The Importance of Ascension Day
The very name holiday means ”holy day.” Most holidays have religious significance. The events that a society chooses to centre its holidays around speak volumes about the religious worldview and value systems of that society.
For example: Ascension Day used to be a holiday in South Africa. Yet few of us ever appreciated its significance, until the government abolished it as a public holiday. It has been replaced with days that celebrate mankind, such as ”Human Rights’ Day”; ”Women’s Day”; “Workers’ Day” and ”Youth Day” - yet another indication that our government has rejected Christianity and embraced Humanism.
This is far more serious than we may at first suspect. Along with these secular ”holy days” have come the abolition of prayer in Parliament and the legalisation of abortion, homosexuality, gambling and pornography.
History is HIS Story
The Christian view of history is linear. Unlike the pagan and Eastern religions which hold to reincarnation and have a circular view of history, or the atheists who believe that ”you came from nothing, you’re going nowhere, life is meaningless,” Christians believe that history is His story.
God is sovereign over time and space. At the beginning of history, God created the world. Later He judged the world by the flood. At the appointed time, Christ came and died for our sins. Three days later He rose from the dead. Forty days later He ascended into Heaven. Ten days after that He sent the Holy Spirit upon His disciples at Pentecost. One great Day He will return to this earth and judge the nations.
History has a goal. Time has meaning. Our calendars should reflect that.
A Christian Calendar
It is appropriate that the biggest and most important holiday event of our calendar year is still the one that commemorates the incarnation of Christ - when God took on human form and was born at Bethlehem. Christmas celebrates the greatest gift of all - the advent of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is the reason for the season. We need to put Christ back into Xmas. Wise men still seek Him.
”For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
We give gifts on Christmas Day to celebrate the official birthday of The King of kings, and out of gratitude for the great gifts He has given us.
The second most important holiday is Good Friday - when we solemnly remember the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ, His great sacrifice on the cross of Calvary. He suffered, bled and died for our sins. He endured the punishment we deserved - so that we could enjoy the reward that only He deserves. We should be sombre, quiet and thoughtful on Good Friday as we meditate upon the love of God, His holiness, His hatred of sin, His justice and His atonement on the cross of Calvary. This should inspire us afresh to repentance, thanksgiving and consecration.
”In view of God’s mercy ... offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God ... ” (Romans 12: 1).
The third great Christian holiday event is Easter Sunday. Resurrection Sunday is a joyous celebration of the victory of Christ over death, hell and the grave. Jesus is risen from the dead. He is alive forever more. Death is defeated. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. Christ Jesus was ”... declared with power to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). All the founders of religions are dead. You can visit the graves of Mohammed, Buddha, Confucius and Lenin. But in Jerusalem there is an empty tomb.
”He is not here; He has risen!” (Luke 24:6) ”... raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:25).
The fourth most important event in the Christian calendar is Ascension Day. Forty days after Resurrection Sunday we celebrate the Ascension of Christ into Heaven. He is alive forevermore and He is exalted and enthroned at the right hand of God the Father, Almighty. He is above every other name and authority in Heaven and on earth. Jesus is The King of kings and The Lord of lords. We have an advocate in Heaven. He hears our prayers. He will crush all His enemies. He will come again. Therefore, we must go and make disciples of all nations.
The Ascension is about Authority
Our government saw fit to abolish the long-established Ascension Day as a public holiday Therefore we need to look at it in more detail. Its abolition is very significant because Ascension Day deals with authority. Christ ”has gone into Heaven and is at God’s right hand -with angels, authorities and powers in submission to Him” (I Peter 3:22).
”...All authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given to Me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations ... teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you...” Matthew 28:18-20
The Ascension proclaims the Lordship of Christ in all areas of life. Jesus has all authority. Jesus is Lord over the world of business, sport, entertainment, and government. Jesus Christ is Lord over the schools, the shops, the cinemas, the factories, the hospitals, the law courts and Parliament. There is no area of life that is outside of His authority. Every doctor, teacher, policeman, businessman, parliamentarian, factory worker, mother, father, magistrate and Supreme Court judge will have to individually stand before Almighty God on the Day of Judgement and give an account of his or her life. ’When You ascended on high, You led captives in Your train...” (Psalm 68:18).
The Ascension celebrates the vindication and victory of Christ. No doubt Caiaphas the high priest, King Herod and the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, thought that they were very important and powerful people. Yet these religious and political leaders are only remembered today because they arrogantly dismissed Christ Jesus. They didn’t recognise that they were condemning to death the Creator, the Giver of life, the eternal Judge before whom each one of us must stand. The Emperor Augustus who issued the decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world, requiring everyone to return to their town of birth, could not have realised at the time that the baby born to third class subjects in far away Judea would one day judge him.
”The Lord says to my Lord: ’Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.’” Psalm 110: 1
The Ascension proclaims the ultimate victory of Christ. Jesus is The King of kings and The Lord of lords. Those who refuse to bow to Christ as Saviour and Lord today, in the day of grace when forgiveness is freely available, will one day be forced to bow to Christ as the eternal judge - when they will be condemned to Hell forever.
”...He will crush kings on the Day of His wrath. He will judge nations, heaping up the dead and crushing the rulers of the whole Earth.” Psalm 110:5-6
The Ascension is a great comfort to believers who suffer persecution.
“Therefore, since we have a great High Priest Who has gone through the Heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the Faith we profess” Hebrews 4:14
We have an Advocate in Heaven. He hears our prayers. He ever lives to make intercession for us. He will come again. He will crush all His enemies. Therefore we should not fear governments, popes or councils. We must not bow before idols, nor should we compromise the essential principles of our Faith.
Though Christ is physically absent from the Earth, through His Holy Spirit He is spiritually present. He is all knowing, everywhere present and all powerful.
”For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet” 1 Corinthians 15:25
The Ascension is a wonderful reminder and assurance to us that
“... the Earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” Habakkuk 2:14
”Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the Name that is above every name, that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow in Heaven and on Earth and under the Earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” Philippians 2:9-11
The Ascension proclaims Christ’s glorious triumph and His future return and Day of Judgement. Therefore we as Christians should return to observing Ascension Day as a holy day to our Faith. If something is important we need to work it into our calendar.
”But,” you may protest, ”how can we observe Ascension Day as a holiday when the official government calendar does not recognise it as a public holiday?”
People of minority religions often observe their own holidays and maintain their cultural identity in spite of official policies. The Jewish, Muslim and Eastern Orthodox adherents observe feast days and fast days and other holy days different to ours. We should have the courage of our convictions and the integrity to organise and structure our lives and work around what is important to our Christian Faith - not secular humanism with its ”Workers’ Day,” ”Freedom Day,” ”Women’s Day,” ”Youth Day” and ”Human Rights Day.”
In our ministry we go to work on those spurious humanist holidays. We observe as holidays Ascension Day, Pentecost and other Christian holidays. I would strongly recommend that churches schedule special services for these monumentally important events. If it is not feasible to hold a service on the actual Ascension Day, at least dedicate the nearest Sunday to proclaiming the significance of the Ascension.
Other Important Days
In addition, there are other days that Christians should observe, such as the 31st October Reformation Day. This day commemorates the great rediscovery of Biblical teaching and the revival of freedom that followed after Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg on 31 October 1517.
Christians should also observe International Life Chain Sunday -on the first Sunday of October - and make a public stand for the right to life of pre-born babies.
In South Africa, 1 February is A National Day of Repentance - the tragic anniversary of the legalisation of abortion upon demand. Africa Christian Action has also promoted the Sunday nearest 1 February as Sanctity Life Sunday - on this day every pulpit in the land should proclaim the Biblical principles that life begins at conception, all life is precious and abortion is murder.
The International Days of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP) 9-16 November, are observed to remember those believers who are persecuted for their Faith.
All these would be appropriate additions to any Christian calendar. The whole principle of annual festivals and celebrations is deeply rooted in Old Testament Israel. God commanded the Jewish people to remember certain events with annual celebrations.
Keep Sundays Special
Setting aside the first day of the week as The Lord’s Day, a special Day, is good for our body, mind and soul. We need time set aside for relaxation, reflection and restoration. It is a matter of rhythm and routine, but also a matter of revelation and remembrance of the Lord’s great work of creation and salvation (Exodus 20:8-11 and Deuteronomy 5:12- 15).
By ordering our week to set apart the Lord’s Day as a special day for the family to rest and worship the Lord, we proclaim to the world that Jesus has risen from the dead and He is Lord of our lives.
Does your Calendar reflect your faith?
Peter Hammond is the author of The Greatest Century of Missions and Putting Faith to Your Feet.
PO Box 74, Newlands, 7725, Cape Town, South Africa
web site: http://www.frontline.org.za
By Peter Hammod