By Doug Beacham
Today is May 5th. For many in the United States and Mexico, it’s Cinco de Mayo, which is not the Mexican Independence Day. Rather, it commemorates the Mexican Army’s defeat of the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862.
But this year, 2016, is also Ascension Day in most of the Western church world.
I bet more people will know about Cinco de Mayo than Ascension.
In the long run, Ascension is more important than the military, political, and economic victories of any nation on this planet. The reason? Ascension is when the One who conquered death in His resurrection ascended to His rightful place at the right hand of the Heavenly Father. You can read about it in Acts 1:1-12. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke conclude with the Ascension. The Apostle Paul alludes to its importance in Ephesians and Colossians.
Ascension brought to a close the forty days that Jesus “presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs . . . speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). It is also a reminder that “this same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). The disciples were then sent to Jerusalem to spend ten days in prayer, in certain administrative tasks, women and men together, preparing for the surprise manifestations of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.
Orthodox Christians and theologians tend to place more emphasis on Ascension than do most of us from the Western church traditions. We Pentecostals tend to use Ascension as a jumping off point to emphasize the Holy Spirit. There’s nothing wrong with that; however, when we jump too soon we miss the significance of Christ’s enthronement in the heavens. We lose the significance of our eschatology and how we live with faith, hope, and love in this present darkness.
I find this particularly true in the times in which we live. Around the world, Christians are being persecuted in record numbers. Along the tenth parallel in North Africa and Asia, Christians are suffering as Islam seeks to advance. The ‘religion of peace’ often uses metal swords to advance its kingdom rather than the ‘Sword of the Spirt’, the Bible, usually used by Christians.
In the Middle East, Christians are being driven out of lands where they have been for nearly two millennia. Across the Middle East, Christians wonder if the world even knows of their plight. It took the U.S. State Department agonizing delay in finally recognizing the atrocities and genocide against Christian populations. And even then the government did it reluctantly.
In the United States, conservative Christians are stunned at the rapid deterioration of reason, common sense, and gender confusion manifesting itself in the Sexual Dark Ages of the 21st Century. We live in the Apostle Paul’s world where the powers that be, “professing to be wise, became fools” (Romans 1:23). The Western world is so sexually crazed and confused because sexual self-expression has become the idolatry of our time. It manifests itself in greed, in covetousness, and in the destructive behaviors that are promoted by government and celebrated by media.
I sense we are living in a period of moral, political, economic, and social confusion that has barely a line of light on the darkening horizon. Our political parties are in disarray, and why not? We are tasting the bitter dregs of moral relativity and rejection of God. Sadly, the poor and the young pay the heaviest price.
So how do we respond? How do I respond? I remember the Ascension! I remember that Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father and He is interceding for the world (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). I remember that I am seated with Christ in the heavenlies (Ephesians 2:6). I remember I hear Jesus praying for the world (Psalm 2:8); I hear Him praying for the poor (Proverbs 22:22, 23); I hear Jesus praying for His followers (John 17:9, 15, 20). I hear the Spirit interceding and thus hear God praying for His creation (Romans 8:20-28).
That Jesus ascended contains the promise that He will return. Until then, we live by the light of the Word of God. Even in the Dark Ages, the shadow of the Rock of Ages is outlined against the sky. We sing the Lord’s song in a strange land. And we learn the power of intercessory prayer, praying as we hear Jesus praying.