While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. — Luke 24:51
This past Thursday (and Sunday), we celebrated the Ascension of the Lord. If you’re Amish, it’s a great day to go fishing. For all the rest of us, it’s a great day to remember that Jesus is still present to his people. He stepped off the scene at the end of his earthly ministry, but he hasn’t abandoned us.
I used to think that ascension was the rolling back of the promise of Immanuel — God with us. More like God was with us, because he ascended. I thought the ascension was sort of a de-incarnation. In my mind, it would have made more sense for Jesus to set up shop in Jerusalem and just keep on teaching and healing, world without end.
But that misses the point. Among other things, the ascension means that Jesus is with us in a new way. Luke 24:52 is the first place that the disciples worship Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. Dr. Luke chooses his words carefully. He’s signaling a changed relationship with the disciples. Jesus is more than just their rabbi. He’s their Lord — and his death, resurrection and ascension seal the deal.
Luke 24:51 says that he was “carried up.” The New Testament uses a handful of words to say “carry up.” This word is unique. It means “offered” as in “offered a sacrifice” (see Lev. 2:16). It’s the same word that we use in Christian worship for the communion prayer: the anaphora.
And so Jesus’ life was offered fully to heaven. The disciples, as they praise God (v. 53) and join their lives to his through the promised Holy Spirit, make their own lives an offering to God. So do we. This is what Paul was getting at when talked about making our lives a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1).
Here’s the thing: life offered to God does not depend on greatness. It depends on our life joined to Jesus’ offered life. He imparts greatness enough. We do well to remember this in our rural churches where bragging rights to Biggest and Best are a little sparse. This isn’t about offering the most successful, the most famous, the most amazing. This is our lives offered through Jesus’ life, continued among us and ascended to the Father.
How will you offer your life to God in light of the ascension?
Brad Roth is pastor of West Zion Mennonite Church in Moundridge, Kan. He blogs at The Doxology Project, where this post first appeared.