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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Pilgrim Canadian Reformed Church
 London, Ontario
Title:The Departure of Jesus
Text:LD 18 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God The Son

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 24:1,5

Reading – John 14

Ps 47:1,2,3

Sermon – Lord’s Day 18

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

Hy 9  [after Nicene Creed]

Hy 41:1,2,3

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

Beloved, saying good-bye is not easy. When parting company from those 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’s about to pass away. It’s not easy.

Well, after Jesus’ ministry, 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 this man, their Master. Imagine their confidence in Jesus, after everything they’d seen him do.

So the disciples are filled with concern as Christ tells them his departure is just around the corner. “Lord, where are you going?” Peter asked. “Why can’t we go with you?” And then even when He ascended from them into heaven, his disciples stood there at a loss—a bit dumbfounded. Did this mean Christ’s love was going away, too? Was also his power moving beyond their reach? Isn’t that what we would think too?

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

We’re 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: That 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 lived among men. In a sense, 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 came among us for a purpose. We’ve seen in recent Lord’s Days that He came as one who’d suffer and die and rise again. In John 14, when Jesus speaks to his disciples in the Upper Room, it was this one main job that lay heavy on his mind. It was the night of the Passover, and they’d already shared their Last Supper. Possessed by Satan, Judas had recently left to do his betraying. The countdown to the cross was entering the last painful hours.

So Jesus tells his disciples what’s about to take place: “I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming” (v 30). That’s ominous, isn’t it? The battle lines have been drawn. Satan, the ruler of this world, is preparing to mount an attack. This is the moment of truth: Would Jesus remain faithful to his calling? Or would He cave in under all the pressure, and seek an escape? You can be sure that’s the temptation Satan would wave in front of Christ, as death loomed ever larger. Why not bail, right now?

“The ruler of this world is coming,” says Jesus, but “he has nothing in me” (v 30). As the final bitter test got closer, Christ assured his disciples that He wouldn’t fail. Satan hadn’t been able to break Christ’s resolve yet, and he wouldn’t 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 was motivating him. Love for his Father—and so submitting to the Father’s will! It’s what happened the next day, as He endured all the shame, all the torture, the darkness and suffering of hell. Christ gave until He had nothing left to give, for He gave his own life.      

For so many people, that was the end of the story. At the time, most onlookers probably assumed Jesus was gone, and soon to be forgotten. As part of his farewell, Jesus tells 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. 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 ending, the sequel: “but you will see me” (v 19). Only three days later, this was so true! The disciples did see him. 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’d 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 pleased with his Son. If there’d been anything lacking in the earthly labours of Jesus, He would’ve had to stay. If there’d been any need for a re-do, if somehow the cross hadn’t been enough to pay for sin—Jesus would’ve had to stick around! But He was going. Even before He went to the cross, He believed He’d be going away shortly. We can’t mistake his confidence, telling the disciples in the Upper Room that soon He’d be leaving for “his Father’s house” (v 2). After the cross: glory!

Jesus might’ve been confident of a good outcome, but these words 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. Almost too much to bear! In the weakness of their faith, can’t you imagine the disciples wondering? How faithful was this Jesus, leaving them not once, but twice? Putting them through pain and sorrow one day, and then doing it again, some forty days later?

Beloved, this makes Jesus’ words in verse 27 so very powerful. He exhorts his disciples—and the people of his church—with ever-enduring grace: “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (v 27). With Christ the Saviour in heaven, there’s absolutely no need for fear, there’s no cause for anxiety.

Things were going to change, it was true—just like our relationships change when a person moves away. Moving forward, we know it won’t be the same. How could it be? There’s no hand to hold, no face 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 on earth, 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,” like we say sometimes. 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 and our good, just as the Father wanted.

This is why there’s no reason for fear. Jesus might’ve been leaving, but in his absence He imparts the surest, deepest, 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—we can have lasting peace. Now, usually our peace is only about as enduring as the thing we’ve chosen to put our trust in. And if you find peace in the condition of your life, or in the things you have, or the people you know, your peace won’t last. Human-based contentment always falls to pieces.

But Christ gives true peace—as He says, “My peace I give you.” This is a different kind of peace: it’s his! He gives the peace that He bought and paid for. He shares the peace that He achieved on the cross. What powerful, final words to hold onto: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you.”

In fact, it’s a peace that’s all the 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.’” Now, to our ears it seems strange, that we should be glad that He’s gone away! It’d be like us telling someone who’s recently taken a job transfer to Argentina, “You know, things are much better now that you’ve left. Everyone here’s really happy about it.” Sounds rude, right? 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 about, we can be glad that He’s gone. It’s something He needs to do, in order to move God’s plan forward. Because 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, I think sometimes we’ll say things we don’t mean, or make promises we can’t keep: “I’ll call you every day. Next summer, I’ll come visit you down there, in Argentina.” Before Jesus departed from his disciples, He didn’t comfort them with nice-sounding but empty words. No, as always, Jesus means what He says! So He tells his people exactly what He’ll do for them.

His first task is all about prayer—about our prayers, but also his prayers. For 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’s gone to heaven, so He can answer the prayers we offer from here on earth. 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 our little hearts desire—we just have to fill out the form, 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!

And saying that Jesus doesn’t guarantee us a promotion at work, or a perfect physique, or a new Harley Davidson, 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 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) see the LORD as great.

Sounds noble—but what does it look like? Whatever we need for continuing our present spiritual warfare, He’ll give. Whatever we need for serving God in the church and in our community, He’ll send. Whatever we need for persevering in trial, He’ll grant! 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.

We can be confident then, that our Lord listens when we pray. He’ll listen, when you’re worried, and when you ask him for peace. He’ll listen when you’re hounded by enemies, and you ask for courage. He’ll listen when you’re confused about what to do and where to go, and when you ask for wisdom. He’ll listen. Because these are things that’ll help you glorify the Father.

Still, whenever we think about prayer, there can be the thought that it’s sometimes pointless. It can seem like our prayers float up into the atmosphere, where they collect, unanswered. Because haven’t you prayed many times for something, and seen no change? Prayed for something that (you’re sure) would’ve helped you to honour the LORD, and yet you didn’t receive it? Maybe you asked for a better job, or more children, or you prayed to find a life-partner, or you asked for improved health? Doesn’t God want you to praise him? It’d sure be a lot easier, you think, if you had these things.

Yet remember Christ in heaven. In the first place, we have his promise that He does receive our petitions, every one of them. It’s what He does. Remember also his words, “Trust in God, trust also in me.” Trust that He’s listening, that He’s able to answer, and that He’ll answer you according to his perfect wisdom and unfailing goodness! In whatever way, Christ will help you fulfill your life’s central purpose, to glorify our God.

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!

Beloved, we need these prayers of our Saviour. He prays flawlessly, and with a perfect knowledge of our condition. He gives thanks for the blessings we receive from the Father, even when we’re ungrateful. He prays for our safekeeping against Satan’s attacks, even when we’re unaware and naïve of his schemes. 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 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. Crazy stunts. Acts of heroism. Amazing talents. While the rest of us plod along in mediocrity… But Christ says his believers will do great things.

And in God’s view of life, a great thing is you, believing the impossible! A great thing is you, bearing holy fruit! A great thing is you, saying no to temptation. A great thing is children praising God’s name with their songs of joy. A great thing is the love and leadership of mothers and fathers, the faithfulness and harmony of husbands and wives. A great thing is you, going to your job every day and being diligent, and honouring the Lord through it. These are great things—and, says Jesus, “greater things” are yet be done: telling someone about him, growing in the Scriptures, finding a new way to serve.

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).

We could wish that Jesus would drop in on us sometime, that we could see a vision, have a special dream, hear his voice or feel his touch. But that’s what the Spirit’s for! The Spirit brings Christ to us. He makes his long-ago work something we experience every day.

Jesus says the Spirit “will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (v 26). The point is, we may not have sat at Jesus’ feet, but we can still hear his living words, and we can believe them. 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’s 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—and the NKJV uses that evocative word: “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!

You might compare it to how parents will sometimes promise a special trip to their children, perhaps a visit to a hotel with a pool and waterslide. “We’ve got a room there for a couple nights,” they’ll say—and the excitement hits a fever pitch. It’s exciting to visit a place like that, even to stay there for a while.

But Christ is preparing something better. Better than waterslides. Better than buffet restaurants. It’s the Father’s house. It’s a glorious palace. It’s a place of peace. And it’s permanent. Not just for two nights, or for a week, but for eternity. It’s the very dwelling place of God. And it’s the dwelling place of the redeemed! Christ has gone to heaven, so that He can get it ready for us.

Beloved, where is that glorious mansion? And how do we get there from here? Listen to what Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (v 6). That’s who Jesus is: He’s the way back to the Father. Through his work, we can live together in peace in his house, under one roof. It means that while we’re on earth, we have to follow the way of faith in Christ. That’s your route—that’s the journey you need to be on! Going Christ’s way means we’re united to Christ by faith, that we’re joined to him in love, and obedient in life.


3. He’ll come from heaven to earth: Jesus left his disciples. But we’ve seen that He didn’t leave us alone or leave us without purpose. And He didn’t leave us without also 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 a reunion, that where He is, we too may be!

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.

And what does that mean for while we wait? We’re exhorted in Colossians 3:1, “Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” The Catechism says it’s why Christ gives us his Spirit, “by whose power we seek the things that are above” (Q&A 49). While we wait, it takes a conscious, dedicated effort: we need to set our hearts, and fix our gaze, on the ascended and returning Saviour.

Because if you’re looking to Christ, your life takes on a new direction. It’s like what everyone learns in driver’s training: that if you let your eyes rest on something too long—like those deer, scrounging in the field over there—pretty soon the car is veering that way too, and you’re onto the rumble strips. That kind of change in direction isn’t good for road safety. But it is good for the life of faith! Keep looking to Jesus, because you’ll start veering toward him, in worship and trust! Keep learning about Jesus, and you’ll be drawn to him, and you’ll grow in delight for him.

And what shouldn’t we look at? Paul and the Catechism both speak about not seeking the things “on earth.” As Christians, we have to learn not to care so much—not to care 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 (more and more) 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 Jesus, 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 Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2015, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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