I love a good triumphant moment in a story. I enjoy watching Aragorn struggle through battle after battle, culminating in his full acceptance of his destiny as he’s crowned king, or the instant where Arthur pulls the sword from the stone and I finally release the breath I was holding and start to grin. You could argue that Aragorn won his kingdom the moment Sauron fell, or perhaps that Arthur’s greatness was truly manifested in the way in which he ruled as king, rather than how he became king. But beyond making you want to stand up and cheer in the theater, these culminating moments offer crucial imagery and value to the overall story.
When we tell the story of the life and ministry of Jesus, we tend to focus on his resurrection, and with good reason…talk about a glorious moment! But that’s not the only wonderful image we get, because after he reveals himself to his disciples, he ascends into heaven. As Rev. Ross Engel points out in last week’s Ringside, there are two main things happening in the Ascension. First, Jesus ascends to the Father to fill all things (Ephesians 4:10). He becomes hidden from our physical sight, but present with us in even more tangible ways when his Word is preached, when the Lord’s Supper is received, every time there’s a baptism. What the Ascension changes is where Christ is now located, which is wildly important, as Ross summarizes, “If you get the Ascension wrong, you probably get Jesus’ incarnation wrong, and you get your sacramental theology wrong, and it all piles up on top of each other, and you end up with a misguided idea about who Jesus is.”
The second thing that occurs in the Ascension is one of my all-time favorite triumphant images. Picture watching this on the big screen. As the disciples watch Jesus rise up, he fades from their sight, then the camera cuts to the throne room of heaven, where God sits surrounded by elders and angels and cherubim, holding a scroll. When an angel asks who is worthy to open the scroll and carry out God’s plan for salvation, there is no answer in heaven or on earth. Jesus suddenly appears before the throne and takes the scroll from God’s hand! And the crowd of heaven goes wild! They sing songs of praise to the Lamb of God, and fall down and worship him (Rev. 5). Then, Satan appears, in dragon form of course, gets into a battle with Michael and the other heavenly angels, who by the blood of Christ, are able to cast him down to earth. Jesus ascends and “boots Satan out of the presence of God” as Ross put it, so that the Devil can no longer stand before God and accuse His people (Rev. 12). Salvation has been accomplished, Satan has been cast out of heaven and bound, and Christ is crowned victor! Is that not an amazing image?
Christ’s Ascension is a critical part of his story. It shapes our understanding of who Jesus is, his still active reign, and the physical places in this world where he has promised us we can find him. It also reminds us that Jesus didn’t just leave us to go lounge around in heaven waiting for us to come join him. His crowning, triumphant moment, reminds us that not only has he not abandoned us here, but this battle that we fight, our constant struggle against sin, has already been won by his blood on our behalf. Christ has been crowned the victor! Doesn’t that make you want to stand up and cheer?
This article is a brief synopsis of one of several topics discussed on last week’s episode of Ringside with the Preacher Men. Listen to Rev. Joel Hess, Rev. Ross Engel, Rev. Paul Koch, and Tyler the Intern duke it out over why the Ascension matters, how a proper understanding of original sin is crucial to our ability to properly repent, and the introduction of Joel’s “Pandemic Moment” jingle as the preachers compare the church’s response to COVID-19 and the Spanish Flu, listen to the latest full Ringside with the Preacher Men episode, “Ascension Misconception.”
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