I don’t know if you’ve seen it – but on the 7th of May, a hospital in Southampton had a brand new piece of artwork donated to them. The highly secretive street artist by the name of Banksy, designed a picture of a young boy playing with superhero toys – but there’s a twist. His Batman and Superman figures lie disregarded in the bin next to him, and the toy he is holding high and flying through the air is, instead, a toy nurse. The framed picture is simply entitled: “Game Changer.” (see above!)
The picture itself captures how much the bravery and compassion of nurses has been rightly elevated and (perhaps finally!) appreciated at this time of pandemic, panic and pain. We are recognising something truly heroic in their work and in their tireless and selfless efforts to look after us. This time truly has been a ‘game changer’ in unmasking the role they play in our world.
In case you didn’t know, today (21st May) is Ascension Day – a day in the church calendar to remember how Jesus “ascended” into heaven. It takes places 40 days after Jesus’ Resurrection. (Can you believe that Easter Sunday was only 40 days ago??)
It seems to me that though we often remember Jesus’ death and resurrection, His ascension into heaven is a moment we can easily overlook – and yet it is a huge game changer in terms understanding Jesus’ Identity and Mission!
When He had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, He lifted up His hands and blessed them. While He was blessing them, He left them and was taken up into heaven. (Luke 24.50-51)
Could it be that we miss this because, as adults, it sounds more like something we’d read in a comic book than on the pages of the Gospels? We can often view this story through the lenses of a “superhero genre”, but for Luke it is nothing of the sort; this moment of history is so pivotal in the story that He ends his Gospel with it (Luke 24:50-53), and begins His sequel by returning to the exact same moment (Acts 1:1-11)!
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day He was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles He had chosen. (Acts 1:1-2)
When we return to this moment in Acts 1, Luke gives us more detail of how it happened:
After He said this, He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight.
They were looking intently up into the sky as He was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? 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 1.9-11)
It seems to me that Luke does everything possible to emphasize for us that Jesus was “taken up” (a word here that also means to be “exalted!”) into heaven. This was a moment witnessed by the apostles and confirmed by angels, and is now recorded for us and referred to many times in the scriptures!
So, why is it so important? What does it mean? Why does it matter?
This is such a huge moment, and such a big question, that I’d like to take a few blogs together to really explore it. But for now, the first thing to notice here is how Jesus returns to heaven.
Risen, and Exalted One
There are at least nine others times in the scriptures where people are raised from dead!
- The widow of Zarephath’s son (1 Kings 17:17–24)
- The Shunammite woman’s son (2 Kings 4:18–37)
- The man raised out of Elisha’s grave (2 Kings 13:20–21)
- The widow of Nain’s son (Luke 7:11–17)
- Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8:52–56)
- Lazarus of Bethany (John 11)
- Tabitha (Acts 9:36–43)
- Eutychus (Acts 20:7–12)
- And, of course, when Jesus died on the cross we read of multiple simultaneous resurrections:
“And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, He gave up His spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.” (Matthew 27.50-53)
In both the Old and the New Testaments we have a God who raises the dead!
So, what makes Jesus’ resurrection so special? …so special in fact that the Bible tells us that it powerfully declares that Jesus was the Son of God?
The Ascension shows us why – whereas all the other resurrections were temporary, (all of those people would eventually die again), Jesus is stands unique: He was not resurrected only to have to die again later, but raised to life forever!
He has not just escaped death or merely delayed it – He has completely destroyed it!
For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, He cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over Him. The death He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life He lives, He lives to God! (Romans 6.9-10)
And the Bible tells us that Jesus’ resurrection functions as the “first-fruits”, a foretaste (or a prototype!) of the resurrection life that is available to us now in Jesus!
“Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me.
Because I live, you also will live.“ (John 14.19)
If Jesus had simply died again a second time (like all the other resurrected people before and after Him), our only hope would be a temporary resurrection – a prolonged life maybe, but certainly not an eternal one. But Jesus ascended into heaven – very much alive; talking, teaching, blessing, exalted!
We often limit what we mean by “being Christian” to simply things we believe or ways that we live – but Jesus described it as a complete spiritual transformation – a “being born again” (John 3.3). This brand new life bears all the hallmarks of the power of His Resurrection:
But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2.4-7)
Banksy’s picture shows a child holding up their hero – but the important thing for us is that our “Exalted One” is holding onto us, and is able to lift us with Him out of our sin and shame, our despair and death!
All who have gone before us in Christ are now seated with Him – and are enjoying the “incomparable riches of His grace” and God’s “kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” Death no longer has any mastery, the grave has been disarmed and is forever robbed of it’s victory, it’s power and it’s sting!
In these strange days, where infection, illness and death seem closer than ever – the One we need to lift up is our Ascended and Victorious Saviour, who has been exalted over sin and death forever!
His selfless victory really is an eternal game changer for all who places their lives in His hands!
He is the Lord, forever His truth shall reign
Heaven and earth rejoice in His holy Name
He is exalted! The King is exalted on high! (Twila Paris)
On Tuesday next week (26th May) we are marking the 80th anniversary of The King’s Call a National Day of Prayer that brought about what history now recognises as “The Miracle of Dunkirk”. As we pray for those who are ill, dying, grieving, anxious and isolated – we are crying out the One who is the Lord of Life, Conqueror of Death and the One whose hope holds even when all other hopes fail us. Join us as we pray for His hope to be lifted high over all.