By Chris Hulshof
If you were to build a list of important Christian days, what days would you include? Certainly, the list would begin with either Christmas or Easter. These are two times our church calendars offer events and services that help us remember the significance of these dates.
At Christmas, we’re reminded of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. His birth means we’re living on a visited planet and God is with us. He’s our Emmanuel.
Easter causes us to reflect on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our hearts are stirred knowing the weight of these events. They’re important to our past, present, and future.
Christmas and Easter have front and center significance to the Christian faith. As they should!
Another Day Should Be Front and Center
However, there’s another Christian day that should be thought of in this light often forgotten by many Christians. Ascension Day is just as significant as Christmas and Easter.
This isn’t an over-the-top claim. Numerous creedal documents of the early church took the time to draw attention to the ascension. The framers of the Apostles’ Creed mention it, for example:
He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.”
The Heidelberg Catechism, directly and indirectly, addresses the ascension of Jesus Christ in questions 49 through 51. The Westminster Larger Catechism speaks to the ascension of Jesus Christ in question 53 and question 54. And the same can be said for the Westminster Shorter Catechism.
This reveals the importance of the ascension as it deals with the exaltation of Christ.
While our forefathers in the faith wanted to instill the significance of the ascension on adherents to the Christian faith, it’s been, by and large, lost on contemporary Christians. We’d do well to give thought to this important but neglected day on the Christian calendar.
In doing so, we’ll discover four reasons why the Ascension of Jesus Christ matters to our faith.
1. It is finished … for real.
First, the ascension of Jesus Christ demonstrates the earthly work necessary for our salvation is finished. The ascension of Christ has drawn that work to a close. All that was needed for Christ to rescue, ransom, and redeem mankind has been accomplished. There’s nothing more Jesus needs to do to make us the sons and daughters of God.
Alister McGrath, in I Believe: Exploring the Apostles’ Creed, nicely summarizes this. He writes, “Having come down to earth from heaven to redeem us, Jesus now returns to heaven to intercede for us. He came down to earth from heaven in great humility; he returns to heaven in triumph and glory, having accomplished all that was necessary for our salvation.”
Practically speaking, the ascension should remind us that if there’s nothing left for Christ to do to accomplish our salvation, then there’s nothing for us to add to earn it. Salvation is complete with the finished work of the ascended Christ.
Therefore, there’s nothing we can add to or subtract from God’s plan of salvation based on our performance. Christ has completed it all. This is good news for those suffering under a performance-based version of Christianity.
2. His present work
A second reason the ascension of Christ is important is found in His present work. According to the Scriptures, Christ is our advocate, our mediator, and our high priest. 1 John 2:1 says: “…we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ the righteous one.”
It’s Jesus Christ who pleads our case when Satan attempts to prosecute us before God for the sins we’ve committed. Christ, as our advocate, mediator, and high priest pleads our case before God. The case He presents His Father doesn’t rest on our successes or fall apart because of our failures. Instead, the case Christ presents is based on His perfect life and His shed blood. Christ, our advocate, has never lost a case.
We’d do well to remember the words of the grand old hymn What Though The Accuser Roar as it reminds us, “What though the accuser roar of ills that I have done! I know them well and thousands more; Jehovah findeth none.” It’s the appeal of Christ, our advocate, that silences the accuser’s roar and presents us faultless before our Father.
3. The Spirit within us
Third, the ascension of Jesus Christ means the presence and power of the Holy Spirit is within us. On two occasions, Jesus prepared His followers for the coming of the Holy Spirit. In John 14:16 He tells them, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever.”
He builds on this a little later in John 16:7. Jesus says to His disciples, “Nevertheless, I am telling you the truth. It is for your benefit that I go away, because if I don’t go away the Counselor will not come to you. If I go, I will send him to you.”
These two passages are filled with practical significance for us. It’s the responsibility of the ascended Christ to send the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God indwells us and is with us forever. As our helper, He guides us into all truth (John 16:13). This permanent and guiding helper, this Spirit of God, indwells every believer. Without the ascension of Christ, there’s no indwelling Spirit inside of us.
4. A home awaiting us
Finally, the Heidelberg Catechism draws out one more significance of the ascension of Jesus Christ. The Catechism notes that because of Christ’s ascension, “we have our own flesh in heaven – a guarantee that Christ our head will take us, His members, to Himself in heaven.”
It’s this result of the ascension that provides believers with peace about what lies beyond this life. The ascension of Christ points us to where we’ll spend eternity. We’ll spend it with Christ in heaven.
The ascension of Christ directs us to what that’ll look like. Christ, in our own flesh, ascended to heaven. He’ll bring us there upon our death. DeYoung underscores the hopeful reality the ascension brings in The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering The Gospel In A 16th Century Catechism:
Christ’s flesh in heaven is a guarantee that ours will be there too someday. Our hope is not an eternity as disembodied souls but real, resurrected, material human bodies in God’s presence forever. Christ’s body is the first one there, but not the last.
So let’s bring it front and center
Ascension Day is an important day on the Christian calendar. Your life is different because of the ascension of Christ. Today, the Holy Spirit has taken up residence inside of you at the direction of Jesus. This Helper will lead and guide throughout your day.
Today, standing before God and pleading your case is Jesus Christ. When you sin, and Satan accuses you before God, it’s our ascended Savior who lives to intercede for us (Hebrews 7:25). Today, Christ has gone on before you. Where He is now, He will bring you one day. Your future is not unknown or undecided. You will be with the ascended Christ in heaven.
Today, Christ’s earthly work to accomplish your salvation is finished. There’s nothing you have to do to earn your way in or secure God’s affection. Christ has accomplished it all for you. Today, because of the ascended Christ, everything is different for you.
Chris is an associate professor and department chair for Liberty University’s School of Divinity where he teaches courses in Old Testament survey, inductive Bible study, and theology of suffering and disability.