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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:Our Lord's Glorious Position
Text:LD 19 50-51 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Ascension
 
Added:2023-02-21
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Ephesians 4:1-16

Lesson: Lord’s Day 19 - Q/A 50 & 51

 

OUR LORD’S GLORIOUS POSITION

  1. He is There to Receive His People

  2. He is There to Reward His People

 

  1. Hymn 40: 1, 4, 5

  2. Psalm 68: 1, 2, 7

  3. Hymn 49: 1, 2

  4. Hymn 1

  5. Hymn 47: 1, 2

  6. Hymn 71:1-2

 

Words to Listen For: pew, gatekeeper, snake, hurtful, sheep

 

Questions for Understanding:

  1. What is Utopia?  What is the other word that sounds the same but has a very different meaning?

  2. Where is Jesus?  Why might this make us question His existence and/or His wisdom?

  3. What is waiting for us when we die?  What does it look like?

  4. What is the first gift the ascended Lord gives us?

  5. What is the ultimate gift?  Why might it seem disappointing?  How is it not disappointing?

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


Beloved congregation of our risen and ascended Lord,

Have you ever heard of the concept of UTOPIA?

Many of us, especially in recent years, have become familiarized with DYSTOPIAN novels.  Novels like 1984, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451.  In these stories, the world has become a nightmare.  Totalitarian governments manipulate and control every aspect of the lives of citizens.  It’s basically hell on earth.

A utopia on the other hand, is meant to be the exact opposite.  A utopia is a perfect place - basically heaven on earth.

The concept was popularized by a man named Sir Thomas More in the 1500s.  A utopia was supposed to be a place where politics were perfect, the population was flourishing, everything was the way it was supposed to be.

But here’s something you may not know.

The word utopia…is a play on words.

Because utopia, spelled with a u, means “no place.”  It sounds identical to eutopia, spelled with an eu, which means “good place.”

The use of this word by Thomas More shows, not only his sense of refined humor that goes over most of our heads, but also his reluctance, his doubt, that a truly good place could ever exist.

And, we can’t blame him too much for his doubt, as he was living during the reign of Henry the 8th, a lustful and murderous despot.  More was actually one of the advisors to the king, before he was declared to be a traitor and executed.

But here’s the point in all of this…

Here’s the question for us to examine this afternoon - do we believe in UTOPIA or in EUTOPIA?  Utopia with a u or EUtopia with an eu?

Is the concept of a perfect world just a fantasy, just a pipe dream, just something based on blind faith, something that we hope in, despite no evidence, hope built on nothing but wishful thinking?  Do we believe in utopia - NO PLACE?

Or, is the concept of a perfect world a reality?  It is a fuller reality, a more real reality, than where we are living right now?  Is there a perfect world that will one day descend upon us?  A perfect world with a perfect ruler, where the population flourishes with no more mourning, or crying, or pain, a world where everything is the way it should be?  Do we believe in EUTOPIA - the good place?

This afternoon, let’s examine together:

OUR LORD’S GLORIOUS POSITION

  1. He is There to Receive His People

  2. He is There to Reward His People

 

Our Lord’s Glorious Position: He is THERE to Receive His People

He is THERE.  Along with the question in the back of our minds from the introduction, Utopia or EUtopia, let me pose another question to you.  An easier question.

Where is “THERE?”  Our Lord, Jesus Christ, has a glorious position… WHERE IS IT?

Where is Jesus right now?

We might say - in my heart!  Jesus Christ dwells in my heart!  He is with me every step of the way, and I receive my strength from Him.  Jesus Christ is God, and so He is everywhere present.  He’s here right now.  He is sitting in the pew, right here, right beside me, worshipping together with me, worshipping perfectly FOR ME, making up for what I lack in love, in sincerity, or in passion.

And this is true…in a sense.

But let’s back up one Lord’s Day, just briefly.

Question and Answer 47

Is Christ, then, not with us, until the end of the world as He has promised us?

Christ is true man and true God

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.

 

And 48

But are the two natures in Christ not separated from each other

if His human nature is not present wherever His divinity is?

 

Not at all,

For His divinity has no limits and is present everywhere.

So it must follow that his divinity is indeed beyond the human nature

which He has taken on

And nevertheless is within this human nature

And remains personally united with it.

 

What does this mean?

It means, that, even though Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, is present with us, due to His divine nature, is present everywhere…

His human nature, His glorified human body, the body He ascended with…is in another place.  This is where He personally dwells.

This is why we confess in the Apostles’ Creed - He ascended into Heaven and sits at the right hand of God.

THIS is where He is.

THIS is where He wants to be worshipped.

 

And this can cause us to doubt.  This ascended position of our Lord can cause us to doubt His EXISTENCE, and it can cause us to doubt His WISDOM.

And there have been those who have doubted His existence, already in the days of the early church.  The Apostle Peter writes about this in 2 Peter 3 - Scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.  They will say, “Where is the promise of His coming?  For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”

Where’s Jesus?  You believe in Him…so where is He?  I’m looking around…I don’t SEE HIM.  I don’t SEE EVIDENCE OF HIM.  The world is how it always has been!

But, you see, this is where He HAS TO BE!

And the world itself, as Peter goes on to explain, the world itself shows evidence of a loving, personal, holy, powerful God.  This world was so obviously CREATED…and if all things are continuing as they were from creation…then surely the all-wise, all-loving, all-powerful Creator is now functioning as the all-wise, all-loving, all-powerful RULER.

 

The ascended position of our Lord can cause us to doubt His existence, and also to doubt His wisdom.

We might think: If He was here, if He was here in person, in His glorified human flesh, if He could ascend the pulpit each Sunday and do for our congregations what He did in the synagogues…would that not be BETTER?  Could He not rule FROM HERE?

But we must trust the wisdom of our God.  It is GOOD FOR US that He is in Heaven.  He is still with us by His Spirit, closer to us than He ever was with His disciples during His earthly ministry, for the Spirit dwells in our heart!

It is good for us that He is in Heaven because He is there to RECEIVE HIS PEOPLE.

 

This is how the catechism puts it:

Christ ascended into Heaven to manifest Himself there as Head of His church

Where the head goes, the body will follow.

As we heard in our call to worship this afternoon, that wonderful promise of Christ - In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?

There is the popular idea, among those who know nothing of the Bible, and those who know a little of the Bible, that when we die, we will stroll up the gates of heaven, and find Saint Peter sitting behind a desk, filled with documents.  We will give him our name, and he will look us up, and see if he is to open the golden gate behind him, or pull the hidden lever behind the desk, open up a trap door, and we will tumble down towards Hell.

But there’s no desk.

There’s no Saint Peter as Gatekeeper

There’s no documents

There’s no hidden lever or trap door

Instead…when, as believers, we close our eyes here on earth, when we take our last breath with our mortal body, in an INSTANT, with NO DELAY, we will be before God, looking into His wonderful face.

When believers die in the Lord...there isn’t a millisecond when we are out of fellowship with God.  Our soul goes immediately to be by the side of your Saviour.  This life on earth will become that life in heaven.  No delay.

And who is there waiting for us?

 

It’s not Saint Peter with a clipboard, but our Lord, Jesus Christ, with open arms.  He is there to receive us into fellowship…IMMEDIATELY.  There is no waiting period, there is no probationary period to see if you really belong, if you fit into the heaven-culture that Jesus has created.  No, He is there, reminding you that you DO BELONG.  You DO BELONG because you are someone that our Saviour dearly loves.  You are one of those that He died for.  You are one of those who have been washed clean in His blood.  You are one of those who believe in Him, who love Him.  He loved you first, and you responded in faith, with love of your own.  And that love will be rewarded.  You will not be put to shame.

The fact that Jesus is in Heaven with our glorified skin and bones, is a proof, it is a pledge, that we too belong there.  If His glorified flesh is fit for heaven, so too our glorified souls.  So too, one day, our glorified flesh.

And this might be hard for some of us to believe. I’m so weak and so sinful, can I really ever see God face to face?  Can I really ever live in His presence?

He’s so holy that the angels who worship Him must cover their face and their feet with their wings!

 

But we have our assurance in the person of Jesus Christ.  We have our assurance in His glorified flesh and blood.  His glorified skin and bones

Jesus - the One who took all your sin upon Himself.  The One who we BECAME sin for us…

He has ascended, THROUGH the heavens, right up to God himself and is seated at God’s right hand - the place of greatest honour

And it is from there, that awesome place of honour and authority…that He welcomes us.

Our Saviour is there as our “welcoming committee,” and what a welcome it will be.  The angels will shout for joy, as our sinful nature is finally killed, and forever shed from us, as a snake sheds its dead skin.  The angels will shout for joy, and our Saviour will welcome us and say: Well done, my good and faithful servant.

Oh to hear those words.  To hear those words spoken over me.  Well done, my good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Master.

It all sounds too good to be true.  It sounds like Utopia - no place.  But it’s all true.  There is truly a EUtopia, the good place, waiting for us.  We will one day join our Lord where He is.  But until then, He has not left us alone, but rather, from His ascended position, He rewards His people.  Our second point.

It’s amazing, beloved, it’s AMAZING how all of Scripture fits together, isn’t it?  It’s good to marvel together over this from time to time.

The words we sang from Psalm 68, did you notice that these same words were used by the Apostle Paul in our reading from Ephesians 4?  The song wasn’t just chosen to sing about God’s GLORY,

it wasn’t just about His POWER and MAJESTY…but these words: When you, O Lord, went up again, you led your captives in your train with tribute in abundance; gifts too, from those who rebels were - that you, LORD God, for evermore, might dwell there in resplendence.

These words, written by David, a thousand years before Christ came, lived, died, rose again, are applied to Him in our reading in Ephesians 4.

Ephesians 4, starting at verse 8

Therefore it says, “when He ascended on high He led a host of

captives, and He gave gifts to men.”

In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that He had also

descended into the lower regions, the earth?  He who descended is 

the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that He might

fill all things.

And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the

shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry,

for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the

faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to

the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

As the catechism says: By His Holy Spirit, He pours out heavenly gifts upon us, His members.

Now…where does this come from?  It seems, that the message of Psalm 68, applied here to us in Ephesians 4 is that it is our Lord Jesus Christ Himself directly giving us gifts!  The one who ascended is the one who gives gifts, right?  The message is clear!

Well, not so fast.  Not every text can give every doctrine in its fullness.  Though it appears that Jesus Christ is DIRECTLY giving us these gifts, the catechism is absolutely right when it explains in a fuller way that it is our Lord, THROUGH HIS HOLY SPIRIT who blesses us.

Our Lord explains exactly this in John 16, when He is preparing His disciples for His death, resurrection, and ascension,  It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you.

The Helper, the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is, as we will sing later in the service, is both gift and giver.

 

By His Holy Spirit, He pours out heavenly gifts upon us, His members.

The Holy Spirit is the first gift, through whom come all the other gifts.

And we can get a clue as to some of these gifts through the title that the Holy Spirit has been given.  The Helper, the Comforter, the Paraclete.

What this means, is that when we feel our joy, our energy slipping away as we live in this world that is groaning under the weight of sin…as we groan, as we experience the consequences of our own sin, as we experience the consequences of the sins of others…as we groan, with our hope slipping away, as we wonder if we are headed to Eutopia - the good place - or Utopia - no place - enter the Holy Spirit!  Enter the Helper, enter the Comforter who dwells in your heart.

What are His first gifts?  His primary gifts?  Well, as His name tells us - COMFORT!  He gives us peace, He gives us joy, He gives us hope, reminding us who we are - that we are children of God, that we are being made after the image of Jesus Christ, that one day, we will join Him where He is.

But these gifts, sent BY the Son, THROUGH the Spirit…are not relegated to spiritual gifts, even though we might be led to think this by the wording of the catechism

 

By His Holy Spirit, He pours out heavenly gifts upon us, His members

This refers, not to the TYPE of gift, but the SOURCE of the gift.

Our ascended Lord grants us material gifts to sustain our life.  He is the one who gives us our physical abilities and talents.

The gift of rain on the earth is no less “spiritual” than the gift of saving grace through the blood of Christ.  They both find their source in our God.

 

Now, at this point, you might be wondering about terminology here.  The point in the liturgy sheet uses the word REWARD, whereas I have been preaching about GIFTS.  The two aren’t exactly the same, are they?  Did I just choose “REWARD” because I really like alliteration?  The first point has the main idea beginning with R, so this one too?

Well, no.  Though I do like alliteration, it was chosen for a deeper reason than this.

A gift is something undeserved, and truly, these blessings are undeserved.  The catechism rightly calls them GIFTS.

But on the other hand, a REWARD is something earned.  So…how can both be true?  Undeserved, but earned?

Because this is our God.  That’s how.  Because salvation is exactly this.  Salvation is a gift, but it is also a reward.

It was given to us, completely undeserving…everything is GRACE.  It is a gift.

But it was also earned.  Salvation is also a reward.

 

It wasn’t earned BY US of course…but it was earned FOR US.  It was earned by the sacrifice and suffering of our Lord!  These gifts, HE EARNED, and, though they are HIS REWARD, as He ascended on high, He gave gifts to men.

But these rewards are not ONLY about material gifts and physical abilities.

These rewards are not ONLY - if we can even use that word to apply to these things - these rewards are not ONLY about joy and peace and hope.

No!  For what does our reading say?

Verse 11 - And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry

It’s all been leading up to this.  This is the grand gift.  The big reward.

And you may look around and wonder…REALLY?  It’s all about this?  The office-bearers are the BIG GIFT?  The pastor?  The church?  THIS is what it’s all about?  How disappointing.

Surely the men you see before you…perhaps it is best to speak of only myself here for the moment…surely THE MAN you see before you behind this pulpit is a bit of a let down.  Especially compared with other gifts we receive from the hand of the Lord.

Who am I compared with the gift of love, joy, and peace?

Who am I compared with the gift of creation around us?

Who am I compared with the other gifts of the Holy Spirit?

I serve in weakness.  I can be disappointing, hurtful, and polarizing.  Surely there are better gifts out there.

But God says no.  And here, let me bring in the other office-bearers.

 

Ephesians 4 is leading us to this point.  The BEST GIFT that our ascended Lord has given us is office-bearers to serve in His church.

And why?  How?

Well, let me first say what the church is NOT.

The church is not EUTOPIA - the good place.  The perfect place. If you’re looking for the perfect church, it’s UTOPIA - it’s no place. Nowhere to be found!

There are weaknesses in EVERY church.  There are sins in every church.  There is pride…and on the other end of the spectrum, there is self-hatred.  There is anger…and on the other end of the spectrum, there are those who let themselves be walked over.  Every Sunday morning, as we hear the 10 commandments read, we hear a list of the sins present in the church.

The church is not perfect.  No.

And yet…what can we say about the church?  What can we say about the work of the minister, the elders, the deacons?  These good gifts?

It is IN the church…

It is THROUGH the office-bearers…

That we can SEE Eutopia.  The good place.  The perfect place.

It’s not HERE, but we can SEE IT FROM HERE.

When a minister preaches the Word, he does so in weakness…but what is being proclaimed is strength.  What is proclaimed is beauty.  What is proclaimed is the Kingdom.

When an elder exercises spiritual guidance, exhortation or encouragement…he does so in weakness…but what is being done is a small picture of the authority and wisdom of Christ.  Standing up for what is right, guiding those who are struggling with the truth.

And when a deacon does his work of mercy, when he comes with comfort and with support…he does so in weakness…but what is being done is a picture of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, who searches for, cares, and loves His straying or hurting sheep.

Now, there is a phrase that I have used before, but I haven’t delved deeply into it, so just as we close this afternoon, I would like to explain it in a deeper way for us to marvel together at what our Lord has done for His people in the blessing of His church.

It’s a short phrase, but a powerful one.  If you’re the kind of person to take notes, please write this one down.

It is the job of the church to make the transcendent transparent.  I’ll say that again.  It is the job of the church to make the transcendent transparent.

The gospel truths, the things that we will confess together in a few minutes in the Apostles’ Creed together…

  • That God is Triune: Father, Son, and Spirit

  • That God created all this with the word of His mouth

  • That God took on human nature and died for our sins

  • That God rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven

  • That God dwells in our hearts

These truths are what is known as TRANSCENDENT.

They are above us.

They are beyond us.

They are miraculous, supernatural truths.

We accept them by faith, even though we cannot fully comprehend them.

 

But in the church…this is where these glorious, transcendent truths, are to become transparent.  They are to become clear.  They are something to be obviously shown, something to be demonstrated, to each other, and to the whole watching world.

The love of God…something so miraculous…loving those who did not love Him back, loving those who were His enemies, loving those who opposed Him, blasphemed Him, had Him arrested, tortured and killed…this is a TRANSCENDENT LOVE.  We can’t fully comprehend it.  

But.  As the church, specifically as leaders in the church, but each and every one of you here today too…we can SHOW THAT SAME LOVE.

Love those around you.  Even if you think they don’t deserve it.  Especially if they don’t deserve it.  Love them, so purely, so powerfully, so insistently, that they will ask “why do you keep showing me love when all I have for you is hatred?”  And then you share with them the story of Jesus.  The story that begins with: For God so loved the world.

And this is only one example of these transcendent truths that we must, as the bride of Christ, as His church, make TRANSPARENT in this world.

This is what our Lord Jesus Christ did during His life on earth.  He made these transcendent qualities of God transparent - in every word He said, in every miracle He performed.

And now that He has ascended up on high, and is seated at the right hand of God, a place of power and authority, from where He serves as our mediator, as our welcoming committee, and as our great gift giver…

Now it is our turn.  Led by the Holy Spirit, equipped with gifts, the rewards from our Saviour, we are to be mirrors.  To reflect the perfections of God to a world that is struggling.  To a world that is suffering.

We are to be mirrors…and even windows…because, put simply, even though the church is not eutopia, we can see it from here.

AMEN.




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

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