“God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ” Acts 2:36
Down the centuries, it has been traditional for Christians to celebrate the day of Pentecost on Pentecost Sunday, fifty days after Easter Sunday and ten days after Ascension Day. On such occasions, it has also been traditional and entirely appropriate for the focus to be placed on Acts chapter 2, Luke’s description of the events surrounding the pouring out of the Holy Spirit manifested in speaking in tongues and his record of Peter’s sermon explaining these events to those who witnessed them. What is not as common but is just as appropriate, is for Acts 2 to be linked with Ascension Day. Indeed, one may say that it is not only appropriate to link Acts 2 with Ascension Day but in fact right to do so. For when we read Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:14-36, we find that Peter draws a connection between the speaking of tongues, the gift of the Spirit and the enthronement of the resurrected Lord Jesus at God’s Right Hand, the very event which Ascension Day is meant to remember.
Peter begins his sermon in Acts 2:14 by dispelling the misunderstanding of the crowd. What they saw and heard, namely a group of Galileans “declaring the wonders of God” in their own languages (Acts2:11), was not evidence of being drunk with wine, but rather a fulfilment of a promise made by God through the prophet Joel (Acts 2:16-21). Joel had promised that a day would come when God would pour out His life changing Spirit upon people of all nations and the declaration in a variety of languages of praise about, and to God, was proof of the fact that God had indeed kept His promise. So the first part of Peter’s sermon is indeed about the gift of the Holy Spirit to the world.
From Acts 2:22-36 however, Peter’s focus shifts away from the Holy Spirit and onto the person of Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 2:22). It is also clear from Peter’s opening remark in this section: “Men of Israel, listen to this!” that Peter is now getting to the main point of his sermon, the lesson that he wants his hearers to take to heart and to act upon. And that main point is found in Acts 2:36, the verse quoted at the beginning of the article. In brief, the main point is this: the declaration in Jerusalem of God’s praises in tongues (i.e. the languages of every nation under heaven Acts 2:8-11) is proof on earth, that Jesus, whom men had crucified but God had raised from the dead (Acts 2:23-24), had now ascended to the right hand of God the Father (Acts 2:33) and had been appointed by God as both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36), that is not just King of Israel but Lord over all nations. What they ‘saw and heard’ (Acts 2:33) was thus proof on earth of what had happened in Heaven. And this is indeed what the world-wide church is to remember on Ascension Day.
For Ascension Day is not merely about the fact of the ascension of Jesus, but also about the significance and consequences of His ascension. And these consequences are profoundly missional and gospel centred. Because of Jesus’ enthronement as Lord over all nations, the church of Jesus Christ has both the authority and responsibility to carry the message about Jesus to the very ends of the earth. Because of Jesus’ enthronement as Lord over all nations, people of all ages from every nation are called and indeed commanded to bow the knee to Jesus as Lord and to trust in Him alone as the only Saviour from sin, death and judgement. In the ascension and enthronement of Jesus, the church therefore receives both the gift of the Holy Spirit as Counsellor and Comforter, and the power of the Holy Spirit to bear witness to Jesus with courage and confidence. This is what Jesus Himself had taught His disciples both in the Upper Room (see e.g. John 15:26 – 16:11) and on the mountain before His ascension (Acts 1:1-11). And this is precisely what we see in the rest of the book of Acts. For the book of Acts is not about experiences of the Holy Spirit, but bold and courageous witness in the power of the Spirit, starting in Jerusalem and spreading from there via Judea and Samaria and across all nations to the very ends of the earth. Indeed, as the book ends we see Paul, Christ’s chosen apostle to the nations, in Rome, “preaching boldly and without hindrance about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus” (Acts 2:31).
All of this is a reminder therefore that while it is good to celebrate Ascension Day, it is even better to live day by day in the light of the ascension of Jesus, trusting in Him as our one and only Saviour, submitting to Him as our One and only Lord, and prayerfully proclaiming Him to the people that God brings across our path every day.
Written by Mervyn Eloff. Original article can be found here.