments when we feel as though God is distant from us.
Sometimes when I am suffering, or when I am plagued with doubt or fear, it’s easy for me to feel as though God is far away. When that happens, I almost immediately find myself drifting away into prayerlessness, and, ultimately, a sense of despair. The problem is that I assume that God’s nearness is defined by the strength of my faith at the moment or by my ability to “read” what God is doing providentially in my life. That assumes that I was ever coming to God without a Mediator. My nearness to God is in Christ, and Jesus hasn’t moved.
Beyond that, the Ascension of Jesus means that our security and our future are not visible to us. They are hidden in Christ and are located “where Christ is, at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1). This ought to free us from worry. If you’re like me, you tend to think through “worst-case scenarios” of whatever it is that is plaguing you at the moment. If you’re in Christ, though, you are never in danger in your real life. Your real life is with Christ—and he’s doing just fine. That’s not visible to us at the moment, just as Jesus himself is not visible to us at the moment. That’s what it means to walk by faith, and not by sight.
Moreover, the Ascension tells us what’s really going on around us. At the Ascension Jesus moved from visible realm to the invisible realm. He did not become inactive. Right now, God is moving history along, so that all things are ultimately placed under the feet of Jesus, as creation’s rightful ruler (1 Cor. 15:24-25). The Book of Revelation is comforting for Christians because it takes us behind the veil of what we can see, to what is happening now in the heavenly places. Jesus is there enthroned.
This too frees us from our tendencies toward frantic fear, even as we watch the news and see what often seems to be chaos and danger all around us. We are not at the whim of these dark social and political forces around us. God has raised Jesus, and “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above every rule and authority and power and dominion” (Eph. 1:20-21).
When the terrorist attacks happened on September 11, 2001, the country was comforted when the President of the United States returned to the White House. The very image of the nation’s leader at his desk in the Oval Office was a signal that the country’s leadership wasn’t panicking. The President was where he was supposed to be, not hiding out in an “undisclosed location.” Jesus is not in an undisclosed location, waiting until a safe time to reappear. Jesus is enthroned with his Father, moving history toward his goal. His invisibility right now is no sign of apathy or impotence but of patience. He is preparing a kingdom for his people, and he is patiently waiting for others to come home to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9).
The Ascension ought then to give us confidence. The Ascension should give us confidence before God. As long as Jesus is there before him, there is no condemnation for us. And the Ascension ought to give us confidence in our lives right now. The tomb is empty; the throne is not.
About the Author: Russell Moore
Russell Moore serves as the eighth president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the moral and public policy agency of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. An ethicist and theologian by background, Dr. Moore is also an ordained Southern Baptist minister and the author of several books including Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel. He blogs frequently at his website, russellmoore.com, and hosts a program called Signposts.