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TEXT: I Timothy 3:16b

SUBJECT: The Ascension of Christ

My talk today is on one the Bible's most important and most neglected doctrines. I call it a 'doctrine' because that means 'teaching' and it is taught in the Bible. But I don't want you to think of it as merely a doctrine, or an idea or a teaching. It is these things, of course, but it is more than these. What it is is a fact. Not a fact to me or a fact to the Church, but a fact of history, a thing that really happened in time and space. Scholars and others can ignore it, laugh at it, and argue against it, but they cannot undo it. Because it happened. The thing I'm talking about is named in the last line of I Timothy 4:16. Speaking of our Lord Jesus Christ, the verse says He was-

Received up in glory.

There's a word for this and the word is:

Ascension.

It's surprising how little has been written or preached on the Ascension. Even the word itself is a bit fuzzy even to people who can explain His resurrection and Second Coming in some detail.

I wonder why this is? How come I have four or five thousand theological books-and not one of them is on the Ascension of Christ? Why have I preached for more than twenty years-and as far as I know, I've only had one sermon on it?

The Ascension of our Lord has a big and honored place in the Bible. It is foreseen in the Old Testament, Psalm 24:9 being a fine example:

"Lift up your heads, O you gates!

And lift them up you everlasting doors!

And the King of Glory shall come in".

The Apostles brought it up over and over again in their preaching. On the Day of Pentecost, for example, Peter quoted Psalm 110 and applied it to the Lord's Ascent to God's Right Hand:

"For David did not ascend into the heavens,

but he says himself,

`The LORD said to my Lord,

Sit at my Right Hand,

Till I make Your enemies Your

Footstool'".

So, why haven't good Christian writers churned out a million books on the Ascension? And why haven't we preachers-who very much believe in it-preached on it more often? And why haven't you laid awake at night thinking about it-as you have about the Second Coming?

Here's why: We have been sloppy in our Bible reading and even sloppier in our preaching and theology. We read the passages about God raising Christ up and seating Him at His right hand and we think-Resurrection. Or, we read the verses that foresee Him sitting on a throne and say-Second Coming.

Our poor reading and preaching have cost us dearly. The Lord's Ascension is just an article of faith; it's an article of comfort.

THE STORY

The story of our Lord's Ascension is told in the last chapters of Mark and Luke and in the first chapter of Acts. It is referred to in many other places, but the story itself is only told in these.

For forty days after His resurrection, the Lord Jesus Christ came and went on earth. He appeared to His disciples several times, to Mary Magdalene and her friends, to Cleopas, to his own brother, James, and to many others who are not named in the Bible. Paul counted more than five hundred men who saw Him in those weeks.

But He didn't stay here-not physically, I mean. At the end of these forty days, He took the Apostles for a walk to Bethany-a small town two or three miles from Jerusalem. There-with no one else looking-he lifted His hands to bless them; He told them to stay in Jerusalem for a while; He reminded them of what they are: His witnesses; He answered a stupid question; and then something happened.

A cloud of glory appeared-I suspect it was the same cloud that used to reside in the Holy of Holies-God's cloud. It lifted Him off the ground and carried Him up into the sky, out of their sight, and to heaven where He took His Throne.

He's still there in what theologians call His Present Session-that is, He sat down at God's Right Hand where He must reign and rule till He comes again.

This is what we often see in the Book of Revelation: we have magnificent creatures-seraphim, cherubim, angels, and men numbering in the millions of millions compassing a Throne and paying tribute to the One who sits on it-One who is-at the same time-

"The Lion of the Tribe of Judah"

"The Lamb that was slain".

And so, what is the Ascension? It is the Lord's rise to glory at His Father's Right Hand.

Like His resurrection from the dead, this is not a symbolic or an artistic truth; it's what Francis Schaeffer called, true truth! It really happened-just as the Bible said it did. Does the Bible contain symbols not to be taken literally? Of course it does! But this is not one of them. The story is told in a matter-of-fact way because it is a matter of fact.

THE SIGNIFICANCE: JESUS IS KING

The fact of our Lord's Ascension is not a minor one! It's not like the number of toes on the foot of Goliath's son. No, it is far more important than that fact. It is central to the believer's life and his understanding of the Bible and of the world.

Thus we need to know-not only what happened, but also, what it means. What does the Ascension say about Christ? And how does it affect me and my understanding of the Word of God?

According to Peter's sermon on the Day of Pentecost, the Ascension of Christ means Jesus is the King! Not that will be the king someday when the Jews accept Him, but He is the King Now! In the traditions of Israel (and all nations, for that matter), a man is made king with great pomp and ceremony.

Joash was only seven years old, but as the sole remaining son of King Ahaziah, the crown was his by birth and right. But his grandmother Athaliah seized the throne at her son's death. Joash was hidden for years in the Temple, but then the High Priest acted in the name of God and for the good of his country: the boy stood by the pillar in the Temple with the Testimony in his hand, oil was poured on his head, the trumpets were blown, the choir was singing, and the people shouted, "Long live the king!"

All monarchies have a ceremony either more or less elaborate. But the point is, no king is crowned secretly; nobody just shows up in the palace and goes to work. No, something as serious as taking the throne demands a public ceremony!

And that's what our Lord got at His Ascension. And what a change it was for Him. His birth was celebrated by a handful of shepherds, a poor carpenter, and a peasant girl, no more than fourteen or fifteen years old. Not the most prestigious gathering in the history of the world!

But when the Man born to be King took His throne, He got the reception He had coming! All the angels were there; all the saints; the elders; the creatures of magnificent beauty, wisdom, and power: and best of all-God was there-in Person-to give His Son the Place He deserves!

Every dignitary-both human and not-fell down before Him, cast their crowns at His feet, and burst into song,

"Worthy is the Lamb who was slain

to receive power and riches and

wisdom,

and strength and honor and glory

and blessing!"

The Ascension means Jesus Christ is King!

We must not qualify the statement with words like, King of the Church, Spiritual King, or Future King! No! He is simply The King-King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Blessed and only Potentate, Head of All Things.

The reign and rule of Christ are present-and not just future. They include the future, but are not limited to it. Psalm 2 is quoted in the New Testament more than once-and always to the same effect. It has

"The nations raging, the people imagining vain things,

Kings of the earth setting themselves, rulers taking

Counsel together against the Lord and His Anointed".

Very frightening picture: armies on the march, kings issuing threats, nations mobilizing, red buttons being pushed. But what is God's response to the noise from below?

"He that sits in heaven shall laugh them to scorn;

the Lord shall hold them in derision".

God is laughing His head off at their puny efforts to resist Him. Why? Because whatever they say, whatever they do, whatever they think, God says,

"Yet I have set My King

on My holy hill of Zion".

God's King is the Lord Jesus Christ. He was put on the throne-not at the Second Coming-but when He ascended into heaven and sat down at God's Right Hand.

But if this is true-that Jesus Christ is King Now-how do we explain what we see all around us? Most people are not obeying Him and some are doing everything they can to break His every law.

He seems like a hands-off kings-a Ruler not keeping a close eye on His subjects. What do we say to that? Let me quote the great missionary William Carey. An highly intelligent East Indian heard his sermon and wondered-if his Christ is really the king why haven't the Indians heard about it before?

What would you say to that? Most of us would start hemming and hawing and talking about the Church being lazy and missionaries being too timid, and so on. But Carey wants none of that mealy-mouth stuff!

"Suppose a kingdom had long been overrun by the enemies of its true king, and he, though long possessed of sufficient power to conquer them, should yet suffer them to prevail, and establish themselves as much as they could desire, would not the valor and wisdom of that king be far more conspicuous in exterminating them, than it would have been had he opposed them at first, and prevented them entering the country? Thus, by the diffusion of Gospel light the wisdom, power, and grace of God will be more conspicuous in overcoming such deep-rooted idolatries, and in destroying all that darkness and vice which have so universally prevailed in this country, than they would have been if all had not been suffered to walk in their own ways for so many ages past".

Do you understand Carey's answer? Jesus Christ kept the Gospel from coming to India for many generations. He did that to permit His enemies to become as dug in as they could. So the power of His Gospel in saving them would stand out all the more!

Applied to the Lord's Kingship in heaven, this means: He lets men become as hard as they can become so that His grace in saving them will be all the more glorious!

For the sake of completeness, I should add: He also allows them to become as bad as they can be so that His justice in punishing them will be beyond any objection.

This is the first meaning of the Lord's Ascension: Jesus is King.

If He is the King, two things closely follow: He is the Protector and the Provider of His People. Paul refers to both in Ephesians 4:8-

When He ascended on High, He led captivity captive and gave gifts to men.

Borrowed from Psalm 68, the words were perfectly understood by the people who first read them. Kings in the Ancient World (unlike today) were far more than symbols. They felt responsible for their people, and did things for them. One thing they did was rescue them from their enemies. Think of David keeping the Philistines at bay for years, and finally, breaking them for good.

When he came to power, Israel was captive (in part) to the lords of Gaza, Ashdod, and so on. But then, taking his life in his hands, he freed the captive people, he led captivity captive.

This is what our Lord did for us-only more so. He freed us from enemies worse than the Philistines: first from the devil who used to be our master, but is no more! Then He freed us from wrath of God, which used to be upon us, until He took it on Himself. He freed us from the guilt and fear that used to hang over our heads, but now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. In rising from the dead, He freed us from the sting of death; yes, we will likely die, but death will not have the last word: that belongs to the Resurrection from the dead! Because He is risen, and we are in Him, we will rise!

A further part of His kingly work is giving gifts to men. This, too, was what kings did in the old days. Their coronations were celebrated with a feast, from which no one went home empty-handed. Their supporters, in particular, were lavishly rewarded. Think again of David, coming back to Jerusalem after losing his crown to Absolam, and then richly providing for Barzillai and others.

Except for the Bible, Beowulf, is my favorite old book. It tells of the Northern Kings who supplied their knights with gold rings to thank them for their loyalty and service in war.

So, will the True King be out-given by lesser kings? No He won't be! After securing His Seat in Glory, He sent down many gifts, and none more precious than the Holy Spirit whom He poured out on the Day of Pentecost!

All we can do for Christ and for each other-whether it's preaching a sermon, comforting the bereaved, or taking grandma to the doctor, are gifts-not that we give the Lord-but which He gave us. If there are gifts in the Church, Christ is on the throne! Jesus is the King!

THE SIGNIFICANCE: JESUS IS PRISET

The second meaning is also taught in the Word of God, especially in Psalm 110. When the Lord rose to His Seat of Glory, He wasn't made King only. He was also made High Priest after the order of Melchizedek.

And there-at God's Right Hand-with the Royal Glory shining from His face, He prays for us. Not once or twice-or only when we're in a pinch, but

"He ever lives to make intercession for us".

This means we are sitting pretty! The Man in charge is for us! Our King is also our Priest, who laid down His life for us and is even now, praying for us!

Brothers and sisters, think about this when under the power of temptation. When it seems you can't do the right thing, that you lack the clarity to know what it is or the guts to do it, remember you're being prayed for-and not by me or some other sinner-but by the Man whose prayers are always heard! Who never prays foolishly, who never forgets to pray, who never falls asleep when He's praying! If you knew Christ were in the next room praying for you, the worst temptation would be nothing to resist. Who could have a bad attitude when Christ was praying for him two feet away? Who could look at a woman in the wrong way? Who could gossip? Who could fear with the Lord in the next room praying for him?

If His praying on earth gives you the courage to do the right thing, how much more will His praying in heaven do for you? But this is what the Ascension means! It means Christ is six inches from the Father and praying into His ear.for you, especially when you need it the most!

Under the Old Covenant, kings were not priests and priests were not kings! The offices were too powerful for any one man to have them both! Any man, but the One who is worthy of them!

The Lord Jesus Christ!

TO DO

If you have read old stories, you know a king's coronation was celebrated by all his people. Most of them would never even see him-and only a few of them would ever get to know him at all. And yet the people felt that their own destiny was bound up with his. That a happy and successful king would make them happy and successful too. They were right. And foolish and weak king would destroy the whole nation. But a good king would be good for all.

If our ancestors celebrated the crowning of their kings, don't you think we ought to celebrate the Enthronement of our King? We should be thankful to Him for taking His throne. We should be content to let Him rule. We should be quiet when He doesn't seem to know what He's doing. We should praise Him as often and as loudly as we can.

Long live the King!

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