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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
Title:The sending Christ was taken up into heaven
Text:Mark 16:19-20 (View)
Occasion:Ascension Day
Topic:Mission Work

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 32:1-3
Hymn 1A
Hymn 30:1-5
Psalm 87:1-5
Psalm 68:1-2

Reading: Mark 16:9-20
Text: Mark 16:19-20
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in the Lord Jesus,

The year was 1841 and the young American Presbyterian pastor was making his way to Europe. To do this he first had to travel from his home in South Carolina to New York City. He wrote to his wife after the first part of the journey. This is part of what he wrote:

I arrived in Charleston yesterday afternoon, much wearied by the uncomfortable ride in the stage-coach. The wind blew severely on Thursday night; the doors of the coach had neither glass nor curtains, and we had to take the wind as it came. My seat was just by the door and so I had the full benefit of all the breezes. There were nine passengers, none of whom I knew; and I was much amused with some of their discussions. Among other things, they took up the subject of foreign missions, and came to the conclusion that it did more harm than good to send the gospel to the heathen. They contended that the heathen were happy in their ignorance and that to give them the gospel was only to give them the arts, and consequently the wants and desires of civilized life, and thus to make them wretched. I could not but think of the deplorable stupidity of the carnal heart. These men never once adverted to the state of the soul, and the prospects of the heathen for eternity. Poor creatures! They were consistent. They never thought of their own salvation and how could they be expected to think of the salvation of others? Their desires for themselves extended only to the comfort of their bodies and the lusts of their flesh, and it was in this aspect of the matter that they viewed the probable influence of the Gospel upon the dark places of the earth.

That’s the end of the quote from a letter by James Henley Thornwell to his wife. What this letter demonstrates is that there have always been people who question, dispute or minimize the necessity of Christian missions. There have always been those who just don’t see bringing the gospel to the lost as a priority. It’s not a modern problem.

But it is a problem. When people are lackadaisical about missions and evangelism, it reflects a lack of love for Christ and it reflects a lack of love for our neighbour. Christ said that if we loved him we would follow his commandments. Christ showed us what it means to love our neighbours.

In our text for this Ascension Day, we read about Christ our Saviour ascending into heaven. Right before that moment, he gives a command, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” And right after that moment, we read that the gospel was indeed preached everywhere. This shows us that there is an intimate connection between the ascension of our Lord and missions. We’re reminded that missions matter supremely. So I preach to you God’s Word with the theme,

The sending Christ was taken up into heaven and sits at God’s right hand.

Before we go any further, we have to deal with a preliminary matter. You may have noticed that above verse 9 in our NIV Bibles there is a note, “The earliest manuscripts and some ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20.” Taken at face value, these words are true. But they do not take away from these verses being the canonical Word of God. Because this gets quite technical, I’m not going to go into all the reasons for saying that. Let me just mention two points here.

First of all, speaking historically the consensus of the Christian church has been that these words are part of the inspired Word of God. True, in the last century that consensus has been brought into question, but if you read Calvin’s Commentary on the Gospels you’ll find that he had no problem with these verses. If you check the Latin Vulgate, the Bible that the Church used for centuries, these words are there. Our Catechism directly quotes Mark 16:16 in QA 71. And so on.

Second, the note in the NIV says, “the earliest manuscripts” do not have these verses. What is not mentioned is that almost all of the thousands of available Greek manuscripts of the New Testament do in fact have these verses. Also, earliest does not necessarily mean best. One of these earliest manuscripts that doesn’t have Mark 16:9-20 has been described by at least one respected scholar as a “reject.” That’s as far as I’m going to go on this matter. There is a lot more, but suffice it to say that there’s no reason to doubt these verses are the Word of God and so I will preach them as such.

So, with that in mind, verse 19 says, “After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them…” And to find out what it was that he said to them, we have to go back to verse 15 and following. Let’s just concentrate on what he says in verse 15.

“He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.’” Mark says, “he said to them.” We need to consider carefully who these words are addressed to. Verse 14 tells us that Christ appeared to the eleven disciples. So we have to conclude that these words in verse 15 are also addressed to them.

So, these words, what we call the “Great Commission,” come to the eleven disciples. He commissions them and makes them into apostles – apostles are literally those who are sent out. The eleven apostles represent the church of Jesus Christ. So we can say that it is the church of Christ that is sent out here before he ascends into heaven. The church of all ages and places – and that includes us! We too are commissioned to be a missionary church.

And where does he send the church? Well, he says, “go into all the world.” He didn’t say, “just work among the Jews or the people that are like you.” He said “all the world” and that means the whole world as it was known at that time. For us today, this means that as a missionary church we’re called to have a universal concern for the cause of the gospel. Whether it’s in Brazil, China, or in our own backyards, the church is called to have a heart for those lost in darkness wherever they may be.

He sends the church into all the world. To do what? To preach the good news. To herald or to proclaim in an official way the fact that Jesus Christ is the Saviour. To proclaim the gospel call to faith and repentance. To proclaim that the way back to God the Father is through God the Son. The church is called to go into all the world and proclaim who Christ is and all the wonderful things he has done, is doing and will do. Remember that Mark’s book starts off with a title, “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ the Son of God.” Now at the end of the book Christ commands his church to go out and make that gospel known! Not just the gospel according to Mark, of course, but the good news about the Christ who is revealed in Mark and elsewhere.

There’s one more thing we need to consider here and that’s why he sends them. That’s where there is a direct connection with the ascension. The ascension is part of Christ’s glorification. It’s only fitting that his glory would be recognized and honoured, not only in heaven, but also on earth. Having ascended to heaven, he sits at the right hand of the throne of God, and there the saints and angels adore him with unceasing praise. Meanwhile, his church on earth is busy bringing the good news to all creation so that more and more praise would be offered to Christ Jesus here on earth. Why does Christ send the church into all the world with the good news? For his glory and the glory of the Father.

Some might say that this leaves out the salvation of the lost. Doesn’t Christ send out the church because he cares about the lost? Yes, that’s true. He does want unbelievers to be converted. But that results in glory for God and that is his ultimate concern. And that has to be our ultimate concern as well. Realizing that also shapes how we approach the whole question of results. God’s purposes are not only fulfilled when unbelievers humble themselves with repentance and faith in Christ. Proverbs 16:4, “The Lord works out everything for his own ends – even the wicked for a day of disaster.” God has his purposes and he will be glorified through the preaching of the gospel whatever the results from our perspective might be.

Verse 19 of Mark 16 continues by saying that Christ was taken up into heaven. Notice that it doesn’t say that he “ascended into heaven.” Rather, he was “taken up.” In other words, the Father drew the Son to himself. The Son’s work on earth was done and the Father, recognizing that, brought his Son back to the heavenly dwelling place.

There Mark tells us, “he sat at the right hand of God.” Sitting meant that his work of atonement was completed. In the Old Testament, the high priest was not allowed to sit down in the holy of holies. He came in once per year, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and when he did he was not allowed to stay around for longer than necessary. He was certainly not permitted to sit. That’s the point made in Hebrews 10:11-12. About Christ, the author of Hebrews tells us, “But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” His work of atonement was completed and now he could sit.

And he sat “at the right hand of God.” This means that Christ was then given the power to rule the world. He is now ruling all things and he’s doing that for us and our benefit. Christ didn’t go up into heaven to enjoy some rest away from us, but in order to rule all things for our good. His sitting signifies the end of his atoning work and the beginning of his exalted rule.

We see that in the last verse of Mark as well. This verse can be looked at as a sort of very brief summary of what happened in the book of Acts and afterwards. Verse 20 says that the disciples went out and preached everywhere. Perhaps we read this and it’s pretty hard to impress us with it. But really what Mark says here is amazing. These eleven men were not highly educated. Some of them were from a rural background; they would have been regarded as hicks and country bumpkins. One of them had been a tax collector. None were highly respected. They certainly hadn’t earned any respect during the trial and death of their Rabbi. Every single one of them had deserted him. Peter even went so far as to deny him three times. But now we read that these men, foolish and weak by normal human standards, went out and preached everywhere. Merely by the sound of their voice they brought thousands of people to faith in a man who had been crucified in shame and weakness.

We look at this and we have to say that it would have been impossible by human ability. Who would have expected it? That’s why Mark adds the words, “and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.” This was truly a work of God. The apostles received God’s help to bring the gospel to the nations. One of the ways he did this was with certain signs. Some of those signs are mentioned in verses 17 and 18. Exorcism is mentioned – we see that happening in the book of Acts. In Acts 5 we’re told that the apostles were instrumental in the healing of those who were tormented by unclean spirits. The speaking in new tongues happened on the day of Pentecost and at other times. We see Paul picking up a deadly viper in Acts 28. The only thing we don’t find in the book of Acts is the drinking of poison. However, there are stories about this happening in early Christian literature outside the Bible. The point is that Christ confirmed his word with these signs. With these miraculous things, Jesus Christ was still working and telling people that these apostles were his ambassadors and he was present in them and with them.

Today, Christ continues to be present with the preachers of the gospel, whether in our regular established churches or on the mission field. The ascended Lord Jesus opens the eyes of the blind. He brings life to those who are dead. He makes the spiritually deaf hear and the mute to speak and sing his praises. These are the signs that we see today as a result of his working with the preachers of the gospel. All part of his exultation. Christ is still working today to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth. For that, we can praise him today!

His ascension resulted in his sitting at the right hand of God. But the day is coming when he will again stand up. He will rise to judge the nations at the last day. That last day comes when all God’s chosen ones from every tribe, tongue and nation have been gathered into his church. So one way of looking at his ascension is to say that it inaugurated the age of New Testament missions. His ascension resulted in this day when the church is to be busy. We’re going to be busy with this missionary task among the nations until he descends just as he ascended.

That brings us to a few practical questions about how we are to be busy with this task. There are three things we can note here. First of all, we’ve already noted that the Great Commission was not given to individual believers, but to the Church as a whole. In today’s context, people often look at mission in a very individualistic way. There are those who speak about being called to be a missionary when no church has called them or sent them out to be such. However, Christ sends out a missionary church. The Church is the way that people are sent out in missionary work. To be clear, here we’re speaking about missions as understood in the Bible – the official preaching of the gospel which leads to baptisms and the establishment and building-up of churches.

Now hopefully some of the young men in our congregation will aspire to be missionaries in that Biblical sense. We should pray for and do what we can to encourage the young men who have the necessary gifts to follow the proper course of studies so that they can become missionaries. We want to see our Theological College filled, not only with aspiring ministers, but also aspiring missionaries.

A second practical point is that we can and we should pray for and encourage our existing missionaries. They are the ascended Christ’s instruments on this earth to gather in his church. Why not send them a card or an e-mail every now and then and ask them how you can specifically pray for them this week? Prayer is an enormously powerful tool in Christian missions. Perhaps we can’t be there alongside our missionaries in person, but we can be there working with them through prayer. James 5:16b says, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”

Finally, the advent of the global village means that there are more opportunities than ever for all of us to be involved with mission work in a short-term capacity. In a small way, you can be involved with missionaries sent out by churches to various parts of the world. Here’s a concrete way that we too can be going out into all the world with the gospel of Christ and supporting those for whom this is a life-time calling.

Loved ones, when our Saviour ascended, he didn’t set himself at a distance from this world and its affairs, at a distance from us. With his Holy Spirit, he is still present. With his church, he continues to work. He will do so until he comes again to judge the living and the dead.
Let us pray:
Our Lord God in heaven,

For the completed atoning work of Christ our Saviour, we praise you. For having an ascended Saviour at your right hand, we thank you. Lord Jesus, we want be your mouth and hands on this earth. Help us to be a church that cares about the lost. Help us to be a church on fire for the missionary task you’ve given us. Give us more grace through your Spirit so that we would be eager to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth. We pray especially that our young men would see the fields white for harvest and be motivated to study to become ministers and missionaries. Father, we ask for a whole troop of young men who would be dedicated to the cause of your Son. And we pray this all because we care about your glory. We want to see you made much of. Please hear our prayer in the name of our ascended Lord Jesus who intercedes for us before your throne. AMEN.

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

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