How the Ascension Secures Our Joy

ascension-day

It is widely thought that the greatest human achievement of all time was traveling to and landing on the moon.[1]

On July 20, 1969, the Apollo 11 crew landed the lunar module Eagle on the moon (with less than 30 seconds of fuel left!).  That day Mission Commander Neil Armstrong uttered two now-famous quotes…

  1. When the lunar module touched down, he said, “The Eagle has landed.”
  2. And then as Neil Armstrong descended down a ladder to the moon’s surface he uttered the words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

It was the first-time human beings had ever traveled to another celestial body.  Well, actually, it was the second time… 

When Jesus Christ accomplished the greatest act of love and redemption of all time—He ascended through the clouds and landed on heaven’s shore—what a celebration there must have been as Jesus returned to heaven victorious!

In this post, we will be considering the Doctrine of the Ascension and, more specifically, how it secures our joy.

Here is how the author and apologist C.S. Lewis rightly describes the Ascension:

“A new chapter in cosmic history has opened.  Christ closed the door to everlasting death by his own death and opened heaven for all as easily as he opened his own tomb. The dragon is slain, the Lamb has conquered and now the King ascends to his throne.”  –C.S. Lewis, Miracles [2]

We will be looking at Luke 24:46-53 and consider how the Ascension of Jesus Christ to sit at the right-hand of the Father can secure our joy:

“Thus, it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations [ethnos], beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high. 50 And he led them out as far as Bethany and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great [Greek: mega] joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.”  — Luke 24:46-53 (ESV, emphasis added)

Big picture, what this passage is telling us is that there are distinct stages of redemptive history. In this passage we see one stage transitioning to the next stage… it is a movement from the Incarnation, which establishes of the kingdom of God upon the earth as redemption is accomplished.  In our passage today, we see this stage gives way to the Church Age stage.  The goal of the Church Age is to spread the good news that the Kingdom of God has been established (but not yet consummated).  This stage, that we are in now, will give way to the final stage where Jesus will come back – just as He left.

The verse that really caught my attention when I began to study this passage afresh was v. 52:

“And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great/mega joy.”

When Jesus first told His disciples in John 16 (16:16ff [3] – The Farewell Discourse) that He would be leaving to prepare a place for them in heaven the night of His arrest, they reacted with great consternation, confusion, and concern, but then when it actually happened, we see in Luke 24:52-53 they responded with great joy and continuous (and I would add contagious) worship!

So, we need to ask why?? What happened??

We read in Acts 1:3 that:

Jesus “presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” –Acts 1:3  

It seems that Jesus taught a 40-day theological intensive on the meaning and practice of the Kingdom of God.  They needed to know that one stage of redemptive history was giving way to the next stage – the Kingdom established to the Kingdom proclaimed.  It seems that after the resurrection the disciples began to connect many of the dots of Jesus’ 3-years of teaching — as well as their understanding of how the whole Old Testament actually points to Jesus (see Luke 24:27).

Good theology stabilizes the soul – and prepares it for real joy.

After the 3-year ministry of Jesus, after the resurrection, and after the 40-day theological intensive – the penny dropped, the dots were beginning to get connected, the fog was lifting.  So much so that when Jesus was taken up into heaven 40-days after His resurrection there was now an exuberance, joy, and continuous worship!

Today we want to ask, “How can we share in their joy?”

It seems the Apostle’s joy stemmed from intimate day-to-day knowledge of the Person of Jesus Christ as well as a growing theological understanding of who Jesus is, where Jesus went, and what Jesus was going to do.

So, there are three questions we will ask: Who? Where? and What?

One of the well-regarded Protestant catechisms[4] is the Heidelberg Catechism.  It was written over 17 years (1559-1576) to instruct youth as well as pastors and teachers.  It’s divided into 52 sections (with a total of 129 questions and answers) so it could be explained in churches over a one-year period.

Here’s a question and answer from the Heidelberg Catechism: Lord’s Day 18 / Q-49

How does Christ’s ascension into heaven benefit us?

  1. First, He is our Advocate in heaven before His Father.
  2. Second, we have our flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that He, our Head, will also take us, His members, up to Himself.
  3. Third, He sends us His Spirit as a counter-pledge [first fruits], by whose power we seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God, and not the things that are on earth.

Grasping the Who? Where? and What? will open our hearts to new vistas of joy and worship.

Let’s look at them one at a time:

Who has Jesus become in His Ascension?

Jesus ascended into heaven and has been crowned King of Kings and Lord of Lords and is sitting at the right hand of the Father. In this new stage of redemptive history, Jesus becomes our Redeemer-Advocate (supporter, defender, attorney).

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” –1 John 2:1

When John calls Jesus “our Advocate,” he means that our Redeemer now ruling and reigning His kingdom from the throne at the right-hand of the Father — to plead our case.  Jesus’ work as our Advocate goes far above and beyond the work of an earthly defense attorney, because the “case” He is handling for us is grounded in the work He has done to secure God’s favorable verdict of innocence (see Romans 8:1–4).

For those who are “in Christ,” God is no longer the Judge who condemns, but the Father who adopts the Christian into His family.  We are all guilty of sin and unable to meet God’s demands of perfect obedience and perfect righteousness, but the perfect righteousness of Jesus imputed[5] (not imparted) to us in our justification, which makes us right (or, righteous) before God.

“The clients are guilty; their innocence and legal righteousness cannot be pleaded. It is the Advocate’s own righteousness that He must plead for the criminals.”  –Matthew Henry

Practically speaking, Jesus’ work as our Advocate involves our once-for-all justification as well as Jesus actively praying for our ongoing sanctification — or transformation.

Where did Jesus go?

Jesus ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father and as He becomes our Redeemer-Advocate – and our shame is replaced by His loving care – both covering our past and praying for our present.  The second part of the Heidelberg Catechism answer says, “we have our flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that He, our Head, will also take us, His members, up to Himself.” What does that mean?

Here’s a verse that might help us to understand this:

“…[God] raised us up with [Jesus] and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” –Ephesians 2:6

Jesus is alive and sitting at the right hand of God the Father with all power and authority and He will one day come again in great glory.  As Jesus rules and reigns from His throne, He is glorified, resurrected body.  He is a single man, with fingernails, Mary is still His mother – you could shake His hand and ask Him how His day has been.

This is the same Jesus who is returning to consummate the Kingdom of God in the same manner that He left – in His glorified resurrected body

Here’s a way to think about it: It’s like a train where Jesus, is the engine (locomotive), which has already pulled-in to the station with His glorified body and we are still on the journey.  We are the boxcars in His train.  BUT, at the same time, we are already in the station because our Head is there. That’s what Eph 2:6 says that we are “seated with him in the heavenly places.”

What was Jesus going to do?

We read in Acts 2 that the Holy Spirit was poured out 10-days after the Ascension.  We call it Pentecost (i.e., 50th day).  The Father and the Son pour out (or release) the Holy Spirit to both launch, empower, and build the Church.

In essence, in this new stage of redemptive history, the Holy Spirit and Jesus switch places – Jesus goes back to heaven victorious and the Holy Spirit is released across the whole earth – as well as to live (habitate) in the heart of the Christian.

The empowering presence of the Holy Spirit, being directed by Jesus, floods the whole earth to convict, to convert, to transform, and to build Christians into the Church.  Jesus said it was better for Him to go so that the HS could come.

“But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”  –John 16:7

It is better to have the Holy Spirit IN us than Jesus BESIDE us.

It doesn’t matter what Christ accomplished outside of us in history, if what He accomplished outside of us, for us, is not made ours by the Spirit’s uniting us to Christ.  –-John Calvin

After the Resurrection, another event was required in the history of redemption – another phase of redemptive history is now necessary to prepare for the final stage, which is the consummation and glorification of God’s Kingdom.

Takeaway:

The Ascension of Jesus Christ marks the completion of the work Jesus came to do on earth and the beginning of what He continues to do in and through the Church by the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.  Our joy is secured as we see that all of the majesty, grace, mercy, life, and power of God are wrapped-up in the glorious gospel and are firmly established by the fulfillment of the finished work of Jesus Christ.

The Ascension marks the conclusion of one stage of redemption and the beginning of another.  It is truly finished!  And we await the consummation of the kingdom of God.

 

[1] #2: Electronic devices, #3: Domesticated fire, #4: Air travel, #5: Created writing, #6: Photography, #7: Theories of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, #8: Theory of Evolution, #9: Created Music, #10: The internet.

[2] HarperOne Revised 2015: 236.

[3] In John 16 Jesus promised the emergence of great joy—similar to the transformation of pain into joy when a mother gives birth to a child. Years later, the apostle Paul used the same metaphor—of our world being “pregnant with glory”—to describe life in Christ (Rom. 8:25) –Gospel Transformation Notes (John 16:16-24).

[4] Meaning to instruct in the form of a series of questions and answers.

[5] Reckoned, credited, assigned, ascribed – or, cloaked (see Is. 61:10).

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