I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God. (Jn 20:17)
In what was the first, and perhaps most poignant of Jesus’ post resurrection appearances, Jesus initiated a “heavenly conference,” with a woman who, save His own mother and possibly closest of disciples, was the person who loved Jesus most during His tenure on earth – Mary Magdalene. Overwhelmed with joy to see her “Rabboni” alive again after she witnessed Him crucified and laid in a tomb, Mary held onto Jesus tightly, lest He be taken from her again. In what is an often misunderstood injunction, Jesus told Mary not to cling to Him, for he had not yet ascended to the Father (Jn 20:17). What could Jesus have meant by this statement? As much as this reconciliation between Jesus and Mary brought joy to both, there was something more important on Jesus mind that would change the way all people, including Mary, would relate to Him afterward. Puritan Richard Sibbes writes, “All Christ’s mind was on ascending. Those that are risen together with Christ, their mind is all on ascension, all on Heaven. And this is one main reason, because where anything is imperfect, there the spirit resteth not, till it attaineth to that perfection, that it is destinated unto.”
This Sunday, as the minds of Christendom turn to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we will consider why Jesus said these words to Mary and how they apply to our relationship with Him today. We will also contemplate the often neglected doctrine of Jesus’ ascension, which is very much linked to His resurrection. At a key moment in this garden conversation, Jesus said to Mary, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Sibbes describes this affirmation as, “the most fundamental comfort we have. For from this, that God is our God, cometh all that we have that is good in nature and grace. Whatsoever is comfortable cometh from this spring, that God in Christ is our God, our reconciled God.”
Jesus Christ’s ascension to occupy His present abode at the right hand of His Father is significant to the Christian for several reasons. Robert Ramey writes, “Easter is incomplete, Pentecost is impeded, and the Second Coming is impossible without the ascension.” Where is Jesus now? Why is that important to us? How is the ascension necessary to maintain the truth of the Gospel? What prayer of Jesus is answered in His ascension? And what does His ascension mean to the church at present and in the future?