The Ascended Jesus and Us

The Journey  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  21:43
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Jesus' ascension reveals God's amazing love for us--Jesus becomes a part of the human race for ever more; Jesus gives us space to grow up into his likeness, and entrusts us with his great mission; and Jesus gives us time to come and be united with him. What an amazing God we have!


Bible Reading

Acts 1:1–12 NLT
1 In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven after giving his chosen apostles further instructions through the Holy Spirit. 3 During the forty days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God. 4 Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. 5 John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 6 So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” 7 He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. 10 As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!” 12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, a distance of half a mile.


Having my nephew Jordan stay at our place has reminded me of the time when I left home. Like him, I was the first child in my family to move from Charters Towers to Brisbane. Like him my mum had done that when she was younger. Like him I found myself a country North Queenslander in a very different culture. But unlike Jordan, it was difficult for me to communicate with my family, and I missed them enormously.
Nonetheless, moving away was good for me. The distance allowed me to grow up, to take responsibility for myself, to become an adult—to fully express my own life.
The Bible passage we just read tells us about Jesus leaving his disciples. It’s as if my family had moved away and left me behind. The topic of Jesus’ ascension, which is what this event is called, is not one that you often hear about. And yet it has a huge impact on us as Christians, because the ascension of Jesus into heaven at the end of his ministry on earth, puts him in the position where he still is today. And it places the disciples in the relationship with Christ that we are in today.
Because we don’t talk much about the ascension, I want to first explore what it is, and then I want to talk about how it affects us.


So, how do we understand the ascension? There are many facets, but I want to focus on three:
What was the ascension, exactly?
How did it change Jesus? and
How does it fit into The Journey that we’ve been following through the Bible: God’s journey with his precious creations?
If you have any other questions, I’d be happy to talk about that in the Sermon Study this week.

What was the ascension?

So, first, what was the ascension? Was it just Jesus going from earth into heaven? And how would that work? Doesn’t Jesus have a physical body and isn’t heaven is a spiritual place? Did it mean that Jesus’ physical body disappeared?
Let’s look at the Scripture:
Acts 1:9 describes the moment of the ascension:
Acts 1:9 ESV
9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
There are two things that happened to Jesus, according to this verse: he was lifted up, away from the disciples. So this was a physical translation, Jesus’ body was taken away somewhere. In Colossians, Paul says,
Colossians 3:1–2 ESV
1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
This is where Jesus was taken to. Now, we don’t understand exactly how a physical body can exist at God’s right hand, when God is a spirit, but it is clear that Jesus keeps his physical body because Paul says to the Corinthians, talking about the resurrection of our bodies,
1 Corinthians 15:22–23 ESV
22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.
So Jesus body is the same sort of everlasting resurrection body that we will all receive, and Jesus has already received his as the “firstfruits.” I’ll have a little more to say about these resurrection bodies in a moment.
The second event Luke describes in the ascension is that a cloud took Jesus from the disciples’ sight. In Luke’s gospel we have encountered a cloud before in the transfiguration, where is was a manifestation, a visual representation, of God’s glorious presence.
Luke 9:34–35 ESV
34 As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”
Jesus also promised that, at his return, he would be seen coming in a cloud, which again represents God’s presence.
Luke 21:27 ESV
27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
So this cloud represents what the Bible calls Jesus’ “exaltation,” he is lifted up to be with God in heaven, not merely physically, but in terms of value, recognition, role, and in every way.
So the ascension is both Jesus’ physical translation to heaven and his exaltation to rule over all things.

How did it change Jesus?

Which brings us to how the ascension changed Jesus.
Now at his resurrection, Jesus received not just the same old body, like Lazarus did, but rather a new body, a resurrection body. That’s why the disciples struggled to recognise him without him revealing himself.
Paul talks about these bodies in Corinthians, just after the passage about Jesus’ body being the firstfruits:
1 Corinthians 15:42–44 ESV
42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
Now, because Jesus still has a body, he is not bodily present with his disciples any more, until he comes again. And so Paul talks about his desire to leave this world in order to be with Christ in:
Philippians 1:22–23 ESV
22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.
So we see that Jesus relates to his disciples in different ways after his ascension, and we’ll talk about that in a moment.

How does it fit into The Journey?

But first, why did Jesus ascend to heaven? What’s the point?
The journey so far has taken us from God’s perfect creation, and remember Jesus was the word who spoke all things into existence, so he was right there. Then through mankind’s rebellion and resulting fall from goodness and peace. Then through God’s long plan of restoration, working through the family of Abraham, and then King David, down to Jesus. Jesus has now died, nailing our sins to his cross, and risen again, breaking the bonds of death that have, until now, ruled over us. Isn’t that the end of the story?
As it turns out, no, it’s not. God is waiting for as many people as possible to benefit from Jesus’ work on the cross. But, just as God’s work leading up to Jesus was done through the people of Israel, as messed up as they were, so now his work of spreading the good news of Jesus’ victory is done through the new Israel, the church. Once again God honours his people by working through them, not simply on them.
Not only that, but God has is building a people who love him, not as babies responding to care, but as free adults who choose what is good. Just as I needed to leave my parents in North Queensland to fully grow up, God has given us, his children, space to become like Christ, to “grow up into Christ.”
Ultimately the fruits of this work will be seen at the judgement day, when Jesus returns to judge all wickedness and to cast it away to allow peace to reign for ever.


So, how does this apply to us?

How does Jesus’ Ascension relate to the church?

Does Jesus’ ascension say something about the church?
Well, yes it does. Paul talks about the church being Jesus’ body. By this, he doesn’t mean that we have replaced Jesus’ physical body. Rather he means that we act as Jesus body here on earth. Jesus honours the church by giving his great mission to her to fulfill, and he has given us the power to do that by sending his Spirit. The image of marriage, the church as Jesus’ bride, tells us that Jesus is completely united with his people. Our hands are his hands, our mouths his mouth, our feet his feet. And yet he is not manipulating us like a puppet master, he is training us like a parent.
But Jesus does something else very precious for the church, too. In Romans and Hebrews we read that Jesus uses his exalted position at God’s right hand to intercede for us:
Hebrews 7:25 ESV
25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
Jesus is our advocate in heaven! He isn’t just sitting on his hands waiting for us to get the job done. He’s barracking for us, covering for our mistakes and failures and rejoicing in our triumphs.

What does Jesus’ Ascension mean to humanity?

But Jesus’ ascension doesn’t just have an effect on the church. It is such a profound event that it has an effect on the entire human race.
Think about it: the eternal, all powerful, all good, second person of God, the Son of God, took on a human body to die for us. That is so stunning that it’s hard to believe. But the ascension tells us that God did something even more amazing than that. He took on a human body for ever. The Son of God has permanently joined the human race. He didn’t just slum it with us for a few decades and then escape. He permanently united himself with us!
This shows the incredible value that God places on human beings. There is nothing in creation that he treats even remotely like that. That’s why we will be placed in authority over angels.
1 Corinthians 6:3 ESV
3 Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!
This is so different to how our culture treats human beings as a disease, or an unwanted pest.
There is much more I could say about the ascension, but this is enough.

How should we react?

So how should this affect us?
Well, surely it should give us enormous confidence. There truly is nothing that can separate us from the love of God.
Romans 8:38–39 ESV
38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
But it should also make us very aware of the temporary state of affairs that we live in, in this age. We should not be comfortable here, because we should be yearning to be with our beloved, who is in heaven.
I spent six months in Santa Cruz, a pretty, little, north Californian beach town. I had a challenging and rewarding job. I had a company car. But I hated my time there. Why? Because I was pining for Mable. I didn’t want to be on the other side of the world from her. It was only when we went back to Santa Cruz for a visit together, that I realised what a pretty place it was.
And that’s what we should be like. We should be torn by our love for Christ, which should be greater than our love for anything else, as Jesus assured Peter in last week’s sermon, and our love for God’s creation here. And, because of Jesus resurrection body, we can look forward to those loves eventually being reconciled, when Jesus comes again.
Until then, should we not be working to hasten that day? Bringing in the harvest of repentant souls, and crying, “Come, Lord Jesus!”
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