Three Treats for the Feast of Ascension

Forty days after Easter brings us to the Feast of Ascension. Which means that people all over the world are today celebrating the ascension of Jesus into heaven.

I’ve been thinking about the post-Easter period because I’ve recently added several hundred verses to the Grace Commentary, many of them having to do with the story of Christ’s crucifixion. This means I spent the better part of two weeks immersed in one of the Bible’s best known stories.

I learned so much! I discovered many gems that are now on display in the commentary. Let me share three of them with you here.

How Jesus hijacked the chief priests’ plan

One thing that stood out was how the chief priests planned to kill Jesus, but God changed their plan. I’m not talking about their plan to crucify Jesus. I’m talking about their plan to crucify Jesus without anyone knowing about it.

The chief priests and the elders of the people … plotted together to seize Jesus by stealth and kill him. But they were saying, “Not during the festival, otherwise a riot might occur among the people.” (Matt. 26:3-5)

The festival was the combined Festival of Passover and Unleavened Bread which ran for a week. From the perspective of the chief priests, this was the worst possible time to kill Jesus, because Jerusalem would have been packed with hundreds of thousands of pilgrims.

But from God’s perspective, Passover was the perfect time for the crucifixion. Why? Because the city was full of potential eye-witnesses who could take the Gospel all over the world.

You probably know how Jesus was killed immediately prior to the festival, on the day we now call Good Friday. But what you may not appreciate, is how Jesus made it happen. He basically picked the day of his death to maximize the impact.

“I thought Judas made it happen.”

Not really. The more I studied Judas’s involvement in the story, the more I came away thinking he wasn’t a smart guy, and that if everything had been left to him, the crucifixion might never have taken place.

Yes, Judas went to the chief priests offering his services as an informant, and yes, the chief priests were pleased to recruit him. But look carefully at the terms of their agreement:

Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went off to the chief priests in order to betray Him to them. They were glad when they heard this, and promised to give him money. And he began seeking how to betray him at an opportune time. (Mark 14:10-11)

Note the phrase “at an opportune time.” For the chief priests, an opportune time meant “not during the Passover Festival.” So Judas was instructed not to betray Jesus at Passover, but then he did it anyway.

Because Jesus told him too.

Let’s set the scene. Jesus and the disciples are enjoying the Last Supper when Jesus says, “One of you will betray me.” He means Judas of course, but Judas plays dumb. He doesn’t get up and leave. He just sits there, enjoying his lamb and hummus, while the disciples start freaking out.

“Surely not, Lord. Who is going to betray you?”

Jesus replies, “It’s the one who dips his hand in the bowl with me,” and then Jesus pins Judas’s hand in the olive bowl.

Gotcha. You can’t hide now, Judas. Go do that wicked thing you planned.

But still Judas doesn’t leave. He just sits there like a deer caught in the headlights.

So Jesus gives him a third nudge. “What you do, do quickly” (John 13:27). In other words, “Go now, Judas!” Then Judas finally leaves, and everything is set in motion.

Within 24 hours Jesus is in the tomb and a short time later he’s out of the tomb, and all this happens when Jerusalem’s population is swollen with potential evangelists such as the 500 people who saw the risen Lord (1 Cor. 15:6). Those 500 witnesses each told two people who told two people and so on all the way down to you.

Do you see?

If everything had gone according to the chief priests’ plan, you might not have heard how Jesus died and rose again, but everything went according to God’s plan and you have. You are the living proof that God’s plan was genius. What the chief priests meant for evil, he turned around for good.

That’s just one of the Easter gems I discovered. Here’s another.

The mockery that became a prophecy

He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. (Matthew 27:42)

The chief priests mocked Jesus at the cross. “You come down, then we’ll believe in you.” It was a jest but a prophetic one, because Jesus did come down and many priests did believe him (Acts 6:7).

Isn’t that wonderful?

I love the way God turns things around. God could have revealed himself using angels with trumpets, but he used the wicked words and schemes of wicked men. Truly, he is the Great Redeemer. Okay, last gem.

His blood on our heads

Perhaps the best example of God’s redemptive superpowers came from the angry crowd:

And all the people said, “His blood shall be on us and on our children!” (Matt. 27:25)

What a terrible thing to say. Yet even these hateful words were redeemed because Jesus’ blood was poured out for the forgiveness of sins, including the sins of those who wanted to kill him. May his redeeming blood be on all our heads, because nothing else can save us.

For the disciples, Easter was the worst of times, but the weeks that followed were the best of times. The same men who saw Jesus nailed to a cross, saw him ascend to heaven in glory.

That’s a timely word for us. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, and you may have lost your job, your loved ones, and your health. Take heart and remember the message of Easter. No matter how bad things are, Jesus always has the last word.

And thank God he does.

The Grace Commentary is a great place to find answers to common questions, like these:

1. If God loves the whole world, why does he hate Esau?
2. What is predestination?
3. What did Jesus mean when he said, “Hold fast, so that no one will take your crown?”
4. Why did Jesus and the disciples celebrate Passover at the Last Supper, while the chief priests waited until the next day?
5. What is the “one baptism”?
6. How do we confess our sins?
7. Why does Paul say “doers of the law will be justified”?
8. Who is a pillar in the church?
9. Why did Jesus say, “See you in Galilee?”
10. What is the hour of testing coming on the whole world?

17 Comments on Three Treats for the Feast of Ascension

  1. Brandon Petrowski // May 13, 2021 at 3:57 pm // Reply

    Good news, very good news.

  2. jcheeseman21@netzero.net // May 13, 2021 at 4:49 pm // Reply

    Outstanding! We have been told for years th

  3. Thank you for this post! I’d always been puzzled that, while Matthew, Mark and Luke all say that Judas Iscariot had already arranged to betray Jesus, John makes it sound as though Jesus is almost mind-controlling him into doing so. (I hate the way that some Bible passages, in both the Old and New Testaments, make it sound as though God is someone who forces or tempts us to do wicked or ill-advised things, and then blames us for doing them.) It makes a lot more sense that Judas hadn’t planned to hand Jesus over precisely THEN, and Jesus is saying, ‘I’m onto you, I know what you’re planning, so there’s no point waiting any longer.’

    I’ve also always thought it ironic that many Christians throughout history have taken the words ‘His blood be on us and on our children,’ to mean, ‘All Jews everywhere are guilty of Jesus’s death and should be killed to avenge him,’ – ignoring not only the fact that it was the Romans who killed Jesus (why not declare a crusade on all white European gentiles?), but also that Jesus had prayed for forgiveness for his enemies (presumably not just the Roman soldiers but everyone involved), and that, traditionally, blood sprinkled on people was a sign of protection, atonement, and healing.

  4. I found these ‘gems’ very comforting. In a world of madness where Satan prowls around like a roaring lion, how can we be sure that we are protected from evil, lack and the thuggery of fools who hate God and us? Only Believe! I meditate on these gems to see that God has it all worked out! What is intended for our harm He has already turned to our good! What a relief to know that no one outwits God and as a result we are saved every day in every area of our lives. Thank you Paul!

  5. Erik Grangaard // May 13, 2021 at 8:44 pm // Reply

    Wonderful piece making us to be present in what was happening!
    I loved the part where Jesus obviously triggered Judas to get on with with the job while Jerusalen was overflowing with worshippers – exactly what the Sanhedrin wanted to avoid…
    Well spoken again Paul!
    Erik

  6. Excellent points, especially the first one. For a true concept of how the early believers would come to regard the Crucifixion, I feel it’s imperative to understand, Jesus CHOSE the Passover. Gods redemptive work on the cross was more than a “Day of Atonement” for sins. Much more. It included the forgiveness of sins yes but it was also the rescue, (as in the exodus), from the “powers”, (as in Pharaoh), of sin and death and the leading to the promise land of the New Covenant! God was fulfilling his covenant promise to Abraham blessing “all nations” through his “seed” Jesus.
    Remember, God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself!
    Great job Paul

  7. Okoh Isaac // May 14, 2021 at 10:49 am // Reply

    Powerful

  8. Those are nice little treats thank you. I have a question Paul. I’ve heard preached many times that the first Christians dwindled from 500, during the days leading to the ascension, to 120, the day of Pentecost in the upper room. They say this to make the point that most people leave the way eventually and the even use Luke 12:32 to prove their point where Jesus called us “little flock.” What do you think about that?

    • I’ve never heard this before and I see no evidence for it. In my experience, most Christians get better with age.

      After he rose, Jesus appeared to 500 people, and most of those eye witnesses were probably in Galilee where he did much of his ministry (see Matt. 28:10). Pentecost happened in Judea (Jerusalem). I’m kind of amazed there were 120 believers in the city given the hostility of the religious Jews. With the aid of the Holy Spirit, 120 turned into 3000 and then more besides. Even the hostile priests turned to Jesus in great numbers. The early church grew from strength to strength despite the opposition and within a generation the Gospel was bearing fruit all over the world (Col. 1:6).

  9. Erik Grangaard // May 15, 2021 at 4:53 pm // Reply

    I woke up this morning being reminded of the peoples comments about let “his blood be on us and our children!” and how it is not meant as a threat, but as forgiveness of their sins.
    Then I was reminded about speculations from a certain archeologist (Ron Wyatt) that the High Priest or the Levites hid the Ark of The Covenant in a cave in Jerusalem before the destruction of the second temple. He suspected that it might be found be exactly under where the cross of Jesus was placed so His blood was dripping down and hitting the Mercy Seat of the Covenant Box just as the High Priest did once a year with the blood of a pefect lamb at the Day of Atonement. Only time might tell (Ron Wyett was not given permission to dig where he thought it might be). But it certainly would fit well with the Biblical consistency of blood having to be shed for the forgivenes of our sins…
    I admit this is a bit on the speculative side, but the picture in my head brings me great joy!

  10. Paul, Thank you for your explanations of scripture. I have a question. What is Abraham’s bosom and did Jesus go get those people and bring them to heaven?

  11. Hey Paul. you touched on Judas, I think Judas knew to do what to do, not understanding it, until! He was in the Prison, right before Jesus was there as well

    I think Judas was a witness to the truth of Jesus as the Messiah to free these that had been held in prison. If Judas did not betray Jesus, someone else would have and been there in Spirit Prison to be a witness to Jesus as the Messiah for us. For when Christ rose, he to me made a pitstop . He took those Keys, Lucifer had, defeated the Enemy. Anyway, I think Judas who repented, even though killed himself, got forgiven and saved by Father along with all the others that believed then too. How scripture fits, two or more witnesses. Amazing, And How Christ is our High POriest and his Father now ours, even thpough I do not deserve to have this, ever.
    Thanks for this post

  12. Thanks sir. Please I can’t find the subscribe box

  13. Favour Meshack // May 22, 2021 at 11:13 am // Reply

    Thanks

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