************ Catechism Sermon on Lord's Day 18 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 28, 2017
Lord's Day 18
"The Ascension of Jesus"
Today we remember and celebrate the Ascension of Jesus into heaven. Most churches and Christians celebrate Christmas and Easter and Pentecost but few churches remember and celebrate Ascension day. However, the Catechism tells us the Ascension is part of the sound doctrine we must know to protect ourselves from myths and heresies and false teachers. Sound doctrine, if you remember, is doctrine based upon the Bible. It is doctrine that is true, reliable, dependable, and trustworthy. It is doctrine that is useful for teaching, rebuking, correction, and training in righteousness (cf 2 Tim 3:16-4:5).
Today, in looking at the Ascension, sound doctrine reminds us that the work of God, grace, salvation, the kingdom, and the covenant continually direct us toward heaven. We are directed to Jesus at the right hand of the Father. We are directed to Jesus Who experienced the glory of heaven after He suffered a little while.
Do you wonder if there were any kinds of preparations for Jesus' return to heaven? For instance, did the angels practice a special choir piece? Did the cherubim and the seraphim build a special throne? Was a banquet prepared? After all, Jesus was not just a man like Abraham or David or Isaiah or Simeon. When Jesus ascended into heaven, the King of glory was returning. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. By Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead. All the fullness of God dwelt in Him. So, the Ascension, was a big deal, a huge deal.
We don't know much about any of this preparation -- if any -- for Jesus' return to heaven. And, we have to admit, we don't know much about the preparation of the heavens for us either. As we think about this, it is easy -- far too easy -- to form a human conception of the glory of heaven. We need to realize that the glory into which Christ ascended is so high and so exalted, that it is far beyond our understanding.
I A Human Jesus Went to Heaven
A What do we mean by saying, "He ascended into heaven"? "That Christ, while his disciples watched, was lifted up from the earth to heaven." This is not the only time Jesus was lifted up. Jesus was lifted up on the cross; we celebrated this lifting on Good Friday. Jesus was lifted up from the grave; we celebrated this lifting on Easter Sunday. And today we celebrate that He was lifted up to heaven.
Jesus' body and soul were lifted up into heaven. His body and soul. Meaning what? Meaning that in heaven Jesus is still human. Meaning that in heaven Jesus still has a body and soul. Meaning that in heaven Jesus remains one of us and one with us.
B A real human Jesus is in heaven. We differ from the Lutherans on this point. The Lutherans teach that in His ascension Jesus' human nature became everywhere present in the earth. The Lutherans teach this to fit their view of the Lord's Supper that the humanity of Christ is present in, with, and under the bread and wine. Think of the error this results in: that the humanity of Jesus took on some of the characteristics of the divinity of Jesus. The human and divine natures of Christ are confused with each other. When Jesus ascended into heaven, His human nature remains human and the divine nature remains divine so that Christ's divinity is beyond the bounds of the humanity He has taken on.
In His divine nature Christ is everywhere present; in His human nature Christ is in heaven. In His divine nature Christ knows all things; in His human nature Christ does not know the day and hour of the second coming. In His divine nature Christ does not become tired or weary; in His human nature Christ suffered both. Do you see the difference between the two natures of Christ? As great as is the difference between God and man, so great is the difference between the divine and human natures of Christ.
C So what happened in the Ascension? Jesus' human body and human soul went from earth to heaven. Jesus' human body and human soul went from an earthly world to a heavenly world. Jesus' human body and human soul entered into the heavenly world that is essentially different from the earthly world.
So what? Meaning what? The biggest difference, the main difference, between earth and heaven is that heaven is the place where God dwells. God is everywhere present of course, but He does not dwell on earth in the same way as He does in heaven. That's why, for instance, we pray "Our Father Who art in heaven." God dwells in heaven in a special sense. Heaven is the most holy place; and earth is not. Heaven is the place where God's face is. On earth we do not see God's face because God's face is in heaven. On earth we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; but in heaven we shall see God face to face. In heaven the angels behold God's face; and there someday we will also see God's face.
Jesus often spoke of His Ascension, especially in the Gospel of John. He spoke of the Ascension as going to "my Father." This was more offensive to the Jews than the foolishness of the cross (Jn 6:61-62). When Jesus ascends to heaven He ascends to the Father's throne, the Father's home, the Father's face. There He lives in the most intimate fellowship with God.
When Jesus took on a human body and human soul He was in the outer court. He was as far from the Father as was possible. In that outer court He shed His blood. In that outer court He cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mt 27:46). But at the Ascension He takes the blood and enters the heavenly sanctuary. He returns to the Father and He does so with His human nature.
II To Benefit Us
A Jesus went to heaven. He went there in His body. He went there with His soul. He went there "for our good." He went there to "benefit us."
(Jn 16:7) But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away.
There are Christians who wish Jesus was still on earth. They want to see Him perform miracles, listen to His teachings, and observe His holiness and compassion. They believe that if people could see and hear Jesus, many more would believe and be saved.
It is foolish to wish a human Jesus was still on earth. If He were, where would He be? In Jerusalem? Would the Father allow Him to fall into Muslin hands? Imagine how this would have changed human history and the Middle East. And, we need to keep in mind what happened when Mary Magdalene saw the risen Lord at the tomb. When Jesus identified Himself to her, she cried "Rabboni!" and reached out to touch Him and hug Him. Jesus said,
(Jn 20:17) "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"Mary was clinging to Jesus. She loved the human Jesus. She wanted to keep the flesh and blood Jesus on earth. "Do not hold on to me." Why? Because He must return to the Father.
At one time He came down to us, but now He must go back to heaven's throne. For our good. To benefit us.
B Jesus went to heaven as high priest. Hebrews 10 tells us "We have a great priest over the house of God" (Heb 10:21). Hebrews 9 explains it this way:
(Heb 9:12) He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.In the old covenant the high priest entered the Most Holy Place one day a year. He went carrying blood. He sprinkled it on the mercy seat. Similarly, Jesus went to the heavenly sanctuary. The blood He carried was His own.
Jesus went to heaven as high priest. And what does He do? The Catechism says He prays for us: "He pleads our cause in heaven in the presence of His Father."
We are sinful people. We are tempted people. We need forgiveness. We need pardon. We need power to resist. We need strength for the problems and trials of life. Jesus intercedes for us.
"Father, forgive them. Father, do not hold their sin against them. Father, strengthen them against the devil, the world, and their own flesh because they are too weak to fight on their own. Make them strong. Give them the power to resist. Give them the complete victory. Give them the grace to endure trials."
C Jesus went to heaven as high priest. He prays for us. What else does He do? He "sends His Spirit to us on earth." Oh, this is so important. The Spirit Who make us born again. The Spirit Who works in our hearts through and with the Word to make us more like Christ. The Spirit Who gifts us for service in the church and kingdom. The Spirit Whose fruit is so necessary as we sinful humans live and work and worship together: the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The Spirit Who empowers us as the people of God. This Spirit comes to us only when and because Jesus is in heaven.
III A Guarantee of our Future Glory
A Christ is in heaven. His human body and soul are not on earth. So, we don't set our hearts on the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper -- as do the Lutherans and the Roman Catholics. Rather, we lift up our hearts to heaven where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
Christ is in heaven. So we are heavenly-minded. We are otherworldly. We hate sin. We love salvation. We seek things above where Christ is. We seek first the Kingdom and its righteousness.
It is necessary that Jesus ascend. If He were still on earth, our attraction would be to earth. If He were still on earth, we would have no attraction to heaven. Listen to how Paul puts this in His letter to the Colossians:
(Col 3:1-4) ... set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. (2) Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (3) For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.Set your mind on things above? Why? Because that is where Christ is.
B Jesus, our flesh and blood, is in heaven. This is a guarantee that someday Christ will take us, His members, to Himself in heaven. I just love how Jesus states this to His disciples:
(Jn 14:1-3) "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. (2) In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. (3) And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.The disciples were troubled because Jesus announced He was leaving them. They didn't know and understand that Jesus was talking about the Ascension into heaven.
What is Jesus doing in heaven? He is preparing a place for us. The image comes from the picture of the bridegroom and bride in the Old Testament. When a young Israelite man was engaged to be married, he went to his father's house and got a place ready for his bride. Usually, this meant adding a room or a suite of rooms to the father's house. So, the groom and his brothers or servants would labor. They would add on to the father's house. When the room was ready, the groom would get his bride and bring her into their part of the mansion.
"I am going there to prepare a place for you." Do you hear what Jesus is saying? Jesus is saying He is the bridegroom and He is preparing a place for us, His bride.
"In my Father's house are many rooms." This reminds me of the old song: "I've Got a Mansion Just Over the Hilltop." There is a mansion up there. Filled with people -- a whole host of brothers and sisters. Rooms were added for the patriarchs, for the prophets, for the faithful in exile, for the apostles, for the early martyrs, for the Reformers, for Christian parents and grandparents. Room after room has been prepared by the heavenly bridegroom as He eagerly awaits His bride, the church.
Someday we will follow Him. Someday we will participate in His glory. Someday we will enter His mansion. All because He ascended into heaven. All because He is already there.
What do you mean by saying, "He ascended into heaven"? That Christ, while His disciples watched, was lifted up from the earth to heaven and will be there for our good until He comes again to judge the living and the dead. This is what sound doctrine teaches about the ascension?
Do you believe this? Do you believe in Him Who was lifted up? Lifted up to die. Lifted up from the grave. Lifted up into heaven.
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