I recently wrote on the broad idea of celebrating holidays as Christians. You can read that article, Lord of Our Years, here. In it I argued for keeping and celebrating the five main gospel feast days. If you grew up in a staunchly Roman Catholic community, or if you lived in early 16th Century Europe, you would be accustomed to all manner of holidays – literally, holy-days. These were days marking the Redemption Story, Christian themes, and various Saints. You really couldn't go a week without tripping over one of these holidays. They were like so many barnacles encrusting the calendar and cluttering the church's vision of time. And as these things go, when every day is special no day really is.
And so naturally when Reformation came to Europe something was to be done about the calendar. Some of the stricter Puritans and Presbyterians abandoned all marking of days except the Lord's Day. Sunday alone was to be special. But other Protestant brothers, and I share their view, elected to save at least the 5 main holidays and mark them well. These became known as the Five Evangelical Feast Days. Evangelical in this case referring to the fact that these days mark the gospel story.
Now if you are like most Christians these days, you can probably only name 2 or 3. Christmas and Easter come to mind. And perhaps you would remember to include Good Friday. But what about the last 2? Most of us just let Ascension Day and Pentecost pass us by. And I think this is a real loss to the church. This coming Thursday is Ascension Day. Ascension Day being that day that lands 40 days from the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. And the Sunday after is the Day of Pentecost – meaning 50, that is 50 days from Passover.
The Ascension of the Lord Jesus and the Day of Pentecost are not insignificant events, though they have been forgotten by many. You may have lived your whole Christian life without stopping to mark the day. But I would encourage you to not miss it now. The Ascension of the Lord Jesus is critical to the storyline of the gospel. Just as the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is critical to the storyline of the gospel.
Forgetting this part of the story is like revving your car in neutral. You have a working engine, the engine is even on, you are even in the driver's seat, but you are going nowhere – you are stalled out. You push the pedal and all you get is vroom vroom sounds. What is missing is application. What is missing is the vital connection between engine and axles.
Jesus came (that's Christmas), Jesus died (that's Good Friday), and Jesus rose (that's Easter), but why? And for what? What did all of that accomplish?
As we look to the Ascension we see how Jesus did not just quietly slip away after the resurrection – instead he ascended into heaven – where as Hebrews 1:3 says, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. This is where He will rule and reign over His kingdom. Ascension Day proclaims the truth that Jesus is seated on His throne right now, and that He rules the world right now. His Kingdom, His rule has been going on for almost 2000 years now. He ascended with all authority in heaven and on earth given to Him (Matthew 28:18), and from that position of authority the church now advances in this world with the gospel of His kingdom. Our fundamental confession is simply this – Jesus is Lord. And Ascension Day loudly proclaims this truth. The Lord God Omnipotent Reigns! He came, He died, He rose, and He ascended to rule.
It is not my aim to preach an Ascension Day sermon right here and now – we'll save that for next Sunday. What I want to do is encourage you to celebrate this day with greater clarity and intentionality than ever before – and perhaps for some of you, for the first time.
You see we must build some sort of culture. The denigration of our Western society started with the abandonment and repudiation of these very gospel truths that we see in the five Gospel Feast Days. And now the babel-like building project of secular-humanism carries on unabated. How will we tear down these idols? How will we build a godly Christian culture again here? The answer is simple: the same way we did it the first time. We proclaim the story. We celebrate the story. We apply to every area of life the story. We live and die for the story. Because it is not just a story it is the gospel of our risen and reigning King, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The recovery of a godly culture will only happen when we recover the gospel and the centrality of Christ for all of life. And it begins with each of us – in every person, in every family, in every business, in every church, in every neighbourhood, in every town, and beyond. The call is to make your hours, your days and your years all about Christ. Counter the story of the world with the story of King Jesus. Teach these things diligently to your children (See Deuteronomy 6). Build Christian habits into your life. Build gospel traditions into your family. Maximize the centrality of Christ in your life.
May I give you a few ideas for Ascension Day? My family has for the last eight or nine years marked Ascension Day every year on the Thursday. Here's what we do. First, we get a bunch of helium balloons (at least two per kid). Then we drive to a nice hill or a beach or a park and I read the story from Acts 1. Where we read, " when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight" (Acts 1:9). It is then that each kid releases one of their helium balloons into the sky and we all watch until we can't see them anymore. It is a lot of fun, and quite memorable. It's one little way to mark this great event in the gospel story. The other thing that we do on Ascension Day is have fish and chips for supper. Why fish? To remember that after Jesus rose, but before He ascended, He ate fish with His disciples on the beach (See John 21). Ascension Day is a Feast Day not a Fast Day. So we celebrate! And with the church we mark Ascension Day on the Sunday. We mark this with a special message about this great event in Redemptive History.
So I encourage you, celebrate the Ascension of the Lord Jesus! Celebrate the reality of your risen and reigning Lord every day. But mark it well this next Thursday and Sunday, balloons or no balloons. But why not balloons!? The important thing is to glorify Christ more and more in your life. To have the great gospel story dominate your story. To fill your life full with the gospel, such that it spills over on everyone around you. That is how you change culture. Christ is risen. He is ascended. He reigns as Lord forevermore. He is Lord of your life. He is Lord of your days. He is Lord of your years. So whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:17).
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