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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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 reubenbredenhof.com
 
Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Christ Ascended into Heaven’s Glory for Us
Text:LD 18 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Christ's Kingship
 
Preached:2022
Added:2022-01-09
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 68:2,7                                                                                

Hy 7:1,3  [after Apostles’ Creed]

Reading – John 14:15-31; Ephesians 1:15-23; Hebrews 7:20-28  

Ps 24:1,2,3                                                                                                                                              

Sermon – Lord’s Day 18

Hy 38:1,2,3,4

Hy 40:1,2,3,4,5

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


Beloved in the Lord, if you’ve ever taken a flight, you’ll know that there are two critical moments: take-off and landing. Call it ‘ascent’ and ‘descent.’ The same two critical moments mark the earthly life of Jesus: ascending and descending. It was on a day soon after his resurrection that Jesus departed from his disciples, taken up into the sky. He ascended. And that moment has its corresponding partner: Jesus went up, but only after He came down!

That’s what we’ve looked at in some of the 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. It was about how Christ “came down.” He left behind the glories of heaven, his high position as God’s own Son, and came to this world as a mere man. He descended all the way down, to the point of utter shame and misery as the object of the Father’s wrath.

But because of his great afflictions, Christ was also lifted up! He had come down to obey his Father’s command. He loved the LORD’s people to the greatest extent, and so He earned his reward. First, He was lifted up in the resurrection, which erased all the shame of the cross, and vindicated all his suffering! And then He was lifted up in the ascension: taken into God’s presence, and exalted to the highest place.

This descent and ascent are key to the earthly life of our Lord. 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). This is our focus this afternoon, God’s Word as confessed in Lord’s Day 18,

Christ has ascended into heaven’s glory, where He is:

  1. benefiting us his Body
  2. praying for us to his Father
  3. dwelling with us by his Spirit

 

1) benefiting us his Body: We don’t usually like it when people move away. When those whom we love move to a different country—or even to a different congregation—there can be some sadness. Things are going to change; the relationship might be harder to maintain.

This was certainly true for the disciples. When Jesus was preparing to ascend, his followers were troubled. They wondered why their Master was leaving, and how they’d survive when He was gone. They didn’t see any benefit to his departure—it seemed like a strategic setback for the kingdom.

But Jesus assures his disciples of his grace by speaking these amazing words: “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). Things were going to change, but the bond between Jesus and his people will continue, stronger and more real than ever. And He promises that for those He left behind there are going to be rich and lasting advantages.

That’s one of the first things the Catechism says about the ascension of our Lord. It says, “Christ… was taken up from the earth into heaven, and… He is there for our benefit” (Q&A 46). He didn’t ascend to get out of work, to retire from the business of church-building. Nor did He ascend to avoid us and all our annying problems. He went to heaven for our good.

One of the texts the Catechism refers to illustrates that truth very well. Underneath Q&A 46, the Catechism mentions Luke 24:50-51. That’s a description of those last moments of Christ on earth, that scene of departure on a hill just outside Jerusalem. “When He had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany,” Luke writes there, “Christ lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.”

Try to picture what was going on at the hill near Jerusalem, when Jesus has hands lifted up as He ascends. It’s kind of like when we stand on the front steps and keep waving as Grandpa and Grandma’s car drives away—we keep waving, holding onto these last precious moments of contact. But what Christ does when He ascends is even more powerful. He’s not just lifting up his hands to wave, but to bless: a final benediction before He goes. That’s how the disciples saw him go back to the Father, with hands outstretched in blessing.

What a powerful reminder for the disciples—and for us. What a beautiful assurance of the Master’s lasting love! Even now that He’s gone from the earth, his blessing continues. It’s a benediction without interruption, no hindrance, no stopping. Hands outstretched, so that He can bestow his good gifts upon us.

To explore this a bit further, consider the wonderful way Scripture speaks of our connection to Christ. It says that Christ is the Head, and we are the body, his members. That’s a revealing image, because we know from basic biology that the head gives the body its direction. So for Christ and us. The Head gives life to his body. Christ the Head gives purpose to his body. As living parts of Christ’s body, united to him by faith, we share in his power and goodness. Our Head might be in heaven, but there’s no separation. We’re still so intimately joined to him!

Paul speaks to this in the latter half of Ephesians 1. There he writes about the ascension of Christ, and he describes the seating of Christ “at [God’s] right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion” (vv 20-21). It means that Christ is seated in heaven as a king with unlimited authority, He’s a sovereign with boundless power, a Lord without any opponent who can defeat him.

More than that, Christ has a clear focus for his reign, “[God] put all things under his feet and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body” (vv 22-23). He governs with us at the front of his mind. He’s directing the decisions of kings and presidents and prime ministers, for our benefit. He’s holding in his power every material thing, every physical condition, every spiritual reality—anything that might ever have an impact on us, his people.

Christ as head over all things for the church means He is stronger than depression and cancer. He is mightier than the devil and all his hosts, and wiser than every godless opponent. In heaven, our Saviour is ruling as King of kings. Our redemption is his abiding goal.

Beloved, let this truth give you a sure confidence. With Christ as King, we have no reason to be afraid. Fear is such a natural reaction for us, such a basic part of being human. We’re scared to be out of control, scared to feel alone in this world, scared to face opposition. But with Christ in heaven, our lives are secure. Remember what He said to the disciples? “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” Fear not, because your life is under the care of the Good Shepherd. Remember that His hands are constantly outstretched over you in blessing!

           

2) praying for us to his Father: During his time on earth, Jesus was always praying. The Gospels tell us that Jesus often went to quiet places for prayer. This was his life-line connection to God, the way He’d receive strength and wisdom and peace.

And when Jesus prayed, we know that He prayed not only for himself, but also for others. There is a beautiful example of his prayers of intercession in John 17. There He prays at length for his disciples and for all believers. They say that you can tell a lot about a person by how they pray—prayer gives a window into the soul.

If that’s true, then John 17 shows us the kind of heart Jesus has for his people. There He prays with deep compassion for us, with a powerful longing for our good, and with a steadfast concern for our cause. You can hear very clearly that Jesus wants what is best for his people. These were the ones whom the Father entrusted to him, so He brings them to God’s throne.

And this what the ascended Christ continues to do: He prays! The Catechism says that “He is our Advocate in heaven before his Father” (Q&A 49). For Christ is in heaven, not only as a powerful king, but also as our devoted priest.

We tend to focus on the work of sacrificing that was done by the priests in the Old Testament. But another task was the work praying, confessing the sins of the people and interceding for their needs. On Israel’s behalf, the priests offered up thanksgiving for God’s rich gifts and they asked for his continued blessing. Constantly, the priests petitioned God for his people, asking the LORD to hear and answer.

In that same tradition, Christ our great high priest in heaven is offering up petitions to God. Paul tells us in Romans 8, “Jesus Christ is at the right hand of God and is interceding for us” (v 34). Sitting beside the throne of God the Father, perfectly one with him in every way, Christ is in the best position to speak to the Father on our behalf.

Our reading in Hebrews 7:25 puts it this way, “[Christ]… always lives to make intercession for [us].” Notice that prayer isn’t just a sideline activity for him, something for him to do when He’s not busy ruling the universe. No, Christ is fully devoted to praying for the good of his people. He won’t neglect it, won’t forget it, because He lives to do this. He lives to open up our way to the Father.

Reflect on what a blessing this is! God in heaven isn’t obligated to pay any attention to our concerns or listen to what we say. He could well ignore us in our sin and rebellion. Yet everything is different with Christ seated at his right hand. For the Father looks on Christ, and He is reminded constantly about the one basis and ground of our salvation. His beloved Son went down and offered the one-time sacrifice of blood to make us his own, to secure our salvation. No further persuading is needed. When Christ prays, the Father listens.

Says Hebrews about our Saviour, “Such a high priest was fitting for us, who is holy, blameless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens” (7:26). In perfect holiness Christ is in a league of his own, so different to us sinners.

And yet Christ prays with a real understanding. During his earthly ministry He was surrounded by people who were just like us: conceited people, frail people, and forgetful; doubters, worriers, and complainers. So Jesus knows how our faith today can be so fragile and so small. He knows how hard it is for us to stand firm under temptation, and how hard to do the will of God. Christ knows our condition, and He prays for us with understanding.

Do we think about Christ’s prayers or value them as we should? When we’re filled with anxiety about our children, or feeling trapped in our sin, or struggling in one of our relationships, then we can be comforted in knowing the Father’s eyes are already upon us. Even before we have thought to pray about it, or even as we struggle to put it into words, Christ is bringing all our needs—great and small—constantly before the LORD our God. The Father knows what we need, even before we ask him!

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.” Christ reunites us to God and He tells us and shows us that we can trust in the Father.

How we need these prayers of our Saviour! As we said, sometimes we don’t know what to pray for. You’ve had hands folded, but struggled to express the grief, the fear, the guilt—or you struggled to pray because your heart felt empty, like God was impossibly far away. Then too, Christ is there, and Christ is praying!

Other times our prayers are pretty incomplete. The day went by—the whole week went by—and we forgot to pray for forgiveness, or for protection against the devil’s temptation, or for God’s gift of wisdom. So we shouldn’t have received these things. But we did. For even when we’re unfaithful in prayer, Christ in heaven prays for us.

And here’s another wonder of it: Christ our Saviour sees right through whatever troubles or confuses or overwhelms you today. The eternal Christ is able to see clear over the obstacle that lies before you, because He’s already been to the other side!

Not only that, but Jesus prays in complete agreement with the will of God. We don’t always know what is God’s will for us—whether it’s his will that we make this decision or some other, whether He wants us to keep asking for something or should move on—so we pray hesitantly, “Not my will, but yours be done.” But Christ, seated in heaven, understands exactly what we need, He understand the Father’s will, and He prays to the Father in this way.

Beloved, I have a question for you: If you know that Christ your heavenly Advocate is praying for you every day, is that a reason for you to pray more, or to pray less? What could we ever add to his perfect prayers? But Christ’s amazing gift is that He has opened our way to the Father. Through Jesus, even our weak prayers have a powerful impact.

This is why Scripture says, ‘Pray without ceasing.’ Pray in Jesus’s name, and pray without giving up. Rather than having God far from our thoughts for most of the day, praying continually is always being a moment away from turning to him. We pray some words of pleading for a loved one who comes to mind. We pray with thanksgiving for a new gift. We pray a word of praise for God’s work in creation. We pray to ask God’s guidance, his help, his mercy. We can pray at any time, for we pray in the full assurance of faith: “The Father will hear me, because I belong to his Son, and I’m united to him.”

Pray for one another too. In this too, we follow the example of Christ our heavenly Advocate, making intercession for our brothers and sisters in faith. Let our prayers reveal the kind of heart we have for other people, where we know them, we listen to them, we understand them, so that we can pray on their behalf. Think about the congregation, your fellow members, those around you ever Sunday, and in the Spirit of Christ, sympathize with one another: caring for those who struggle, helping the weak, being patient and showing love to all, and praying.

 

3) dwelling with us by his Spirit: We said that when someone moves away, relationships tend to suffer. We might have left, but everyone ‘back home’ goes on with their daily lives, and so people end up drifting apart. Not so with us and Christ. That’s because He’s gone, but still very present. The Catechism says about Christ: “With respect to his human nature He is no longer on earth, but with respect to his divinity, majesty, grace, and Spirit, He is never absent from us” (Q&A 47).

That was the big concern of the disciples when Jesus went away. They felt like motherless children, students without a teacher, sheep without a shepherd. But Jesus quiets their concerns: “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18). Jesus knew how they feared that day of being all alone, helpless, with terrors on every side.

But He won’t leave them, but He’ll come to them. The ascending Jesus tells his disciples that He’ll come to them through the Spirit! And not just any Spirit, it would be his Spirit. He wouldn’t send them a cheap souvenir by which to remember him, but He’d send his own Spirit—a Spirit so connected to Christ, a Spirit so full of Christ, that it would be like Christ himself was still among them!

This how Jesus can say to his disciples, without a word of exaggeration, just before He ascended, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:20). His beautiful name was and remains Immanuel, ‘God with us.’ It’s a name that endures today: though Christ is in heaven, by his Spirit He is never absent: “I am with you.”

The Catechism even says that Christ is with us in all his ‘divinity, majesty and grace’” (Q&A 47). Think about those words and what they say about the ongoing presence of Christ. His divinity is his being as the one true God, his holy character and power. His majesty is his awesome glory as the Son of God: eternal, almighty, faithful, all-wise, and infinite. And his grace is the amazing disposition that He has toward sinners: compassionate, merciful, gentle and loving. Through the Spirit we don’t have some watered-down or diluted version of Christ, a shadowy version of the real thing, but the ascended Christ is present among us “in all his divinity, majesty, and grace.’

Though Christ is physically far away, his Spirit puts our hearts at ease, wherever we are, whatever we are doing. The Spirit tells us, “Remember that you belong to the Saviour. And He is with you always, even to end.”

This is what the Spirit does best: He points us to the words of Christ. That is what Jesus promised in John 14, “The Helper, the Holy Spirit…will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (v 26). Christ knew his disciples will soon get fuzzy on what God promised. Isn’t that true? We are chronically forgetful, often troubled by spiritual amnesia. We forget God’s Word. We listen to our own doubts or desires, instead of giving ear to the voice of Truth. This is why Christ sends his own Spirit to teach us. The Spirit will remind and assure us of his precious words.

So when we seek the Word, the Holy Spirit is ready to affirm and encourage us. When we search the Scriptures day by day, the Spirit is ready to comforts us. Where there’s an open Bible, the Holy Spirit sees an open heart—one that is ready to receive the goodness of Christ.

And through the Spirit, we hear the same voice of Christ calling us to come and follow him. For it is through the Holy Spirit, says the Catechism, that we “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Q&A 49). Christ wants to change our earthly priorities. He wants to transform our vision of this world. The Spirit says that if Christ is our Head, our King, our Advocate, then we must learn to seek his kingdom and his righteousness alone.

We seek Christ’s kingdom because He know He’s coming back. He’s coming down, not in humility, but in great glory and majesty. He will come again, says the Catechism, “to judge the living and the dead” (Q&A 46). He will descend again, the same man who laid down his life for us, the same one who has been blessing us and praying for us all these years. Only this time, He’ll come as Judge.

And Christ will be the Judge, because the question of that final day will be this: How have people received Christ? During our short time on this earth, did we believe in him? Did we serve him? This will be the critical question, the one that decides eternity. What have we thought of the Christ? Did we know him and serve him? If so, the Judge will say, “And I know you. Come and enter the kingdom of my Father!”  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2022, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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