10 Ways to Preach the Ascension Sermon

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The Feast of the Ascension often finds itself eclipsed by other monumental events in the life of Christ. This is due primarily to its occurrence on a Thursday, unlike other momentous occasions such as the Baptism of Jesus, the Transfiguration, Easter, and Pentecost, all celebrated on Sundays. However, the Ascension is far from a secondary event, for it unveils profound truths about Jesus and the Godhead. And if not celebrated on Ascension Day, it can be transferred to the following Sunday, which is the Sunday before Pentecost.

What happened on that Thursday? Outside Jerusalem, Jesus led his disciples to a hill. They had seen him risen from the dead, and he had been with them. Now, he stood before them and blessed them. The astonished disciples looked up as Jesus disappeared into the clouds, leaving them with a sense of wonder, mystery, and, no doubt, fear. Then it grew quiet. The Lord was gone. Did the disciples shed tears? Did they tremble? What did the Ascension mean for them, and what does it mean for us?

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1. Exalted Lord

The Ascension is a powerful reminder that Jesus is more than just a man or a teacher, but the Son of God who holds all authority in heaven and on earth. As Jesus leaves the planet and assumes His rightful place in the Throne room of heaven, He is Lord, and He reigns over all things. Jesus fulfills the Psalm: “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!” (Psalm 108:5).

This truth should give confidence to every believer left here on earth. As we navigate life’s challenges, we can trust that our ascended Lord has not abandoned us. Instead, He continues interceding on our behalf and guiding and sustaining us by His Spirit. By recognizing Christ’s exalted position, we can face our trials with courage and hope.

2. An Advocate with the Father

By his Ascension, Jesus becomes an advocate for us before the Father. And we know we need an advocate. Consider what Jesus had told Peter: “Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat” (Luke 22:31). These are disturbing and provocative words. None of us wants Satan anywhere near us. But then Jesus assured Peter: “But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail (Luke 22:32). Isn’t it wonderful, that now Jesus prays for us all as he prayed for Peter?

Jesus Christ is now the one who defends us when Satan tries to bring our sins before God. Christ pleads for us before God as our mediator, advocate, and high priest. Christ’s case to His Father is not based on our successes or failures. Christ’s case is built based on His life, blood, and perfect character. Christ is our lawyer and has never lost a single case.

3. Source of Joy

The Ascension should be a source of joy for believers. Luke tells us that, following the Ascension, the disciples returned to Jerusalem “with great joy” (Luke 24:52). This joy was not only because Jesus had triumphed over death and sin but also because they knew they would never be alone. The Holy Spirit would soon empower and guide them in their mission.

The Ascension is a reminder of the hope we have in Christ. As He ascended, He prepared a place for us (John 14:3) and guaranteed our eventual Ascension and eternal life with Him.

4. No Longer Bound

The Ascension puts an end to Jesus’ frustration about His earthly life. Yes, I said it. Jesus was frustrated to be bound by space and time in human form. He was anxious, in a sense, to fulfill His final purpose. Remember, He said, “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it was already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” (Luke 12:49-50). And remember, Jesus never ran anywhere, but the only time He appears to be in a hurry is when He is heading to Jerusalem for the last time (Mark 10:32).

The Ascension is like a sunset on the earthly ministry of Jesus. It signals the end of His local presence but not the end of His impact. Jesus will have more impact and greater reach as the ascended living Lord—unbound— than he would have had if He stayed on earth.

5. A New Era of Spiritual Gifts

The Ascension is one of the few times that we can lean on Paul to teach us about a specific event in the Gospels. In Ephesians 4:7-12, Paul repurposes Psalm 68, “Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” and links the grace that we have received to the Ascension. This grace refers to spiritual gifts Paul describes elsewhere (see 1 Cor. 12:4-11).

In other words, from his high position, Christ gives gifts to God’s people to help them mature. So, we share in Christ’s heavenly triumph. We receive the spoils of the Lord’s victory on the cross. If Jesus had not ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit would have never come. And if there is no active presence of the Holy Spirit, we are doomed to the Christian life without any power or purpose. The Ascension was a new sunrise on a new day.

6. History’s Intermission

The Ascension also has eschatological implications. It shows us that history can be seen as a play, and the Ascension is the closing curtain on the pre-Christian era. History had a major inflection point in the Ascension. The wait for the coming Christ and the work of the Incarnate Christ was over. The curtain closes on this first era. And now, a new era in the life of the Church could start with the coming of the Holy Spirit. The interim time between the Ascension of the Lord and the arrival of the Holy Spirit can be described as an Intermission lasting only ten days. The first part is over, but there is more to come. Much more!

7. Universal Mission

The Ascension of Jesus sets the stage for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the birth of the Church. As Jesus ascends, He gives the Great Commission to His followers, telling them to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). This global mission is not just for the original disciples, but now, it is for all believers throughout history. This mission reflects Christ’s universal reign, as the ascended Lord seeks to gather a people for Himself from every corner of the earth.

This mission is not just an option or a suggestion; it is a calling to be taken seriously by all who claim to follow Jesus. We are challenged to consider our role in the mission of the Church, using our gifts and talents to serve others, share the love of Jesus with those around us, and work towards the coming of His kingdom on earth.

8. Stephen’s Vision

The reality of the Ascension was so threatening to the power base in Jerusalem that the Jewish leaders assassinated the first one to speak openly about it. Stephen stood to preach a sermon that indicted the “stiff-necked people.” When he finished his message, the crowd was tense and tight. Then Stephen gave his final benediction: he looked up into the skies and declared what he saw. “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56).

Stephen’s martyrdom reveals the transformative impact of a vision of the ascended Lord, empowering believers to face even the most violent opposition with grace and forgiveness. It also demonstrates the disruptive nature of the Ascension, challenging earthly powers and exposing their ultimate impotence in the face of God’s reign.

9. A Glorified Body

The Ascension and the subsequent vision of Stephen prove Paul’s point to the Philippians, namely, that we have a new kind of body in the world to come. It is not 100% spiritual, like a ghost. It is not fully human like our body or Jesus’ earthly body. It is a “glorified” body suited to the life to come. Paul says that Jesus “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:21).

Later, Paul describes our future, new, physical bodies. He writes,

“So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body… Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.” (1 Corinthians 15:35–49)

In other words, as Jesus had a body when He resurrected and ascended, so will Christians when they are resurrected (John 5:21, 28; Romans 8:23). This is also seen in Stephen’s vision of the heavenly throne. The glorified form of Jesus was standing next to the Father.

10. Christ will Come Again

The Ascension serves as a reminder of the promise that Jesus will one day return to earth in glory. As the disciples watched Jesus ascend into heaven, two angels appeared and assured them, “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). This assurance of Christ’s Second Coming brings hope and anticipation to believers as they await the fulfillment of this promise.

Preaching on the Ascension can help remind the congregation that Jesus’ ministry did not end with his Ascension, but that he will come again to establish His kingdom and restore all of the creation fully. This hope should encourage and strengthen believers to live faithfully and serve God’s kingdom in the present, knowing that their labor is not in vain and that the glorious return of Christ is assured.

For An Encore

But When? For those who believe that Jesus was the Son of God and that he came to earth, there is universal interest and curiosity about when he will fulfill his promise to return. Entire denominations and church movements have risen and fallen based on the answer or guess to this question: when will Jesus return? It seems to me that the Anglicans have the perfect solution to the question. We know that he will come back. But we also know that he didn’t even know, and we are not supposed to know. But our creed, embedded in the middle of the Eucharistic prayer, is the perfect and adequate summary of Anglican eschatology. “Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.” That’s it. And that is enough.

By exploring these different ways to preach the Ascension of Jesus Christ, preachers and laypeople alike can gain a deeper understanding of the significance of this pivotal event in the life of Jesus and the early Church. Each perspective offers a unique lens through which to view the Ascension and its implications for the believer’s life. As we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension, our preaching should highlight these profound truths and allow them to inspire us. Here is Saint John Chrysostom:

” Christ has gone up with a great shout, with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God. He has gone up, not to sit at the right hand of the Father and remain inactive, but to reign and to judge. He has gone up to prepare a place for us and to send the Holy Spirit upon us. He has gone up to make us citizens of heaven, to unite heaven and earth, and to reconcile God and humanity.”


Photo by Thomas Nozina on Unplash.

Published on

May 4, 2023

Author

David Roseberry

David Roseberry leads the nonprofit ministry, LeaderWorks. He was the founding rector of Christ Church, Plano, Texas, and is the author of many books. He lives in Plano with his wife, Fran.

View more from David Roseberry

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