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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:The Ascended Jesus is Our Gateway to Heaven
Text:LD 18 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God The Son

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 47:1                                                                                               

Hy 2:1,2,3

Reading – Genesis 28:10-22; John 1:43-51

Ps 68:2,7

Sermon – Lord’s Day 18

Hy 40:1,2,5

Hy 73:1,2,3     

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

Beloved in Christ, if you’ve ever been to a big shopping centre you’ve probably seen escalators. Long, moving staircases: bringing people up, or bringing people down. Like those escalators, the life of Jesus is also marked by two very different directions. Lord’s Day 18 is about the ascension of our Lord into heaven. One day not long after his resurrection, Jesus departed, and He was taken up into the sky. And that moment of ascension has its counterpart. Jesus went up, but only after He came down!

That’s what we’ve looked at in previous Lord’s Days. Remember Lord’s Day 14? It was all about the incarnation of our Saviour, how He was clothed in human flesh, and born of a woman. That is to say, it was about how Christ “came down.” He left behind all the glories of heaven and his high position as God’s own Son, and He came to this world as a mere man. You could say that the escalator of his life went all the way down—down even to the deepest and darkest place. Christ descended to the point of the worst shame and misery, for He became the target of the Father’s wrath.

But because of all this affliction, He would also be lifted up! For Christ was descending as an act of obedience to God’s commands. He loved the LORD’s people to the greatest depths, and so God gave him a glorious reward. First, He was lifted up in the resurrection. And then He was lifted up in the ascension: taken into God’s presence, and exalted to the highest place!

This is the earthly life of our Lord—a life that is book-ended by those two dramatic changes of direction. As Paul writes in Ephesians 4, “He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things” (v 10). That’s what we’ll focus on this afternoon, the Word of God confessed in Lord’s Day 18,

Jesus our Saviour has now ascended into heaven!

  1. He came from God,
  2. and He returned to God,
  3. to bring us back to God


1. He came from God: When Jesus our Saviour came to this earth, He was a man on a mission. For God had given him an assignment. In the last Lord’s Days we’ve seen how Jesus carried out the Father’s will so faithfully, so completely. What happened to Christ in the last days of his life—the arrest, the trial, the condemnation, the cross—this wasn’t a mission gone wrong. No, this is exactly why He came from heaven to earth! For this purpose He was sent, to suffer and to die and to rise again for sinners.

Christ’s presence on earth was testimony to an amazing truth: that the LORD God himself is with us. By sending his Son, the Creator shows that He hasn’t given up on his creation. He shows that heaven still cares for earth! This has always been the miracle of the gospel, that the Almighty God cares for us, that He wants something to do with a sinful people, even save them. Jesus descended, He came down, to make this happen!

In a beautiful way this gospel of God’s nearness is foreshadowed by what happens in Genesis 28. It’s an account of Jacob’s dream at Bethel. The passage begins with telling us where Jacob is right now, where he’s headed: “Now Jacob went out from Beersheba and went toward Haran” (v 10). The reason for this change of location is that Jacob is on the run. He’s fleeing from an angry Esau. Twice now, Jacob had schemed against his older brother: first weaseling the birthright out of him, and then shoving him aside to receive his father’s blessing. No wonder Jacob fears for his life, and he’s become a refugee.

So you would think that Jacob is all alone, out here on the night road to Haran. Count the reasons he should’ve been rejected and abandoned by God: his deception, his lack of faith in God’s promise, his cruelty. Looking at Jacob, you have to wonder, “Is this the future of God’s people? Is this the man who will carry on the line of the covenant?” Doesn’t look good.

Yet our God is gracious. He comes to his difficult child, and He assures him of his steadfast promise. Jacob lies sleeping, and as he sleeps, he dreams—a heaven-sent dream. “And behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it” (v 12).

We don’t know exactly what kind of ladder Jacob sees in this dream, but it wasn’t the aluminum kind that you have in your shed. Jacob probably saw a large stone ramp, like the side of a pyramid, with a set of wide steps running down the middle. At that time in the Middle East, you could find such “stairways to heaven” in more than one place. Just think of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11, which the people aimed to build as a ramp right into the heavens.

But what Jacob sees isn’t just a classic piece of Middle-East architecture. Nor is it a human-contrived effort to reach for the stars. God himself has set up this ladder between heaven and earth. God is establishing a line of communication, because He’s got something to say to Jacob! The LORD stands above the ladder, and He says: “I am the LORD God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants. Your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south” (vv 13-14).

This is well-known language to us, but don’t overlook how very special it is. Despite all the sin and unbelief of his child, God expresses faithful love to Jacob. The promise is even for him! Then comes the heart of the covenant, the heart of the gospel, for the LORD says: “Behold, I am with you, and will keep you wherever you go” (v 15).

Jacob knows how important this is. For when he wakes up, he exclaims, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!” (v 17). The glorious vision of that ladder, that stairway to heaven, this means something marvelous. It shows that there’s a close connection between heaven and earth—even a bond that’s unbreakable. The LORD isn’t going to close the door on Jacob, or on his family. But God desires to fellowship with his people; He wants to come down and bless us.

So Jacob sets up a pillar, and he calls that spot “Bethel,” or the house of God. He wants to celebrate it, to remember, that here the LORD descended to earth. Here, his angels had walked up and down, and they had confirmed that the way to God is open.

Now connect that to the life and death of our Saviour. Isn’t the same glorious reality that Jacob saw in the ladder expressed through Jesus? Isn’t that open way to God shown through Christ even more beautifully and perfectly?

Just consider one of the titles for Jesus, how our Saviour was called “Immanuel.” That’s a name which means “God with us.” In Christ, the LORD comes down and He walks among us, He joins us, in order to save us.

This is also why Jesus sometimes dared to compare himself to the temple of God. “Tear this temple down, and I will build it again in three days,” He said to the leaders about himself. Why could Jesus liken himself to the temple? Because Jesus is heaven’s glory, residing on earth. He is majesty of God dwelling among us. So the words of Jacob can be rightly applied to Jesus: “He is none other than the house of God. He is the gate of heaven!” It’s only because of Christ that God is with us. It’s only through Jesus that we can approach the heavenly throne.

Jesus himself makes the link from himself to Jacob’s dream. In John 1, Nathanael was excited that He got to meet Jesus, whom He called “the King of Israel” (v 49). But Christ is more. This is what He said to Nathanael, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (v 51). Jesus says that He’s not just a king, not just a worker of miracles, but one who opens the very throne room of heaven for mankind. He says that He is a new “Jacob’s ladder,” a better “Jacob’s ladder.” By Christ, all the glories of heaven are available to those who believe.

Beloved, this is why Christ descended, so God might be with us, and we might be with him. What an astounding gift! The way is open for you to pray. The way is open for you to worship. The way is open for you to trust.

But remember what Jesus said, that He is the only way to the Father. It means that if we’re looking for salvation—or if we are looking for comfort, or looking for deliverance, or looking for security—then it can only be reached by taking this ladder. You can only reach it by entering this gateway, by a true and living faith in Jesus Christ.

So are you taking that route to glory? Are you entering by the open door who is Christ the Lord? Are you climbing by the ladder who is Jesus our Saviour? Then for us there is great blessing.


2. and He returned to God: In the grand scheme of things, Jesus’ time on earth was pretty short. John says in chapter 1 that our Saviour has been for eternity. There was never a time He didn’t exist. He came from his heavenly home to visit us, so He’d also return from where He came. This is what we see, a couple weeks after his resurrection: “That Christ, before the eyes of his disciples, was taken up from the earth into heaven” (Q&A 46).

There is not much that we know about heaven—we wish we knew more. But Jacob gets a glimpse of it in his dream. He saw that ladder, and he saw angels! Angels, those holy, faithful servants of God, standing continually in the LORD’s presence: they’re also on that ladder, ready to carry into the King’s presence all those who are called.

So no wonder that the angels also make an appearance at the time of Christ’s ascension. Those two men in white came to the disciples as they stand looking into the sky, after their departing Master: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven?” (Acts 1:11). In a way, there’s an obvious answer. These men had just spent three years with their Lord. They thought that they’d lost Him to their enemies and to the grave. Then, joy of joys, He reappeared—but now He’s gone again. Surely the disciples are discouraged at this change of direction—this was hardly a good moment for him to leave. The disciples are troubled.

We could ask the same question: Is it good that our Saviour ascended? Doesn’t it mean that we’re separated from the one who can safely open heaven’s door? We don’t see Jesus, and isn’t it a lot harder to step onto a ladder that you cannot see? The Catechism explains so well that it had to be this way. And it’s not for our loss, it’s for our benefit!

Because don’t forget this, says the Catechism, that Christ our Lord is still with us. He might be in heaven as the triumphant Son of God, but “with respect to his divinity, majesty, grace and Spirit He is never absent from us” (Q&A 47). Focus on that last phrase, and take it home with you this afternoon: He is never absent from us.

Compare it with the promise made to Jacob: “I am with you!” says the LORD: “I am with you, and I will keep you wherever you go.” That covenant promise isn’t any less real or trustworthy today, but is even more true and more certain! Jesus Christ might be in heaven, but He cannot forget those He bought with his blood. He won’t let us go.

So while He’s not physically among us, He’s still working constantly for our good. In the first place, He’s in heaven praying for us. When we go through a time of sorrow or sickness or trouble, isn’t it comforting when fellow believers say that they’re praying for us? It’s good to know that our trials are being brought by others before the Father. And beloved, if we find strength in the prayers of the saints, then be comforted by the prayers of our Saviour! Even while He’s in heaven, He’s our tireless Advocate.

Christ is bringing all our cares—great and small—constantly before the LORD our God. Whatever we’re going through, whatever we’re wrestling with, the Father’s eyes are already on us. The Father knows what we need even before we ask him, because our Saviour in heaven is busy praying! That ladder from heaven to earth is firmly in place, and it’s not going to topple over. Christ has opened the way, and He brings all our needs constantly before the LORD.

The Belgic Confession speaks of this in Article 26, “We believe we have no access to God except through the only Mediator and Advocate, Jesus Christ the righteous. For this purpose He became man… that we might not be barred from, but have access to the divine majesty.” That’s what we saw in the first point: Christ reunites us to God. He gives us access to heaven.

And then the Confession brings that reality to bear, encouraging us to think of our Saviour in heaven, and to trust in him. As it says, “This Mediator… whom the Father has ordained between himself and us, should not frighten us by his greatness, so that we look for another.” No, He should fill us with great and enduring hope, as the Confession continues, for “there is no creature in heaven or on earth who loves us more than Jesus Christ.”

In heaven, our Saviour is ruling as the great King of kings and Lord of lords. In heaven, our Head is taking good care of us, his Body. As sheep we enjoy constantly the faithful supervision of the Good Shepherd.

For remember this: the one who takes care of us from heaven is the same one who laid down his life for us, so many centuries ago. We’ve seen his devotion, we’ve heard of his love, and that hasn’t changed at all, now that He’s in heaven. He still cares for us, still watches over us. Even we who’ve never seen God-in-the-flesh are assured by that. He is with us still. Ascending into heaven didn’t make his name any less real and true. Our Saviour is still “Immanuel.” He’s not “God used to be with us.” Not “God might be with us later on.” No, “God is with us.” God is with you. That’s our great confidence, and our hope for the future.


3. our Saviour ascended to bring us back to God: We’ve talked about Christ coming down to earth, and about Christ going back to heaven—but there’s more to say. For the fact of his ascension stands as a glorious promise for the future. Now that He has ascended, Christ is working to bring us back into the presence of God!

Consider how that truth is woven throughout the answers of Lord’s Day 18. Like in Q&A 49, we see that Jesus helps us from heaven: “He sends us his Spirit as a counter-pledge, by whose power we seek the things that are above” (Q&A 49). We might be living on earth, but the Spirit points us towards heaven. He reminds us that we’re pilgrims! The Spirit might be compared here to a GPS—He keeps us on track, on target for our destination. By the Spirit, we seek the things that are above, we keep our eyes on what matters to God. And by the Spirit, we look forward to what is yet to come. 

That’s another benefit of his ascension, for it is Christ’s guarantee that we’ll be joined to him in due time: “We have our flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that He, our Head, will also take us, His members, up to Himself” (Q&A 49). Think of that image—a head, and parts of a body—and how tightly they’re joined. You can’t keep them apart, otherwise there is death. As members of Christ our Head, it’s impossible that we stay apart from him forever. We need to be together! We will be together.

Remember what Jesus said to Nathanael, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” Jesus promises that one day there is going to be greater glory. Through Christ, heaven itself will open, and all its glories and blessings will be poured out on the people of God.

Sometimes we think that the be-all and end-all to the Christian life is “getting to heaven.” We regard the work of Jesus as our ticket into glory, a voucher we hand in at the pearly gates. “I just want to make sure I’m going to heaven,” we might say, “and I don’t want to go to the other place.” And believers do go to heaven when we die. But we need to understand it’s only a temporary destination—heaven is a station along the way. For the glory of eternity is that we don’t go up to heaven, heaven comes down to us!

Think of what we read in Revelation 21:2-3. John writes there of his vision of the end of time: “I saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people.’”

At the end, heaven comes down to earth. At the end, there’s a perfect reunion of Father and children. At the end, there’s a perfect joining of body and head, of bride and groom. At the end there’s a restoration of the world that God first made. Like it was in the beginning, and more fully than we’ve ever experienced in this life, God will come down and He will be with us, and we will be with him.

Let’s have our hearts and lives in order for that final restoration. While you’re here, seek the glory of God. While you have breath, live for Christ’s kingdom. And every moment, be standing ready for his return.

This is what the Holy Spirit says, “Seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col 3:1-3).  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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(c) Copyright 2016, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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