Well, good morning River City - If you are new with us here this morning, we have been going through the book of Luke v by v, ch by ch, and we are at the very end today. 62 sermons, 1151 verses. We made it! Before I dismiss KidCity to their classes, here is where we’re headed over the Summer.
Next week, we’re going to look at what’s called an apologetic look at the resurrection. Not to be confused with “She was apologetic after she realized she forgot the meeting.” Apologetics, in this sense means “an argument or defense for a belief.” So next week we’re going to look at the argument for the resurrection of Jesus being a true, historical event. My goal here is that you would have an educated answer for someone who says, “well, how do you know the resurrection actually happened?”
Then, for the month of July, we’re going to bounce through a short series of sermons that help make sense of how Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension informs some of the main stages of life or situations that we find ourselves in that maybe get overlooked a little bit in the church.
- July 2 – How does Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension inform how we work and (one area we don’t talk about much) how we rest. Everyone of us have at some point struggled with that balance, so we’ll look at that.
- July 9 – We’re coming out of what is recently being called “pride month” here in June, so on the 9th, we’ll talk about how Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension informs our understanding of marriage, singleness, sexuality, and the LGBTQIA+ pressures of the day. Parents – I promise you it will be just as safe for kids as any of my other messages, but I want you to be prepared that we will be talking about those issues on July 2.
- July 16 – Worship in the Park, with a couple baptisms to celebrate, games and lunch in the park afterward – Looking forward to a day of celebration and enjoying each other’s company.
- July 23 – I think there is one stage of life that often gets overlooked, taken for granted, even held in some contempt maybe? And that is retirement. We’ll look at how Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension informs how we think about and live out retirement.
- July 30 – Pastor Steve will close out this little run with a look at how Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension informs the way we think about parenting and (another stage of life that we don’t talk much about) grandparenting.
So that’s the month of July, which puts us right up to Summer Sabbath on August 6, where we unplug everything for a week and rest in the finished work of Jesus.
When we come back from Summer Sabbath, we’ll have 4 weeks in the book of John, looking at the specifics of what all Jesus told his disciples on the night he was betrayed, specifically about the coming Holy Spirit.
Sept 9 is our Fall Vision Sunday, and the following week we launch into the book of Acts!
So that’s where things are headed after Luke! Going to be a fun summer, I think, and I hope that the series this summer gives us some concrete biblical ways to think about some of the issues and life stages we all walk into at some point in our lives.
Today we are looking at one of the moments of Jesus’ ministry that very often gets overlooked. It’s one of the pieces of the story that we sort of take for granted, even forget about — a moment that doesn’t really get anywhere near the same kind of press that Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection get. And that is, the ascension of Christ. Hallmark doesn’t have any Ascension Day products… they suggest you try typing in Disney instead. Hobby Lobby has nothing for ascension day, but they are at least sorry about it, so that’s good.
On the church calendar, Ascension Day was celebrated on May 18 of this year, and we blew right past it. And yet, this moment in Jesus’ ministry is the key that ignites everything that he has done. In a few weeks, we’re going to all gather with friends/family/community and watch fireworks to celebrate Independence Day. And the people who put on the show can have all the fireworks manufactured, purchased, delivered, lined up across the field, put the blue one with white edges here, the star shaped one there, the big booms here, here and here, they can set up the safety perimeter, promote the show online, all the people show up, everyone waiting in their cars, anticipation in the air…everything is perfect.
But there’s one way to make the whole thing a flop… if Jerry forgets the lighter. You could argue that it’s the most important part of the entire event. The lighter. The detonator. Without it, all the other stuff doesn’t actually take off. It would be foolish for us to have all that set up, and then skip out on the detonator. And in Jesus’ ministry, the detonator is his ascension. Tim Keller said, “The ascension is what takes all the stuff Jesus did, and releases it into our lives with all of its healing power.”
So let’s pray and ask the Father to do for us what Jesus did for the disciples in the upper room last week – that he would open our eyes to understand the scriptures, especially the significance of Christ’s ascension, and unleash its healing into our lives.
The King is Coming
If you’re not with me already, please open your copy of scripture to the book of Luke, but I want you all the way back at the beginning – Luke chapter 1, right back where we started. And one of the first scenes in Luke, this is verse 26 of chapter 1, has an angel appearing to a young Jewish girl named Mary and told her that she has found favor with God… she will conceive and give birth to a son, whom she will name Jesus, and (this is important – highlight or underline this in your Bible) verse 32… He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will have no end.
So, Luke’s gospel begins the promise of a king on his throne reigning forever. Now, you can kind of understand why many people, including his followers, expected him to take over Rome. This is royal language this angel is using, right? Throne. Reign. Kingdom. It went hand in hand with a prophecy from the book of Daniel chapter 7 about what they should expect from the Messiah. Here is what Daniel saw in his vision…
9 “As I kept watching, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was white like snow, and the hair of his head like whitest wool. His throne was flaming fire; its wheels were blazing fire. 10 A river of fire was flowing, coming out from his presence.
Thousands upon thousands served him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.
The court was convened, and the books were opened.
That’s an incredible scene so far. But then…13 … suddenly one like a son of man was coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was escorted before him. 14 He was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, so that those of every people, nation, and language should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will not be destroyed.
It’s important to notice here that Jesus loved to refer to himself as the Son of Man. He used that name for himself all the time, and it pointed to this prophecy. Which means, whatever this says about the Son of Man is what we can expect from Jesus. Some day, he will be escorted to his throne and given an everlasting kingdom. Psalm 110:1 speaks of this moment as well. There are two moments in Luke where we saw that Jesus knew this time was coming.
Prepare for departure
In Luke 9:31, in the middle of the transfiguration as Jesus meets with Elijah and Moses, look what it says their conversation was about: They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. Speaking of his departure? Where was Jesus going? The disciples with Jesus didn’t really know at the time what that was all about, but Moses and Elijah, both prophets from 1000s of years earlier, are talking with Jesus about when he’s coming back home to the Father. A few verses later, in 9:51, Luke writes, when the days were coming to a close for him to be taken up, he determined to journey to Jerusalem. Maybe you wonder why Jesus would purposely travel to a city where he knows he’s going to be rejected, beaten, etc, etc. He knew that crucifixion and rejection were what needed to happen first, but it looks like what motivated him to go to Jerusalem was his ascension.
Fast forward to Luke 18:31-33, Jesus again predicts, See we are going up to Jerusalem. Everything that is written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished. Everything Daniel prophesied about the Son of Man, taking the throne, given a kingdom – it all will be accomplished now.
So, I started with all that so you can see Jesus’ ascension is not an afterthought – it’s what things have been driving at all along, all throughout scripture. The ascension was part of the plan, just like his life, death, resurrection.
So, now let’s move on to actually look at the ascension, Acts 1:3 – After he had suffered, he also presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
Taken up into heaven
At the end of these 40 days, Jesus then commissions these students of his to go into the world and make disciples, tells them to wait in Jerusalem for the power to come, and then: 9 After he had said this, he was taken up as they were watching, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going, they were gazing into heaven, and suddenly two men in white clothes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into heaven? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you have seen him going into heaven.”
We’re going to address three questions before we close, and these are important for us to think about, so stay with me on these. They are:
- Where did Jesus go?
- Why does it matter?
- How should we respond?
Question 1: Where did Jesus go?
Look at those verses: where did Jesus go? Three times in verses 10-11, it says Jesus went “Into heaven”, right? Good! So, where is that? Did he just go up into the sky and keep going?
Someone figured out that if Jesus was ascending at 30 miles per hour for 2000 years, he’d be at Mars right now. So is he home yet? Getting close? Is heaven not that far away? Is it a mile or two off the ground, like, it’s good airplanes hadn’t been invented yet or Jesus could have been hit on his way up?
Scripture talks about heaven in a couple layers.
- The first and probably most common use of the word “heaven” in the Bible means the sky itself, like where birds and airplanes fly. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. That would be the sky, but also include…
- The second layer of heaven, which is where planets and stars would be. The highest heavens. At the dedication of the original Temple, King Solomon said “Even heaven, the highest heaven, cannot contain you, much less this temple I have built.” Solomon understood God to be someone that even the universe itself could not contain.
- And then there is the third heaven, which is the particular realm of God’s presence. This is not part of what God created when he created the heavens and the earth. Look again at verse 11 – Jesus did not ascend into the heavens (sky, universe); he was taken up into heaven. That’s the place of God’s presence.
If that seems a little confusing, I love how Tim Keller, a great author and speaker who passed away a month ago talks about this. Here are his thoughts in my own words –
God does not relate to us the way a man in the attic relates to a person on the first floor, like God is way up here and we’re all way down there. God relates to us like the author CS Lewis relates to the characters in his series of books called, The Chronicles of Narnia. In writing those books, CS Lewis created an entire universe, an entire world called Narnia. He determined what kind of creatures would live there, if they could talk or not, how they lived, what they thought, where the rocks and hills and valleys were, how a creature moved about the world or between worlds, what kind of weather there would be, what traditions would be meaningful, he created the figures that represented good and evil. He created an entire universe!
That said, the creatures in Narnia cannot know CS Lewis himself, the person who created them and the world they live in, unless he writes himself into the story. He lives in an entirely different realm than the people in his books. CS Lewis created their world out of his own will and imagination, and they will not find him by running all around Narnia looking for him. The only way they will ever know him is if he writes himself into his own story.
And in the person and work of Jesus, God has written himself into the story so that we could know him and love him and experience him. He wrote himself into our Narnia, to become human, to live a perfect life in our place, then writing his own death and resurrection into the story, defeating the death and sin and evil which he also wrote into the story. So when Jesus is taken up into heaven, he is not just traveling to a different part of Narnia, or simply relocating high up in the stars. He’s traveling back to an entirely different reality than anyone here on earth can understand.
The only thing we can see of that realm is a tiny speck of light through a keyhole at this time. But Jesus’ ascension puts him back in the realm he came from, this time with a human body.
So, to answer question 1: Where did Jesus go? He went into the realm where God lives – he did not just keep going higher and higher off the ground. That would be tragic if that’s what happened, which we’ll talk about in a second.
To be clear, Jesus did not change forms, like he was fully God, fully human until the cloud came along and then he changed back into only fully God, and no longer human. No, no. His physical human body went with him. The angels told the disciples – this same Jesus who was taken from you into heaven will return in the same way. There is now a fully glorified human body present in the realm where God lives – a realm out that is out of sight to us at this moment. He is still fully God, fully man. And that is a marvelous thing, which helps us transition into Question #2…
Question 2: Why Does it Matter?
I think the answer we are most familiar with is that Jesus ascended to heaven so that the Holy Spirit could come. In John’s gospel, Jesus said It’s better that I go away, otherwise the Counselor won’t come to you. So that’s a huge reason #1 why Jesus’ ascension matters… It opens the door for the Holy Spirit, the personal presence of Jesus, to be with all believers at the same time. The Father, Son, Spirit are Omni-present. Omni- means all. They are always present, no matter where you are.
This is why it’s good news that Jesus didn’t just go higher into the sky. He would still be limited to one place at a time, and tragically it would be out of reach for us. We would have to get on a rocket just to speak to him. But, because he ascended into heaven, Jesus is no longer limited to being in one place at a time. You have access to Jesus any time, night or day, to pray, confess, call out for salvation… by his Spirit, he is now omnipresent and that is marvelous news.
Secondly, Jesus’ work is finished. Mark 16:19 gives a specific detail that the other gospel accounts don’t: So the Lord Jesus… was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.
- In the temple in Jerusalem, the work of a priest was never done. When one priest went off duty, another one stepped in because the work of sacrificing and mediation was never complete. When one priest died, another was installed because the work was never done. You’ve said this before – “man, there are never enough hours in the day.” That’s because our work is never done either. There is always something to do.
- But Jesus returned to the presence of the Father, and he sat down! He is the first high priest to sit down, because everything necessary to atone for sin, to present his bride spotless, everything that was necessary to redeem even the worst sinner, the worst marriage, the worst tragedy, the worst heartbreak, the worst evil – everything necessary to make all things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to his purpose is finished!
- Application: So no matter what happens to you, no matter how dark or desperate, you can go to sleep every night in peace knowing that your sin cannot possibly outweigh the cross. Your tragedy or loss or heartbreak cannot possibly do more to wreck you than Jesus has done to redeem you. He is not pacing the floor anxiously wondering what’s going to happen next – he is seated and everything is under his feet. That’s number 3:
Jesus has full authority over all things!
- Ephesians 1: 17 20 [God] exercised this power in Christ by raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens — 21 far above every ruler and authority, power and dominion, and every title given, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he subjected everything under his feet and appointed him as head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.
- When Prince Charles ascended the throne of England earlier this year, he didn’t just walk up the steps and sit down in the fancy chair. Really any one of us could do that, if we were fast enough to get past security. Ascending the throne isn’t just sitting in a new chair. For Prince Charles to ascend the throne of England means his relationship to everyone in the nation changes. He’s no longer Prince – He’s King. Everyone relates to him differently now, because he ascended the throne.
- God shows his power, Paul says, by raising Jesus from the dead, returning him to the realm of God’s presence, and then, you can only give authority if you have it yourself, he ascends Jesus to the throne, and gives him authority far above every other kind of power and rulership and authority both now and forever. Jesus is not only Messiah, he is now Lord!
- That means he has no equals. No rivals. Satan is the rival of humans, not the rival of Jesus. There is no power or authority or demonic evil force that would make Jesus go, oooh, not sure what we’re going to do there. All evil answers to Jesus, and can only operate with his permission.
- He is the head over everything for the Church. I love that. I think sometimes we misread that to say Christ is the head of the church. That’s not a false statement, but look at every word in that sentence. He is the head over everything for the Church. All spiritual gifts; all resources; all vision; all personnel; all teaching; all opportunities to witness; all opportunities to serve; all care and comfort and counseling; all leadership; all missions; even all issues and troubles and problems and misunderstandings – Christ has and is the full and final authority for the Church. He sustains and equips and indwells and empowers and motivates and builds the Church, because it’s his body.
- Because that’s true, we can face all kinds of hardship and persecution with full confidence and assurance that none of this is over Jesus’ head - it’s under his feet. If he allowed it, he plans to redeem it. That of course doesn’t make it easy to endure, but we can endure with confidence and hope, and here is another reason for that hope:
Jesus’ ascension opens heaven to us!
- Ephesians 2: God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, 5 made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! Then this should blow our minds – 6 He also raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might display the immeasurable riches of his grace through his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — 9 not from works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.
- Here in Ephesians, Paul tells us what salvation does for you – it transfers you from spiritual death to spiritual life, and then invites us to come, not to the top floor penthouse suite up in the galaxies somewhere, but into the very same realm where God is right now – and it’s as good as if we’re already there.
- Now do you understand why Paul writes twice there – you are saved by grace! This is not of yourselves – You would be foolish to think that you can earn or accomplish this on your own anymore than the characters in a book can decide to enter into your living room.
- When God the Father welcomed Jesus back to heaven, he gave him a seat in his presence. It’s a way of saying I approve of your work. Come sit down, you’ve done enough. I’m pleased. Now look again at verse 6… you also have been seated in the heavens with Christ! If Jesus doesn’t have to do anything to add to what he did to accomplish your salvation, and neither can you! The good works you do have absolutely nothing to do with your salvation. Not a single thing. He has good works for you to do, but you are doing them while you are seated in the heavens.
- For God to give you a seat in his presence with Christ is him saying the same thing to you. He approves of your work, he is pleased with your efforts to mow the grass and manage your home, to get good grades, to love your wife, to disciple your kids, to grow in your knowledge of him. You don’t see the word “will” in there – God “will seat you…” No, the welcome Jesus got is the same welcome you already have! If you are in Christ.
- Because Jesus ascended, he is our mediator! - “In heaven today, our Lord ministers as our High Priest (Heb. 7:25) and our Advocate (1 John 2:1).
- As High Priest, He gives us the grace we need to face testing and temptation, prays for us, intercedes to the Father, he is our mediator. We can approach God’s throne with confidence, because Jesus is our sure hope of salvation!
- and if we fail, as our Advocate He forgives and restores us when we confess our sins.
Jesus is now King of kings, Lord of lords, he is ruler and Savior, defeater of Satan, death, hell, and sin. He holds all of creation together by the word of his power; he is the Way, the Truth, the Life, who alone holds the keys to repentance and forgiveness. There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.
Question 3: How should we respond?
First of all, if you have never called out to Jesus for salvation, you can do that right this minute. You are not praying to a dead man, or someone miles and miles and miles up in the sky somewhere. You are praying to someone who is very, very near. Someone who hears you, sees you, knows you – the very one who wrote you into his story. God’s word promises that if we confess our sin, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sin, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Secondly, if you have called out to Jesus for salvation, you can respond to Jesus’ ascension the same way the his disciples did: Luke 24: 50 Then he led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 And while he was blessing them, he left them and was carried up into heaven. 52 After worshiping him, they returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they were continually in the temple praising God.
Let’s worship together and I’ll come back up and close.
- Jeff Durbin, May 17, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WaLcw6JLT88
- Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996)
- S. Walton, “Ascension of Jesus,” ed. Joel B. Green, Jeannine K. Brown, and Nicholas Perrin, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Second Edition (Downers Grove, IL; Nottingham, England: IVP Academic; IVP, 2013)