Grace For The Journey
We have been studying through the Gospel of Luke, the longest book in the New Testament. As it is the longest book in the New Testament, it has taken us a long time to study through the 24 chapters. Some of you will therefore be glad to know that our next study will be of a book that has 16 chapters, the Book of Romans! I look forward to our study of Romans, a book that encourages us to hang tough during times of persecution and suffering.
We are at the close of the Gospel of Luke and we are studying today about the ascension of Christ. Some of you may be hearing that word “ascension” for the first time. The ascension is, as one preacher called it, “one of the most neglected essentials in the New Testament.” We do not generally hear many sermons preached on the ascension. We hear many sermons preached on the incarnation, the crucifixion, and the resurrection, but not nearly as many on the ascension.
What is the ascension? The word “ascension” contains the word “ascend” which, of course, means “to rise up, to go up, to ascend.” Christ goes up, He ascends into heaven. Here is a good definition of the ascension taken from the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (ed. Walter Elwell): “That act of the God-Man by which he brought to an end his post-resurrection appearances to his disciples, was finally parted from them physically, and passed into the other world, to remain there until his second advent.”
During the Second World War, November 10, 1942, after England won a significant victory, a battle Winston Churchill referred to as the, “Battle of Egypt,” Churchill made these remarks as he addressed the people, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end, but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
While the ascension occurs at the end of the Gospel of Luke, the ascension is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end, but it is the end of the beginning. The ascension of Christ “bridges” the Gospel of Luke to Luke’s second volume, the Book of Acts. You will remember that Luke wrote both books.
Luke begins Acts chapter 1 in verse 1 and following by saying, “The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up.” Luke goes on to say that before Jesus was taken up, or ascended into heaven, that He had “presented Himself alive,” appearing to the disciples in His resurrected body over a period of 40 days as He continued to speak to them of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God (Luke 1:3).
After Jesus was raised from the dead, He appeared to His disciples over a period of 40 days before He ascended into heaven. That’s why some churches who follow the traditional church calendar celebrate what is called “Ascension Day,” the 40th day after Easter.
Luke tells us in Volume II of his writings, the Book of Acts, that after the 40 days are over, the disciples are assembled together in Jerusalem and Jesus says to them in Acts 1:8, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Then Luke records a few more details about the ascension in Acts 1:9 to 11, “Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.’”
Remember again, that definition of the ascension we read earlier, the ascension is, “that act of the God-Man by which he brought to an end his post-resurrection appearances to his disciples, was finally parted from them physically, and passed into the other world, to remain there until his second summarize the period of 40 days, telescoping the events of the days preceding the ascension, in keeping with his intention to provide an “orderly account” (Luke 1:3) of the Gospel.
There are three main events taking place between Christ and His followers, we note the verbs: He “blesses” them, He “parts” from them, and they “worship” Him. I want to use these three actions as descriptive headings for our passage and then I want to share with you the significance of the ascension, what it matters to us today.
Note first . . .
I. He Blesses Them.
Verse 50 tells us, “And He led them out as far as Bethany (on the foothills of the Mount of Olives), and He lifted up His hands and blessed them.” What an awesome thing to do for a bunch of guys who had frequently doubted Him, denied Him, forsaken Him, and failed Him – think about that . . . He “lifted up His hands and blessed them.” In fact, verse 51 indicates that it is in the very act of His blessing them that He is parted from them and taken up into heaven
The picture is that of a priest in the Old Testament, someone like Aaron who, in Leviticus 9:22, “Lifted his hand toward the people, blessed them.” Maybe Jesus even spoke the so-called “Aaronic blessing” of Numbers 6:24-26, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”
Jesus blessed them with nail-scarred hands. Though in His resurrected body, the scars from the crucifixion serve as an eternal reminder of the priestly sacrifice of His death for their sins. He blessed them.
Secondly, the Bible says . . .
II. He Parts from Them.
Verse 51 says, “Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven.” Jesus slips away and is taken up into heaven. In Acts 1:9 Luke writes that, “a cloud received Him out of their sight.” This cloud was the visible expression of the glory of God, often referred to in the Old Testament as the “Shekinah glory,” the dwelling or the settling of the divine presence of God. Moses had encountered that cloud of glory on Mt. Sinai. It is the same cloud of glory that went before the Israelites during their wanderings in the desert. It is the same cloud of glory that surrounded Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration.
Luke writes here in verse 51 that it is while Jesus is blessing the disciples, “that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven.” Greek scholar AT Robertson says that the word “parted” here means, “He stood apart and he was gone.” It describes a dramatic exiting of our Lord Jesus into heaven.
It is not that Jesus just goes up and up and up into the sky and became smaller and smaller so that one could no longer see Him, the way one watches a rocket take off and go up into the sky and become smaller and smaller until it can no longer be seen. It is rather that Jesus goes up into the sky but then is carried away, enveloped into the very place of heaven itself.
CS Lewis, trying to understand the ascension pictured Jesus, “. . . being withdrawn through a fold in space like an actor who, having taken his bow, appears to vanish into a fold in the stage curtain, but in actual fact he’s just stepping into a gap in between two of the curtains.”
If you like physics, you might prefer that Jesus entered into the fourth dimension! This is entirely biblical, of course. The physical universe cannot contain God. Solomon referred to this truth in His prayer during the dedication of the temple in 1 Kings 8:27, “Will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple which I have built!”
He blesses them; He parts from them. Then the response of the disciples, number three . . .
III. They Worship Him.
Verse 52 tell us, “And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” They worshiped Him. At first reading, this statement may not seem to follow. Jesus has just been taken away from the disciples. Why would they be glad about that? We might expect they would be sad.
This joy followed their understanding of what they learned from the Scripture. We have read over the past couple weeks that when Jesus appeared to the disciples in His resurrected body that He explained to them the need for His death, burial, and resurrection. In verse 45 we read where Jesus had, “Opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.” He told them about His entire mission, how they would tell others about that mission once the Holy Spirit had come upon them, and the “power from on high” about which Jesus had spoken at the end of verse 49.
It is all clear to them now. Joy follows understanding. Joy is the blessing that follows the understanding of Scripture. When we understand what we are reading in the Bible, as the Holy Spirit teaches us, we are filled with great joy. This is one of the reasons why careful Bible reading and study is so important. It redounds to great joy!
Verse 53, tells us, “And were continually in the temple praising and blessing God. Amen.” Where were the disciples praising God? In the temple. Luke returns us to where the Gospel begins, in the temple (Luke 1:8-9). The Gospel of Luke begins with people praising and blessing God in the temple and it ends with people praising and blessing God in the temple.
He blesses them; He parts from them; they worship Him.
What is the significance of Christ’s ascension? What does it mean for us today? Let me give you these four things. They are not exhaustive, but represent at least four things the ascension means.
First, the ascension means . . .
1) He Presides Over Everything And Sustains Everything.
The Bible says in 1 Peter 3:22 that Christ, “has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.” The right hand of God is a metaphor for omnipotent power. Jesus Christ is now at the right hand of God, the Father. It is the place of power and authority. He is presiding over everything. He is “Lord.” Listen to what the author of Hebrews says about our ascended Lord in Hebrews 1:2-3, “(God), has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”
Christ presides over everything,
And He sustains everything.
Secondly, the ascension means . . .
2) He Sympathizes With Our Weaknesses.
The Bible reminds us in Hebrews 4:14-17, “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
He is our great High Priest! He is the One who knows what we are going through, having suffered the horrors of beatings, crucifixion, and death. He was also tempted just as we are tempted. He knows what we are going through and, He is willing to dispense to us daily supplies of mercy and grace in our time of need.
He sympathizes with our weaknesses. What else is significant about the ascension?
Thirdly . . .
3) He Intercedes For Us As Our Eternal Advocate.
The ascension follows the work of the atonement and guarantees the continual effectiveness of the atonement. The Bible says in Hebrews9:24-26, “For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another – He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”
The ascension is God’s guarantee of the work of His Son, the perfect effectiveness of the finished work of the atonement, the effects of which last forever and ever. The ascension is God’s guarantee of that work. The ascension is God’s stamp of approval upon everything that Jesus has come to do, His entire mission is a mission accomplished. It is this truth that gives you and me the assurance of our salvation.
Speaking of the atonement, the Bible says in Romans 8:33-34, “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.” Paul imagines somebody speaking against your being a Christian, whether that someone is another person, your fearful heart, or the devil himself. He imagines someone accusing us the way a person might stand in court and speak against our case. Someone stands and says, “I object! I know this so-called Christian! I have seen the way he lives. He has many faults. He cannot be forgiven.” The Bible says, “Who will succeed in bringing a charge against God’s elect? Who is worthy to condemn the Christian?”
Maybe you once felt secure in our faith. Maybe you have trusted Christ and all was well. But then, you stumbled and fell. You do something you know is wrong. In fact, you find yourself struggling with this particular thing. You hate it. It is a sin and you hate it. And you find yourself battling it all the time. The Bible pictures you are standing before God at the judgment. You are a Christian, but there is this on-going problem. God knows our hearts, our tendency to somehow think that the blessings of forgiveness apply to everyone else except us! There we stand before God and the devil stands up behind us in the courtroom and he says, “This person cannot be one of yours! I have seen the way he lives. I have watched the way he/she behaves. I charge this so-called Christian with hypocrisy. I condemn this person for being the hypocrite they are!” Oh, listen again to the effects of the atonement guaranteed by the ascension in Romans 8:34, “Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.”
The Bible is tells us that no matter how hard the devil or anyone else may work at trying to condemn you, you have this wonderful Advocate – the risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ – the One who stands at the right hand of the Judge. He stands there forever, always “making intercession” for you.
It is not that He must speak continually in your defense, giving a counter-argument to the devil’s charges.
Christ’s just being there
Is the counter-argument!
Christ is always and forever standing there. He need say nothing. God the Father forever looks at Christ His Son, and on the basis of what His Son did for the Christian on Calvary’s cross, God then looks at the Christian and says, “Not guilty,” every single time. All sin is forgiven.
The significance of the ascension: He presides over everything and sustains everything; He sympathizes with our weaknesses; He intercedes for us as our eternal advocate.
Finally . . .
4) He Prepares A Home For Us.
Jesus says in John 14:1-3, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” The ascension means that Jesus Christ, our ascended Lord, is right now in heaven preparing a place for all Christians, all true followers of Jesus.
What will heaven be like? I do not know, but it if Jesus is preparing it, you can be sure it is going to be absolutely wonderful! Imagine: every Christian, every true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, one day will be, like our Lord before us, “carried up into heaven” where we will spend eternity. Will you be in that company?
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”