Do you ever feel like God’s hitting you upside the head with a 2×4? You know what I’m talking about—a family member brings something up. Then a friend describes how they are struggling with that same thing. Next thing you know you’re hearing songs about it and you’re absolutely certain that someone must have called your pastor and told him or her that you needed to hear a sermon about it.
Well, it hasn’t been that bad for me, but over the past week I have sensed a gentle tap on the shoulder here and a little nudge there. It wasn’t about something I was doing, but rather about a theme: Jesus’ ascension, which the church celebrated last week.
Until a few years ago, I had never really thought about the ascension too much. Like many, I was focused on Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. What has really been at the front of my mind this week, though, is that the resurrected, fully human Jesus ascended into heaven and is now seated at the right hand of our Father (Mark 16:19). Yes, Jesus is fully God, but He is also still fully human. It is this fully human Jesus, the one who understands our struggles and pain (Hebr 4:15), that sits interceding for us with our Father (Hebr 7:25). (This was driven home for me when I read Andrew Purves’ Reconstructing Pastoral Theology several years ago.)
This observation may be theologically interesting, but so what? I guess the “so what” is different for each of us on any given day. But I was thinking about all these things as I drove past a friend’s house the other day—a friend I might have received five texts from in the past six months. She’s been in a rough place and has distanced herself from a number of people. I’m one of them. Honestly, it hurts. Each ignored text and each call sent to voicemail is like salt in an open wound.
Why do I keep calling and texting, then? I keep asking myself that. Ultimately, I’m not in any danger and God keeps prompting me, saying “do it again.” So, I do it. Maybe not as frequently as I did at first, but I still do it. Each time I reach out I can’t help but remember that Jesus kept seeking me when I was in a bad place. Maybe I’m getting just a tiny glimpse of how God feels about us.
At the end of the day, my friend may never respond. I may never see or hear from her again. But what God is teaching me is that her response isn’t the only thing that matters. Just as importantly, He’s calling me to be more like Him: loving even if it hurts.
What does all of this have to do with the ascension? Well, just as Jesus sits interceding for me with my Father, so I’ll keep bringing my friend before that same throne. I’ll keep reaching out with the hope that she will let me help and encourage her. Because each time I extend that hand fully expecting to be ignored, each time I pray, I participate in Jesus’ ongoing ascended life and ministry. Slowly, I’m becoming just a teeny tiny bit more like that ascended Jesus—the same Jesus who still understands how that salt feels. Remembering that Jesus understands how I feel helps me to trust Him here. It brings peace in the pain and loss.
Back to those 2×4’s, maybe God is using them to build lives that honor Him. We do that when we love others in spite of the cost to ourselves. Loving sacrificially can only be done one day—sometimes only one moment—at a time.
I’ll be the first to admit that the example of reaching out to my friend is pretty small. What she’s dealing with has crushed others. So I’ll continue to pray that God will meet and strengthen her where she is. I’ll keep asking Him to show me if there’s something I can do to make a tangible difference and act on it if He does.
What about you? Maybe you’re taking care of a parent with Alzheimer’s. Maybe your spouse has died and you’re just trying to hold what remains of your family together. Maybe, like me, you’re taking care a special needs child. Maybe you’ve been betrayed by a business partner.
In the midst of our very real struggles, how might the ascension and the idea that the still-human Jesus understands how we feel help us on our paths? How might Jesus’ ongoing ministry bring us to a place of peace and joy? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Maybe together we can all live looking just a little bit more like Jesus.
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