This morning I was invited to preach at Elm Park Baptist Church in Hornchurch. It was good to be there as the last time I preached there was on Palm Sunday 2013.
As this coming Thursday, the church traditionally celebrates the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven, I decided that the Ascension would be our topic today.
Acts 1:1 – 11
“1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 6 So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. 10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
Earlier on we looked at some incredible and perhaps unbelievable facts and events.
And for the early Christians they had more than their fair share of the incredible in quite a short time.
Here are a few of the incredible or amazing things they had witnessed about Jesus.
- He turned water into wine
- He fed the hungry
- Healed the sick
- Gave sight to the blind
- Raised the dead
- Rode triumphantly into Jerusalem
- Arrested and given a sham trial
- Crucified and laid in a borrowed tomb
- Rose from the dead and appeared to many people.
It had been a real roller coaster of a time for those early believers.
They were overjoyed when they met with their risen Lord. But now he is going to leave them again.
You may think that the followers would be upset that Jesus was going, but if we look at the end of Luke’s gospel which overlaps with out reading from Acts we find in Luke 24:50 – 52 “ When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.”
What was it that had filled these people full of joy?
These early believers had come to understand so much about Jesus’ mission after the resurrection. And now they are relying on his promises.
They know that Jesus going back to heaven isn’t the last they will see of him. Its farewell not goodbye.
They will be with him again. In John 14:1 – 3 Jesus tells them:”Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
That is a promise for all who put their faith in Jesus. He has conquered death and broken the power of sin in our lives. So we can be certain that if we put our faith in him, we shall be with him in eternity in Heaven, his Father’s house.
There are of course other reasons why Jesus’ ascension is so important.
On fulfilling his mission of sacrificing himself on the cross and dying for our sins, Jesus returned to heaven and had his glory reinstated and more so. Paul says this in Philippians 2:6 – 11 “6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
At present not everyone acknowledges Jesus Christ as Lord. Not everyone gives him the glory due to his name. But there will be a time when every man, woman and child will do so, some willingly and joyfully and others because they on judgement day are faced with the overwhelming evidence of Jesus the son of God.
Of course now many people who follow other beliefs and philosophies make passing reference to Jesus as a good man or a miracle worker or a prophet. But they do not acknowledge the truth of Jesus the son of God. Jesus says in John 5:23 “He who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father, who sent him.” Its as simple as that. If you do not give Jesus the son of God the recognition he deserves, you are not honouring God.
And following on from that thought of Jesus having the name above all names, Jesus went back to heaven to be crowned. The Bible calls him the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
The American theologian RC Sproul put it this way: “In the ascension, Jesus went up to His coronation. He did not go up simply to enter into His rest. He went up for His investiture service. He ascended to the throne, to the right hand of God, where He was given dominion, power, and authority over the whole earth. The Lamb who was slain became the Lion of Judah, who now reigns over the earth.”
Jesus himself says in Matthew 28:18 “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
When Jesus ascended to heaven God was able to send the Holy Spirit. In John 16:7 Jesus tells his disciples “ But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counsellor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”
Not only is the Holy Spirit called the Counsellor but also he is the Comforter.
Some people think of a comforter as someone who will wrap you up and look after you when you are feeling down. Sometimes we refer to a blanket or a quilt as a comforter. Yet the word comforter has another, older meaning. In a panel of the Bayeux tapestry William the Conqueror is shown brandishing his sword around his somewhat reluctant soldiers to encourage them to get on with the battle. The panel is entitled “William comforts his soldiers”!
So the Holy Spirit is sent to each and every believer to be an encourager as well as to reveal the truth of God to us. He gives us good counsel as well as spiritual gifts to help us and other Christians grow in faith both individually and corporately.
I am sure that many of you can testify to how the Holy Spirit directs us to a passage of scripture that suddenly comes alive as we read it, or how he prompts us to visit someone or phone them just at the moment they need someone to talk to or to pray with.
In Acts 8 we read how Philip at the Holy Spirit’s prompting travels into the desert and meets an Ethiopian man whom he brings to faith.
Recently I have been praying for a man I will call John who has been very ill with a brain abscess. The other day I was prompted to phone his wife. I spoke to Janet and immediately it became clear that I was meant to phone her. She was returning to work that day for the first time since John had been ill and was naturally worried about leaving him and also how she would cope at work. So I was able to pray for her and John and she was reassured that God was still looking after them.
Without the Holy Spirit how could we fulfil the great commandment in Matthew 28:19 & 20: “19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” We could never do it on our own.
Some folk think that Jesus just sits on a throne next to God accepting the worship that’s rightly due to him. He has earnt his rest by what he did on earth. However the Bible tells us that Jesus is not taking it easy.
Yes we do have that prophecy in Psalm 110:1 which says “The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”
But later in that psalm we read in v4 “The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”
Melchizedek is mentioned in Genesis 14 as a priest of the most high God and King of Salem. He was clearly an important man as we read in Genesis that Abraham gives him an offering. In those times the least important man gave the more important man an offering.
Jesus is our great High Priest in the order of Melchizedek. He has given the one perfect sacrifice for the sins of mankind which has been accepted by God. So no further sacrifices are ever needed, hence why the Jewish line of high Priests ended when the temple was destroyed.
In addition to the sacrifice of himself that Jesus offered, he fulfils another priestly function – he intercedes for us. Jesus prays to God the Father for us. Being human he knows our weaknesses and he knows what it is to be tempted. He like us faced trials and temptations. He knows how it is.
This is what we read in Hebrews 4:14 -16 “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
So the fact that Jesus ascended into Heaven is good news for us in many ways.
He was able to send the Holy Spirit to each and every believer to help us in our lives and to be effective witnesses to the gospel. Also Jesus is not only our King who reigns from heaven he is also our great high priest who is ever praying for us.
We have the best possible friend in high places and we are not alone as he is on our side if we put our faith in him. Amen.