By Peyton Garland, Crosswalk.com
Christmas and Easter—the two Christian-centered holidays that believers and non-believers alike can never forget. Whether it's the church bulletin's advertisements for the upcoming children's play or Macy's reminding you to snag the perfect holiday attire, you can't ignore Christmas and Easter.
But what about Ascension Day, the holiday celebrated 40 days after Easter, focusing solely on Christ's resurrection? Christianity.com reveals that Ascension Day shifts our focus from Christ as a humble servant and calls us to worship Jesus as the risen and victorious King. It's as if we were called to remember Immanuel, God with Us, Christ Jesus as man, a human who walked and talked and lived and breathed in our flesh, but now we are called not to forget that first vision but also to envision Jesus as God. After all, such is the mystery of Christ; He is both God and man. It's as if Easter and Ascension Day share the same mission: to reveal beautiful secrets of the humanity and divinity of our Savior.
Furthermore, Ascension Day calls us to rejoice in the great Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom Christ gifted to mankind after He ascended to be with the Father (John 14:16). We often place the Holy Spirit on the backburner, as if He's the bronze medalist of the Trinity. But in doing so, we lose sight of the glorious truth nestled in Matthew 1:23. This verse reveals that “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). Yet, following Christ's ascension, the Holy Spirit fulfills the role of Immanuel, ensuring that the presence of God, the love and peace of Christ Jesus, forever rest on a weary world, whispering encouragement and healing to the believer's heart. The Holy Spirit is God with us, promising a presence that will never be taken, come what may on this side of heaven.
Though there are no Ascension Day "rules" hidden in the Bible, I believe this celebration compels us to fulfill the Great Commission. Matthew 28:18-19 displays the ultimate calling of the believer: "Then Jesus came to them and said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age.'"
Let's take a look at three key elements of the Great Commission that every believer should engage:
1. The Confidence of Christ
"Go" is a strong action verb. It gives little room to pause, wait, consider, mull over, overthink, "what-if," debate, etc. Go means go. And go means now. When Christ told His disciples to "go" make disciples, He didn't follow up with prerequisite discipleship courses they should take; He didn't stop and quiz them on their knowledge of the Torah; He didn't force them to weigh in to ensure they were physically fit enough for the job. He simply told them to go. The Holy Spirit He had gifted them with was the only resource they needed. The Holy Spirit's presence was more than enough to overpower Thomas' doubting and Peter's tempers. It was enough to let the thirteenth disciple, Matthias, know that even as the newbie, he was ready to tell others of Christ's saving glory.
Often, we love to place God in a box. We mold Him and squeeze Him and shove Him into whatever we need Him to be. Yet, God doesn't do the same to us. Of course, He has given us commandments through love—the laws and rules to protect both body and soul—but He doesn't ask us to look prettier, be smarter, or run harder in order to fulfill the greatest mission that man will ever know. He doesn't cram us into a box. He simply lets us tell the story of how Christ beautifully wrecked our lives, changed our souls, forgave our sins, and gave us hope. So long as we are able to share the story of God's eternal goodness, we are equipped with all things.
We can move forward in the confidence of Christ, the boldness that with the Holy Spirit nestled in our very souls, following us wherever we go, Immanuel will forever supply our needs.
2. The Hospitality of Christ
"Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world." The older I get—the more I travel and meet new people and ask questions about other cultures—the more this children's church rhyme hums in my heart. I don't believe we are called to see no difference in color, size, or economic status in our neighbors. We are required to see differences, to see people as they are, to notice them as Christ Jesus endearingly takes detailed note of them, and welcome them into our homes, our lives, our tough times, and our days of joy.
Personally, I find the common church phrase of the day—"Do life with people"—to be incredibly overspoken yet incredibly under-lived. Of course, I truly believe most Christians do not do this out of spite or racial hate; no, not at all. It's just a trait of fallen man that we flock to those who look and think like us; it's a security blanket. It's a way to ensure we can continue living the way we want without any interruptions.
But I challenge you to allow the Holy Spirit to interrupt your routine. Let your soul be recked for people. Notice those who are different than you. Smile, speak, engage, love. Open your heart and home with Christ's hospitality, inviting all nations to know Jesus, and in the meantime, you'll make friends who will become your greatest encouragers as time goes by.
3. The Promise of Christ
Will we ever know the true depth of the rich promise that we never have to fear death? I don't think we can comprehend that promise just yet, not until glory is all we know. However, when Christ said, "And surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age'" (Matthew 28:19), He wanted mankind to know that we would never taste true death. Of course, our feeble human bodies will give way to the natural elements of a fallen world, but our core, the beautiful bits of our soul that God uses and knows so well, will live forever.
We truly have nothing left to fear, and with that in mind, I believe the Holy Spirit whispers one simple world: live. Look for the sunrise as God's watercolor magic, and smile at the frazzled woman wandering the grocery aisle. Take a hike and enjoy the mountains God spoke into existence, and invite the elderly, lonely man to sit with you at the restaurant.
Let love live in your life. Invite people into your story, and make sure they know the story of Immanuel. Show them He is the God who not only came to die for man but arose and ascended into heaven. Even still, Christ left His Spirit with us so He would be a God who not only came but stayed.
I pray God's love finds you today, even in the simple places, as we celebrate His glorious Ascension Day.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/KatarzynaBialasiewicz
Peyton Garland is an author and coffee shop hopper who loves connecting people to a grace much bigger than expected. Her debut book, Not So by Myself, was promoted by Former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino and Endorsed by TED Talk speaker and creator of the More Love Letters Movement, Hannah Brencher. She lives in Colorado with her husband, Josh, and their two gremlin dogs, Alfie and Daisy.