46. Conclusion

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 46. Conclusion

Jn 12:32  “when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”

Rev 1:5   Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

How to put all these studies together? It is impossible in a relatively small space to cover every one of the studies of the past six weeks. All we can do is observe our starting point, our finishing point and the key parts in between.

Jesus our model for growth: Our starting point was our ultimate goal which was to consider the New Testament call to us to grow. Our framework for that was John 12:32 above and I suggested from the outset that there were expressions or outworkings of that verse: first, Jesus lifted up on the cross to die for our sins, second, Jesus lifted up from death by his resurrection and, third, Jesus exalted on high through the ascension, so he is now seated at his Father’s right hand, where his presently ruling.

Jesus’ model applied to us: That was the framework, and I suggested that this same framework can be observed in the Christian life – first, our call to die to the old life and to sin, then second, our call to live the resurrected, Spirit-empowered life, and finally, to realize and see that that we are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms where we are to rule with him, as the Spirit-led body of Christ on the earth, that is bringing in the kingdom or rule of God on the earth. Perhaps a few key items for each of those.

Death: Without death to the old life and to our old way of doing things and our old ambitions, we cannot come and receive Christ as both Saviour and Lord. Christ cannot bring his salvation to us and cannot lead us in a new life if we insist on holding onto the things of our old carnal life.

Resurrection: Without death there can never be resurrection.   Resurrection is the shorthand picture of what takes place when we come to Christ. When we are ‘born again’ it is a work of the Holy Spirit who God places within and so the Spirit becomes an inner source of revelation (teaching) and power (for life transformation and service).  All the virtues and all the gifts and fruits of the Spirit find their origin and expression in Him.

Ascension: This is the area that many of us struggle with most. It is first of all seeing ourselves seated with Christ in heaven, linked by his Holy Spirit, second, it is understanding that now he is there ruling over the affairs of the world, even in the midst of his enemies who will eventually be destroyed, enemies that are all things contrary to the way God originally created this world perfect, and third, it is seeing ourselves as now his body on the earth, directed by him from heaven, led and empowered by his Spirit on a daily basis and, finally, fourth it is understanding that his body now, as two thousand years ago, is to work to bring the kingdom or rule of God on the earth.

It is the enormity of this third phase that leaves many of us struggling and is, perhaps, the most difficult area for growth. Perhaps there are various reasons for that. First, it is a spiritual experience that is expressed into the physical world. We are all right with the spiritual bit (e.g. simple prayer) but when that is extended to hearing God and responding to His directions that mean us stepping out in the physical world to bring physical changes, our faith wavers.

Second, we have settled in the past in the good, but only partial, teaching that the spiritual parts of being a Christian are just about being a witness, sharing the Gospel with friends, family etc. etc. Now that is good and right, but it stops short of Jesus call that said, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12) and his explanation of those works is seen in Matt 11:5 and Lk 4:18,19. The other ‘spiritual’ aspect that we have watered down is in respect of prayer which is so often simply reduced to telling God what He ought to do and uttering words into the air, instead of it being a life-filled experience where there is a two-way communication. It is the so-often absent ‘hearing element’ of prayer that releases faith for action.

And So: So there we are, death, resurrection and ascended to a place of ruling, that is our syllabus or our learning program, a program that is not merely about learning words but putting them into action (Mt 28:20). To conclude, note our second starter verse from above: “Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” (Rev 1:5) There again we have the three phases of the life and ministry of the Son of God.

First, he was a faithful witness, sharing in all the Father was doing (Jn 5:17,19), perfectly fulfilling the plan of the Godhead, formulated before the beginning of time and resulting in his death on a cross for the sins of mankind. Second, he is the firstborn from the dead, having been raised to life after death. Third, he is now the ruler of all the earth, seated at his Father’s right hand, working slowly and purposefully in the midst of his enemies on the earth to bring the rule of God which will be culminated in his Second Coming. Oh yes, there is very much yet a future element to all this, as there is for us. That says to us that we are working towards a guaranteed future when, if we learn these things, we will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” while at the same time being welcomed home as the sons and daughters, the children of God, that we are.  Hallelujah and Amen!

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20. Ascended?

Part 3: Ascended & Ruling:   3A. Theory

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 20. Ascended?

Eph 2:6,7 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Third Phase: We are, you may remember, basing our studies on the idea that when Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be,” (Jn 8:28) there were three applications or phases of his life that correspond to that: first, lifted up on the Cross, his death, then second, lifted up in the resurrection, empowered by God, and now lifted up into heaven, his ascension.  We will take this third Part in two sections, first the theory surrounding the two verses above, and then the practice, how it works out. But first, let’s lay down a basic foundation of understanding from the Bible in respect of his ascension.

The Fact of the Ascension:  In Acts 1:9-11 we see Jesus ascending, leaving the earth and leaving his disciples to continue his work after they have been filled with his Holy Spirit. In ascending in the manner he did, we see him sending the message, I am no longer here on earth, don’t go looking for me. It is also a message, I am ascending to heaven to my place beside my Father. There are in the New Testament 13 mentions of this: Mk 16:19 / Acts 2:33 / Acts 5:31 / Acts 7:55 / Rom 8:34 / Eph 1:20 /   Phil 2:9 / Col 3:1 / Heb 1:3 / Heb 8:1 / Heb 10:12 / Heb 12:2 / 1 Pet 3:22

His place in Heaven:  Note the things these verses say about Jesus in heaven: He has a place of honour at the Father’s right hand, and is there as Prince and Saviour, and he pleads for us there, has been given a name above all others, and all angels and authorities bow before him. It is important to understand these things.

Jesus Ruling in Heaven:  Prophetically Psa 110:1,2 indicates there is a process whereby he is dealing with his enemies and he rules despite them, or in the midst of them. Eph 1:19-23 show Jesus is above every other rule or authority and every other great name, and everything has been put under his feet and he is head over everything for the sake of the church.  1 Cor 15:24-26 again shows the process of dealing with his enemies and he reigns in the midst of his enemies. 1 Thess 4:16,17 says we will eventually join him there, while our verses above, Eph 2:6,7 declare we are sharing NOW in his reign (by his Spirit) and we receive his grace and kindness.

Us in Heavenly Places? There is a most remarkable truth here apart from the wonder of Jesus ascending and ruling at his Father’s right hand – that we are linked to Jesus by His Spirit and thus in a measure at least, are joined to him to participate in the process of his rule from heaven.

Ruling in a Fallen World: Now many Christians, with limited understanding, question the practical reality of these truth when they focus their attention on the terrible things that go on in the world. There is still slavery in the world, they say, there are still ungodly nations who oppress their people, persecute and kill Christians, there is still injustice, and so on. How can you say Jesus is ruling? Ah, be careful, the Scriptures say Jesus is ruling in the midst of his enemies; he exercises his rule while the ungodly are still doing their thing.

Free Will Reigns: Having given us free will, God will not overrule it and so He has to allow the world to be ungodly if that is what they want. That doesn’t stop Him acting into the affairs of the world in a variety of ways, and we shall try and pick these up as we go along. This is why it is so important that we keep close to Jesus and listen to him and not jump to our own conclusions in the chaos and apparent confusion that is often there in the affairs of men. One of the ways He works into the world is through His people, but even here He limits Himself to what we will do, our responses to Him. Thus, He may yearn to bring good changes to the world, but we may be slow to hear Him and respond, and thus He waits for us.

Little Faith? It is not His lack of desire, it’s more our slowness, even as the New Testament people of God, to respond to both what we read in His word and the leading of His Holy Spirit. There are various times in the Gospels where we see Jesus chiding his disciples for their ‘little faith’ (e.g. Mt 6:30, 8:26, 14:31, 16:8, 17:20). Now we may think these things are of little consequence but in reality, they may be the very things that prevent us growing and becoming the people God wants us to be.

Growth? And there we have just touched on the heart of these studies – things to be considered if we are to grow as the Lord wants us to grow. There is always a danger in the Christian life that we either become very passive or we limit our thinking about spirituality or spiritual things to certain parts of the week (Sundays?). Limiting our thinking in this way will definitely stunt our growth. We may achieve great things in the world, but in the kingdom of God we remain infants and if the writer to the Hebrews was our mentor he would be saying, “By now I would have expected…..” (Heb 5:12).

Personal Assessment: So, we might ask, how have we done so far? Have we taken on board and understood and applied all the teaching about having ‘died’?  Have we understood and taken on board the principles we have seen in the second Part in respect of the Spirit-empowered resurrection life? If we have not coped with these, it is unlikely we will handle the teaching about ‘the ascended life’ where our faith will be really challenged

Jesus’ Expectations: The passive Christian is happy to sit in the pews on a Sunday but that is where it stops. The real Christian is the one who hears Jesus words and does something with them: “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man.” (Mt 7:24) and “go and make disciples of all nations…. teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19,20) and “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these.” (Jn 14:12) So there is the challenge for the days ahead. As we obey and move into these things, so we grow. Let’s rise to it!

51. The Mystery of the Ascension

Focus on Christ Meditations: 51.  The Mystery of the Ascension

Acts 1:9     After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

Jesus has risen and goes with the disciples north to Galilee again. He had told them all of this previously (Mt 26:32), the women were told by an angel (Mt 28:7), Jesus reiterated it to the woman (28:10), and they all went (Mt 28:16), and John gives details of the encounter (Jn 21:1-24), and now Luke records it in Acts: He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3) There he warns them he will leave them again but tells them of the power that will be theirs if they wait in Jerusalem. After forty days it appears they all return to Jerusalem and on the Mount of Olives this event occurs (Acts 1:12).

(Now I have written about this before and it so impacted me then that I am going to simply repeat much of what I wrote then.)

Our verse above is almost embarrassing in its simplicity. It is embarrassing in the way it baldly states something that none of us have ever seen or are likely to see in our lifetime – a man lifting up from the ground with no assistance and drifting up into a low passing cloud and disappearing.  Now we are given no warning in the text that this was about to happen. Luke, writing in Acts, doesn’t tell us that Jesus had warned them that this was going to happen. Earlier at the Last Supper he had referred to going to his Father, but they would now have assumed that that had been a reference to his death.

In the closing words of his Gospel, Luke had recorded, “While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.” (Lk 24:51). Mark had recorded, “After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.” (Mk 16:19) (but there is a question mark over whether it actually was Mark writing those words or was something another had added.)  Matthew and John are silent as to what happened. But Luke is the historian who, in his Gospel, had told us that he had gone to great trouble to check out the truth of what had happened – so he records it.

The only other time in the Bible that anything like this happens was the case of Elijah being taken up – but that had been in a chariot of fire by angels, as he was carried up in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11). His young followers thought he would come down and went to search for him but found nothing. But this account, telling us of Jesus’ departure from the earth, seems almost ordinary by comparison. There is no whirlwind, no great sounds, nothing out of the ordinary recorded. Jesus simply ascended!

How would you have responded if you were one of the disciples?  I suspect we would have stood there with open mouths and tears running down our faces as Jesus disappeared from sight. It was only the appearance of two angels that broke into their reverie and gave them something to rejoice about. They were just standing there, “They were looking intently up into the sky.” (v.10)  It was as if they couldn’t tear their eyes away from the spot where he had vanished from sight.

Now we have suggested that the historian, Luke, baldly recounts the facts of what happened but it is then fair to ask, but why did it happen in this way? Why didn’t Jesus just quietly vanish one day? It seems it is yet another of these mysteries surrounding the records of Jesus. However, there seem to be various clues.

Visible Ascension: Look at the language of the verses surrounding this event: “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “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.” (v.9-11) Five times there is reference to the fact that the disciples SAW Jesus leave. There is surely significance to this. It is as if Jesus wanted there to be a number of witnesses to his departure. He wanted them to be able to say, he has definitely gone – we saw him go!

Leaving the Earth: There is a second thought that follows on from this. It is the fact of him going up into the sky away from the earth. Now of course we would say that heaven is not “up there” but another dimension, but the fact of him “leaving the earth” says his time on the earth has come to an end and so don’t ever go looking for him. He’s not an eternal, ageless man who continually walks the earth. He has left and gone back to heaven. In other words, the period or time for his earthly ministry has finally come to an end. His activity on earth will continue, but now by his Spirit in his followers. His person now exists in heaven as many references in the New Testament testify to.

A Door to the Next Stage: For the moment the disciples may be feeling devastated, utterly bereft at the loss – the final loss – of the One who has brought such light and love and hope to their lives, but it will be only a temporary sense of being bereft because, before a fortnight is out, things will be happening that will sweep them on into the excitement of the rest of their lives, but we’ll leave that for the next study. However, for the moment see his ascension as the next essential step in God’s agenda. He has to go so they will be on their own, waiting for his words to be fulfilled and for power to come.

A Pattern for his Return: Sometime in the future (see Rev 19) Jesus will return in power. He will not come in ordinary human form and so we need to remember his warnings about false Christs (Mt 24:44). People who simply talk the words are not him! When he comes every eye will see him (Rev 1:7). Even as he ascended, so he will descend – but in great power!

Ascended to the Father’s Right Hand: Before we leave this study, we should note that not only was the Ascension about leaving the earth, it was also about arriving back in heaven, where we are told a number of times Jesus sat down at his Father’s right hand, and in subsequent studies we will see what he is doing there today. But first, let’s note that there are 13 mentions of this fact: Mk 16:19 / Acts 2:33 / Acts 5:31 / Acts 7:55 / Rom 8:34 / Eph 1:20 / Phil 2:9 / Col. 3:1 / Heb 1:3 / Heb 8:1 / Heb 10:12 / Heb 12:2 / 1 Pet 3:22  Note the things these verses say about Jesus in heaven. He:

– has a place of honour at the Father’s right hand

– he is there as Prince and Saviour

– he pleads for us there

– he’s been given a name above all others

– all angels and authorities bow before him

These are things into which we need to delve more deeply and we’ll consider more in the coming studies.

15. Three Liftings

Meditations on “The Big Picture” 15. Three Liftings

John 3:14,15    Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life

We have come to the point in biblical history where Jesus has left heaven, come to earth and is now ministering to the people of Israel, mostly up in Galilee, but sometimes down south in Jerusalem. They see him as a man, a miracle worker, yes; a great teacher, yes; a bringer of a new way, yes, but still a man. The next major step in this history of the world is about to happen. It will all take place within the space of less than two months but after it has happened, the world will never be the same again. The period and events we are about to observe are most certainly the most important and most significant events in world history, and yet they are ignored or forgotten by so many.

Three times in John’s Gospel, the apostle John, reflecting back on that wonderful time, remembers some of the words of Jesus that the earlier Gospel writers missed in their concern to get down the basics. For John there was more than the basics; there were truths spoken by Jesus that revealed him for who he truly was. I say three times he did this but in fact it was dozens of times in his Gospel but I want to just note three specific words. We have the first of them in our verse above from chapter 3 of John. But in very similar vein we also read, So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be,” (Jn 8:28) and then later, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” (Jn 12:32)

Now I am fairly certain that (certainly in John’s mind) each of these refers to Jesus being lifted up on the Cross, but in reality I want to put before you that in less than two months there were in fact three ‘lifting up’ times and each one – yes each one – was as significant as the others and causes the world to change.

The first one is, as we indicated above, Jesus being lifted up on the Cross. In John 3 that is paralleled with the snake that Moses lifted up in the desert (see Num 21:6-9). Anyone who ‘looked on’ the bronze snake after having been bitten by a snake, would live. What an analogy. We have been bitten by Sin and are consigned to death but if we will accept Jesus’ dying on the Cross as for us, we are saved. Hanging on the Cross Jesus took all our sins and ‘became sin’ (2 Cor 5:21) or the sin offering that essentially took on the sin of the person offering it. On the Cross all our sin and guilt and shame were dealt with by Jesus and justice was satisfied as the unique Son of God hung in our place and took that which was due to us, and being God could do it for every single person who would ask for it. That first ‘lifting up’ was critical for the world. It is the only way that justice can be satisfied in respect of every one of us.

But the second ‘lifting up’ was that of the resurrection: “God raised him from the dead,” (Acts 2:24) and “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.” (Acts 2:32) so that “through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 1:4) The resurrection, the second ‘lifting up’ proved who Jesus was. As the dead body was lifted up and the life returned, the indications are that this ‘new’ body was something more than the old one had been. The apostle Paul pressed the logic of this: “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Rom 8:11) Being ‘born again’ (Jn 3) means being indwelt by the Holy Spirit who brings ‘new life’ to us also. This is the significance of the second ‘lifting up’.

Now the third ‘lifting up’ was even more dramatic. No one saw Jesus being raised from the dead, except God but when it comes to the third ‘lifting’ it was quite different: “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going.” (Acts 1:9,10) Jesus’ ascension into heaven was physical and literal. It said to the disciples, ‘don’t go looking for him anymore; he is no longer on the earth.’  If they were not blown away by the resurrection – and they clearly were – then the ascension was even more mind blowing. Where did he go? Which cloud is the doorway to heaven????

Mark adds at the end of his Gospel, Jesus … was taken up into heaven and sat down in the place of honour at God’s right hand.” (Mk 16:19)  The writer to the Hebrews put it, After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” (Heb 1:3)  The apostle Paul also wrote, “That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.” (Eph 1:20-22)  The point of the third lifting was that it transferred Jesus from his earthly ministry to a new exalted ministry at the Father’s right hand  (see Rom 8:34, 1 Pet 3:22, 1 Cor 15:25)  As Rev 5 shows us, Jesus is the one who now oversees the end times. There he will remain until the time comes for him to return again (Rev 19), but NOW he is ruling in the midst of his enemies (Psa 110:1,2). He is Lord.

On the Cross he took our sins, in the resurrection he gave us confidence and a picture of the power we would receive, and in the ascension he shows us where he now reigns. As we said earlier, the world was never the same again!

15. The Identity of Jesus

Meditating on Great Themes in John:   15. The Identity of Jesus

John 8:13,14    The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.” Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going.

There are, I conclude, two major overriding themes that come through in John that we have seen so far. We have focused on one – the transforming power of Jesus – but have not really covered the other, which in some ways is more important – the identity of Jesus. We did comment briefly in an earlier study about the number of times the word ‘testify’ comes up in John. It is a word used about giving evidence about a person, to identify them and what they have done, a word used in connection with court cases where there is serious work being done to establish the truth.

Jesus has just said, in the temple precincts, I am the light of the world.” (Jn 8:12) This upsets the contentious Pharisees who basically say, you can’t be a witness in your own defence, your testimony is not valid. The Law required two witnesses (Deut 17:6) and of course Jesus knew this. Earlier he had said, “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid.” (Jn 5:31) That’s all right, he went on to say, “There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is valid,“ (Jn 5:32) and then he refers to John the Baptist: “You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth.” (5:33)

But he doesn’t rely on that (v.34,35)  and goes on, “I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me.” (Jn 5:36,37) i.e. his works testify to who he is and indeed back at his baptism the voice of the Father had also testified to who he was (Mt 3:17)

Now to back that up, as the conversation in chapter 8 proceeds, Jesus declares, “In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two men is valid. I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.” (8:17,18) Again he makes it very clear that God is his witness.

A little later in the conversation they demand, “Who are you?” (v.25) and Jesus replies, “Just what I have been claiming all along,” and adds “But he who sent me is reliable, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.” (v.26) and then John adds, “They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father.” (v.27) Jesus adds, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” (v.28,29)

This is one of those three occasions that Jesus refers to himself being lifted up (see Jn 3:14, 8:28 and 12:32,34) He is, I believe, also ‘lifted up’ three times – to death on the Cross, in the resurrection, and in the ascension.  All three have something vital to say about him – the Cross is where our sins were carried, his resurrection affirms who he is, and his ascension is the way to him being seated at the Father’s right hand where he now reigns. These three testify to who he is.

Peter, preaching under the anointing of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, declared, “listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2:22) In other words the miraculous signs (the miracles) that the Father enabled him to perform accredit who Jesus is. When he was preaching to the gentiles in the house of Cornelius he preached, “You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached– how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem.” (Acts 10:37-39) It was the same message – the works of God testify to who Jesus is.

The word ‘testify’ is found 12 times in John’s Gospel and 3 times in his first letter. John is a witness and wants to shout it from the rooftops. In his final teaching to the apostles before going to the Cross, Jesus taught them, “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” (Jn 15:26,27) Today there are three witnesses to Jesus, the Son of God – the Holy Spirit, the Bible and Christians. All we have to do is point people back to the Gospels and say, “This is the one who calls you to follow him and allow him to be Lord of your life.” The records are quite clear and show very clearly just who Jesus is.