Thursday: 9 May, 2013 –– Feast of the Ascension
Acts 1:1–11 / Ephesians 1:17–23 / Luke 24:46–53
A Full Salvation
Perhaps you have seen the bumper sticker: Christians aren’t perfect, only forgiven. There is truth in that –– but, it is a partial truth and it distorts the fullness of Christian Faith.
The salvation we are offered in Jesus Christ is more than forgiveness. Reducing salvation to forgiveness cheapens what Jesus has done and it diverts us from what St Paul calls the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe (Eph 1:19).
The early Fathers of the Church understood the death of Christ –– his atonement –– as something called recapitulation. This means that Christ is the new Adam, who systematically undoes what Adam did. Christ reverses the course of mankind from disobedience to obedience. Jesus is the Father's “summary statement” of what it means to be fully human. Salvation in and through Jesus Christ is following him into all that God intended with human creation.
This is why Jesus was born a baby just as we are. Jesus was baptized for us, identifying with our need for cleansing from sin. Jesus obeyed the Father and modeled “life in the Spirit” because that is how we are to live. Jesus went to the cross because that is the repercussion of sin in our lives. Jesus rose from the dead to establish triumph over death. Jesus ascended to the Father because this world is not our final home.
Salvation is following Jesus. If we are only forgiven –– if Jesus merely releases the doting “grandpa” character of God so that he says, “Oh, I know you’re a bunch of rascals, but don’t worry about it” –– then we have nothing to look forward to beyond what we’ve got right now. When we follow Jesus in every phase of his vicarious life, we have the promise of finishing where Jesus did.
When Jesus ascends to the Father, he takes us there with him. Right now it’s “positional” and we are there by faith. St Augustine said, “We too are already in heaven with him, even though what is promised us has not yet been fulfilled in our bodies.” This is what Paul means when he tells the Colossians, Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.... for your life is now hidden with Christ in God (Col 1:1,3a). This is why Jesus calls us to values and behaviors the world thinks is crazy. This world is not our final home.
There’s an old story of a chicken farmer who found an eagle’s egg. He put it with his chickens and soon the egg hatched. The young eagle grew up with all the other chickens and whatever they did, the eagle did too. He thought he was a chicken, just like them. He would peck and scavenge in the dirty barnyard. Since the chickens could only fly for a short distance, the eagle also learned to fly a short distance. He thought that was what he was supposed to do. That was all that he thought he could do, so that was all he was able to do.
One day the eagle saw a bird flying high above him. He was very impressed. “Who is that?” he asked the hens around him. “That’s the eagle, the king of the birds,” the hens told him. “He belongs to the sky. We belong to the earth, we are just chickens.” So the eagle lived and died as a chicken, for that’s what he thought he was.
That is the story of every person who does not understand that Jesus not only died and rose again, but also ascended to the Father to open a new way for us. Jesus has promised that if we follow him –– first in his death to sin and then in rising to new life –– we are not doomed to this world as we know it. Jesus has gone ahead of us in every way so we can escape our bondage as chickens scrounging in the barnyard and ascend like eagles to that for which we were created.
Charles Wesley put it this way in one of his great hymns:
Soar we now where Christ has led,
Following our exalted Head.
Made like Him, like Him we rise,
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies.
Jesus has ascended to the Father. He has gone to prepare a place for us. If we follow him faithfully, we too will one day ascend. That is Christian Faith.