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The Essential Ascension (1): Coronation

No 1. In a series of posts reflecting on Jesus' Ascension

Have you spotted one of the major narratives currently characterising our country? The opposition is rounding on the government and accusing them of “losing control” of the pandemic. Politicians and scientific advisors insist that we need to “take control” or “maintain control.” It’s ironic that corona-viruses are named after the fact that the viral molecules appear to “wear” a crown. It makes you wonder.

And then there’s that rumbling other news story where we’ve heard some crying “let’s take back control!”

What is it about control? What does ‘taking control’ mean? And have we ever actually had the control some say we’ve now lost?

Of course, control of some things is entirely good and right. The Bible repeatedly calls us to self-control, lest we find ourselves being swept away by our desires. Yet, an overwhelming message of Scripture is that we aren’t in control, never have been, and that our sinfulness arises from our desire to take control of that which we can’t control.

So how should we respond to this narrative? I am convinced that we would do better to pay more attention to the seat where control really lies.

During the last couple of months, I’ve enjoyed preaching from 1 Peter 3 and Psalm 2, and preparing bibles study notes in Psalm 110.

There is a common theme between these: Jesus’ Rule visible in his Ascension. We know the story: Jesus died, rose, spent time with his disciples, then ascended into heaven.

I wonder, though, if we dwell on the significance of that moment enough. It can feel like it’s made for children’s bibles can’t it? Jesus disappears into the clouds while the disciples stand open mouthed staring into the sky. It’s faintly comical.

In fact, if we’re honest, it can feel slightly embarrassing can’t it? I mean, we already need to talk to sceptics about Jesus rising from the dead. Now we add this picture of Jesus somehow levitating into the sky. Isn’t that dangerously close to being a final supernatural straw for a naturalist world? Before I became a Christian, it was a story I laughed at.

Perhaps that’s one reason why we tend not to emphasise the ascension very much. Think about the common ‘gospel outlines’ we’ve taught and been taught over the years. We know the cross is central, of course. We know the resurrection is vital. But isn’t that enough? “Jesus died and rose, so come to him for salvation.”

But then, if you go looking for it in the pages of the New Testament after Acts 1, the ascension is everywhere. Again, and again the apostles declare that Jesus died, rose and ascended. It’s arguably Peter’s main point in his first sermon in Acts 2. Then, Paul makes it a central plank of his teaching, certainly in both Ephesians and Philippians. It flows as a key thread all the way through 1 Peter, and the writer to the Hebrews talks about from the word go and then almost non-stop.

So, what’s with the ascension? Why is it important that Jesus “ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father” as the creed puts it? If I fail to mention it in my ‘2 minutes in a lift’ gospel explanation, what might I be missing?

Answer: quite a lot. In fact, too much to cover even in this one post (more to come!)

For now; here’s the first thing: The ascended Jesus is The Ruler. The ascension was Jesus’ cosmic coronation. As he went up into those clouds, a message rang out to all creation: “Here is your king!”

After all, that’s the point of a coronation. When a new ruler comes to their throne, I guess they could try to do so quietly and even privately. They could issue a notice to their subjects that they are now king or queen and get on with things. Usually, though there is a public coronation which demonstrates to all who can see that this king or queen is now ruler.

It isn’t so much that the coronation makes someone king or queen, but it declares that to be the case. On 2ndJune 1953 everyone in the UK could look on and see that Elizabeth was their queen.

And so it is with Jesus’ ascension. Tim Keller puts it this way:

Now, if Jesus merely wanted to return to the Father, he could have just vanished. There were other times when he vanished immediately out of sight, as with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. But instead, at the ascension Jesus literally rises up into the clouds and disappears into the distance of the heavens. Why did he do it that way? We can only speculate, but it may have been for the same reason that we have a coronation ceremony.

The New Testament repeatedly and consistently takes Psalm 110 and applies it here:

“The LORD says to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”

It’s an amazing image! As he ascended to God’s right hand, Jesus took a seat and put his feet up! His work of salvation was complete, his victory was assured.

That’s worth remembering next time we hear a call to ‘take control’ of something essentially uncontrollable. We don’t need to fear it, because we need look nowhere else to know where control really lies; in our lives, in our country, in the universe itself.

Whatever our own personal circumstances might be, and whatever the national or international situation, Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father. His rule is an unbreakable one, and it’s also for and with us as we trust in him (but more on that next time).

Onwards, to glory!

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