Hello everyone and welcome to another thought for the week.
In a recent piece of helpful feedback we’ve been asked to introduce ourselves as we begin our videos as we may well be talking to folks who’ve no idea who we are!
So, my name is Reverend Joe Cooper and I’m a Curate here at Christ Church, Stannington. If you’re not a regular member of the church family, you are most welcome and please do consider joining us in the flesh, once public worship has resumed.
Today is Ascension Day when the Church remembers and celebrates the moment when our Lord Jesus Christ ascended and returned to heaven to rule with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit.
We might be tempted to ask on this day, why did Jesus have to return to heaven? Jesus had conquered death and sin through His death on the cross and His resurrection; surely this was the moment to usher in the new kingdom, the new heaven and the new earth of which Revelation 21 speaks of. The place when God Himself would dwell with humanity in a restored and renewed earth. And the disciples gathered around Jesus, ask him in Acts 1, “is this it, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” “No, it is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority” Jesus replies. Not yet. So Jesus returns to heaven and the disciples are left stood there looking into heaven.
But why? Well here are a few thoughts. In John’s Gospel, chapter 14, verses 1-6 we are told that Jesus will return to heaven so that He can (amongst other things) prepare a place for us. This passage is often used at funeral services. There are many rooms in the Father’s house and there is a room just for you if you want it. But you have to want it, and take it, and claim it for your own. No on else can do it for you. No amount of being a nice, good, decent person in this life will earn you a place here. All of these are of course admirable qualities, but they are not the way to heaven according to Jesus Himself.
In this passage Thomas asks that question many of us have asked or may still even be wondering “so how do we get there, what do we do to get a room in the Father’s house? How can we know the way?” “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” Jesus replies, “no one comes to the Father except through me.” But what does this mean? Well in very simple terms you believe that Jesus died for you on the cross, you accept His sacrifice, you claim it for your own and then you live for Jesus to the very end of your mortal days. If you’ve never done that before, why not do it today. All you need to do to start this process is to say a very simple prayer with sincerity. Something along the lines of: ‘Lord Jesus Christ I thank you that you died on the cross for me, I claim your sacrifice for myself, show me how to live a better life, help me to become more like you’. And if you’ve just prayed that simple prayer for the first time, you have just become a Christian, congratulations and welcome to the family. And do get in touch with us so we can help to support you in your new journey of faith.
In the Great Commission at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus told His disciples, His followers to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all that I have commanded you”. The disciples had followed Jesus for the past three years, completing their NVQ in practical discipleship. And they’d done alright. It had been a bit of a rocky start, Peter had a wobble when Jesus was arrested, but most of them had got through it. Judas of course being the exception who did not make it through to graduation. Betraying the teacher and helping to have them murdered was not on the course syllabus!
The time had come for the disciples to leave the master and go out into the world to do a bit of practical discipling for themselves. They wouldn’t be left alone, for before too long they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. And then, equipped with the power of the Holy Spirit they would go out into the world and as we know, would help to change it forever.
So, Ascension Day is not a day to be downcast, it is a day of great celebration. We celebrate the fact that Christ conquered sin and death and was able to return to heaven to rule with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit as a king. We remind ourselves that Jesus has gone ahead of us to prepare a place just for us in the Father’s house. We recommit to following Jesus or we use this moment as an opportunity to accept Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life for the first time in our lives. And we promise to play our part in helping to make new disciples wherever we find ourselves at this time and to do this for as long as we are physically able.
For as the great hymn reminds us:
We have a gospel to proclaim
Good news for all in all the earth;
The gospel of a Saviour’s name:
We sing His glory, tell His worth.
And on the day when we remember Jesus’ Ascension:
Now we rejoice to name Him King:
Jesus is Lord of all the earth.
This gospel message we proclaim:
We sing His glory, tell His worth.