May 20, 2012

Ascension Certainty - May 20, 2012

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Babies often get upset when mom or dad puts them in the crib for the night. Small children often have a hard time when their parents drop them off at daycare. They call this, separation anxiety.

Sometimes parents try to avoid upsetting their children by sneaking away. But this only makes things worse. Child psychologists say that when parents sneak away, it teaches kids that their parents could disappear at anytime. That's a pretty scary idea for a little one to learn.

Thankfully, parenting books say there is a better approach. Just say "goodbye" openly. There may be a few tears, but the mystery is gone. Mom is going to work. She'll be back later. Let's wave to her at the window. "Goodbye mommy! See you when you get back!"

With an open "goodbye" a child's anxiety melts away into confidence. He can see mommy going away. He knows where she is going. He knows she will come back.

After Jesus died for our sins, He victoriously rose from the dead. Then He spent forty days meeting with His believers. He taught them about the forgiveness of sins that He had earned for them by the cross. He taught them that this forgiveness is God's free gift. He taught them that sinners receive this gift through faith in Jesus.

At the end of those forty days, Jesus said goodbye. Rising up into the sky in full view of His disciples, He took His visible presence away from them.

You might think this would be devastating to Jesus' followers. But the effect was exactly the opposite. They had no separation anxiety. Jesus' miraculous ascension gave His followers certainty. They were certain that all He had claimed in the past, was true. They were certain that His presence and power would remain with them as they began their ministries. And they were certain that Jesus would return one day, and they would ascend into the sky to meet Him.

We read Luke's account of Jesus' ascension in...

Acts 1:1-11 (ESV)

1 In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

The ascension of Jesus Christ gave confidence to His believers. Jesus had performed many miracles throughout His ministry. He had cast out demons, healed the sick, walked on water, fed thousands with a little boy's lunch - He had even raised people from the dead. More recently, He Himself had stepped out of a tomb after being stone dead for three days. Each of these miracles was a sign. An arrow that pointed to Jesus and said, "This guy is from God. Listen to what He says".

While Christ's resurrection from the dead was the GREATEST miracle which proved He was the Savior, the ascension of Christ was the FINAL miracle which shouted this same message.

I have two study Bible's that I use. Both of them have charts which list Jesus' miracles. Oddly enough, they both leave Jesus' ascension off the list! Water to wine, oh yes that's a miracle. But being lifted up from the ground and into the sky until you disappear - that somehow doesn't make the list.

Why do we forget about the ascension? Instead we aught to hold this miraculous sign in our minds. It's unique in the list of miracles, and it's significant. Not only was Jesus showing one last miraculous sign, validating His identity as the Savior, He was also impressing the disciple's assignment on their hearts.

We all know the great commission. At some point after His resurrection Jesus told His disciples...
"...All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV).
With Jesus disappearing up into the sky, that assignment really came home to His disciples. Dad can teach you how to throw the ball, but when coach sends you to the mound in the final inning - well, YOU'VE got to throw the pitches.

Jesus would remain with His disciples spiritually, speaking through His them and to them by the Gospel. But all the same, the disciples would now take on the responsibility of going and doing the Master's gracious will like they had never done before. Their task was to bring peace to those weighed down by guilt. Their task was to bring forgiveness to sinners who were lost and hopeless in sin - by sharing the Gospel message.

By making His exit in such a public and visible way, Jesus also left His disciples with no doubt as to where He had gone. When the angels who announced Jesus' birth were done telling the shepherds where they'd find Him, the angels went back into heaven. Jesus had now done the same. He had left the earth, passed through the sky, and had disappeared into the presence of the Eternal Father. Our sermon text in Acts doesn't explain the complete significance of this action, but the rest of the New Testament does.

In Ephesians Paul wrote...
" [God] raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way" (Ephesians 1:20-23 NIV).
When Paul writes that Jesus was seated at the right hand of God, he doesn't want us to think of a place. He wants us to think of the power now restored to Christ.

During His ministry Jesus did not exercise full use of His powers as God the Son. Now, He does. As the supreme ruler of all things, Jesus now uses His power to further the Gospel message. He builds the faith of His followers through the Bible, and He builds up His Church by adding new believers to the kingdom of grace.

In Romans Paul wrote...
"Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?" (Romans 8:34-35 ESV).
The God-Man now hears our prayers as they float up to the Father's side. He hears them, and intercedes on our behalf. He continues to declare sinners like us right with God because of His sacrifice in our place.

While on this earth, Jesus also told His disciples that He was going to depart and prepare a place for them. In the book of John Jesus said...
" 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also" (John 14:1-3 ESV).

Everything about Jesus' ascension gave confidence to His followers. Sure, they had work to do, but Jesus was still with them through the Gospel. His Gospel would bring souls to believe and be saved. Their failures or successes in service to Jesus would not effect their eternal destination. Their salvation was secure in Christ. He had opened the way to heaven through His suffering and death on the cross, and now He was preparing their eternal place in Heaven.

Stop for a just a moment and imagine the scene on that first ascension day. Jesus has said His final words of blessing to His believers. He has risen up above their heads into the blue sky above. Higher and higher He rises. Down below, the crowd of followers who had encircled Him stand motionless, heads raised, all eyes on Jesus. Soon, the clouds will envelope Him and they will see Him no longer, but for now, all eyes are on Him.

This is one thing the ascension does, it focuses our attention on Christ, and on Christ alone. As our one Savior. As our great teacher. As the miracle worker. As God's own Son coming home.

But the greatest significance of the ascension is not that our eyes are on Him, it is that HIS eyes are on us. He now watches over us from the Father's side. From the place of power and authority second to none. We weren't there when He ascended, but that doesn't make a difference. We have His promises still.

Matthew 18, verse 20 says...
"... where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20 NKJV).
Mark 16, verse 20 tells us...
"...they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them" (Mark 16:20).
In Romans the apostle Paul, who also didn't witness the ascension wrote...
" ...I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'The just shall live by faith'" (Romans 1:16-17 NKJV).
Jesus' miraculous ascension still gives us confidence today. It assures us that Jesus is the Savior promised. It makes us certain that our sins have forgiven through Christ. It reminds us that He is the power source in the Christian's life and ministry. And as a final blessing, Christ's ascension serves as a preview of things to come.

In First Thessalonians Paul described what the final resurrection from the dead on Judgment Day would be like to His fellow believers. He wrote...
" ...the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words" (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 NKJV).
On this ascension day, be filled with joy, for you are forgiven of all your sins through Christ. Be filled with the certainty of the ascension and all that it implies. And glow with anticipation of your own ascension to come, in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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