When I was a teenager in the late 90s and early 2000s, the WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) bracelet was at its zenith. You could hardly be considered a true believer at the time if you didn’t have a WOW! CD and a WWJD bracelet. The phrase served to remind people of the example of Jesus’ life.
In difficult conversations and messy relationships, the slogan gave a quick jolt to the conscience. How would Jesus respond to this person?
A danger of the WWJD emphasis was that it often oversold our ability to be like Jesus on our own. It’s not enough to know what Jesus would do in a given scenario if we don’t have the willpower to do it. This mindset left out the source of strength needed to do what Jesus did.
CHRIST OUR EXAMPLE
But Jesus does not simply serve as a model of obedience. In his life, death, and resurrection, he accomplished for us what we could never do.
Jesus is our example and we should seek to walk like him as we walk in him (Col. 2:6-7). But we find the power to do so not merely by looking back at Jesus’ example, but by looking to him right now.
Understanding Christ’s ascension helps us remember that Jesus offers us help today. He’s not out of sight, out of mind. His ministry didn’t stop at the resurrection. He’s not enjoying retirement in heaven while we work on earth. Jesus is actively working on our behalf right now.
Christ’s heavenly ministry as the ascended Lord is just as important for our obedience and mission as his example on earth, his death on the cross, and his empty tomb.
WIJD. WHAT IS JESUS DOING?
How does Christ’s ministry make a difference for growing in maturity and living on mission?
To answer these questions we must consider the connection between Christ’s going away (Ascension), the Spirit’s coming (Pentecost), and our being sent (Great Commission).
The “Great Commission” passages (Matt. 28:18-20; Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:6-8) provide much truth relating to the Ascension and Pentecost. How did this group of uneducated, fearful disciples bear the weight of the enormous mission of carrying the gospel to hostile nations across the earth? Or, you might ask, how can we bear the weight of reaching our hardened neighbors and unreached people groups around the globe?
In Matthew 28:19, Jesus says, “Therefore, go and make disciples.” The “therefore” indicates that Jesus previously stated something that provided the reason they could go make disciples. Just before he utters the commission, Jesus proclaims, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18).
These words are the key to how a seemingly impossible mission becomes possible. Jesus commissions the disciples with this daunting task, but he does so on the foundation of his authority as the Messiah who reigns over heaven and earth.
THE POWERFUL KING
As the risen Messiah who conquered death and is now exalted and enthroned, Jesus demonstrates he is over all. Notice the connection between his exalted position and the significance of this new status.
Romans 1:4 states, “[Jesus] was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead.” Acts 2 echoes, “This Jesus God raised up…Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God” (Acts 2:32-33).
The universal mission to go to all nations and make disciples is possible because the risen and ascended Jesus reigns in power over all places and peoples of the earth. Whether we are being witnesses to our neighbors in America or sharing the gospel in foreign lands, the authority of Jesus extends throughout the whole universe.
Every person owes him allegiance as their King. Every place belongs to him and no spiritual or earthly enemies can stand in the way. The King is on the move and he is taking back what is rightfully his.
The Ascension tells us that Jesus has authority over heaven and earth. As King, he is building and multiplying his kingdom, and we are the messengers joining his mission. The task he calls us to is hard and there will be opposition, but it is possible because he has already conquered that opposition.
When sharing the gospel scares me, when someone seems too deeply bound in sin, when I’m tempted to walk the other way, I remind myself Jesus is King and has all authority. There is no person he can’t win. The victory isn’t on my shoulders but on his.
THE POWERFUL SPIRIT
If Jesus’ power over the earth is the basis for the mission, the coming of the Holy Spirit is the power enabling the mission.
Acts 2:32-33 shows us that Pentecost is the fulfillment of God’s promises and prophecies about the Messiah. It demonstrates Jesus reigns with authority. “This Jesus God raised up…Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.” Jesus, as exalted Lord, sends the Holy Spirit to His people.
The Great Commission in Luke includes the coming of the Holy Spirit as the means by which the mission is possible (Luke 24:49). In Matthew 28:20, Jesus says he will be with his disciples in all ages through the Holy Spirit, and in Acts 1:8 he tells the disciples they will be his witness once they receive power from the Holy Spirit.
The sending of the Holy Spirit is the mission-empowering gift to us.
Today, as the Church continues the work of going and making disciples, our power rests not in our creativity, strength, or persuasiveness. Our power comes from the Spirit. Through the Ascension, Jesus is exalted on the throne of power, and through Pentecost, he empowers his people to expand that kingdom near and far.
THE POWERFUL NEWS
Jesus is the authoritative King, the Holy Spirit is the one who works in power, and the Word of God is the message we deliver on our mission. The news we proclaim is a message focused on the reality of who Jesus is—the Messiah who died for sin, rose in victory, reigns in power, and will return in judgment and salvation.
As the disciples go out in the power of the Spirit to make disciples, they do so by announcing this message. This is why Jesus in the commissions in Luke and Acts calls his disciples witnesses. As they preach, they bear witness to what they saw Jesus do in his life, death, and resurrection, and how all of it fulfills the Old Testament Scriptures.
As we read in Acts, it’s clear that their message centered on the character and work of Jesus. Disciples were made by belief in the proclamation of Jesus as the crucified Savior and risen King.
And the Church today is charged with continuing to carry out this work. What an amazing and exciting privilege.
When I’m in spiritual conversations with people, I sometimes wonder what I can say that matters. What will give hope? What will offer peace and joy? What words are fitting? As I wonder these things, I find comfort knowing I can never go wrong with the gospel of Jesus. It’s the most powerful news we can share.
THE EMPOWERED MESSENGERS
Much talk about the Great Commission focuses on the actions: going, making disciples, and teaching. These actions are vital to the mission, but Jesus grounds these actions in his authority as King, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit’s ability to open hearts.
Our role is to tell others the message of the Gospel, rely upon the Spirit to work in power, and call people to know and follow the glorious King. The commission to make disciples of all nations is an intimidating task. However, when we consider Jesus has power over every square inch of the world and God’s Spirit empowers the message we proclaim, we are given great confidence to endure.
The day-to-day humdrum of life finds great significance in life with the King in his kingdom. This elevates our purpose as image-bearers (representatives) of the King as we multiply his kingdom by making disciples.
You won’t feel this every day. Any disciple-making ministry leaves you wondering at times if you’re having any impact at all. But as you faithfully relay the message of Christ’s soul-saving and life-giving power, Jesus accomplishes his mission and builds his kingdom. You can endure because you are empowered with a strength and resilience beyond yourself.
As you go, trust in Christ, the ascended King who on Pentecost sent his Spirit to empower the messengers. As you share, rest in the authority of the risen and reigning King.