Blessed Ascension Day! It is truly one of the most important and least celebrated holy days in the church year. Take a quick moment and use this devotional as you contemplate the mystery of the Ascension of Christ.
Scriptures: Psalm 93; Luke 24:44-53
How often do we hear something along the lines of the following, “If God is really in charge, then why is there so much evil in the world?” As Christians, we struggle to understand how we can hold the following three premises together: 1) God is good, 2) God is all-powerful, and 3) Evil is real. Taken by themselves, we are confident in proclaiming that each statement is true. Put them together, and we do not know what to do, particularly in the midst of terrible, real evil.
These passages on the ascension can help shed some light on who is in control and how we can come to understand a world that seems to be completely out of it.
Psalm 93 reminds us that God is king. “The Lord is king, he is robed in majesty” (Psalm 93:1a). However, because of the witness of the present reality, this psalm also reminds us that we often face two temptations: that evil is really in control, or that we are really in control. Amid both of these temptations, we must proclaim the foundational truth in Psalm 93: God reigns. This means that, no matter what is going on, no matter what struggles we may be facing, we belong to God, and so does the world.
Likewise, Luke 24:44-53 gives us confidence in the fact that Jesus is ascended on our behalf. Jesus blesses the disciples and assures them that he will continue to care for them, even in his ascended state. In verse 49, he says, “And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” It is he who is in control. While the church is commissioned to do the work of Jesus here on earth, the church is not the equivalent of Jesus. Jesus is still Lord over the church and over the world. The church is the world’s servant, sent to proclaim the good news of forgiveness. Why does this matter? It matters because if the church is your Savior, you will be disappointed. But, if Jesus is your Savior, you will be free from despair. In his book, Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright states, “To embrace the ascension is to heave a huge sigh of relief, to give up the struggle to be God (and with it the inevitable despair at our constant failure), and to enjoy our status as creatures: image-bearing creatures, but creatures nonetheless.”
Psalm 93 was likely proclaimed during the time of the exile. Luke 24:44-53 took place during the in-between time, before the Spirit was sent at Pentecost, and was likely proclaimed during the first days of persecution of the church. Hearers of both passages were likely experiencing evil on a daily basis. Yet, the message remained the same: God reigns.
It is very often difficult to believe this, because it certainly does not seem as though God is in charge. (And, we think, if God is in charge, God could certainly be doing a better job!) In our minds, if God is in charge, then everything would be perfect. Since everything is not perfect, God must not be in charge. Yet, perhaps there is a third option, and this is the option that the writers of these passages had in mind. Perhaps we are simply in an already-not yet state, wherein the kingdom is here, but will come more fully as the church completes its mission. Again, N.T. Wright declares, “The kingdom will come as the church, energized by the Spirit, goes out into the world vulnerable, suffering, praising, praying, misunderstood, misjudged, vindicated, celebrating: always—as Paul puts it in one of his letters—bearing in the body the dying of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be displayed.”
Questions for reflection:
- In the midst of our everyday toils and troubles, it is often difficult to see how God is at work. Where have you seen God at work lately?
- In the face of real evil, how can the church faithfully bear witness to the reign of Jesus Christ without trivializing the suffering of others?
O God, thank you for reigning in my life and in the world. Please help me to see my role in your kingdom, that I might be one who bears your image and tells the world through my actions and words that Jesus has died, is risen, and now reigns at your right hand and on behalf of all of your children. Through Him, I pray. Amen.