Sunday Sermon 20 May – What comes down must go up
Let’s rejoice in the witness of the Ascension.
Readings: Ephesians 1:15-23, Luke 24:44-53, and Acts 1: 1-11
Ascension Day is one of the most important days in our Christian Calendar! It slips by without a thought from most. It is the day on which we remember three key things – and as we did not get together on Thursday – let’s look at them today:
1. Historically – it assures us of the completed work of Jesus the Christ.
There are all kinds of ideas that do the rounds really – things that people say in their questions and challenges of our beliefs about Jesus. Helping with the Alpha course again has made me more aware of this. Thinking about the Alpha course – I’m not sure that it’s only a beginner Christian’s course.
It is one of the most systematic programmes explaining a wide range of Christian teachings that many of us – even those who have been in the church for 50 years – would not necessarily be able to explain clearly.
What is really helpful on helpful is the stacking up of evidence of the historical person of Jesus.
Jesus really was born in Bethlehem – really lived – really died – and really was raised from the dead! People make up all kinds of theories about why this is not true – but the problem is with them and not the evidence!
The resurrection appearances were witnessed by so many people over 40 days. And it is during this period that we pick up the story in Acts 1:
4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
And Luke in a matter of fact way carries on in verse 6:
6 So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
The Ascension of Jesus is the end of his mission – it assures us that the work of Christ on earth was complete.
It’s like the space shuttle landing after all its work was done – Mission complete. Except it’s the opposite. What comes down must go up! Jesus returned to His Father.
2. Spiritually – it teaches us about the Lord Jesus’ triumphant entry into heaven and his continuing ministry on our behalf.
A. The Lord Jesus’ triumphant entry
Listen to Luke this time in his gospel:
50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
This is a different bunch of men and women from those who were grieving the death of Jesus and hiding away.
This time they do what is the logical result of realising – like Thomas when he bowed before Jesus after touching his hands and his feet – that he was LORD and GOD (which is the same thing by the way – Lord = God in the New Testament).
They worship Him!
If he is God then he is to be worshipped! Like the wise men who prophetically bring gifts of Gold (fit for a king) Incense (used in prayer) and myrrh (indicating his death) – and who prophetically speak of all nations coming to Jesus – the disciples WORSHIP Jesus.
Look at the verse from Matthew:
Mat 2:11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.
More literally – that word which becomes “bowed down” in the NIV means to FALL DOWN or to be THRUST DOWN or more dramatically to DESCEND FROM A HIGHER PLACE TO A LOWER.
And then of course WORSHIP used here comes from a word which means to BOW DOWN or KISS THE HAND and for Persians involved prostrating oneself and the forehead touching the ground.
The same word is used in Revelation 7:11 and many other places:
All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God…
The ascension of Jesus teaches us spiritually about another triumphant entry – not into Jerusalem on a donkey this time – but into heaven as Lord and King – to be worshiped – as he was as a baby – and as he was by the disciples when he ascended!
He is the One who returns victorious from the battle against sin and death!
No wonder the Reformers have always been big on Ascension Day! It’s a day when we should sing: CROWN HIM WITH MANY CROWNS, THE LAMB UPON THE THRONE!
The write to the Hebrews in chapter one spells it out:
(verse 3) The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
The Westminster Longer Confession sums up our commitment to worship!
Question: What is the Chief and Highest End of Man?
Answer: Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.
And worship is more than the songs we sing. It is our whole orientation – we glorify God or not in how we live. They worship the one of whom Paul says:
Col 3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
I suspect our hearts are set on too many other things!
There is a second aspect of the spiritual lesson today!
B. His continuing ministry on our behalf.
Not only does he leave behind a confident team who wait for the empowerment they need through the Holy Spirit (which we celebrate next week at Pentecost Sunday) – he himself goes back to heaven to continue his work!
This is very significant for our survival and confidence today!
Listen to the writer to the Hebrews again (speaking of the high priests of the old covenant):
7:23 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office;
7:24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood.
7:25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
7:26 Such a high priest meets our need–one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.
What an encouragement!
Later he writes
HEB 12:2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Just as Paul tells us to set our hearts on things above, here we are told to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith!
Ascension reminds us that Jesus is enthroned and is to be worshipped, AND that he is the one who stands before God on our behalf – interceding for us.
Listen to Paul writing to the Romans:
Rom 8:31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?
Rom 8:32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
Rom 8:33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.
Rom 8:34 Who is he that condemns? 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.
Rom 8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
Rom 8:36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
Rom 8:37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
The work of Christ before the throne of God never ends – he is interceding for us now!
3. Practically – the ascension reminds us of the Second Coming of Jesus to judge the world and the need to be ready at all times to give account our use of our lives, our time and resources.
We go to Luke’s second book again – to Acts chapter one – to settle this matter.
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
Set your hearts on things above – says Paul.
Fix our eyes on Jesus – says the writer to the Hebrews!
“Why are you looking into the sky? – the question of the angels to the apostles – is a different question.
They were looking to the past – to the Jesus whose work on earth was done!
They had to look to the future – but remember that he would come back! In the same way!
Whatever your priorities are – whatever you spend your energy on – wherever your heart it – it’s best to get the orientation of your life sorted out. Get your act together! Because…
… in the words of the creeds:
He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. (Apostle’s Creed).
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end. (Nicene Creed)
Ascension reminds us
- His work on earth was completed well
- He is now the exalted Christ to be worshipped
- He will come again to judge us!
We need to be ready to give an account of what we have done with our lives and our gifts!
May we hear His voice today!