Ascension Day is almost unknown in the religious world of our day. Strange! The world celebrates Christmas and Easter with us and even Good Friday, to some extent; but, even the religious element of society has no idea what Ascension Day is all about. Even in Reformed circles it is by no means a popular holiday. Although the Reformed Churches in Holland have fallen on difficult times, these churches still celebrate this day and it is even somewhat of a holiday in the nation. We are in danger of losing the significance of this day and many churches combine their services to make the attendance at this service look a little better.
Why is this? Do we no longer recognize how important this day is in the history of our redemption? Every one of the great acts of God in Christ reveal to us the steps in the history of our salvation. Jesus Christ came into this world and assumed our flesh and blood. This is of tremendous importance in our redemption. He took our place. He became one of us. We gladly celebrate this day and warn our children not to look only at the material aspects which have surrounded this day.
On Good Friday we looked to the cross of our Savior. We realized, at least in part, how great the cost of our salvation was. We have to know how great our sins and miseries are. Look to Calvary—the greatest display of the sin of man. It was this bad! The Son of God had to shed His blood to redeem us. We stand at that cross very humbly, but we also glory in that cross of Jesus Christ (Gal. 6:14).
Similarly, we celebrate the glorious fact of His resurrection on Easter morning. Though death has been man’s great enemy since the days of the Garden of Eden, death is formally conquered in the resurrection of our Lord. The feel sting of death has been removed even though it may still be a painful experience. Surely, the victory of the grave has been removed. Christ Jesus is risen from the dead and we shall rise with Him. What a day to celebrate. We do and even the unbelieving world at least takes note of it.
What does Ascension Day give us? Much in every way. He told His disciples some time before, that He would ascend in order that He might prepare a place for His people. The Head and the body should be together. He goes into heaven and “there continues for our interest” (Heidelberg Catechism Q. 46). He goes into the heavens to intercede for us (Heb. 9:24). He prayed for His disciples and all His followers while He was with them. Sometimes the Lord would spend an entire night in prayer. Now, after He has ascended, the Christ prays for His followers constantly. He ascended in order that He might rule over all things from there. What a blessing for His people that Jesus did not remain here with His disciples. What a truncated gospel we would have if our Lord had not ascended.
The fact that our Savior is above has changed the focus of His people. Paul says that they should now set their affection on the things above (where Christ is) and not on things of the earth. Perspectives have changed with the ascension of our Savior. We will seek the things which are above (Col. 3:1–2). We seek communion with the One who is in the heavens. He is ruling all things from His throne in the heavens. Not only does He rule the church; He also rules all things in this world for the welfare of the church and He rules our individual lives. Not one thing happens in my life which is not under His guidance and control. If I have that view of the ascension of our Lord, the day becomes one of the greatest of the year. He has returned to the Father—where He belongs. It was also His desire to return to the presence of the Father, His desire is my command. In their spiritual short-sightedness the disciples wanted the Lord to stay here with them. He tells them that it is profitable for them that He goes away. So only would the Spirit come. That Spirit we need most of all to bind us to the Lord and to clarify all things for us here. The church which does not observe Ascension Day is robbing itself of great comfort.
Only one more event will take place in the history of our redemption—the Lord Jesus Christ will return on the clouds of heaven. This fact was emphasized especially at the time of His ascension (Acts 1:11). All these events form one chain and not one of the links may be missing. Churches ought to be overflowing with worshipers on Ascension Day. It is indeed one of the great days on the redemption calendar. A complete gospel includes the message of each great day in the history of our salvation.
Rev. Vander Kam is a retired minister of the CRC who is now serving the Free Christian Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, MI.