Today is Ascension Day. 40 days after Easter Christians remember and celebrate Jesus ascending into heaven. But what on earth does this have to do with sport? Why is the ascension good news for sportspeople?
On a recent podcast, evangelist Glen Scrivener spoke about how our culture is permeated with ascension themes. Hundreds of films have the main characters rising into the sky at the end or riding into the sunset. Sport is dominated by this theme too.
We have the winner’s podium with the victor raised to the highest point. We have the captain of the championship winning team, the hero of heroes, raising the trophy above their head in celebration. For fans we love this image. And as the winner rises up with the trophy (after a number of little steps in the case of Jordan Henderson) you rise up with your team, your share in the victory of those who ascended for you.
Our world and the world of sport is littered with images and symbolism of the ascension because it is at the heart of the fabric of our world.
So why is the ascension good news for sportspeople?
“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” Colossians 3:1
Jesus’ work didn’t just end with the cross and the resurrection. The full reconciliation, the making of atonement (at one with God) is only complete when our great High Priest takes us into the presence of God, when our relationship with him is completely restored. And the ascension tells us that Jesus has finished this work. He is now sat down in heaven with the work of salvation finished.
Like the fans who rise and celebrate as their hero raises the trophy in the air, the Bible tells us that we are united to Christ and have been raised with him. We rise with him, we celebrate as if we ourselves have won, we share in his victory.
The famous song tells us why this is good news:
“When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within
Upwards I look and see him there
Who made an end to all my sin.”
Do you ever feel like you’ve not done enough? It is finished.
Do you ever feel like you need to keep earning God’s favour? It is finished.
The ascension tells us the work of salvation is finished. We cannot add to it by anything we do or say. We cannot have it taken away. Jesus is seated in heaven because the work is done.
And we are united to Him, connected to Him. And so, whilst we still live on this earth, in a real sense we are with Him in heaven now, seated in glory. This is our identity now, and it is one we have received, not one we can ever achieve by what we do or how we perform.
Feeling rubbish? You have ascended.
Fighting ongoing sin? You have ascended.
Feeling inadequate? You have ascended.
Where are you right now? You are in Christ. Whilst you are at the track or the stadium or the court, you are in Christ. This is your identity.
You have been raised with Christ, so set your hearts on things above.
Romans 8 tells us: “Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”
I wonder if you’ve ever thought about what Jesus is doing right now. What He’s doing as you prepare to play your sport? What He’s doing in the heart of your competition?
He is serving us even now from heaven because as our heavenly High Priest He still prays for us.
He intercedes for us we are told. The work of the cross is finished - He is not re-doing that as He intercedes before the father for us. What He is doing instead is applying it to us moment by moment.
This is what Jesus is doing now as described by Dane Ortlund in his book Gentle and Lowly:
“Think of an older brother cheering on his younger brother in a race. Even if, in that final stretch, the younger brother is well out ahead and will certainly win the race, does the older brother sit back, quiet, complacently satisfied? Not at all—he’s yelling at the top of his lungs exclamations of encouragement, of affirmation, of celebration, of victory, of solidarity. He cannot be quieted. So it is with our own older brother.”
This is Jesus now, right now for you. The same Jesus who lived and breathed and healed and raised from the dead, this Jesus right now is praying for you.
He understands the pain of losing your job as your contract isn’t renewed.
He understands the devastation of a career ending injury.
He understands the challenge of living as a Christian in the world of sport.
He understands it all because he lived in this world.
What a consoling thought it is that Jesus, who understands this world, is praying for us right now.
Our champion has risen, and He will return. We are connected to Him, raised with Him, and this is wonderfully good news for us today in our sport.
Jonny is the Resources and Communications Team Leader at Christians in Sport. He plays cricket at Cumnor Cricket Club and is one of the leaders of Town Church Bicester.
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