Ascension and Potential
Ascension Day is Thursday 10 May
by Vicky Scott (revised, originally published in 2009)
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To explore the idea of Jesus’ ascension, and consider how we need to be confident of our potential as people.
Preparation and materials
- You will need two Jenga sets or similar building-block games and two tables on which to play the games.
- Optional: you may wish to read the Bible passages about the ascension, in which case you will also need a Bible.
- First, define the term ‘ascension’ for the students: after Jesus rose from the dead, Christians believe that he ascended into heaven to be with his father, God.
This event is depicted in most detail by Luke in the Book of Acts. It is also referred to in other books in the Bible - Matthew 28.16–20, Mark 16.15–20 and Luke 24.49–53 - but Luke’s second account in Acts is the most detailed of all.
- To set the scene, Jesus has recently been crucified and subsequently risen from the dead. Luke writes that Jesus returned to live on Earth for another 40 days before going up on top of a mountain. This was not unusual for the time and place in history when this book was written. In those days, high places would be used by various groups of people to worship their god or gods. Jesus took the disciples there, to the undisturbed stillness of the mountain peak, to part from them in style. It was from here that he was taken up to heaven – he ascended.
- While Jesus stood on top of the mountain, he informed his followers that they should continue without him in getting on with the work that he had trained them to do: healing the sick, taking care of the poor and telling everyone about God’s love for humankind. However, the disciples doubted their ability to achieve such things without him.
Then, Jesus went up to heaven and left the disciples alone, transfixed, staring into the sky. They had to choose what to do with their lives now.
- Jesus’ friends had only just got used to the fact that he was back from the dead, but now he had left them for a second time! Jesus saw great potential in each of the disciples and he knew that they could cope without him, but at that point they were unable to see or believe it for themselves.
- Sometimes in life, it is easier to see talents and abilities in those around us than to perceive our own skill and worth. How we grow and mature into adults and independent people is shaped by other people’s input and our own self-belief. The people who will succeed in life are often those who believe and accept the encouragement given to them by parents, friends and teachers.
- Point out that if the students are people who struggle to see what they are good at, it is important to make sure that they are around others who can see the potential in them and to trust these people to want the best for them.
Likewise, if we know people who lack confidence and self-esteem, we should try to encourage them and spur them on to greatness. By doing this, they might initially trust in your vision, but eventually learn to see it themselves. All humans have potential; it is accessible to all, whatever our family history or background.
- Sadly, many people have a mindset that reflects a poor self-image and a lack of external confidence. For example, in some cultures, it is perfectly acceptable to be outwardly confident, whereas in others, outgoing people might be judged as arrogant or rude.
There needs to be a balance in life where we push on and work at the things that we are passionate about, disregarding any doubt and negativity, whoever it stems from. Moreover, it is those who choose to stand out from the crowd and make themselves vulnerable - who push themselves forward - who will succeed.
Apparently, the final school report for paralysed scientist Stephen Hawking said, ‘He will go far’. Despite huge physical affliction, Hawking has proven this to be the case. His school report no doubt encouraged and equipped him, and he has certainly proven that potential.
- Luke writes that Jesus left by disappearing into the clouds. This extraordinary event would obviously leave anyone stunned, so it is not surprising that the disciples were left staring into space, wondering what to do next. It is at this point that two angels came and snapped them out of their frozen state, informing them that Jesus had gone now, but would return again one day.
- The disciples not only needed to listen to Jesus’ encouragement that they could do it without him; they also needed to act. They needed to stop staring, transfixed, and get on with their work. Life often provides distractions and whatever they are, they can stop us from achieving our potential.
- Invite two students to come to the front of the room. Set up two tables with scattered Jenga blocks on them. Ask one person to face away from the table and look up at the ceiling, putting his/her arms behind so that his/her hands are hovering over the blocks. Ask the second person to stand in front of the other table, facing the scattered blocks and holding his/her hands over them.
Then, ask both students to assemble the blocks into a tower as fast as possible. One of them will have a clear view of what he/she is doing, whereas the other will be impaired by being unable to see the blocks and trying to build a tower blindly.
After a short time, ask the students to stop and sit down. Show the students how much better one construction is than the other. Explain that this is because that student was able to see and focus on his/her job, whereas the other was distracted by looking elsewhere.
- This illustration shows us how distractions can stop us from being effective. The disciples could not stay looking into the sky for too long; they needed the angels to snap them out of it and remind them that if they stayed on top of the mountain, they would not be able to do the work for which they had been trained.
- The tongue can be a powerful weapon and people can often use it to say hurtful things. If we have been told that we are worthless, or incapable of succeeding in life, we need to choose to discard that and believe in ourselves. The disciples had Jesus to encourage them; we need to make sure that there are people around us who are honest and encouraging. We need to listen to those things and allow them to spur us on to greatness.
- Sometimes, life throws distractions at all of us. Some of us choose to ignore them and carry on, but others are so distracted by people, events, worries and the like that those things stop them from being effective and focusing on the present. Let’s try to stay focused on the present and the future, and not allow things from the past to stop us achieving now.
Time for reflection
Ask the students to look at the Jenga blocks.
Which stack is more like our life at the moment – the one where the builder could see what he/she was doing, or the other one?
Ask the students to reflect for a moment on the areas of their lives where they feel they aren’t any good.
Where do those feelings come from?
Ask them to think about where they would like their life to be heading.
Ask them to think of one thing that they could do to get to that place that they have just thought about. Ask them to make a mental note of their one thing – and then decide to do it!
Please help us to see our own potential, rather than the potential that we have had crushed.
Help us to aim for the places that we would like our lives to go towards, and start out on that journey.
‘Father, hear the prayer we offer’ (Come and Praise, 48)