33. A New Uncertainty – Ascension

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 33. A New Uncertainty – Ascension

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

Whaaat?  I don’t know if it’s just my imagination but the ascension of Christ rarely seems to be preached today, but that is a shame because it says something vitally important. Is it because the thought of a human body going up into the sky to disappear in a low cloud seems to stretch modern credulity to breaking point? It shouldn’t any more than Christ’s resurrection or any miracle for that matter.

Historically Accepted: It is strange if we seem to be unhappy with proclaiming it because historically Creeds, Catechisms and Confessions all made a point of including it: The Apostles Creed – “who ascended into heaven”, the Nicene Creed – “he ascended into heaven”, the Athanasian Creed – “rose again from the dead, ascended into heaven”, the Heidelberg Catechism Q49 “Of what advantage to us is Christ’s ascension into heaven?”, the Westminster Shorter Catechism Q28: “Wherein consists Christ’s exaltation? A28: Christ’s exaltation consists in his rising again from the dead on the third day, in ascending up into heaven,” and even the wordy Westminster Confession of Faith, “which also he ascended into heaven “. There it is declared again and again.

But Scripture? Our key verse here must be out starter verse in Acts 1 but note how each Gospel writer concludes their Gospel.  Matthew, we noted previously, in his kingdom-focused Gospel concluded with the Great Commission and went no further. For him, that was the important point with which to finish. In Mark, the add-on we’ve seen before, included, “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) Luke concludes his Gospel with, “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. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God,” (Lk 24:50-53) and then picks it up in his continuation in Acts. John makes no mention of it, obviously feeling the others had covered it adequately and he didn’t need to confirm the points he was making about Jesus ministry time, that this aspect added to it.

In Acts, in his sermon on the day of Pentecost, the nearest Peter gets to it is, “Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” (Acts 2:33) In this and subsequent preaching his big emphasis is on the resurrection that vindicates the work of Christ. The apostle Paul speaks of how God, “raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 1:20) but numerous times speaks of how Christ is seated at the Father’s right hand in heaven (e.g. Rom 8:34, Phil 2:9, Col 3:1)implying he has ascended there. But it is the writer to the Hebrews who spells it out most clearly: Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” (Heb 4:14) He also refers to Christ beside the Father – Heb 1:3, 8:1, 10:12, 12:2 – and Peter makes a similar declaration in his letter – 1 Pet 3:22. We’ll expand on this in a moment.

The 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.” (Acts 1:9-11)  From these verses observe the following: i) Jesus ascended bodily, ii) the angels declared that this would be the same way he will return – seen in the sky. But why did it happen like this? Forgive me if I take three paragraphs from a previous series, “Focus on Christ”:

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.

Ascended to the Father’s Right Hand:  We should also 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. 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

To Conclude: I would also add as a summary that he is there to oversee and administer the kingdom. One of my favourite set of verses that I believe clarifies the day in which we live is, “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Cor 15:24-26) See it clearly: he IS reigning in heaven over the earth and will continue to reign until he has finished his present work that is to rid the earth of everything that was not there when the Father and he first created it, i.e. all forms of sin and its effects. I always link this with the prophetic Psa 110:1,2 – “The Lord says to my lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” The Lord will extend your mighty sceptre from Zion, saying,  “Rule in the midst of your enemies!”

When Jesus ascended it wasn’t just to terminate his earthly ministry, it was to return to heaven to sit beside his Father, and in a few earth weeks pour out his Holy Spirit, and then through Him administer the coming of the kingdom through his body, the Church, for as long as the Father decreed until the end. Without the ascension we have the great uncertainty – how did the story finish on earth, where did he go, what did he do? No, we have none of that uncertainty because we know he returned to heaven to continue his work from there, but in and through us. How amazing! Worship him and rejoice in your part in all this.

27. Entrusted One

Meditations on Jesus in John’s Gospel : 27 : Jesus, the Entrusted One

Jn 3:35 The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands.

In the age in which we live, in Britain in the early part of the twenty first century, there is one particular tragedy that stands out and which has devastating effects. It is that of fathers abandoning their wives and their children. Far back in history, before people commuted to work (!), men worked from home or from a location close to home and the family unit, being a lot closer, had a part in that work.  Son would thus join the father in his work and eventually the father would hand over the business to the son who would pass it on to his son. Today all of that has gone and the concept of closeness of father and son seems almost alien, which is why the significance of our verse today may be lost on us.

Already in these meditations we have considered something of the closeness of the Father and the Son as revealed by John in his Gospel. There is something quite glorious in this verse, about intimacy and trust. Jesus declares something very simple but very profound: The Father loves the Son.” Sadly today many sons could not say that about their fathers, but Jesus knew it as a truth. Here in human form, separated from his Father in heaven, he still knew the Father loved him. It is part of human experience to know we are loved and where that is missing that is tragic. It is part of the confidence that the Son has.  Already the Father has intervened on earth to declare His approval of His Son (Mt 3:17) as Jesus was being baptised.  Approval indicates confidence and Jesus has that assurance, that confidence, from his Father. He knows he is loved and that love inspires confidence in what he does.

But then comes this incredible statement: The Father … has placed everything in his hands”. What is this ‘everything’?  It is the whole of the work or ministry that Jesus has come to do.  The outcome of your salvation and my salvation was entirely in Jesus’ hands.  He came first to reveal the Father through the works that he performed.  As we’ve already seen, the miracles were to act as signs pointing toward God, for whoever had eyes to see. The works in themselves, and the preaching and teaching that he brought, turned many to God and revealed God’s love to many in those three brief years. But then came the Cross, that work into eternity that took your sin and my sin so that we might be pardoned and forgiven and cleansed when we turned to God, so that justice could be seen to be done and all sin punished. This staggering work on the Cross was the means of all history being changed. All of that was committed into Jesus’ hands. The Father entrusted him with that work, something they had agreed upon before the foundation of the world.

This is the staggering truth, that the Godhead had placed the eternal future of many in the human race upon this one human body that carried the eternal Son. It seems such a fragile plan, dependant upon one human body, who had all of this eternal plan placed in his hands. The success or failure for a family for God in eternity depended on Jesus and the Father trusted him with it. How did the Son achieve it? We’ve seen it before: he watched the Father moving and followed His lead (Jn 5:19) and the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son (Jn 5:22). Yes, the assessment of each human being is dependent on Jesus. It is first how each one of us responds to the Good News of Jesus Christ that we are saved or condemned, and the Son, now seated at the Father’s right hand in heaven confirms the assessment and saves or judges on the basis of our response to him. Awesome!

48. Resurrected

Meditations in 1 Peter : 48: Resurrected & Reigning

1 Pet 3:21,22 It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand–with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him

I have to acknowledge here the danger of examining verses all alone for meditation purposes, because whatever else we do in meditation, we need to see the meaning of the verse as the writer originally intended it, and it is probable that the verse will be part of a larger or longer flow of thinking. Thus when we come to these verses above, the ‘It’ that they start with refers to baptism that Peter has just been thinking about.

So how does baptism save you “by the resurrection of Jesus Christ”? We dealt with the ‘save’ bit in the previous meditation, suggesting it referred to the ongoing process of salvation in the remainder of our lives on this earth, and specifically how it helped our consciences, or our sense of being at peace before God because of what Jesus has done.

Ah! Now we can see how this fits. If Peter is saying that our conscience, or our thinking and feeling in respect of our position before God, is determined by our knowledge of what Jesus has done for us on the Cross, it should not only include his death but also his resurrection and his ascension, and that is what Peter goes on to refer to.  Why is the resurrection so important? Well, suppose Jesus had simply died and that was it, all his disciples and subsequent followers might be left wondering about the whole thing. Was he really who he said he was? Admittedly he had performed wonderful miracles but was that all he was, a great miracle worker? How about his various claims to be dying to take our sins? How can we know the truth of those claims?  We know they are true, because of the resurrection.

The apostle Paul declared about Jesus that he, was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 1:4), i.e. by the power that raised him from the dead he was shown to be the Son of God he had said he was. Earlier in this letter Peter had said that he had given us “a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Pet 1:3). Yes, we now have a hope for the future (a strong assurance) because Jesus rose from the dead and proved who he was and proved that there more after death. So the fact of the resurrection adds to our knowledge and that in turn strengthens our conscience or our conviction about the Gospel and about our standing before God.

But there is more because that wasn’t the end of the story because the apostles were not only witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection, but also to his ascension: “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.” (Acts 1:9). “While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.” (Lk 24:51) “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) Now these are the three historical accounts of Jesus ascension but the New Testament has many other further references: “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.” (Eph 1:19,20   see also Acts 5:31, Rom 8:34, Col. 3:1, Heb 1:3, 8:1, 10:12, 12:2 etc.)

What all these verses tell us is that Jesus is seated at the Father’s right hand and there he is reigning. Indeed the apostle Paul tells us that he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor 15:25) Now Peter has told us in today’s verse that Jesus today is next to the Father with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.” Thus today he is already over all spiritual authorities and therefore they only have the freedom to act that he gives it to them. These powers therefore do not constitute Jesus ‘enemies’ because they are already subject to him. A careful study of Scripture indicates that God uses Satan and the demonic powers. He has absolute control over them and they operate only by concession according to how it fits in with His purposes. The only parts of creation that are not under His total call are human beings for he has given us free will and He allows us that freedom so that we may make a free choice to follow Him or not. There will come a time when at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father,” (Phil 2:10,11) but until that time that is not so.

Today our confidence and our assurance is not only in the facts of Jesus death for our sins, but is also in the fact of his resurrection confirming and validating his prior claims to be the son of God and the one who died for our sins, AND also the fact that Jesus is ruling at the Father’s right hand with all spiritual authorities under his control. There is so much more one could say about this, but we’ll leave it for now with that. That should be sufficient to encourage and reassure us and provide much fuel for us to worship Him.

24. My right hand

God in the Psalms No.24

Psa 16:8 I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

There are probably many times when we read Scripture but just don’t take in what it means. What does he is at my right hand mean?  Perhaps we’d better look, first of all, at general references to the right hand:

Gen 48:14  But Israel reached out his right hand and put it on Ephraim’s head, though he was the younger.” Israel put his right hand to make a special blessing. The right hand was seen as the hand of authority. Joseph saw what his father was doing and recognized its significance.

Ex 15:6 Your right hand, O LORD, was majestic in power. Your right hand, O LORD, shattered the enemy.” Israel saw God’s destruction of Pharaoh as an act of His right hand. It is seen as the hand of power. See similarly Psa 17:7, 20:6, 21:8 etc.

Ex 29:20  Slaughter it, take some of its blood and put it on the lobes of the right ears of Aaron and his sons, on the thumbs of their right hands”. The right side was the side designated hold, to be cleansed. The right hand was to be holy.

Psa 110:1  The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right handJesus is seated at God’s right hand in heaven. It is the place of intimacy with the Father and a place of rule. This intimacy is seen also in Psa 73:23, Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.” Have you seen pictures of little children holding the hand of their parent? There is a safety and security and intimacy there.

It is this last reference that perhaps impinges most on our verse from Psalm 16. It is first a sense of safety, closeness or intimacy. He first says, I have set the LORD always before me, which is an act of will on David’s part, a determination of attitude. It’s like that which Paul says,Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things (Col 3:2). For David, his heart is open to the Lord at all times (v.7), he seeks to have a God-awareness or, if you like, a God-consciousness, at all times.

When he knows the Lord’s presence is with him, he knows that God’s authority, power and rule are there, working on his behalf. Because of this he will not be shaken, and he will rest secure (v.9). Because of this he knows that the Lord will not let death come prematurely (v.10). When he knows the presence of the Lord, he knows there will also be joy (v.11), because the Lord isn’t just there, He’s there to bless. That’s what David means when he speaks of the Lord who has eternal pleasures at your right hand (v.11). God’s right hand is also a hand of provision.

Do you see the two sided aspect of this?  We have been considering all these pictures conveying all these things at God’s right hand, but David is referring in our verse above to his own right hand. He has an awareness that in all these aspects, God is there close to Him. When it comes to his own authority and power, his own safety and security, his own provision, they all exist because of the intimacy that He knows – the closeness of the Lord to Him. He purposes to ensure this: I have set the LORD always before me. He puts the awareness of the Lord in the foreground of his life, to ensure that he is always conscious of the Lord’s presence.  Yet, to give the whole picture, his psalms indicate the reality of life – sometimes we lose that sense of God’s presence and have to step aside, be quiet, wait on Him, until we regain it. He is what he is, because God’s there, close!