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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:We are Glad that Christ Went Away
Text:LD 18 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God The Son
 
Preached:2018
Added:2018-07-29
Updated:2018-07-29
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 24:1,5                                                                                

Hy 2:1,2,3

Reading – John 14

Ps 47:1,2,3

Sermon – Lord’s Day 18

Hy 39:1,2,3,4,5

Hy 41:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved, saying good-bye isn’t easy. When parting ways from people we love, there can be a painful sorrow. This is true for many kinds of departures, like the temporary kind at the airport. But it’s also true for departures that feel more permanent, like when someone is about to leave this earthly life. It’s not easy.

This makes us think of Jesus’ ministry. After his death and resurrection, it was time for him to leave. Jesus was going to depart from this earth and go to another place. For his disciples, this was deeply troubling. Imagine their devotion to their Master, and their confidence in him, after everything they saw him do.

So the disciples are anxious when Christ says his departure is near. “Lord, where are you going?” Peter asked. “Why can’t we go with you?” Later, once He has ascended into heaven and left them on earth, his disciples stand there at a loss—disheartened and dumbfounded. Did the ascension mean that Christ’s love was going away, too? Was his help moving beyond their reach? Isn’t that what we would think too? Long distance love just isn’t the same.

Our Saviour understands the fears of his people. For that reason, He speaks comfort to his disciples—words for us too. Christ says: “Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me” (John 14:1). Trust in him! With Christ in heaven, there’s no reason for us to fear. In the absence of Jesus, there’s no cause for sadness. This is the teaching of Lord’s Day 18,

We are glad that Christ went away! Because:

  1. He went to heaven from earth
  2. He works in heaven for earth
  3. He’ll come from heaven to earth

 

1) He went to heaven from earth: It was a special time, those years when Jesus walked this earth. It was unlike anything seen before: God came down, took on human flesh, and He lived among men. Jesus looked like any other man, acted like one, spoke like one—yet He was different. He was more. His name was “Immanuel,” after all, “God with us.”

He walked among us for a purpose. In recent Lord’s Days we’ve seen that He came as one who’d suffer and die and rise again. And in John 14, when Jesus speaks to his disciples in the Upper Room, this core task was laying heavy on his mind. It was the night of the Passover, and they’d already shared the Last Supper. Satan had just entered Judas, so he’d left to do his betraying. The countdown to the cross was entering the last painful hours.

So Jesus tells his disciples what is about to take place: “I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming” (v 30). That sounds ominous, isn’t it? The battle lines are drawn, and Satan, the ruler of this world, is preparing to launch his attack. This is the moment of truth: Will Jesus remain faithful to his calling? Or will He cave in under the pressure, and seek an escape route? That’s the temptation that Satan would wave in front of Christ, as death loomed ever larger. Why not bail, right now? Back out of all this misery? Look to your own interests for once.

“The ruler of this world is coming,” says Jesus, but “he has nothing in me” (v 30). As the final bitter test gets closer, Christ assures his disciples that He won’t fail. For more than thirty years, Satan hasn’t been able to break Christ’s resolve or deter him from his mission, and he won’t be able to do so now.

Rather, says Christ, in just a few hours, “The world [will] know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave me commandment, so I do” (v 31). All along, this is what kept Jesus going. This was his motivation: obedient love for his Father! So this is what happened the next day, as He endured all the shame, darkness and suffering of hell. Christ gave until He had nothing left to give.

For many people, that was the end of the story. Most bystanders probably assumed that Jesus was now gone, and soon to be forgotten. Jesus told his disciples this very thing, “A little while longer and the world will see me no more” (v 19). He’d be dead and buried—out of sight, out of mind. His fifteen minutes of fame, seemingly at an end.

“The world will see me no more,” says Christ to his disciples, but here’s the twist in the story, the surprise and the sequel: “but you will see me” (v 19). Only three days later, this was so true! The disciples did see him. As we learned in Lord’s Day 17, the resurrection was God’s stamp of approval on all Christ’s suffering and pain. The resurrection was the divine receipt that Jesus had paid the price, down to the very last penny.

So Jesus’ mission on earth was done. His saving work was complete—so now, what was left for him to do? In human terms, we might say that Jesus was going to be “transferred!” It was time for a different job-site, a new work-place. He was going from earth, back to heaven. He’d ascend, and take his throne.

Actually, this was another proof that the Father was well-pleased with his Son. If there’d been anything lacking in his earthly labours, Jesus would’ve had to stay. If there’d been any need for a do-over, if somehow the cross hadn’t been enough—Jesus would’ve had to remain! But He was going. Notice how even before He goes to the cross, He has the conviction that He’ll be going to heaven shortly. He tells the disciples that soon He’d be leaving for “his Father’s house” (v 2). He’s confident of this: After the cross, glory! After death, everlasting life!

Jesus was sure of a good outcome, but these words (we said) were disconcerting for the disciples. First, they had to grapple with one departure: Jesus dying. Then a second departure: the resurrected Jesus, going back to heaven. It’s almost too much to bear! In the weakness of their faith, can’t you imagine the disciples wondering? Questioning just how faithful was this Jesus, leaving them not once, but twice? How could He put them through pain and sorrow one day, and then do it again, some forty days later?

Beloved, all this makes Jesus’ words in verse 27 so very powerful. He exhorts us with an ever-enduring grace: “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (v 27). With Christ in heaven, there’s absolutely no need for us to fear. Because Jesus has ascended, our hearts have no cause for anxiety.

True, things were going to change—just like our relationships change when a person moves away. Moving forward, we know that it won’t be the same. How could it be? There’s no hand to hold anymore, there’s no face for us to see. Yet in the power of Christ, his bond with us continues, stronger than ever. He promises that for those whom He leaves behind, there are going to be rich and lasting benefits.

That’s one of the first things the Catechism says to describe our Lord’s ascension: “Christ… was taken up from the earth into heaven, and… He is there for our benefit” (Q&A 46). Jesus didn’t go away to avoid us and all our human problems. It’s not “out of sight, out of mind.” No, we’re very much in his sight—and we’re very much in his mind. Christ went back to heaven for the same reason He came down to earth: to bring about our salvation, to work for our good.

This is why there’s no grounds for fear. Jesus might’ve been leaving, but in his absence He imparts the surest, the deepest, the most lasting peace: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you” (v 27). When we wake up every morning and we find that we’re still on earth, we can rest secure in Christ—we have lasting peace.

Sometimes we think that we have peace, but our peace is only as enduring as the next thing we’ve chosen to put our trust in. This peace will fall to pieces. If you find peace in the comfortable condition of your life right now, or peace in the shiny new things you have, or peace through the wonderful people you know, your peace won’t last. Human-based contentment will always crumble. I think we’ve all learned that by now.

But Christ gives true peace—as He says, “My peace I give you.” It’s a different kind of peace: it’s his! He gives the very peace that He bought and paid for. He shares the peace that He created on the cross. Now there’s nothing that can separate us from God’s love in Christ. Now we are precious and preserved, always. What powerful, parting words for us to hold onto: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you.”

In fact, it’s a peace that’s even more certain because He’s left this earth! He explains in verse 28, “If you loved me, you would rejoice because I said ‘I am going to the Father.’” To our ears it sounds strange, the notion that we should be glad—even rejoice—that He’s gone away! It’d be like a friend of yours taking a job transfer to Argentina, and you call him up a few weeks later and you say, “You know, things are much better now that you’ve left. Everyone here is really happy about it.” Sounds rude, to say you’re glad that He’s gone. But that’s what Jesus says, “If you loved me, you would rejoice because I said ‘I am going to the Father.’”

If we really love Jesus, if we understand his mission and what He’s all about, we can be glad that He’s gone. Because we have the insight that this is something Christ needs to do, in order to move forward God’s plan. We’re glad, because we know that Christ went back to heaven to keep working, to keep saving, to keep sending grace.

 

2) He works in heaven for earth: When we make our departures from each other, sometimes we’ll say things that we don’t mean, or we’ll make promises we can’t keep. At the airport we say things like, “I’ll call you every day. Next summer, I’ll come and visit.” But we know it’s not going to happen. When Jesus departed from his disciples, He didn’t comfort them with empty words. No, as always, Jesus means what He says! So He tells his people exactly what He’ll do for them up in heaven.

His first task is all about prayer—about our prayers, but also his prayers. Jesus promises his disciples in John 14:13, “Whatever you ask in my name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” He has gone to heaven, so that He can answer the prayers we offer from here on earth. Even whatever we ask in his name!

Now, we probably understand what Jesus is not saying here. He’s not saying that we can have whatever we desire—we just have to fill out the paperwork, and we’ll receive it. And it’s a good thing we don’t. Usually we have no idea what would be best for us!

Jesus doesn’t guarantee us a promotion at work, or a body free of arthritis, or a new Harley Davidson—but that doesn’t make his promise in John 14 any less amazing! For listen carefully again to his words, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” Notice the kinds of things that our Lord will grant from heaven. He will grant the things that bring glory (not to us) but to the Father! He’ll provide exactly those things that bring God honour, that will help us (and others) to see the LORD as great.

Sounds noble—but what does it look like? What can we ask for? It’s this: whatever you need for continuing your present spiritual warfare, He’ll give. If you’re fighting hard against sin, and you need an extra measure of courage, and determination, and wisdom, then ask for it, and He’ll grant it. Or this: what you need for serving God in the church, He’ll send. And what you need for persevering under trial, He’ll give. Jesus wants to grant such things to us, because He loves us. He wants to see us grow, and be fruitful, and to glorify the Father.

Jesus’ promise means we can be confident that He’s listening. He listens, when you’re worried, and when you ask to experience more deeply his gift of peace. He listens when you’re harassed by enemies, and you ask for boldness. He listens when you’re confused about what to do and where to go, and you ask for understanding. He listens, and He answers. Because these are things that will help you to glorify the Father.

Still, when we think about prayer, there can sometimes be the thought that it’s pointless. We pray many times for something, and there’s no change. We pray for something that (you’re sure) would’ve helped you to honour the LORD, and yet we don’t receive it. Maybe you’ve asked to receive children, or you prayed to find a life-partner, or you asked for improved health. And doesn’t God want you to praise him? You definitely could, if only you had these things. But you don’t—so you become discouraged.

Then you must remember Christ in heaven. In the first place, we have his promise that He does receive our petitions. It’s what He does! Remember also his precious words, “Trust in God, trust also in me.” Trust that He’s listening, that He’s able to answer, and that He will answer you according to his perfect wisdom and unfailing goodness! He knows what is best for us, far better than we know. He knows what we can handle, and how we need to grow still, and what future events we need to be prepared for. 

Realize also that our own prayers are being supplemented, every day. Because in themselves, our prayers are so imperfect. Unfocused, incomplete—long on ourselves, short on faith. That’s why Christ is in heaven also as our Advocate (Q&A 49). There in the throne room of God, our Saviour is busy praying! Bringing our needs to the Father!

We need these prayers of our Saviour. He prays flawlessly, and with a perfect knowledge of our condition. He prays for safekeeping against Satan’s attacks, even when we’re unaware of his schemes. Sometimes we’re at a place in life where we have no idea what to ask for anymore. In times like that, we don’t have words, but He does. Even in those times when we’re unfaithful in prayer, Christ in heaven is willing to pray for us.

And through his prayers, we can accomplish great things. He says in John 14:12, “He who believes in me, the works that I do he will do also.” Then Jesus goes one step farther, “And greater works than these he will do, because I go to my Father” (v 12). Take notice again of that close connection—because Jesus has ascended, because He’s returned to his Father, we’ll do great things, even “greater works.”

What “great things” could you and I ever do? Sometimes we think the only “great things” a person can today do are the spectacular, the stunning, the viral and the headline-grabbing. You have to do a crazy stunt on a bike. Perform an act of heroism. Possess some amazing talent with the Rubik’s Cube. Meanwhile, the rest of us plod along in mediocrity. Our life seems immensely ordinary, yet Christ says that all his believers will do great things.

In the way that God looks at reality, a great thing is you, believing in him, the invisible Lord! A great thing is you, bearing holy fruits of love and joy and gentleness! A great thing is you, turning down the devil’s temptations. A great thing is children praising God’s name with their songs of joy. A great thing is the love of a mother, and the leadership of a father; a great thing is the faithfulness and harmony of husband and wife. A great thing is you, going to your job every day and being diligent, and honouring the Lord through it.

These are great things done in Christ’s strength—and, says Jesus, “greater things” are yet be done. Greater things, as in “more and more,” and “on and on.” It happens when you tell someone about the gospel. When you grow in the Scriptures. When you step outside of what is comfortable and find a new way to serve God.

The reason we can do any of these things is because the heavenly Jesus sends the Spirit: “I will pray the Father,” Christ says, “and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever” (v 16). By now we understand that Jesus didn’t just go away, and leave us with an empty place. Though He’s in heaven and we’re on earth, Christ is with us by his Spirit, “never absent from us” (Q&A 47).

The Spirit brings Jesus Christ to us. He makes his long-ago work something that we experience each day. Jesus says the Spirit “will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (v 26). We may not have sat at Jesus’ feet, but we can still hear and believe his words. The Spirit works in us the conviction, “Truly, you are a child of God. Your sins are forgiven at the cross.” Whenever we read Scripture, the Spirit tells us that this heavenly Saviour is very near.

And one of the greatest things He tells us is this: We won’t be apart forever! Because in heaven, our Saviour is also getting a place ready: “In my Father’s house are many mansions… I go to prepare a place for you” (v 2). Jesus uses a picture to teach us the wonder of what He’s doing. Christ says it’s like the Father has a house in heaven—some Bible translations use that colourful phrase: “with many mansions.” When we hear “mansion,” we picture a vast, glorious, even luxurious, dwelling, with many rooms for many to fill. A fabulous place to go!

Compare it to how parents will sometimes promise a special trip to their children. They’re going on a nice holiday, or maybe they’re going to spend a day at a theme park. As the day gets closer, the excitement builds until its almost unbearable. But Christ is preparing something better. Better than waterslides, better than a tropical holiday, better than lavish meals. It’s the Father’s house, a glorious palace. It’s a place of peace. And it’s permanent. Not just for one day, or for a week, but for eternity. It’s the very dwelling place of God, and the dwelling place of the redeemed! Christ has gone to heaven, so that He can get it ready for us.

           

3) He’ll come from heaven to earth: Jesus left his disciples. But we’ve seen that He didn’t leave us alone, and He didn’t leave us without purpose. And He also didn’t leave us without telling us that He’d be come back. Right now He’s in heaven, working toward that last day: “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” (v 3). In heaven, He’s planning our great reunion.

That’s always been the goal. The angels told the disciples that, already on that day when Jesus ascended long ago, “Men of Galilee, 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.” The final chapter in God’s plan of redemption begins with Christ coming to earth a second time.

What does that mean for while we wait? The Spirit exhorts us in Colossians 3:1, “Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” When you’re waiting for something, the easiest thing to do is to get distracted. You’re waiting for your turn in the dentist chair, so you read some trashy celebrity magazine. But the Spirit says: “While you’re waiting for Christ, you need to set your heart on him, and fix your gaze on things above.”

If you’re deliberately looking to Christ each new day, you’ll find that your life takes on a new direction. Keep looking to Christ, because you’ll start moving toward him, in worship and trust! Keep learning about Jesus, and you’ll be drawn to him, and grow in delight for him.

And what shouldn’t we look at? Not the things that are “on earth” (Q&A 49). As Christians, we have to learn not to care so much about this culture’s idols, or this world’s values, or the approval of other people. “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Set your mind on Jesus, and you’ll remember that you’re here for him.

Long ago, just before He went away, Jesus said to his disciples, “Soon the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me.” With the eyes of faith, you too, can see your ascended Lord. To see him, just look to his Word. To see him, just close your eyes in prayer. To see the works of Christ, just notice his brothers and sisters all around you—and love them. To see Jesus, keep trusting in him as King.

Then we can be glad that He went away. And we can be excited for that day when He comes back!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2018, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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