Ascension Day 2013: Global Missional Implications

by Grant McClung

May 9, 2013, is “Ascension Day,” marking the day when Jesus Christ ascended up into heaven, as recorded in Acts 1:3-11. It starts a global countdown of ten days of international prayer leading to the annual Global Day of Prayer on Sunday, May 19 (daily prayer guides are available at http://www.globaldayofprayer.com/). 

May 9, 2013, is “Ascension Day,” marking the day when Jesus Christ ascended up into heaven, as recorded in Acts 1:3-11. It starts a global countdown of ten days of international prayer leading to the annual Global Day of Prayer on Sunday, May 19 (daily prayer guides are available at http://www.globaldayofprayer.com/). 

Unfortunately, many know nothing about the observance of Ascension Day. In Europe, where my wife and I lived in missionary service, many countries observe it as a legal holiday but it is nothing more than a day off work for most secular people. Across the world, Christians observe Resurrection Sunday (Easter) with church pageants and musicals. A few weeks later, the Christian world (especially Pentecostals!) place a focus on “Pentecost Sunday,” but Ascension Day often goes unnoticed. 

Not so with the Triune God. The ascension of Jesus Christ was at the heart of the completion of God’s saving action in Christ, ending his humiliation, and exalting him to the place of honor and authority at the right hand of God the Father. As New Testament scholar French Arrington states, “The earthly life of the crucified and risen Lord reaches its climax when He was taken up into heaven.” 

What are the missional implications of Ascension Day for the Global Church? Among the many blessings coming from the historical death/resurrection/ascension event, believers around the world—anywhere, anytime—have have access, approval, anointing, and accompaniment. 

1. Access – to a new and living way. In his commentary on the ascension, the reformerJohn Calvin said, “Since (Christ) entered into heaven in our flesh, as if in our name, it follows, as the apostle says, that in a sense we already sit with God in the heavenly places in him (Christ). At the ascension, our humanity, our ‘flesh’ has been ‘taken’ by God’s beloved one – Jesus – into the very heart of God.” Someone once asked a commercial airline pilot if he was nervous about the responsibility of lifting off a plane load of hundreds of people. “No,” he said, “I just get myself in the air and they follow me!” In the same way, following the resurrected and ascended Christ guarantees our access into an eternal future. Already now, we have access to God’s presence and may come boldly to his throne of grace (Heb. 4:16) because of the “new and living way” that Jesus has opened for us (Heb.10:19-20). 

2. Approval – God’s favor and blessing. After commissioning the disciples to the ends of the earth with the priority of making disciples of all peoples, Jesus began to bless them. “While he was blessing them,” reads the account, “he left them and was taken up into heaven” (Luke 24:51). He commissioned them, began blessing them, and the ascension began. The last thing that was happening to them was the blessing and approval of their Lord! That blessing continues for Great Commission believers today as we advance to the nations with his approval. 

3. Anointing – giftings of the Holy Spirit for service. Ten days later, the ascended Lord poured out the enduement of power for anointed service to those waiting for the promised Holy Spirit. Into the face of a hostile, mocking crowd, Peter testified to this new anointing: “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he [Jesus] has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear” (Acts 2:32-33). 

4. Accompaniment – God is with us! As the disciples moved into their world with the gospel, they were refreshed with the realization that “… the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it” (Mark 16:20). His presence was promised to them—and to us—as we advance the gospel to the ends of the earth until the end of time (Matt. 28:20). The blessings and benefits of the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ—access, approval, anointing, and accompaniment—await Christ followers who will embrace them. The ascended and glorified Christ is with us and is coming again!   

Grant McClung is president of Missions Resource Group (www.MissionsResourceGroup.org), a missiological advisor to the World Missions Commission of the Pentecostal World Fellowship, and a member of the EMQ Advisory Committee. 

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