“AND I WHEN I AM LIFTED UP FROM THE EARTH, WILL DRAW ALL PEOPLE TO MYSELF.” (John 12:32)
The great world drama is a Son leaving home for a far country.
The Son’s home is with his Father, but he leaves it for the far country, for love’s sake.
The Son of God willingly abases himself, for it is an abasement (a comedown) to leave his home for this strange land.
He proclaims Good News, teaching the people of the infinite love of his Father for them . Rejected by those he came to save, he offers his life as a ransom for theirs. His Father raises him from death.
The Son does not stay in the far country but informs his friends of his intention to return home, to his true home, the place where his Father dwells. We call that place Heaven. Heaven is a place, not just a state, for he promised us, “I go to prepare a place for you.” Of course it will be a very different kind of place, it will be part of God’s space and part of God’s time, not space and time as we know them. It’s the place where Jesus dwells bodily. And where he is preparing a place for our resurrection bodies. Bodies, even transformed bodies, require places.
1. In the Ascension Jesus withdraws his physical presence from this world. In the upper room on the eve of his crucifixion Jesus prepares his friends. In John 16:7 he says “it is to your advantage that I go away, that I return to my Father, for if I do not go away the Advocate (Holy Spirit) will not come to you, but if I go I will send him to you.”
In the Garden of Gethsemane, he cautions Mary of Magdala: “Do not cling to me for I have not yet ascended to my Father and your Father…”
He is the risen one but not yet the ascended one. His bodily transformation is not yet complete, though it soon will be.
2. The Ascension of Jesus is his final Resurrection appearance. For 40 days He prepares the disciples to know him in a new way, no longer in the flesh, but in the Spirit.
Withdrawing physically from them, he remains spiritually present.
His living presence is in his church, in Christian believers, and on every altar in Christendom. He is with us always even to the end of the age.
3. The Ascension marks the END or COMPLETION of our Lord’s SUCCESSFUL ministry to his people on earth.
The ministry of humiliation is over – Christ’s ministry of exaltation begins.
Jesus’ ministry of Exaltation consists of three aspects: first, he is the Representative Human being, the Royal Man, what we were intended to be and in Him what we are destined to become. Second, he is our great High Priest who always intercedes for his People. Third, with his Father, he is the Giver of the Gift of the Holy Spirit to his people, for their sanctification and empowerment.
From “command central” in Heaven, Jesus launches a whole new ministry in his church on earth. Let’s look at each of these three Ascension ministries of our Lord.
4. First, Jesus’ new ministry as the Royal Man is exercised in and from Heaven.
To say he’s the Royal Man means that he is what we were intended by God to be. Adam was given dominion…
What precisely, is exalted in the Ascension of Jesus? His divine nature as Son of God or his Human Nature as Son of Man? Clearly it’s his human nature that’s exalted in the ascension. No glory or exaltation could be added to his divine nature.
He doesn’t shed his human nature, nor lay it aside when he returns to his Father.
He perfects our human nature on the Cross and takes our Human Nature with Him, right into the presence of the Holy One ,the Almighty Father.
Never again will Christian people be able to think of God without thinking of the Son of Man, the perfect human, sharing in the divine power and authority of the majesty on High.
From the seat of power Jesus applies the victory of his Cross and Resurrection to the lives of his followers, pleading always the once for all victory of the Cross.
The Father gives Jesus the name which is above all names, that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow.
He’s the Lord of human history, the Lord of the cosmos. The Ascension is Jesus’ home-coming. He is the Royal Man, what we are meant to be. Christ is our future, the future of the human race and he goes to prepare a place for us.
5. Secondly it is in the Ascension that Jesus exercises his new ministry as our “great high priest” (Hebrews 4:14-16), exalted above the heavens”.
A priest is one who offers a sacrifice on behalf of the people.
But not only does Jesus OFFER a sacrifice, he HIMSELF IS the sacrifice.
And the sacrifice, once and for all made bodily at Calvary, is made complete as Jesus presents himself to his heavenly Father.
By the presentation of his perfected human nature to his Father, the human nature of those who are joined to Christ by Faith and Baptism is made a fit receptacle for the dwelling of the Third Person of the Trinity, the blessed Holy Spirit. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “It is expedient for you that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will not come to you.”
While still in his earthly body, our Lord was limited to this locale or that locale. From Heaven, he can be present with billions of his children at once, because he has made their human nature whole, and able to receive his Spirit as a permanent possession.
6. Jesus draws us to heaven with him – “I go to prepare a place for you.” Makes our future inheritance secure! We don’t have to guess whether we’ve been good enough.
No, we rely on Jesus Christ’s perfect sacrifice, by which we, his chosen friends are saved.
7. Our ascended High Priest gives us access to our heavenly Father, and boldness in our prayers. Jesus constantly intercedes for his Church: “because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to INTERCEDE for them” (Heb. 7: 24,25).
We may often feel our prayers are weak and ineffective. But they are in fact powerful. For Jesus our High Priest ALWAYS prays for us, taking our prayers and embuing them with spiritual power.
Because our great High Priest knows the human condition from the inside out, we have boldness and access to our Father at any time. e.g. my oldest son, when he was about 5 years old…
8. Finally, our Lord Jesus Christ in his Ascension, bestows the Gift of the Holy Spirit to those who turn to him in faith and baptism.
Healing our wounded human nature, Jesus makes us fit receptacles of his own Spirit, the Spirit of divine love.
His perfection as Son of Man is achieved already; ours is set in progress. Christian believer, make it your heart’s desire to progress in Christ’s humanity in which you already share.
That’s the great gift of the Ascension.
Pentecost, the gift of the Holy Spirit to his church, is only possible because the Father and his Exalted Son share the love that unites them with us. That love IS the Holy Spirit.
9. St. Paul in Ephesians 4:10 says, “Christ ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things. The gifts he gave were that some might be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists…”
The Ascension of Jesus fills his church with the spiritual gifts necessary for our service of the Ascended Lord and for our witness to him. Gifts of the Hoy Spirit.
Everything necessary for the church on earth to work for the Kingdom of God.
Let me end by leaving you with 5 ways in which the Ascension of Jesus Christ strengthens his church to live holy and godly lives:
1) by the Ascension we are given boldness in our prayers, for Christ Jesus takes our feeble prayers right into the heart of God.
2) When we become too centred on the cares and anxieties of this passing world, we are to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the RH of God.”
3) the Ascension causes us to long for the Advent coming of our Lord. We delight in Jesus’ spiritual presence, but we acknowledge his physical absence, and yearn for his coming in glory in his glorified body.
4) As await his Advent coming in glory, our ascended Lord invites his church to cry out, “Come Holy Spirit”. We may be sure Jesus will be interceding for us on high next Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, praying that we will open our hearts to be set on fire by the pentecostal Spirit.
5) Finally, we have full confidence in our sovereign, ascended, Lord as the Lord of history and the cosmos. He is Lord of all. He restrains the forces of evil in the world. He guides his church into all truth. He will come again in glory to judge the world, and to set right the sum total of human injustice, and to wipe every tear from the eyes of his children.