Up (Ascension Day 2021)

Acts 1:1-11 (NRSV)

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”


By Chuck Griffin

Today is Ascension Day, an important moment in the Christian year.

When we think of what Jesus accomplished for our benefit, the concept of his ascension into heaven often vanishes behind the darkness of his crucifixion or the brilliant life-giving light of his resurrection.

The ascension is a critically important part of God’s plan of salvation, however. In many ways, it completes the work done by God in the crucifixion and resurrection.

The key to understanding the ascension is to comprehend what is carried up.

Luke, a companion of the Apostle Paul, gives us accounts of the ascension in the end of the gospel of Luke and the beginning of the book of Acts. After appearing repeatedly to his followers in his resurrected form, Jesus led them about two miles outside Jerusalem to Bethany.

He then did several important things: He opened their minds to understand the Jewish Scriptures, in particular how they predicted Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. He told his followers they would spread throughout the world the good news that salvation is available. He promised them the Holy Spirit would come to empower and support them.

And then the ascension happened. It’s described a bit mysteriously; in Luke, Jesus “withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.” In Acts, we get a little more detail, where we learn “he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.”

The point is that Jesus physically left this world and entered the realm of the holy, God’s abode, the place where only things unstained by sin can go.

So, why does it matter that Jesus went up? Well, it matters because of what Jesus took with him—his resurrected human body. Human flesh now exists as part of God’s trinitarian nature, a strange change in the nature of heaven. What was unacceptable anywhere near the throne is now on the throne.

And that is why salvation is now so easy for us, if we will only believe that Jesus died to free us from punishment for our sins. When we appeal to God, we look up and appeal to the one who loves us so much that he made himself like us in order to save us.

Lord, on this special day, we again are grateful for the tremendous measures you have taken to restore us to you despite our sins. Amen.

Feeling Betrayed

Our devotionals for Holy Week continue. The following ran on Luminary UMC’s website for Holy Wednesday last year, and received a lot of comments. It seems we’ve all felt betrayed at one time or another.

John 13:21-27 (NLT)

Now Jesus was deeply troubled, and he exclaimed, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me!”

The disciples looked at each other, wondering whom he could mean. The disciple Jesus loved was sitting next to Jesus at the table. Simon Peter motioned to him to ask, “Who’s he talking about?” So that disciple leaned over to Jesus and asked, “Lord, who is it?”

Jesus responded, “It is the one to whom I give the bread I dip in the bowl.” And when he had dipped it, he gave it to Judas, son of Simon Iscariot. When Judas had eaten the bread, Satan entered into him. Then Jesus told him, “Hurry and do what you’re going to do.”


By Chuck Griffin

If you have a strong reaction to this story, you’ve probably been betrayed. A co-worker, a friend, a relative, a spouse—someone not only let you down, the person actually turned on you, consciously violating a long-established trust.

The closer the relationship, the worse the pain caused by the betrayal. It usually is hard for the victim of betrayal to let go, to forgive.

Most cultures hold betrayers in very low esteem. In Dante’s fictional account of hell, punishments grew progressively more severe moving inward, and the heart of the inner circle was for betrayers who remained frozen in painfully contorted positions. In the very center, Satan munched on the people Dante considered to be the three greatest traitors, Judas Iscariot, Brutus and Cassius.

In contrast to our personal and cultural reactions, Jesus seemed resigned to betrayal. Of course, by this point in the story, he knew exactly where he was headed, down to the minute, I suspect.

Jesus didn’t do anything to change Judas when he gave him the morsel of bread; Judas’ heart was already turned toward sin. In the act, Jesus simply identified who among the 12 was most deeply broken. The sharing of the gravy-dipped bread makes me sad, though.

To eat with someone on such a night—in this case, to literally break bread—is an intimate moment. Earlier in the evening Jesus had washed the disciples’ feet, Judas included, compounding the intimacy. But none of those acts could turn the betrayer from his plan.

On that night, Judas truly was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. And once your mind is so firmly set in such a terrible direction, it is easy for Satan or one of his minions to enter and lead the way.

I do wonder about something, though. The Bible tells us that Judas died shortly after the betrayal. (The accounts of his death in Matthew 27 and Acts 1 are difficult to reconcile, but in each one he ends up dead.) Had he lived, how would the resurrected Jesus have treated his betrayer?

The closest analogy we have is Peter, who proved to be the worst of the deniers once Jesus had been arrested. Near the end of the Gospel of John, we see Jesus forgive and restore Peter. Again, the scene is intimate, on a beach near a charcoal fire, a breakfast of fish and bread cooked and waiting for some very ashamed men.

Had Judas lived, carrying with him the remorse and repentance he seems to bear in Matthew 27:3-4, I suspect he would have found forgiveness, too. Such radical forgiveness would be typical of the Savior we serve.

Lord, where we have been betrayed, let us find a way to forgive during this Holy Wednesday, and where we have betrayed others, may we be forgiven. Amen.

Almeida Júnior, “Remorse of Judas,” 1880