The Ascension, Rembrandt,
1636, Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Germany
GRANT, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that like as we do believe thy only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into the heavens; so we may also in heart and mind thither ascend, and with him continually dwell, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.
FOR THE EPISTLE
THE former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the Apostles whom he had chosen: to whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion, by many infallible proofs; being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God: and, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water, but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence. When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you; and ye shall be witnesses unto me, both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up, and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven, as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come, in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.
St. Mark 16.14-end
JESUS appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen. And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. And they went forth and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following.
Omnes gentes, plaudite
CLAP your hands together, all ye people : O sing unto God with the voice of melody.
2. For the Lord is high, and to be feared : he is the great King upon all the earth.
3. He shall subdue the people under us : and the nations under our feet.
4. He shall choose out an heritage for us : even the worship of Jacob, whom he loved.
5. God is gone up with a merry noise : and the Lord with the sound of the trump.
6. O sing praises, sing praises unto our God : O sing praises, sing praises unto our King.
7. For God is the King of all the earth : sing ye praises with understanding.
8. God reigneth over the heathen : God sitteth upon his holy seat.
9. The princes of the people are joined unto the people of the God of Abraham: for God, which is very high exalted, doth defend the earth, as it were with a shield.
The Harmony of the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels.
A Devotional Exposition of the Continuous Teaching of the Church Throughout the Year,
Rev. Prebendary Melville Scott, D.D.
S.P.C.K., London, 1902.
OUR Church puts before us to-day not so much a doctrine as a fact established on the evidence of eye-witnesses. In the case of the Resurrection no such evidence was necessary, for to have seen Christ alive after His death was sufficient proof that He had risen again.
The evidence to be given does not stand alone, but is in harmony :—
(1) With the Foreshadowings of Type.
Such may be traced in the translation of Enoch, in the lordship of Joseph after a supposed death, in the passage of David through trouble to his crown, in the ascension of Elijah, and in the speaking ritual of the Day of Atonement.
(2) With the Predictions of Prophecy.
We have three such in the Psalms—Ps. lxviii. 18, cx. 1, and particularly xxiv. 7-10. But, in truth, every foretelling of the spiritual and eternal Kingdom of the Messiah takes for granted, and, in effect, declares the Ascension. The Christ must rise to His throne before He could reign. The earth is God’s footstool, and, therefore, Christ could not reign here. Thus viewed, the Old Testament teems with predictions of this event.
(3) With the Promises of Christ.
Christ spoke of Himself as “ascending up where He was before”; He prayed, “ Glorify Me with the glory I had with Thee before the world was”; He explained to the disciples how He was about “to leave the world and go to the Father,” and His message after the Resurrection was, “ I ascend.”
(4) With the object of His Mission.
The Ascension was necessary to complete His threefold work as the Messiah. He could not teach as our Prophet till He had sent the Spirit. He could not save as our Priest unless He had ascended to intercede and present before God the sacrifice of His death. He could not rule us as our King unless He had been exalted to the throne, and any throne but the highest would have been humiliation rather than exaltation.
FOR THE EPISTLE. (ACTS i. 1.)
We may best consider this passage as exhibiting the evidence of the Ascension.
A. The Evidence of the Evangelist.
The Book of the Acts was the sequel to the Gospel, and comes to us from the same hand. He who recorded for us the life of Christ has also recorded His Ascension into Heaven. No part of the history can be severed from the rest. The Evangelist regards the Ascension
(1) As the completion of the Life of Christ.
The Ascension was the final act which closed the mission of Christ upon earth. That mission was not ended until He had finished His ministry, chosen and instructed His Apostles, illumined their hearts with faith in His Resurrection, and their minds with knowledge of the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God. This done, His work was ended and He returned to the Father.
(2) As the beginning of the Life of the Church.
His last commands related to the endowment of the Spirit. His Apostles were not to separate as if their mission was ended, but to wait, and wait together, for the promised baptism of the Holy Ghost. The time of instruction was past, and all that was necessary to learn had been taught; now was the time of work and witness in ever-widening circle of influence.
B. The Evidence of the Apostles.
We are left in no doubt or uncertainty in this great matter. Christ did not steal away from His Apostles, leaving them to gather the conviction that He was gone, but in their very sight. His departure was not involved in mystery, and those who saw it tell us the time, place, and manner with undoubting accuracy.
C. The Evidence of the Angels.
As we have the evidence of those whom Christ left behind Him, so we have the evidence of those to whom He came.
“Those blessed spirits did know that Christ had ascended to Heaven; and, because the eyes of the Apostles could not follow Him so far, they came to testify of His reception.” (Bp. Pearson.)
The assurance of the two angels is that of Christ Himself, for He sent them. His also is the assurance that the present state of loneliness, incompleteness, and expectation shall not last for ever. He will return, “this same Jesus,” and in the same manner as He departed—visibly, in human form, and in Divine glory.
THE GOSPEL. (S. MARK xvi. 14.) THE PARTING ACTS OF CHRIST.
We are not entitled to consider the last fourteen verses of S. Mark as written by the Evangelist, but as a later postscript, added, probably, in order to take the place left vacant by the loss of the final page as originally composed. The addition is, however, of very early date, and expresses the universal belief of the early Church.
The writer agrees with S. Luke in considering the Ascension :—
A. As the Completion of the Past.
Christ did not ascend until He had gathered up the threads of His earthly ministry.
He confirmed the doubting faith of the Apostles by clear evidence of His Resurrection.
He gave them their final commission as more fully recorded in S. Matthew—” To go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation.”
He instituted the sacrament of baptism as the pledge of salvation, and gave solemn warning of the danger of unbelief—” He that disbelieveth shall be condemned.”
He gave them His last promise of supernatural assistance and of miraculous power to be exercised in His Name,” as evidences to His disciples of the reality of their mission.
B. As the Inauguration of the Future.
Not until the Lord had completed His work was He received up with triumph into Heaven and exalted to “the right hand of God.”
The departure of the Master was the signal for the activity of His followers. They went forth and preached everywhere, strong in the power of their ascended Master and the attestation afforded by miracles.
THE COLLECT. AN ASCENSION PRAYER.
This Collect exemplifies the principle that all that has been done by Christ must, in a spiritual sense, be done over again in the Christian, as noticed on the Circumcision.
A. The Ascension of Christ.
We have accepted the truth of the Ascension on the evidence of Scripture and of the Church, and have believed that He Who ascended was no mere man, but the only-begotten Son, sharing both the throne and nature of the Father.
B. The Spiritual Ascension.
This is no mere play upon words, but is the effect which should follow faith in the Ascension. Such faith will kindle our love and draw us irresistibly to where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. It will exalt the whole mind and spirit, drawing them to high and heavenly things, until no more of us than our bodies are left below.