And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.…
We have three narratives of the ascension, each of which presents it in a somewhat different application.
1. In St. Mark the aspect of faith is predominant. It sets before Christian people, in their life of faithful labour, the form of Him who, though now out of sight, is still and evermore working with them, and confirming His words by signs following.
2. St. Luke presents it in its aspect of love; sets before Christians, in their hours of loneliness or of depression, the form of Him, who, when He left this world, left it with hands uplifted in blessing.
3. In the Acts we have the aspect of hope. As St. Luke's Gospel closed with the narrative of the Ascension, so the Acts opens with it. It was not more naturally the close of the gospel than it was the beginning of the history of the Church. It was the event which, while it withdrew from personal work below, introduced Him into that life above, and the power of which He works through others. And we are to regard it as a fact full of hope. The words of the two angels give it this aspect. Learn
I. THAT THE POSTURE OF THOSE WHO LOVE CHRIST MUST HENCEFORTH BE ONE NOT MORE OF RETROSPECT THAN OF EXPECTATION. It is well indeed that you should treasure the thought of Him as He was on earth. His wonderful works, His perfect example, His Divine words. And to look up after Him into heaven, and see Him there the High Priest of man; the Resurrection and the Life, first of the soul, and hereafter: also of the body; to ascend thither, in heart, after Him. Thus it is that men are made strong for conflict, victorious over temptation, and at last fit for heaven. But .all this is a different thing from vain regret and idle contemplation. To gaze up into heaven not after One who is gone, but for One who shall come is our work. And in those few words lies the whole of the vast difference between two states and lives; those of a true, and wise, and diligent, and those of a dreamy, and gloomy, and torpid Christian.
II. BUT HOW DOES THE ASCENSION FOSTER THIS HOPE OR SUGGEST THIS DUTY? The words of the angels will answer that question. The ascension was intended to make real the thought of Christ's return. He might have simply disappeared, and left them to form their own conjectures what had become of Him. Perhaps even then they might have formed the right conjecture from His own words. But it would have fallen far short of the conviction inspired by the actual sight. There would have been a mystery which might well have diminished the comfort and impaired the satisfaction of His disciples. But now they would feel that they could trace Him in His glory, and expect Him to come again. Nothing is more remarkable than the personal hope of the personal return of Christ, which cheered the first ages of the Church. It is no good sign when the language of Scripture is read as an allegory, but a sign of the decay of faith. It was in the dark and cold ages of the Church, when even the wise virgins too often slumbered and slept, that this definite hope of the Bridegroom's coming was lost sight of. And was it not by a just retribution that they who refused to infer the Advent from the Ascension, came at last from denying the Advent to deny the Ascension also? If ever the faith of the Church is brought back to its simplicity in matters of doctrine, it must be by its being brought back to its simplicity in matters of fact. Take one of the Gospel miracles by itself, and of course it is improbable. But take each one in connection with the proofs Christ gave of His holiness, truth, and goodness, and thus of His Divinity, and we shall find it not only credible, but natural also; consistent, harmonious, and to be expected. Even thus is it with the hope of which we are speaking. It might be in itself hard to be understood, that God should bring this dispensation to a close by the personal advent of the Mediator as Judge. But view that purpose in the light of the Incarnation, and the Advent in the light of the Ascension; and all shall become symmetrical. The disciples saw Him go: why should it be incredible that He should likewise come? "A cloud received Him out of their sight": even so shall a cloud be the sign when they who look for Him watch His appearing. Conclusion: What to us is our Lord's ascension?
1. Do we know anything of the assurance that we have in heaven, One who knows our frame and has felt our infirmities? One who ascended, that He might intercede for us, minister to us the Spirit, and prepare a place for us?
2. If there is One, up there, who sees and will judge; what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness!
Parallel VersesKJV: And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.