Without the Ascension of Jesus Christ to heaven, we don’t have a prayer of doing, or succeeding in local or global mission. Here are three reasons why:
1. We go out as servants
If Jesus’ ministry on earth meant anything at all, it meant servanthood. When Christ ascended, he gave us the ministry of making disciples—he gave us his ministry. As we do his ministry, we need to do it in the manner he did, with a servant’s heart. When we try to “help” by domineering, inserting our bias into another culture, forcing those we serve to do things our way, or not taking the time to listen to what is really needed, we fail to go as servants. If we do mission only with those who are easy to work with, or go only to those places that are convenient or don’t require much of us, we’re not going as Jesus went.
2. We go out empowered by the Spirit
If Jesus had not gone back to heaven to sit at the right hand of Father God, we’d only be able to engage in mission on our own power. We’d have no divine guidance—how would we know what to do, who to serve, where to go? Holy Spirit gives us strength and comfort when compassion fatigue may approach, and grants us power to stand up for justice. How could we serve the same people week after week, or leave family, friends, and familiarity to go to another culture and serve, if not by the power of Holy Spirit? Jesus had to go back, so Holy Spirit could be sent. We really cannot “be His witnesses” otherwise.
3. We go out because no one else will
Since Jesus went up to heaven, we, his followers, are who he has on earth to do the mission of spreading the gospel. Believers of Christ are the ones to give help to those in need, and offer hope in Jesus. The church of Jesus Christ is not merely a social service agency, or just a preaching center, we are the witnesses Jesus commanded to go. Who else is going to do the ministry of Jesus except the followers of Jesus? Sure, he could wave his mighty arm from heaven and make it all happen, but that’s not Jesus’ style. All throughout Scripture, God has used ordinary people like you and me to do the extraordinary work of mission, where we are, where we don’t want to go, and farther away than we think.
Another way to think about it is this—we get to do mission. We get to perform the ministry of Jesus. We get to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God, as well as to “do greater things.” While we may wish for Jesus to be here in the flesh with us, his ascension has granted us the grand opportunity to “be Jesus with flesh on” to people dying to see him amidst the darkness and need that consumes them.
Let us not be like those disciples in Acts 1 who were still looking to the sky and had to have an angel tell them to go and do ministry. Jesus’ ascension ensures we have all we need to go and make disciples of all the nations. Let’s get moving!
So I have a question: If you saw your beloved, back-from-the-dead “leader” levitate off of the ground until he is swallowed up into a cloud, to never be seen again, by you or anyone else on planet earth, would that be something you might include in your one and only “gospel” about him???
Yet Mark, the first gospel written (the original, not the altered versions), Matthew, and John say NOTHING about an Ascension! The ONLY person who mentions an Ascension (in his two books, Luke and Acts) is someone who tells us in the first chapter of Luke that he is NOT an eyewitness to any of these events; that he obtained this information, at best, second hand!
So we are asked to believe that Matthew and John, two alleged eyewitnesses to both the Resurrection and the Ascension, say not ONE word about this fantastic, supernatural event, but someone who admits that he was *not* an eyewitness is telling us the factual details of a real, historical, law-of-gravity-defying event???
Give me a break! This is a legend, and nothing more.
And what does that tell you about the probability of all the other fantastical, supernatural claims of the Bible?
Those are some great questions. There are several statements in John that could be interpreted as references to the ascension (6:62; 20:17), not to mention the late ending in Mark. Paul’s testimony also means that there was an early tradition (“legend” is not the appropriate literary-historical term). Either way, it was probably the theological weight of the resurrection that captivated his early followers most, which is well attested. In light of the resurrection, the possibility of a second grande miracle seems less farfetched.