Brothers and sisters: May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of Him. May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power in us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might, which he worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens, far above every principality, authority, power and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.” (Ephesians 1:17-23)
This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord: “He ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God The Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” The historical event is recorded in Luke 24:50-53 and Acts 1:1-11 and its meaning is captured in our passage for today from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: Christ’s ascension does not mean that he has left us but that he has assumed a new position in God in which he is more with us and effective for us than ever before!
Benedict XVI explains this beautifully in Jesus of Nazareth:
“The closing lines of the Gospel are as follows: ‘Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them he parted from them , and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy and were continually in the temple blessing God.’(Luke 24:50-53) The conclusion surprises us. We would have expected them to be perplexed and sad. …It follows that the disciples do not feel abandoned. They do not consider Jesus to have disappeared far away into an inaccessible heaven… They are obviously convinced of a new presence of Jesus… They know that ‘the right hand of God’ to which he ‘has been exalted’ includes a new manner of his presence; they know that he is now permanently among them , in the way that only God can be close to us.” (Vol. II, pp 280-281)
This is the reality which the risen Jesus himself promised: “All authority in heaven and on earth have been given to me …and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18,20) This is the reality which Paul prays the Ephesians will realize at the very depth of their being: that the same power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him at His right hand, placing all things beneath his feet, has given all power to him and given him to the church. Paul wants them to know this not just theoretically, but experientially and as a matter of utmost faith.
He wants us to know it too: “what is the surpassing greatness of his power in us who believe.” As N. T. Wright wrote:
“At the center of Paul’s prayer for the church …is his longing that they will come to realize that this same power, the power seen at Easter and now vested in Jesus, is available to them for their daily use…Far too many Christians today and, one suspects, in Paul’s day are quite unaware that this power is there and available.’(The Prison Letters, 16)
Of course, that power, that presence, is not available to do just anything and everything we want or wish, but it is there to accomplish everything, absolutely everything, God wants and wishes for us, primarily the conquering of sin and the accomplishing of all we are called to do and be.
He is there in full measure for these great purposes and thus to strive for those things without relying on his power is to live well below our means. To remedy that, may I recommend four verses to keep in your heart and mind as you face the daily trials and struggles that are life? They are given to help you realize the depth of your resources, to not be afraid, but to be confident in all situations:
“I can do all things in Him who strengthens me” (Php. 4:13)
“He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world”(I John 4:4)
“We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”(Romans 8:37)
Memorize these verses. Let them be a constant reminder. They are not whistling in the dark, nor wishful thinking, but the confident realization that all authority in heaven and on earth have been given to Jesus and, lo, he is with us, even to the end of the age. They are the confident profession of those who know “he ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God The Father Almighty.”
“Now to him, who by the power at work within us, is able to do far more abundantly than all you ask or think, to him be glory in the church and Christ Jesus now and forever more.”(Ephesians 4:20)
Fred Durham is the President of Alighieri Press and serves as an author and speaker.