A couple of weeks ago Christians celebrated the Ascension of Jesus. Do you ever wonder why we celebrate the Ascension? I understand celebrating the birth of Jesus, and his resurrection, and even his death on a cross (if we understand what it means). But his Ascension? Yet after his Ascension, the disciples “returned … with great joy” (Luke 24:51). They celebrated the Ascension.*
When I was about ten years old, my father taught me how to sail our small sailboat. He taught me how to capture the wind, how to steer with a tiller, and how to “right” the sailboat when it capsized.
One day after another sail together, my father looked at me and said, “Go on, take her out by yourself.” The wind was rather strong; the waves were rather large; and my mother was rather terrified. I loved it. I took the boat out alone. The wind blew splashes in my excited face. I was a ten-year-old boy alone on the sea; I was Captain Hook, Christopher Columbus, and Sir Francis Drake all rolled into one.
That was one of the most memorable days of my mere ten years of existence. I still delight in the memory.
What does the Ascension have to do my solo sail? Well, quite a bit, actually. As I’ve reflected on the Ascension, here is what God is saying to me.
The weakness of believers
After three years with Jesus, after his death AND resurrection, and after forty days with this resurrected Son of God, the disciples ask, “So, are you going to finally kick the Romans out?” (Acts 1:6, paraphrased). They still don’t get it.
It may sound irreverent, but I’m not sure how else to describe the disciples at the time; they were sort of idiots. (Nor do I know a better word for us, sometimes!)
I’m surprised Jesus didn’t cry out, “Argh! Father, we’re going to have to start all over.”
Instead, in his Ascension, Jesus says to the disciples, “Go on, take her [his message, his work] out by yourself.” They weren’t perfect; they weren’t even close.
The disciples asked, “Will you do this now?” and Jesus responded, “No, YOU will!” Jesus entrusted his gospel and his church to a small group of people who still didn’t get it. Just like my father entrusted a sailboat to a ten-year-old boy.
Humility and Confidence
As a ten-year-old boy, I was young, foolish, and weak. Forty-five years later, I’m old, foolish, and weak—though a perhaps little less foolish and a little less weak.
In our [sometimes rare] moments of honest self-reflection, we see our own weakness and foolishness. It’s easy to want to wait until we are wise and strong before we “take her out.” Jesus is saying we can go out now, in our weakness and brokenness. He is with us, and through our weakness he is made strong.
It’s good to have the humility that comes with self-reflection, but we also should have confidence. Jesus has confidence in us. His Ascension says, “Take her out.” And he is making us into something incredible. C. S. Lewis said of us,
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship.… There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. (Mere Christianity)
But not alone
I imagine the disciples were pretty disappointed. They had already “lost” Jesus once, on the cross. Now Jesus tells them that he is leaving again.
When my father said, “Take her out” I was alone. But when Jesus said, “Take her out” he also said, “Behold, I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20). And the disciples were filled with great joy (literally “mega” joy).
In their joy, the disciples understood something that we don’t quite get. I sometimes wish Jesus were still here physically. But Jesus is saying he is here, literally, at our side, with us in every moment. As I sit at my keyboard, Jesus is sitting next to me, in me, with me. He is here. And sometimes I can sense his presence.
The wonder of it all
Isn’t it wonderful—almost too good to believe—that Christ entrusts his mission to us while we are weak, and broken, and still don’t get it?
In his Ascension, Jesus says, “I anoint you, I appoint you, I commission you; take her out,” just as you are now, in your weakness and imperfection, “And behold, I am with you always.”
[See also, The Heresy of Wonder-less Theology]
* I first heard of the wonder of the Ascension in a sermon by Tim Keller, The Ascension.
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