Carrying on After Jesus’ Ascension by Wendy Alsup

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For those following a liturgical church calendar, Pentecost is generally viewed as the climactic moment of Eastertide. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit came with stunning fanfare on the little band of believers huddled down praying in that Upper Room. The commotion drew the attention of locals, and in one day, three thousand people came to believe in Jesus. But though Pentecost puts an exclamation point on the preceding 50 days in the Christian calendar, Ascension Sunday provides us needed reflection without which Pentecost doesn’t make much sense.

Acts 2 loses a lot of its meaning without Acts 1.

The first chapter of Acts records the last face-to-face conversation the disciples had with Jesus. They asked him a crucial question in Acts 1:6, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” It’s a question we ask still today as we work to reconcile our current experiences with what we believe God has done in the past and will be doing in the future.

Before the crucifixion, these same disciples had not understood Jesus’ coming death and resurrection. Along the Emmaus road after his resurrection, he connected for them the dots between the Old Testament and his death (Luke 24:13–27). It makes sense then that these same disciples wanted a little more clarity about the next steps after his resurrection. It makes sense that at times we still do as well.

But Jesus didn’t explain the details to them in Acts 1. Instead, in the next verses, he promised once again the coming of the Holy Spirit, who would equip them to be his witnesses to “Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Instead of explaining the details of what happened next, Jesus used language that reminded them (and us) of his instructions a few days before on a mountain in Galilee, recorded in Matthew 28.

The Great Commission

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore 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 teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

Go and make disciples everywhere, Jesus instructed them with this pivotal commission. He repeated a version of this in Acts 1:8 with his very last words face to face with his disciples before he ascended into heaven. Their mission was to take the good news of Jesus to the very ends of the earth. That was his final instruction. And we claim it as our mission still today.

This commission is noteworthy because Jesus’ own earthly ministry was incredibly centralized. By the time of his ascension, he had brought the good news of himself to only roughly 0.03 percent of the Earth’s inhabitable land. His ministry encompassed a very tiny region of a very large world. Yet, he left this misfit band of tax collectors and fishermen, who scattered when fearful and seemed unable to discern for themselves the most basic aspects of the good news of Jesus, to evangelize the other 99.97 percent of the inhabitable world. At face value, this seems quite risky.

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Source: Christianity Today