As a kid, I remember my encounter with a picture in my children’s Bible. The colored photo depicted the disciples gawking at Jesus as He slowly lifted off the ground, like a rocket gathering steam. Now as I look back, the entire scene seemed more than a little goofy. With Jesus levitating and the clouds billowing around His feet like puffs of smoke, the image reminded me of the magician at neighborhood birthday parties who pulls bunnies out of hats and cards out of thin air. For my younger self, the unfortunate artwork muddled the reality of a decisive piece of the gospel story.
This misguided association fueled my confusion in the years to come. I heard how the ascension displayed a crucial moment for Jesus, but I couldn’t cobble together any reason why. Why did Jesus return to the Father? Why didn’t He stay among us to teach and help us with all the travail that would come? Does it even matter whether or not we pay attention to this odd event?
Jesus’ ascension, far from being some isolated one-off incident, provides the final assurance that He is Lord.
It does. The ascension is crucial because it serves as the capstone of Christ’s entire world-transforming mission. The incarnation introduced the scandalous thought that God would rescue humanity by taking on human flesh. Jesus’ life and teaching bore witness to how God’s kingdom seeped into the totality of human existence, while His crucifixion leveled the final blow against every rebellious act of evil and injustice. The resurrection announced God’s triumph over death itself, a triumph that dismantled every wicked power scheming to bury us under sin and alienate us from true life. And Jesus’ ascension, far from being some isolated one-off incident, provides the final assurance that He is Lord. This singular event proclaims that the God who became human, lived among us, died on a Roman cross, and rose from the dead now holds the entire cosmos in His hands.
When my son Wyatt was younger, he was often terrified at night. As he lay alone in his bed, the darkness provoked intense anxieties. Whenever Wyatt was afraid and yelled for help, I would sit on his bed, place my hand on his chest, and pray for him, reminding him that Mom and Dad were only 20 feet away. I would talk Wyatt through the nightmare scenarios of an overactive imagination, unraveling their power by showing him how his worries of midnight villains were ridiculous.
Often, however, his fears would not subside. So one night I stood up from his bed and towered over him. “Do you know why you don’t need to be afraid, Wyatt?” I asked in a deep, firm voice.
“No,” Wyatt answered, sitting up.
“Because . . .” I said stretching even taller, “because, I’m bigger and stronger than any of those bad guys. If anybody wants to get to you, they have to come through me. This is my house.” I pounded my chest with my fist.
Worry drained from Wyatt’s face, replaced by joy. He liked all this talk very much. On a roll, I continued. “And you know what I’ll do if any of these wimpy bad guys show up around my house?”
Wyatt’s head shook side to side, but his chuckles and wide eyes told me he was very eager to hear.
We can rest easy because of this one fact: Christ rules over the world, not us.
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll pick up their scrawny little bodies, and I’ll pound them into the ground.” I stomped the floor for emphasis.
Wyatt laughed, hugged me, and went swiftly to sleep. My son needed to know his dad was near, that his dad loved him. But my son also needed to know that his dad was strong and could (would) do whatever was necessary to watch over him. He needed to know this one thing: that his protection wasn’t his concern, that his dad was strong—and on the job.
The ascension declares exactly this kind of truth for us. Our well-being is not our responsibility. We can rest easy and, with confidence and joy, pursue whatever work God has placed before us, because of this one fact: Christ rules over the world, not us. In Jesus, God has already conquered the seditious powers and enacted the story’s good end. Jesus has ascended to the Father in order to oversee the unfolding of Divine redemption. Because God is on the job, we need not surrender to worry, exhaustion, or despair.
Author Tyler Wigg-Stevenson said this well: “The world is not mine to save. But I can serve the mission of the God who has already done so.” The ascension insists that we live in God’s world—and that our life is in very good hands.
Photography by Darwin Wiggett