Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

The Ascension

The Ascension


Let us say together the Apostle’s Creed (recite the creed). The creed was written in order to give people a concise understanding of the faith - short enough that people could memorize it but comprehensive enough that everything that essentially we need to know and believe to follow God is included. There were no Bibles available for people to look at so they needed a way to get the facts about the faith. Originally it was a baptismal creed - those adults being baptized would learn it in question and answer form and then recited it at their baptism.
So let’s think about this creed and what the early church fathers felt was import an for us to know…..
First that God created heaven and earth - short and sweet and essential for us to believe. The last paragraph gives us some one sentence essentials - The Holy Spirit, that regardless of tradition, or denomination, we are all one church in Jesus Christ, that we are all part of the communion of believers - living or dead, that our sins are forgiven, that we will be bodily resurrected and will live forever. The middle paragraph, the longest one, tells us what we need to know about Jesus - the basics. That Jesus was the son of God, that his birth was a miracle, that he was crucified and died, that he rose from the dead and that he ascended into heaven and sits on the right hand of the God the father almighty.
And that last little section is what we need to talk about today - he ascended into heaven….. This is Ascension Sunday - the day set aside to recognize that essential section of the Apostle’s Creed - that Jesus ascended into heaven. A little over 40 days ago, we recognized the death of Jesus and his resurrection. Jesus remained on earth for 40 days after the resurrection, spending time with the disciples - teaching them and encouraging them in the role they were going to have to fulfill as the Apostles of Jesus. We had our Christ Candle burning in the sanctuary to remind us of the special presence of Jesus during these 40 days. During these 40 days Jesus was also trying to prepare the disciples for the fact that he was going away - for good this time.
On the 40th day after the resurrection, this coming Thursday, Jesus gathered the disciples on a mountaintop, and told them that this was it. That this was the moment he was leaving - he told them not to worry. He was going to heaven, but he was going to send his spirit back and this spirit would live in them and give them the power they needed to do the job God had assigned them. Their job was to go out into the world and teach everyone what he had taught them. The disciples were to take everything that Jesus had taught them and now teach it to the rest of ‘the world’. Go back to Jerusalem, and wait. When the time is right my spirit will come to you. Which by the way we will celebrate next Sunday as we remember the event known as Pentecost.
So as the disciples are standing there, they watch as Jesus literally, physically, ascends through the clouds and on to heaven. They just stood there mesmerized. Can you imagine? They stood there long enough staring up in the sky that an angel came and said, “Don’t just stand there looking up into heaven!” Go! Do what Jesus said! Go back to Jerusalem and wait for the spirit Jesus will send you. Off they went, singing and praising God and they did what Jesus told them - they went back to the upper room and waited expectantly for whatever this spirit might be!
So the disciples are in the upper room waiting for whatever this ‘spirit’ is that Jesus has promised them. And thinking about that sight witnessing Jesus’ ascent into heaven. Which makes us start to think about heaven…. Other than knowing that God the Father and Jesus are there, what do we know about heaven? We talk about it a lot - we all want to end up there. We all probably have our own vision of what heaven is like. But what does the Bible actually teach us about heaven?
We know that God created it. We read that passage from Genesis to begin the service - in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. Heaven was something new that God created at the same time he created the earth. There is no real description of what ‘heaven’ is but we know that

it is where God lives with his angels. The word ‘heaven’ is used as a term of where God is - even thought we know that we are taught that God is everywhere.
What God and the writers of the Bible know is that we as humans need concrete images to help us understand concepts. We need a visual picture to help us figure all this out. So the writers portray God as a king like, or father like, being sitting on a throne where he looks out over the earth - his kingdom. Not that this is necessarily what it is really like. This is simply an image that the people who lived during the time of the bible would have been able to relate to. To understand God - think of him as a great king sitting on a throne in a great throne room. This visual image would portray for these people complete control and complete power. They lived under earthly kings who had complete control over their lives and total power. This is not what it is really like, but a good way for you to think about God and heaven. That image doesn’t work so well for us and I’m not even sure there is an image that would work since we have never lived under that kind of total power and total control over our lives. But that is what that image of God is suppose to portray - that concept of God overseeing us and in control.
Often we hear in Bible stories that ‘the heavens open up and we see the glory of God” - the visual would be looking up in the sky and seeing God sitting on his throne. The idea is to reassure us that God is there and that God is at work and God is in charge. That comfort of knowing that God is watching and knows what is going on in our lives.
The other definition of what we know about heaven is that it is the place where God’s servants go when their work is done in this life. We read many times that someone’s work was done and they were ‘lifted into heaven’.
When we are ‘lifted into heaven’ what is it going to be like? We don’t have a clue. There is no definitive description of what heaven is actually like. We have the description of God’s throne room with angels flying around him and worshipping him. We know that Jesus sits in his throne on the right side of God. We have Jesus telling us that he has prepared a room/mansion for us. The Apostle John was lifted up by God and given a ‘vision of heaven’. Then John says - there are no words to describe it. I don’t have the proper vocabulary to convey to you what it is like. But here is my best shot - and he describes streets of gold and buildings of jewels and that there is no light source other than the glowing, glory of God.
Heaven is something that can’t be described - but it will be good. Even better than the physical description, there is the description of what we will be like in heaven. We do not turn into angels who sit on clouds strumming harps of gold…… but the prevailing description of heaven is a time when we will be at peace - there will be no pain and no tears and no hardship. And we will have the ability to not only see God but to worship him as he truly desires to be worshipped.
Sounds like somewhere we would like to be, so how do we get there? First, and most important, you cannot earn your way to heaven. Heaven is not the goal of living a life for Christ. We are saved by grace. Heaven is the ‘reward’ not the ‘goal’ of living as God’s people. You go to heaven by acknowledging your salvation in Jesus Christ and then living as Christ calls us to. We are taught not to live with heaven in mind, but to just know that we can be confident heaven is the final destination.
How do we get there? And here is the importance of the Ascension of Jesus. Jesus died - so will we. Jesus was resurrected - so are we. Jesus ascended into heaven - so will we.
The importance of celebrating the ascension is that we are celebrating Jesus’ ascension but we are also celebrating
our ascension. Because Jesus rose to this mysterious place we call heaven, so will we. That is the good news of this day!
The ascension, according to the Gospels and our early church Fathers, is a very significant event - it rates right up there with Christmas and Easter and Pentecost as important days for us to recognize in the church. Ascension is actually the completion of what Jesus was to do when he came to earth. We celebrate his birth at Christmas so that he could be one of us, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday we remember his death for our forgiveness, Easter we acknowledge Jesus rising from the dead so that we will rise from the dead as well. And then, when this time is completed, as Jesus ascends into heaven to be with God the Father to live with God forever - assuring us that we too will live forever in heaven with God. Amen!