More Than a Footnote

Today’s post is by Nate Palmer. Nate is the author of Servanthood as Worship: The Privilege of Life in a Local Church (Cruciform Press, 2010). You can follow him on Twitter at @palmernate.

Despite being one of the earliest and oldest of Christian holidays, the Ascension Day is nowhere to be found on the modern church calendar. It doesn’t even have its own hallmark card section or a catchy mascot like the Easter bunny. No one passes candy nor does anybody hang decorations. Each year, the once revered day passes by without any fanfare or remembrance. Ascension Day has vanished from our calendars and our consciousness. R.C. Sproul writes, “The significance of the Ascension is often overlooked in the modern church… Most churches, however, make little or no mention of the Ascension.”1 I not am arguing for another reason to eat at an overprice buffet, but the exclusion of the day Christ ascended into Heaven in our calendars is a symptom of much more dire ailment—an exclusion of its importance to the Christian life.

In today’s Christian culture, Christ’s birth, life and death are often the main in not sole focus in our celebrations, preaching, and publishing. Theologian Louis Berkhof makes observation that: “Even in evangelical circles the impression is often given, though perhaps without intending it, that the work accomplished by the Savior on earth was far more important than the services which He now renders from Heaven.” This is not to say that we shouldn’t study the amazing and life altering truths of Christ’s earthly ministry. Nor is to deny that all Christians should thoroughly seep themselves in their application. Yet modern churches unevenly focus in on these doctrines at the expense of Christ’s heavenly ministry – his ascent into heaven (Ascension) and sitting at the right hand of God (Session).

Often, Christians have a lopsided view of the work of Christ. We fail to see the complete spectrum of the entire work of Christ which includes both his humiliation and exaltation. A.W. Pink, in his commentary on Hebrews, writes, “There are many Christians who dwell too much on the crucifixion of Jesus in a one-sided way. We cannot dwell too much on the glorious truth that Jesus was crucified for our sins. Yet it is not on the crucifixion, but on Christ the Lord, that our faith rests…The ultimate object of his death upon the cross was His resurrection and ascension.”2 This unbalance has left many modern evangelicals with an incomplete view of the Savior. Consequently, this has given rise to an unbalanced gospel.

Most Christians can accurately provide details and explain the significance of Christ’s earthly life, death, and resurrection; yet how would you answer the question, “What does an ascended and enthroned Christ mean for your everyday life?” or more specifically “How does an exalted Savior affect how you look at your health, finances, your marriage, even your work?” Unfortunately this aspect of Christ is largely untouched, especially in formats that are accessible and easily understood by laymen like me.

There may be some legitimate reasons for this lack of emphasis. First, it is through Christ’s humiliation – incarnation and His sacrificial atoning death – that sinful man finds his savior and through which their sin is atoned for. It is on the Cross that we find reconciliation with a Holy God. Second, the resurrection declared the merit and successful accomplishment of Christ. Indeed Paul states that without the resurrection our faith is futile, 1 Cor. 10:12-19. Third, the ascension and session are not addressed as often as Christ’s death and resurrection. Forth, the neglect could stem from the fact that there is a lot less controversy surrounding the ascension and session. Therefore because of these reasons, ascension and session may seem has having less impact on the Christian life.

The Ascension and Session are more than a historical footnote or some sort of episode from “Where are they now—the Jesus edition”. RC Sproul in countering the neglect of Christ’s exaltation states, “However, the Ascension is a redemptive event of profound importance. It marks the moment of Christ’s highest point of exultation prior to his return. It is in the Ascension that Christ entered into His glory.”3 Christ’s exaltation plays a significant role in the Gospel message.

Historically, the Ascension and Session of Christ have both been consistently included in all the great confessions of the Christian faith – pre- and post- reformation. The earliest and most well-known of these the Nicene Creed and Apostle’s Creed both include Christ’s ascension and session. Other major confessions such as the Westminster, Belgic, Heidelberg, and the Second London Baptist, not only explain the nature of the Exaltation, but—and sometime as great length—extol the immense value of it to the Christian life.

The inclusion of Christ’s Exaltation into the major tenants and celebrations of the Christian faith was not based on mere conjecture or tradition – rather it was based on the Scripture’s themselves. James M. Boice writes, “That the ascension of Christ is mentioned so often in the New Testament is a clear indication of its importance.”4 The Bible both testifies the actuality and to the affect of Christ’s ascension and session. The apostle Paul specifically includes these events as part of the Gospel in passages like Phil. 2:5-11, Eph. 1:15-22 and 4:1-11, and Heb. 12:2. Paul repeatedly makes the case that for just as our justification was assured by Christ’s death and resurrection, our sanctification and ultimate glorification is assured by his ascension and session.  Therefore the Gospel message—the good news of Christ—is incomplete if we focus only on what did while on earth without including what Christ is doing now from his throne in heaven.

Show 4 footnotes

  1. R.C. Sproul, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith, Tyndale House 1992, pg. 95
  2. A.W. Pink, An Exposition on HebrewsBaker Books 2003, 417
  3. R.C. Sproul, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith, Tyndale House 1992, pg. 95
  4. James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, IVP 1986, pg. 362

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  • Louis Tullo

    What a great post! I particular enjoyed when you reminded, “our sanctification and ultimate glorification is assured by his ascension and session.” Christ’s work was so massive, and there’s so much for Christians to be grateful for in contemplating it, and living it out in our daily walk I can’t help but rejoice. We serve a risen Lord who intercedes at God’s right hand for us now!

  • Cruciform Press

    You guys rock.