The neglected event of Jesus’ ministry

If you were to write a list of the ten most important events in Jesus’ ministry, what would it include? Three are obvious: his birth, death and resurrection; which even our rapidly de-Christianising culture still celebrate (even as it is detached from the events). What would make up the other seven?

Maybe some of his miracles. Some of his teaching might feature. What about his baptism, temptation in the wilderness, his transfiguration?

There are so many different points in his ministry we could pick, and so many that would be left out! But there is one event whose significance is rarely appreciated: the ascension.

The risen Jesus, after spending 40 days teaching his apostles, physically ascended into the heavens, to sit at God’s right hand. Think of the magnitude of that! There is a man, right now, who for all eternity sits on the throne. He did not shed his humanity like a snake sheds its skin. The second person of the Trinity has forever humbled himself, taking on ‘the form of a servant’ (Phil 2:7).

The ascended Jesus gave gifts to his people. He sent his Holy Spirit (John 16:7), who in turn gives us spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12). He gave ‘the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers’ (Eph 4:11).

Wonderfully, because we are united to Christ, we’ve been raised with him, and we’re to ‘set [our] minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth’ (Col 3:2).

The ascension changes everything. Never before has a man sat on God’s throne. And this perfect, exalted man has given us incomparable gifts, which we would never want to exchange. Of course we would want to set our minds on him. We worship, and wait for, the ascended Christ. He is our boast.

Divine Addition

It’s always important to know what your role is. When you know your role, you know what you are responsible for and what you are not responsible for. When I worked at the front office of a building company, I knew my job. I sent out and paid invoices, took calls, and other minor tasks. My job was NOT to arrange a tradie to attend a job.

When it comes to evangelism, we can often be overwhelmed because we forget what our responsibilities are and what they are not. We are quick to be disheartened when we fail to see positive results, feeling like failures when invitations to church are rebuffed, or people remain as hard as ever despite our best efforts at answering objections.

But don’t feel discouraged. Consider Acts 2:47‘And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.’

Who is it that adds people to the church? Certainly not us. It is the Lord who adds to our number. It is him alone who brings people from their natural state of rebellion to humble submission and joyous reception of the gospel. Only he can bring the dead to life and give faith to his enemies.

All this happens in the context of gospel proclamation and loving, self-sacrificial service of course. God has chosen to act through his church. But what a comfort. My role is to proclaim and leave the results to him.

Does this mean we don’t need to evaluate our efforts? No! We should always be evaluating whether we are clear on the gospel, answering questions as well as possible, being kind and loving. But even when we do all things perfectly, it will always be up to the Lord to add to our number. May he add many.

God’s sure plan

‘And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”’ (Matthew 2:14-15)

Matthew’s Gospel has only just begun, and already God’s plan of salvation was under threat. Christ had been born, his mission was clear, the Gentiles had come; and when Herod discovered the Wise Men would not return to Jerusalem as Herod had asked, he would be enraged.

This hope of the nations was fragile, a delicate piece of china. One was coming who would want to throw it to the ground and crush it beneath his feet.

But God would not allow this to happen. God had determined mankind’s fall into sin even before he created the world, because he had planned to save mankind through his Son (Eph 1:4). So, God again sent an angel to Joseph, warning him and sending him to Egypt for safety. God’s plans cannot be thwarted (Job 42:2).

It is easy to look around at our society and fall into despair and fear at what is coming. Christianity is no longer seen as good for society, but harmful. Our views on the unique place of Christ as the only way to the Father are seen as disparaging to those of other or no faith. Our views on marriage, sexuality, gender and abortion are called hateful and bigoted. Religious freedoms are under attack.

These verses remind us that the evil one has always been against God and his people, but he is not threatened. Our hope is not in legal protections or stricter border security. Our hope is in the transformative gospel of Christ. We find salvation in him alone.