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Life of Christ (1996-1998)

Ascension

Mark 16:19-20, Luke 24:50-53, Acts 1:6-12

(Mark 16:19-20 NIV) After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. {20} Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it. (Luke 24:50-53 NIV) When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. {51} While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. {52} Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. {53} And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God. (Acts 1:6-12 NIV) So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" {7} He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. {8} But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." {9} After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. {10} They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. {11} "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven." {12} Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day's walk from the city.

The Boundary Layer

One of the more interesting phenomena in physics is that of a boundary layer. It seems that the boundary between two dissimilar substances often takes on unique characteristics. Frequently, it does not resemble either substance, but is its own unique item. We have a “boundary layer” here in the transition from the ministry of Christ – which is now complete – and the ministry of the church, which is ongoing. That boundary layer has its characteristics:

The Disciples

The disciples are about to make a dramatic transition in their lives. They are going to change from disciples so dependent upon the physical presence of the Lord. They will become the men who will turn the world upside down. In doing this they will change from followers into leaders, from students into teachers. The man Peter, who could deny his Lord three times, now becomes a bold preacher. This transformation will be completed at Pentecost, but it begins here. We know very little at all about it, but its results speak to this day.

Geography

It is interesting to note that Christ never, in his adult ministry, left the boundaries of the land promised to the Israelites. He was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. To that house was promised the Messiah, and to that house, alone, He came. Only the greatest faith called him away from the Jews; that only twice, the centurion and the Syro-Phoenician woman. Indeed, to that woman he remarked that it was not right to give the children’s food to the dogs. Now the disciples will be sent to all the world.

The church

The major change is this: what Christ did before in his earthly ministry, the church must now do.

·         Jesus came to seek and save the lost. We are to be the ministers of that reconciliation between man and God. He is the High Priest; we are a royal kingdom of priests.

·         The acts of mercy and charity, miraculous and otherwise, so common with Jesus are now to be performed by his church. We often forget that Jesus spent so much time in healing; that he fed the masses – and that these are examples to us.

·         As Jesus made disciples of the twelve, we are to make disciples of the world.

In short, the church is the body of Christ. As his body, we are to do his work. The transition is this: the world saw Christ. Now it sees us.

The Holy Spirit

One major change is the coming of the Holy Spirit. This too is a transition, and one which is often misunderstood.

·         It is sometimes asserted that Christ had to leave so that the Spirit could come – and that this means that the two cannot be together. This is not so; they were together at Jesus’ baptism. Christ had to leave so that the disciples would no longer depend upon his physical presence, but be free to go throughout the world.

·         There is, however, a “change of regime.” The coming of the Spirit reflects the change wrought at the Cross. No longer is access to God indirect, through an earthly priest, but direct, through the Son.

·         There is a change in the ministry of the Spirit as well. Before, the Spirit would come and go as it wished. In the Old Testament we see several instances of this. Now the Spirit is with each believer.

The Physical Transition

Some question why there had to be an Ascension at all. After all, couldn’t Jesus come and go as He pleases?

·         A physical transition is necessary for the disciples. They have walked with him for three years; if He is no longer physically present, there must be a moment of leaving. And he must go somewhere they cannot follow. It will not do to take a desert hike and never return.

·         Jesus is in a physical body; he has been bodily resurrected. A physical body cannot fade away, it must go somewhere.

So Jesus leaves. But as he does, note the three last things:

·         As he leaves, he blesses them. His departure is good news, it is a blessing, and that blessing he places on them.

·         They worship him. He is God, and now returns to God.

·         They return to Jerusalem with great joy. This is not a sad farewell, but a joyous parting with the hope of his return.

Authority and Power

As we shall see at the Great Commission (which, interestingly, does not occur at the Ascension, but before that time, in Galilee) Jesus tells his disciples that all authority and power are his. This is seen in the Ascension very clearly:

·         In Mark’s account we note that he “sat” at the right hand of the Father. Then, as is still true with royalty today, one may not sit in the presence of the king. (Remember the scene from The Prince and the Pauper?). To do so implies that the one sitting is equal to the king (who is also sitting). But that is just the claim of Christ.

·         He sits at the right hand of the Father. We still use the expression, “right hand man.” It is the position of power; it is also the position of intercession for us.

·         It is a return to his pre-Incarnate glory. The disciples see him as he was before the Incarnation. We know from the Scriptures that in him all things consist and have their being; the universe is his.

But he does not leave without some last words.

Last Words

The disciples ask him what must have been the obvious question: “when are you coming back?” Their anxiety is natural. They have been taught from childhood that the Messiah would establish the earthly kingdom of Israel and bring judgment. This will happen – someday. But, as Jesus points out, even He does not know the time. If He was not permitted to know, why do we inquire into it so earnestly?

Hear the word of the Lord:

(Deu 29:29 NIV) The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.

Have you ever told your children to stop asking questions and get on with their chores?

Return the Same Way

Two men in white – an anonymous introduction, that. Were they Moses and Elijah again, as at the Transfiguration, or the two angels at the tomb? We don’t know. All we know is what they told us, and what has been revealed to the writers of the New Testament on the subject. There is much debate about the manner of his return. But I think these things are clear, at least:

·         He will return at the same location – the Mount of Olives, just outside the old city walls of Jerusalem.

·         He will return in bodily form – indeed, at the last judgment, we will all be in such bodily form. He is the first, but we shall follow.

As he ascends a cloud covers him. Many scholars interpret this as the Shekinah, the glory of God. This is the cloud that the Israelites saw by day, for example. If so, it is yet another indication of the fact that Jesus is divine.

The Great Commission

(Mat 28:18-20 NIV) Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. {19} Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, {20} and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

(As noted before, this was actually given before the Ascension, in Galilee).

Authority

The entire act of the Ascension emphasizes Jesus’ authority and divinity. It is upon this authority, now his own from his own Father, that Jesus now commands the disciples. No longer visible as the servant, now visible as the King of Kings, he commands. And what are those last commands?

Make disciples

This is a command to conquer the world. For indeed, the phrase translated “nations” here is ethnos in the Greek, and it means a race or a tribe. It is the root from which we get our word “ethnic.” There are many who believe that the return of Christ will not happen until all such ethnic groups are evangelized – but that puts us back to guessing when he returns, doesn’t it? Interestingly, it does not say to evangelize, nor to preach to, but to make disciples. The word means to teach, to discipline, to instruct. We are not just to convert them to the faith and then leave them, but instruct them as well. The process is to be self-reproducing.

Teaching them

One would thing that would cover the concept of teaching them, but it does not. There is another Greek term used here, didasko, from which we get our word “didactic.” This specifically contemplates the use of instruction – of lecture, if you will – to teach the disciple. In an age where the teaching of doctrine is rapidly being replaced with “fellowship groups” this is an unwelcome thought. We now believe in making disciples through fellowship. We have forgotten his instruction to teach.

Teach them what? This translation has “obey.” The NAS has “observe.” Both of these miss the meaning of the Greek tereo, which means “to guard against loss or injury.” Now you see why the teaching of doctrine is given: it must not be lost or injured! This is surely the result of neglecting the teaching of doctrine. No wonder so many Christians are taken in by every “whim of doctrine” that comes along. It is no surprise that cults abound; Christians don’t know their own faith. This is not what the Lord commanded.

I am with you

One of the greatest assurances of the Bible is here. Go out and conquer the world – but do so with the weapons of peace. How difficult that sounds! How can we do such a thing? Do not worry, little flock – I am with you. One of the greatest of his saints put it this way:

WHEN Jesus is near, all is well and nothing seems difficult. When He is absent, all is hard. When Jesus does not speak within, all other comfort is empty, but if He says only a word, it brings great consolation.

Did not Mary Magdalen rise at once from her weeping when Martha said to her: “The Master is come, and calleth for thee”? (John 11:28.) Happy is the hour when Jesus calls one from tears to joy of spirit.

How dry and hard you are without Jesus! How foolish and vain if you desire anything but Him! Is it not a greater loss than losing the whole world? For what, without Jesus, can the world give you? Life without Him is a relentless hell, but living with Him is a sweet paradise. If Jesus be with you, no enemy can harm you.

He who finds Jesus finds a rare treasure, indeed, a good above every good, whereas he who loses Him loses more than the whole world. The man who lives without Jesus is the poorest of the poor, whereas no one is so rich as the man who lives in His grace.

It is a great art to know how to converse with Jesus, and great wisdom to know how to keep Him. Be humble and peaceful, and Jesus will be with you. Be devout and calm, and He will remain with you. You may quickly drive Him away and lose His grace, if you turn back to the outside world. And, if you drive Him away and lose Him, to whom will you go and whom will you then seek as a friend? You cannot live well without a friend, and if Jesus be not your friend above all else, you will be very sad and desolate. Thus, you are acting foolishly if you trust or rejoice in any other. Choose the opposition of the whole world rather than offend Jesus. Of all those who are dear to you, let Him be your special love. Let all things be loved for the sake of Jesus, but Jesus for His own sake.

Jesus Christ must be loved alone with a special love for He alone, of all friends, is good and faithful. For Him and in Him you must love friends and foes alike, and pray to Him that all may know and love Him.

Never desire special praise or love, for that belongs to God alone Who has no equal. Never wish that anyone’s affection be centered in you, nor let yourself be taken up with the love of anyone, but let Jesus be in you and in every good man. Be pure and free within, unentangled with any creature.

You must bring to God a clean and open heart if you wish to attend and see how sweet the Lord is. Truly you will never attain this happiness unless His grace prepares you and draws you on so that you may forsake all things to be united with Him alone.

When the grace of God comes to a man he can do all things, but when it leaves him he becomes poor and weak, abandoned, as it were, to affliction. Yet, in this condition he should not become dejected or despair. On the contrary, he should calmly await the will of God and bear whatever befalls him in praise of Jesus Christ, for after winter comes summer, after night, the day, and after the storm, a great calm.

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