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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:The gospel promises comfort in the ascension of our Lord Jesus
Text:LD 18 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Preached:2010
Added:2010-06-22
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 47
Hymn 1A
Psalm 21:1-3
Hymn 31
Hymn 58

Readings: John 14:15-31, Acts 1:1-11, Hebrews 9:11-28
Text: Lord's Day 18
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

 

He had given them direct orders.  Then he sent them out.  They went far and wide.  They did so with hope and expectation.  No one could stop their cause, after all the one who had sent them was divine.  The Japanese Emperor Hirohito sent his troops out across Asia and the Pacific islands to conquer, to secure the resources needed for the growth of the empire. 

 

One of those sent out was twenty-three year old Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda.  He was sent to the Philippines and it was his task to lead the Lubang Garrison in guerrilla warfare.  As he was leaving to begin his mission, his division commander told him, “You are absolutely forbidden to die by your own hand.  It may take three years, it may take five, but whatever happens, we will come back for you.  Until then, so long as you have one soldier, you are to continue to lead him.  You may have to live on coconuts.  If that’s the case, live on coconuts!  Under no circumstances are you to give up your life voluntarily.”  Hiroo Onoda was good at obeying orders.  He believed what his division commander told him, but more importantly he believed in Hirohito, the heavenly emperor.  Nothing could stop him. 

 

Two months after Onoda arrived at his post on Lubang island, the Allied forces attacked.  As the Americans and others moved inland, Onoda and his troops split up into small groups.  Onoda’s group consisted of himself and three others.  They went into the jungle and settled in for a long campaign of guerilla warfare.  A campaign of 29 years. 

 

For 29 years Hiroo Onoda lived in the jungle with the belief that he was still fighting for the Japanese emperor.  Finally, in 1974, he was coaxed out of the jungle and surrendered, finally realizing that World War Two was over and the Japanese had lost.  During those 29 years, he had kept going and going, deriving his hope and comfort from the fact that the divine emperor would conquer, must conquer...

 

Something similar happened with the disciples of our Lord Jesus.  Occasionally they had some lucid moments, but for the most part they were deriving their hope and comfort from a certain understanding of who Jesus was and what he came to do.  Like Hiroo Onoda, they were misguided, but in a different way.  Theirs was a misguided understanding of Christ’s mission.  He was to conquer, to conquer the Romans and to re-establish Israel as a world power to be reckoned with.  You can see this in Acts 1:6 when they ask the Lord Jesus, “Are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 

 

John Calvin noted that there were as many errors in that question as words.  “Are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  The verb, the noun and the adverb all betray muddled thinking about the kingdom of Christ.  The verb “Restore” shows that they were looking for a political and geographical kingdom.  The noun “Israel” tells us that they were hoping for a national kingdom – one just like the olden days, back in David’s time.  And when they said “at this time,” that shows that they were thinking that this was going to happen right away.  Right before the ascension of Christ, they had all these wrong expectations of the Lord Jesus and his kingdom and this was the basket in which they were placing all their eggs.

 

But after the ascension, their perspective quickly changes.  The Lord Jesus goes up into heaven and then a short while later he sends the Holy Spirit and he makes all the difference.  He gives them new eyes for a new vision and new understanding of who Christ is.  He gives them new ears to hear anew everything the Lord Jesus had taught them.  One of the things that the Spirit taught them and teaches us is that it is good for believers that the Lord Jesus ascended into heaven.  This is also part of everything that a Christian must believe, part of “all that is promised us in the gospel.”  So, this afternoon, we will see how the gospel promises comfort in his ascension.  We’ll see that this comfort is derived from:

 

1.      His enduring presence on earth

2.      His work as our mediator in heaven

 

All the gospels tell us something of what Christ did and said before he ascended into heaven.  Only Mark and Luke tell us directly about the event, but Matthew and John also contribute to the total picture surrounding the event. 

 

Matthew gives us the well-known words of the Great Commission at the end of chapter 28.  There the Lord Jesus sends out his disciples to make more disciples.  The church is sent out here with the good news of salvation through Christ.  The last words of Matthew 28 are particularly noteworthy for us this afternoon, “And surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.”  Literally it says, “And look!  I myself am with you, all the days, to the end of the world.”  There’s a wonderful, gracious promise in these words.  Notice that he didn’t say, “I will be with you...” but “I am with you” – present tense.  And this would be and is an ongoing reality.  His ascension into heaven would not change this reality.  He promised to always be there with his disciples, and by extension, with his church, also then with us. 

 

Then the next question is how and that’s where John’s gospel helps us out.  A lot of that gospel is focussed on what happens in the upper room right before Jesus’ arrest, trial and death.  That’s where we find John 14.  In chapter 13, Judas had already gone out into the night to make some last minute arrangements for the betrayal of our Saviour.  In chapter 14, Jesus is together with the eleven other disciples and he is preparing them for what is to come.     

 

Earlier in that chapter he told them that he was going away.  He was going to prepare a place for them.  Then in verse 16 he says that he will give another Counselor who will come and remain with them forever.  That Counselor is the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit. 

 

The Greek word for “Counselor” can be translated a number of different ways:  besides counselor, it can also be rendered helper, advocate, mediator, encourager, or comforter.  We actually have a hymn that uses the original Greek word.  It’s in Hymn 38:4.  Have a look at that with me for a second. 

 

The Spirit, knowing all our needs

Perfects our prayers and intercedes

As Paraclete before God’s throne;

Our cause he makes his very own.

 

It’s there in the word “Paraclete.”  The Greek is parakletos.  Unfortunately, the proposed revision to our Book of Praise has dropped this word out of Hymn 38.  It’s unfortunate because it’s a rich word that encompasses a wide range of activities of the Holy Spirit.  He is our Counselor, helper, advocate, strengthener, encourager and comforter.

 

Loved ones, it’s crucial to remember that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Lord Jesus.  That’s how Paul refers to him in Romans 8, for instance, when he says in verse 9, “And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.”  Throughout Christ’s ministry on earth, the Holy Spirit was his constant companion.  One of the church fathers, Basil of Caesarea, referred to him as the “inseparable companion” of Christ.  The two go together everywhere and are often identified with one another.  They are not the same person, to be sure, but they are very closely connected.  So in John 14, Jesus says that he will send another Paraclete, another Counselor.  Our Lord Jesus is the Paraklete, but the Holy Spirit is another Paraclete, another Comforter.  The Lord Jesus kept his promise and at Pentecost poured out his Spirit upon the church. 

 

So, today, among us we have the presence of the Lord Jesus through the Holy Spirit.  As individual believers, we are temples of the Holy Spirit.  Christ dwells in us through his Spirit.  He has not left us, but lives with us in a very close and personal way.  But the Bible also says in 1 Corinthians 3:16 that the church is the temple of the Holy Spirit.  He also dwells among us as the body of Christ.  Through the Spirit in our midst as a church, we also have Christ among us.  That’s why in Revelation 2:1, the Lord Jesus is described as the one who “walks among the seven golden lamp stands.”  The golden lamp stands are the seven churches to whom Christ writes these letters that we find at the beginning of Revelation.  Christ walks and lives among his churches through the Holy Spirit. 

 

He is also present with us by virtue of the fact that he is God.  What is said of God in Jeremiah 23:23-24 is also true of the Lord Jesus with regards to his divine nature:  “‘Am I only a God nearby,’ declares the LORD, ‘and not a God far away?  Can anyone hide in secret places, so that I cannot see him?’ declares the LORD.  ‘Do I not fill heaven and earth?’ declares the LORD.”  And since his divine nature is omnipresent, present everywhere, so also is his majesty and his grace, as the Catechism says in answer 47. 

 

All of that brings comfort to our lives.  We have not been left as orphans.  The Lord Jesus hasn’t left us hanging, left to rely on our own strength.  He is still here with us in a mighty and powerful way. 

 

After spending some years on a cattle ranch in Brazil, Hiroo Onoda moved back to Japan in the late 1990s.  He opened a nature camp for kids where he taught survival skills based on what he had learned from those 29 years out in the jungle.  Onoda had to rely on his own ingenuity and strength to survive.  But the so-called divine Emperor had nothing to do with it.  Hiroo Onoda was totally on his own. 

 

We’re in a totally different situation.  In our world, the Lord Jesus is there right alongside us the whole way.  He gives us strength and resources to persevere through his Spirit and through his Word.  He gives us comfort through the Comforter and through the Word of comfort, through the gospel.  The Lord Jesus is gone with regards to his human nature, but he has not left us in the ways that really matter.  The difficult thing is that it takes the eyes of faith to see this, to believe it, and to hold on to it, especially in the face of hard times.  Loved ones, here’s why we need to constantly pray for the Holy Spirit to assure us of his presence in our lives.  Here’s why we need to constantly pray for illumination so that we can see and understand and appropriate the promises of Scripture.  Let me encourage you to continue praying for the work of the Spirit and the Word in your life so that you can have comfort and strength from our ascended Lord Jesus. 

 

So, he has an enduring presence here on earth.  On the other hand, he also is in heaven.  When he ascended into heaven, he took his human flesh into the blessed presence of God.  He is there at God’s right hand, true God and true man.  Unlike the Lutherans who believe that the human nature of Christ is still here on earth in some way, we believe that it is only in heaven.  And we believe that this is a good thing for us, it serves for our benefit.

 

I imagine you’ve heard of people with personal assistants.  They tend to be people with wealth and power.  Dwight Eisenhower had a personal assistant.  After leading the Allied forces to victory in World War II, he went on to become president of the United States in 1952.  He was a big man with big responsibilities.  While he rested or slept, his personal assistants would continue working behind the scenes to keep everything going.  When he woke, they would still be there working.  He had people who would dress him, put on his watch, even pull up his boxer shorts, and so on.  After he left the presidency, all of that was taken away from him and he was left to fend for himself.  He was clueless about tons of things, didn’t even know how to use a phone or change the channel on his TV.  He was unprepared for life out in the real world. 

 

Brothers and sisters, isn’t that sometimes how we think about God?  He is out there and he doesn’t know much about this real world in which we live.  He is unprepared for what goes on in our day to day existence, the emergencies and trials that we face.  We say that he is sovereign and that he is near, but sometimes those words ring hollow and superficial.  Somebody once described that as a case of “helpless god” syndrome or HGS.  Do you remember Dagon from 1 Samuel 5?  That was a helpless god – all he could do was fall on his face, all he could do was lose his head and his hands.  But sometimes our view of God is not much better.  While we might not ever be bold enough to say it out loud, our hearts are saying:  God is not really relevant for this.  That’s HGS, helpless god syndrome.  It’s idolatry. 

 

To confront this idolatrous and mistaken view of God, we need again to look to our Saviour, ascended into heaven at the right hand of his Father.  We need again to listen to what God’s Word promises us in passages like Hebrews 9.  What are some of those promises?  Verse 12 promises us that he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption for us.  Verse 24 says, “he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.”  Take note of those two words, beautiful words:  “for us.”  He ascended into heaven for our benefit.  He is in God’s presence for us.                                      

 

And what effect does that have for us?  Verse 26 says that it was “to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.”  In other words, through him we have forgiveness.  That certainly connects with our lives here, doesn’t it?  We are constantly in need of forgiveness and Christ provides that for us through his blood.  He constantly holds out his sacrifice in heaven and so sin and its curse have been done away with for us. 

 

That is part of his work as our Mediator.  Indeed, verse 15 of Hebrews 9 says that he is the mediator of the new covenant.  He is the one who is in God’s presence for us, speaking up for us, advocating for us.  We have our own flesh in heaven, we have someone who has lived on this earth who understands our troubles and our griefs and who has taken them all to heart.  The Lord Jesus gets you.  He gets what you’re about and what concerns you.  He brings that all before the Father in heaven and because he is the well-loved Son he always gets a hearing from the Father, and more than a hearing, he gets action.  The Word of God promises you that you have a voice before God’s throne through your ascended Saviour.  Of course, that’s a comforting thing to know.  Even in your darkest trials, the Saviour loves you and works on your behalf.  So much for helpless god syndrome, right?

 

We have an advocate, a mediator in heaven.  The Catechism reminds us of two other benefits that we gain from Christ’s ascension.  Before we finish, it would be good to also briefly look at those.  The first is that his flesh is human flesh, it is our flesh.  And it is in heaven as a pledge or a guarantee.  The pledge is that where he is, someday we too shall be.  He will some day take us to himself, to be in God’s presence with him.  We are members of his body and he is the head.  It only makes sense that the members of the body should be where the head is.  Today the body and the head are already together (we saw that in our first point), but there is a “not yet” aspect here, there is a reality that remains to be fulfilled.  When the Lord Jesus returns, then the members will be completely joined and united to the head the way that they should be.  His ascension into heaven is a pledge of that.   

 

Last of all, we have the Holy Spirit as a “counter-pledge.”  That concept might be difficult to grasp at first glance.  Think of it like the exchange of rings at a marriage ceremony.  The bride and the groom each give and receive something.  The rings symbolize a pledge and a counter-pledge.  A promise and a counter-promise.  Similarly, the Lord Jesus has taken our flesh and promises that we shall be where he is.  We have taken his Spirit and we promise that we will seek first the things that are above where Christ is.  Through the power of the Spirit who lives in us, we promise to set our priorities with spiritual things, rather than earthly.  As those bought with the blood of Christ, as those who are loved by him, and who love him, we vow to seek him first and his kingdom in all that we do.  Whether in our school work, or in the work place, in our finances, or in our families, or in relationships with friends, whatever and wherever we are, the Spirit leads us to have our eyes directed upwards, to do all these things coram Deo (before the face of God) and according to his Word.

 

Our Saviour’s ascension is part of the gospel, part of the good news.  We can be not only comforted, but also glad that he did this.  At the end of Luke we read about the ascension.  Luke gives the bare historical facts.  He says it plainly, “While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.”  But then what happened next is remarkable and demonstrates that the disciples were already beginning to understand how this was not a tragedy, but a blessing.  Verses 52 and 53 of Luke 24, “Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.  And they stayed continually in the temple, praising God.”  Great joy, praising God, worship.  Let that also be our response as we embrace the gospel promises of the ascension.  AMEN.

 

Prayer:

 

Our Lord Jesus Christ,

 

We are glad that you ascended into heaven for us.  It gives us great joy and we praise you, together with the Father and the Spirit.  We’re glad that you have left us with your Spirit and we pray that he would continue working in our lives, together with your Word. We pray that he would give us the assurance of his presence and illumination as we read your Word.  We pray that you would continue to intercede for us before the throne of grace.  We thank you for your ministry for us and we pray that you would soon bring us to where you are.  As we wait for that great day, help us with your Spirit to seek the things that are above. 

 




* 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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