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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:The gospel promises us comfort in Christ's ascension
Text:LD 18 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Revelation of the Gospel
 
Preached:2021
Added:2021-12-22
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 47

Psalm 21:1-3

Hymn 40

Hymn 1

Hymn 6

Scripture readings: John 14:15-31, Acts 1:1-11, Hebrews 9:11-28

Catechism lesson: 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,

Back in 2016, there were many Americans who were excited about the prospect of having Donald Trump as President.  They were thrilled with his promises to put America first and “to drain the swamp.”  Especially for Republicans, Donald Trump was almost like a Messiah figure.  He was going make America great again.  Then he became President. 

During the 2020 presidential elections things were quite different.  Many Republicans who previously supported President Trump turned their backs on him.  Even though he was their party’s leader, they voted against him.  They said that the previous four years had convinced that they’d been mistaken about President Trump.  They’d been misguided into thinking that he would be a different kind of President.  Now he was a different kind of President, but not in the way they’d hoped.     

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 misunderstanding of who Jesus was and what he came to do.  Like Donald Trump’s supporters in 2016, they were misguided, but in a different way.  Theirs was a misguided understanding of Christ’s mission, what his intentions were, what his purpose was.  He was to conquer, to conquer the Romans and to re-establish Israel as a world power to be reckoned with.  You can see it in Acts 1:6 when they ask 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 how 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 our 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.  Christ 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 our 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 our 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 us comfort in Christ’s ascension.  We’ll learn about how this comfort comes 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 our 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 behold, I am with you always, to the 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 wouldn’t change this reality.  He promised to always be there with his disciples, and by extension, with his church, also then with us today. 

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

The Greek word for “Helper” can be translated a number of different ways:  besides helper, it can also be rendered counselor, advocate, mediator, encourager, or comforter.  He is all those things for us. 

Loved ones, it’s crucial to remember that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of our Lord Jesus.  That’s how Paul refers to him in Romans 8, for instance, when he says in verse 9, “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.”  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’re not the same person, to be sure, but they’re closely connected.  So in John 14, Jesus says he will send another Helper, another Counselor.  Our Lord Jesus is the Helper, but the Holy Spirit is another Helper, another Comforter.  Our Lord Jesus kept his promise and at Pentecost poured out his Spirit upon the church. 

So, today, among us we have the presence of our Lord Jesus through the Holy Spirit.  As individual believers, we’re temples of the Holy Spirit.  Christ dwells in us through his Spirit.  He hasn’t left us, but lives with us in an intimate 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, our 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’s 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 Jesus Christ 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 our Catechism says in answer 47. 

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

Our Saviour Jesus is right here with us all the 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.  Our Lord Jesus is gone with regards to his human nature, but he hasn’t 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 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 you can always have comfort and strength from our ascended Lord Jesus. 

So, he has an enduring presence here on earth.  On the other hand, he is also 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 it is only in heaven.  And we believe 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 an important man with huge responsibilities.  While he rested or slept, his personal assistants would continue working behind the scenes to keep everything going.  When he woke, they’d 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 oblivious about heaps 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. 

Loved ones, isn’t that sometimes how we think about God?  He’s out there and he doesn’t know much about this real world in which we live.  He’s 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.  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 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 in the presence of God on our behalf.”  Take note of those beautiful words:  “on our behalf.”  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 put away 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’re 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’s part of his work as our Mediator.  Verse 15 of Hebrews 9 says 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.  Your Saviour 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.  Our Catechism reminds us of two other benefits that we gain from Christ’s ascension.  The first is that his flesh is human flesh, it is our flesh.  And it’s in heaven as a pledge or a guarantee.  The pledge is that where he is, someday we too shall be.  He’ll someday take us to himself, to be in God’s presence with him.  We’re 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 Christ 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, Jesus has taken our flesh and promises that we shall be where he is.  We’ve taken his Spirit and we promise that we’ll 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.  He leads us to acknowledge God in all our ways, so that our paths will indeed be made straight.

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, “And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple, blessing 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’re 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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