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Ascension Day the Forgotten Day

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Before it was called “Memorial Day,” Memorial Day was called Remembrance Day. In many parts of the country, especially by those who are older, it still goes by this name. In many ways, I like the old name better. It is more direct and personal. A memorial is external and it does not necessary require a personal commitment, but the act of remembering always demands an internal personal commitment. As a nation, we need a day in which we remember those who have gone before, especially those who paid for our freedom with their lives.
As Christians, we need to remember as well. Under the Old Covenant, God commanded a number of memorials constructed so future generations would remember the mighty acts of God. The most important “memorial” of the Old Covenant was the Passover Feast, in which the people remembered God’s deliverance of His people from the bondage of Egypt. The New Covenant has its memorials as well, the most important of these being the Lord’s Supper, which Christ instituted with these words, “do this in remembrance of me.” Though the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, Christ commands us to “remember our leaders” (Heb 13:7).
In addition, the church thought it wise to remember special days in the life of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Among these days are Christmas, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Pentecost. There is one day missing from this familiar list, Ascension Day. Those of you who are older may have picked up on this, but my guess is that for many of our younger members, they have no idea that a day called Ascension Day even exists.
It was not always like this. When the Reformers looked at the blotted Church calendar that had developed during the Middle Ages, they knew that much of it had to be done away with, but one of the days that they all agreed should be remembered and observed was Ascension Day. It was not too long ago that many communities would close businesses and schools so the people could go to church and celebrate Ascension Day!
What is Ascension Day and why is it so important? The first question is the easiest to answer—it is the day that our Lord ascended into heaven. This day is recorded for us in Acts 1:6-11:
Acts 1:6–11 ESV
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
The second question requires a more lengthy answer. Time does not allow me to cover all the reasons why Ascension Day should be remembered and celebrated, but I want to look at Ephesians 1:15-25.
Ephesians 1:15–23 ESV
For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Paul lists three thing in this passage he wants the Ephesians, and consequently all believers, to know. I am going to take them in reverse order. In verses 19-22, Paul prays that believers would know God’s power towards us: This power is most clearly demonstrated to us by the resurrection and ascension of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Consequently...

Ascension Day Helps us Know God’s Power Towards Us

There are many powerful manifestations of God’s power: creation, the Exodus, the Conquest and many others. I have already mentioned that under the Old Covenant, God commanded the saints to remember the Exodus by celebrating Passover. The Passover was instituted by God so Old Covenant believers would remember God’s resolve to deliver His people by His mighty power. This was Paul’s pray of the Ephesians, “I do not cease…remembering you in my prayers, that…God…may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation…that you may know…the immeasurable greatness of his power towards us.” (Eph 1:16-19)
We need to remember God’s power towards us because life is hard. Many things threaten us. The coronavirus is just the latest threat. As surely as the sun rises and sets each day, we will face new threats in the future. Many have become paralyzed by their fear because of the coronavirus. The news media is doing all it can to cause panic. Many politicians because it is an election year are doing the same, but God has a different message: God’s message is that He is in control and He is working for our good.
The Resurrection and Ascension of our Lord is the greatest demonstration of God’s power and good will towards us. In verse 19, Paul says this power is “immeasurably great.” We can measure the things threatening us. Every day the media lists the number of people infected and who have died. The coronavirus is a measurable threat, but God’s power cannot be measured. It is the same power God exercised when He raised Christ from the dead and when He took Jesus up into heaven on Ascension Day and seated Him “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion.”
People call the United States a super-power. We have the most powerful economy and military on the planet. We have a nuclear arsenal that could destroy this plant many times over, yet Jesus’ power is greater! Moreover, Jesus is over all the spiritual powers as well. Not only the good angelic being, but the evil ones as well. There is no ruler in the physical or spiritual realm that can stand up to the power of Christ.
This is Good News, because Christ is using this power on our behalf. That is what the phrase, “power towards us,” means. Just as God delivered Israel from Egypt with a mighty hand and just as He delivered Jesus from death, seating Him in power and glory, so God will deliver us and seat us in glory!
This brings us to the second reason the celebration of Ascension Day is so important:

Ascension Day Helps us Know What Our Inheritance Is

In verse 18, Paul calls this a “glorious inheritance.”
Rarely does a person know all the details of their inheritance beforehand, but often we can get a good idea by looking at those who have gone before. Jesus is our elder brother and He has come into full possession of His inheritance. By looking to Jesus, we can come to know what our inheritance looks like and it is glorious!
In the same way, “God’s power towards us” is “immeasurable,” so too is our “inheritance.” Here are some of the things Scripture tells us about it:
1 Peter 1:3–4 ESV
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,
This inheritance includes sharing in Christ’s reign:
2 Timothy 2:12 ESV
if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us;
This includes having a position and authority higher than the angels have. We read in First Corinthians...
1 Corinthians 6:3 ESV
Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!
Our position is much like that of a child growing up in a royal court; all their life they have observed the power and authority of their elders, knowing that when they come of age, they too will share in that wealth, power and authority!
This brings us to the final reason we should not forget Ascension Day:

Ascension Day Helps Us Know Our Hope

Hope is the most necessary ingredient for life. On this Memorial Day weekend, remember the many thousand service men and women who were POWs. Remember the POW at the infamous Hanoi Hilton. They were beaten, starved, tortured and kept in solitary confinement, yet hope keep them alive. Hope makes all the difference. Without hope, we are as good as dead.
Of all people, Christians have the greatest reason for hope. We have already seen that God is directing His power towards us and has given us a glorious inheritance. Scripture says it was the hope of joy that kept Jesus going all the way to the cross.
Hebrews 12:1–2 ESV
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Ascension Day is the original Memorial Day; it calls us to look not at the heroes of our nation, but the heroes of our faith. The number of these heroes is so great that they are called a great cloud. Scripture tells us that when Jesus comes back again, He will be at the head of that great cloud. I want to close by asking you today, “Will you be in that great cloud?” It is the only way to be assured that God is working His power towards you and has given you a great inheritance. This is a hope you can be certain of. Jesus said He would turn none away who come to Him. Come to Him. Come to Him, today! That is why we remember Ascension Day. Let us pray.
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