The last few days serve as anniversaries of significant events in the happenings of the church. I start with the most important of the three events, the ascension of Jesus Christ. Steve Seamands tells the story of visiting a Mennonite community in the Southern Fork area of Casey County, Kentucky. As he and his wife passed Nolt’s Bulk Food Store he saw a handwritten sign that took him by surprise. The sign read, “Closed Thursday for Ascension Day” (Give Them Christ 139). I suppose if we went to a store and saw a sign that read closed for the Ascension Day we would be shocked, too. We get it when stores close for Christmas and Easter, and perhaps for Good Friday, but Ascension Day?
Ascension Day commemorates the day when Christ ascended into heaven. It occurs each year on the Thursday; forty days after Easter and ten days before Pentecost. We find the story of Jesus’ ascension in Acts after Jesus told his followers to wait in Jerusalem for the promised Holy Spirit:
After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go to heaven” (Acts 1:9-10, NIV).
Why was commemorating Ascension Day so important to the owner of Nolt’s Bulk Food Store and for our faith as followers for Christ? While there are many reasons, I’ll mention just a couple.
First, the ascension is the enthronement of Jesus. The Ascension marks the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry and the beginning of his heavenly ministry. The writer of Hebrews affirms Jesus new ministry proclaiming, “After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven (Hebrews 1:3). ” Christ is now exalted at God’s right hand. Paul says that Christ is seated “at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule, power, and dominion” (Ephesians 1:20, 21). Why is Christ’s exaltation important for us? As Steve Seamands points out “when we fail to exalt and enthrone Jesus, something or someone else inevitably assumes the throne” (Give Them Christ 141). Our faith affirms that only Jesus is worthy to be exalted as supreme over all.
Second, the ascension is necessary for Christ’s followers to receive the promised Holy Spirit. On the night that Jesus was arrested he taught his disciples about the Holy Spirit. Listen to what Jesus says: “It is good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate (Holy Spirit) will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” … “when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:7, 13 NIV).
What happens during those ten days between Jesus’ ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit is important. The Book of Acts tells us that the followers of Jesus constantly joined together in prayer (Acts 1:14). I believe that for a great wave of the Holy Spirit to come upon the Church, the followers of Jesus must give themselves to praying just as the early followers of Jesus did.
Perhaps you’ve heard me mention David Thomas (not the Wendy’s fast food guy). David Thomas was working on his PhD in Scotland. He interviewed folks who remembered the last great revival that occurred there in 1949. The revival was supposed to last ten days. Instead, it lasted for three years! The men and women who experienced this revival said that the Holy Spirit moved because people prayed longingly with a “spirit of urgency and audacity” with an “attitude of brokenness and desperation, a manner of prayer that could be daring and agonizing” (To Sow for a Great Awakening 9-10).
We should be as bold with our praying. As Dr. Jan Davis pointed out in her last blog “Awaken” (http://www.centraltolifeblog.com/awaken/), we are focusing on revival. Our prayer is that individuals’ hearts will be awakened, as well as the heart of the church, to the power of the promised Holy Spirit. Please join us in praying for a great awakening.
Okay, two other important items from the history of Methodism. On May 21, 1738 Charles Wesley had his heart awakened. He wrote in his journal that the Spirit of God had “chased away the darkness of my unbelief.” In response to his awakening he penned the great hymn, “And Can It Be That I Should Gain.” This is just one of Charles’ 6,000 hymns. Three days later, his brother John, had his awakening at Aldersgate Street in London where he said he “felt his heart strangely warmed.”
May the Holy Spirit chase away the darkness and warm our hearts! Come, Holy Spirit!
-Dr. Steve Pulliam
Central’s Executive Pastor
Thomas, David. To Sow for a Great Awakening. Franklin, TN: Seedbed Publishing, 2016.
Seamands, Stephen. Give Them Christ. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2012.