Ascending to Heaven – Acts 1
Hard to believe this is the last Sunday of April! I feel like on the one hand this month has flown by-and on the other hand that’s it’s gone on forever-just like March did! This past Monday would have been the Boston Marathon-which is traditionally held on the 3rd Monday of April (of course it’s postponed until September). But a nurse in Boston who had been training for it-ran a marathon anyway that day. But to inspire people-she mapped out her run so that when she was done her route would say Boston Strong. Unfortunately not until the end did she realize one little problem-here was her route-and she spelled Boston Strog! Nothing like going 26 miles and forgetting the N! So if you’re planning to spell something on your running route make sure you’ve got it right! But what have you done to pass the time during quarantine? Are you someone who feels like these quarantine, stay at home days are going slow, you’re sitting around the house trying to figure out how to spend the time-and you’ve found yourself wondering what day of the week it is? Time for honest confession-at some point-who’s forgotten if it’s Monday or Thursday? Like what used to be a lazy Saturday or Sunday afternoon is now a lazy Wednesday afternoon? So the days may be creeping by-or do you feel like they’re flying by? I hear lots of people say to cherish this time-because it will be gone before we know it and life will be back to normal. And that’s probably very true-we should cherish the good things right now-time with our families, time to slow down, time to renew our walk with the Lord and dig into His Word without all the normal distractions. But whether it will soon be over is hard to know! I read a funny article from the perspective of pets in which dogs never want this to end-they love that you’re home with them all day-but cats are going crazy-get back to work, back to school so I can have the house back to myself! At one point I was hoping that this would be the last Sunday for online church and by the beginning of May we would be back meeting together-but obviously that’s not happening yet. So I’ve now bumped my hopes to the beginning of June. Maybe by then we’ll regather as a church! But for now we’re all tuning in to online church-we’re stretched out on our couches, wearing our pajamas and eating breakfast. We’re going to need to recreate online church when we are all gathered back together-some Sunday everybody come the way you dressed at home, bring your blankets and pillows and bowls of cereal-wouldn’t that be great!
But for now as we’re wrapping up the month of April, over the past 2 Sundays we’ve talked about the most impactful event that’s ever happened on planet earth-and it isn’t Coronavirus or the global economy coming to a screeching halt-instead it’s the incredible reality of the resurrection. That there was someone who lived, breathed, walked this earth-died and was buried in a tomb-but was raised to new life 3 days later! Now if you would have been around then, or if you had read this in a news article or saw it online how would you have responded? Safe to say I think we’d all be a bit skeptical and questioning it-Okay, so if he supposedly came back to life was he really dead in the first place? Is this some sort of fake news or contrived story? And we looked at a guy who thought that way last week-Thomas. Even after the disciples saw the risen Jesus he was still questioning it. Thomas wanted proof, he wanted to see it with his own eyes. And on the following Sunday Jesus showed up inside the locked house in His resurrected body-and Thomas got to see the scars in His hands and side. He instantly realized that it wasn’t some contrived story but the most crucial event that’s ever happened-and so Thomas responds by saying to Jesus-My Lord and my God! Jesus proved that He had conquered death-that by dying for our sins on the cross and being raised to new life it let us know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the payment for our sins had been accepted. We said last week that if you’ve ever wondered if God could forgive the things you’ve done, even the things you’re most ashamed of, the scars in the hands and side of Jesus are all the proof you need. That because Jesus was resurrected, it tells you loud and clearly that God’s accepted Jesus’ payment on your behalf when you trust in Him. There’s nothing left you have to pay-as the old hymn says-Jesus paid it all-and now He’s alive. I love what Jesus says to John in Rev 1:17-18. And so not only did John and Thomas see Him-but the rest of the disciples saw the risen Jesus. In fact, it says that Jesus appeared to a group of more than 500 followers at once. So lots of people got to see the risen Jesus and attest to the resurrection before He departed 40 days later. So take a look at it-open up your Bible to Acts 1:1-3. Jesus used that time to show that He was risen and give some final instructions and teaching-and when 40 days has passed as Acts says He was taken up. So this morning we want to examine the importance of that. Obviously it’s called the Ascension and it occurred 40 days after the Resurrection. So this year that puts it on Thursday, May 21. But as we’re wrapping up this 3-week series on the Resurrection and the events that followed, we’ll take a look at it today.
And taking a look is exactly what the disciples were doing-listen to the description in v. 6-9. Try to visualize that. Jesus was there, with His disciples speaking to them, and before they knew it, He was in the clouds, rising upwards, ascending into Heaven. This is gravity working backwards! People can skydive out of airplanes and descend to the earth, but no one can ascend-at least not in their own power. It just doesn’t work that way. But Jesus wasn’t teleported away-one moment He was there, the next moment gone like some sort of magician’s trick. The text says He was lifted up, He physically ascended into the air as a cold took Him out of sight. Remember that Jesus is a real person-He’s been resurrected to a new body that’s tangible. It wasn’t like Jesus was some sort of floating spirit that drifted up to heaven like a mist that wisps through the air. This was a person with nothing above or below Him-God didn’t bring out the giant claw machine to pick Jesus up-instead He ascended into Heaven. I imagine there was a lot of standing around, looking up-someone saying-What just happened? Take a look at 16th Century Italian painting-Garofalo. I like Jesus’ finger pointing up-I’m heading up fellas! Or I love the picture from the Jesus Storybook Bible. All eyes are upward-and that’s exactly what the text describes-v. 10-11. This was a miraculous thing-people don’t just naturally rise up into the sky, leaving our world and our universe behind for heaven-but this is what happened to the Jesus.
Maybe you remember memorizing the Apostle’s Creed-I believe in God the Father, Almighty Maker of heaven and earth; And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontious Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried; On the third day He rose from the dead and ascended tiny heaven where He sits at God’s right hand. Now the earliest recorded use of this creed was in the 4th century, Then in the 16th century in Germany, maybe you’ve heard of the Heidelberg Catechism-and that was written to provide a series of questions and answers about the Christian faith-with a majority of those questions directed towards the Apostles’ Creed-so listen to these questions directed towards the ascension-Q46. And that’s what we want to understand-why is it for our good that Jesus ascended into heaven? I’m sure we’ve all thought at different times why Jesus didn’t just stay here with us on earth. Listen to Q49. Those are two really important theological truths.
So Pt1:Jesus is our Flawless Advocate-we’re fully forgiven in Him. If you’re Bible is open to Acts-flip all the way to the back of your Bible-or nearly there-to 1 John. Now in this section of Scripture John speaks very honestly and openly-which is great. Maybe you’ve always thought the Bible was written for perfect, upstanding religious people who do everything right-and when you look at your life and all the mistakes you’ve made, it’s easy to think-Ouch, I don’t measure up! I know I’ve felt that way before-I’m sure you have too. It’s not hard to see all of our sin and shortcomings-but here’s the good news-God’s Word doesn’t shy away from it or try to pretend that it isn’t there or that we’re all perfect. Listen to what John says-1 John 1:8. This is saying that we all struggle with it-we’ve all been disobedient to God, untruthful, selfish, boastful, bitter, unforgiving and unloving. It’s a lifelong, ongoing battle-any one who says they don’t struggle is deceiving themselves just as John said. But listen to how he continues-1 John 1:9-10. So the bottom line is that we are sinners-and there’s no getting around it or pretending we’re not. But listen to this solution-1 John 2:1. Did you notice where Jesus is at? That little phrase with the Father is so important. Because of the ascension, Jesus is in heaven, in the presence of God the Father seated at His right hand. He’s speaking to the Father and pleading our case before Him. He’s acting as our defense attorney. And that’s good news because it’s talking about right now. This isn’t a past activity, it’s what Jesus is presently doing. It’s not like this verse is saying that before your were a Christian Jesus spoke on the Father’s behalf as your advocate to forgive you and save you-but now you’re past all that and don’t sin any more. John is certainly encouraging us not to sin-as the verse says-but unfortunately when we still do-and some days it may feel like a lot when you’re stuck in a rut of sinfulness and selfishness. Even then-we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ.
And I want you to see a very important distinction. Look at this description of the Devil in Rev 12:10. That’s what the Devil does-that’s his game plan. To over and over accuse us before God. Lord, you may have saved Jim-but have you seen the way he’s been acting lately? Have you seen what he’s done? You might need to reconsider his salvation, are you sure he’s one of yours? I think you made a mistake with him. The Devil tries to accuse believers by pointing out all their sin to God. But what’s Jesus doing? He countering those accusations, He’s destroying them, not by telling God that our sins are no big deal. He’s countering those accusations by reminding the Father of the truth-and John states it clearly. Back to 1 John 2:1-2. There is no accusation, there is no condemnation, there is no more punishment that’s due for your sins-not because they aren’t a big deal and God brushes them aside-they are a big deal. But there’s no more accusations because of this incredible fact that Jesus is our propitiation. There’s that big Bible word-but it means sacrifice, it means that He faced God’s wrath for our sins, He exhausted God’s wrath for our sins. He paid the price for all those sins you’ve done. Because of Him, ever sin you’ve ever committed-or will commit-was fully punished on the Cross and God’s righteous anger and justice has been appeased. Pt1:Jesus is our Flawless Advocate-we’re fully forgiven in Him. He’s our defense attorney, who’s admitted that his clients-you and me-are guilty. That when God our Judge handed out the sentence, Jesus didn’t fight it or argue it try to find some loophole in the law to get us out of it. Instead, Jesus is the defense attorney who says-Yes, your honor, my clients are guilty-but let me be handcuffed and put to death instead of them. I will pay their punishment so they can go free. What kind of defense attorney does that?
So Jesus is there-in heaven-stating this glorious fact to the Father that for you and me and anyone who believes in Him there is no absolutely no accusations that can be substantiated by the Devil. That no matter how convincing he is about our sin-there is no more punishment left for God to hand out because Jesus has paid it all for us by His blood. The Cross was a treacherous thing and Jesus doesn’t want anyone forgetting what it accomplished. Having a Flawless Advocate in heaven means that because He faced the Cross you don’t have to worry about the Devil’s accusation-even if they’re well-warranted-because they’re defeated! You don’t have to be bogged down by guilt over past sins you keep carrying around-or mistakes that others keep reminding you of or constantly hold over your head-that guilt is gone and forever removed. You don’t have to worry that your sin is too big or fear that God’s going to re-punish your sins or condemn you on Judgement Day-they’re already forgiven by His Son. Your advocate, the ascended Jesus, says-Because of Me you can have complete confidence before God. Look at Rom 8:33-34. Isn’t that such good news! No one can bring a charge against us, no one can condemn us because Jesus died for us. Whether it’s the Devil or anybody else-no one can convince God that you’ve messed up too much and have lost your salvation-because Jesus is at God’s right hand interceding for you. And why can Jesus do that? Because of who He is. Jesus is fully and completely God-and He’s fully and completely Man. He’s our advocate and our perfect representative-because He’s one of us. He became a human just like us when He was born on this earth. Look back at Q49.
The ascension tells us that there is a physical, flesh and blood human, the resurrected Jesus, who is in heaven right now. Have you thought about that before? There’s a real person in heaven. As we said, Jesus wasn’t just some floating spirit that lifted up and away into the clouds-like blowing a dandelion into the wind where it doesn’t really have any substance and just dissipates. Jesus-the resurrected man-physically ascended into heaven. And that means first and foremost that the Ascension is not undoing of the Incarnation. It’s easy to think that way-but it’s not. And let me explain why. These 2 events are the bookends. The Incarnation is that great miracle whereby Jesus, the 2nd Person of the Trinity, the Eternal Son of God, took on human flesh and was born int he likeness of men. The Incarnation is when Jesus who was deity added humanity to His person, but after the Resurrection, ascending into heaven wasn’t Him returning to deity only and losing the humanity. At the Ascension, His human flesh didn’t evaporate or disappear, as if He was done with all that human stuff, time to stop being a man and get back to being God. No-Jesus went into heaven with the same resurrected body that showed the nail holes in his hands. He wasn’t just a ghost or spirit-which is exactly what the disciples first thought. Look at Luke 24:36-43. That’s so great! Aren’t you hungry after being sick for a few days? Jesus had been dead for 3 days-I’m sure He was famished! But spirits or ghosts don’t eat food-only flesh and blood humans-so Jesus is declaring that He’s a fully resurrected man, even in His glorified state. The resurrection, the ascension, was something that happened to a human. It relates to our humanity. So Pt2:Jesus is our Actual Guarantee-we have a glorious future through Him.
Currently when people die their body is either buried or cremated, they go to the grave, and their spirit departs. For the believer they go to be in the presence of the Lord, and for the unbeliever they go away from the presence of the Lord. So right now the afterlife is a disembodied, less than human state. It’s purely spiritual, except for Jesus. Because of the ascension, He’s the first resurrected human in heaven-but He certainly won’t be the last. Because He’s there now, in flesh and blood, you will be too one day. Look at 1 John 3:2; Phil 3:20-21. Our hope is not an eternity as a spirit floating around from cloud to cloud strumming a harp. I’ve said this before but it’s all too easy to picture this life as real and tangible, and eternity-heaven-as something less real, more shadowy and dream-like. But that’s a huge misunderstanding. Your future isn’t to be turned into an angel and wearing a robe for the never-ending church service that goes on and on. It’s not like how the Far Side comic portrays it! As a believer in Christ, your future is bound up with Christ-and that means-like Him, one day having a real, resurrected, tangible, glorified human body. Listen to how CS Lewis describes it-Miracles, 241-because he’s saying this idea of a physical body ascending into heaven really stretches our thinking. Any skeptic would quickly doubt that idea or question it. If the early church was trying to get people to believe in Jesus-why not leave something as challenging as the ascension out of it. But-Miracles, 242. That’s what is so important about the ascended Jesus-that’s why it’s crucially important and not something to brush aside-as an objective entity He’s gone somewhere. He’s gone ahead of us into heaven and Jesus explained to the disciples what He was going to be doing there even before He ascended. Look at John 14:1-3. Jesus, the earthly carpenter, has gone ahead to do some heavenly carpentry work, carpentry work to the nth degree-the greatest building project anyone could have-because He is building, designing, creating and preparing a permanent place for you and me, an eternal home that’s perfect where you will dwell in His presence forever.
I don’t know how much Netflix you’ve been watching during this time at home-but there’s lots of good documentaries-and one that our family enjoys watching is called-World’s Most Amazing Homes. And these two British architects travel the globe to these incredible houses in some stunning locations from Portugal to France to Miami-and it’s always this perfect mix of inside outside space where nature and light and open concept rooms all come together to create these perfect spaces you just want to hang out in. Who gets to live this way? That’s what Jesus is preparing on an infinite and eternal scale! We’ve all dreamed of that perfect home-that’s what awaits us in Him-the ascended Jesus is a guarantee of that future! So look at what He goes on to say-John 14:4-6. It’s all about putting your faith in Jesus-the One who is your Flawless Advocate having paid the punishment for your sins-and the One who is your Actual Guarantee of a glorious future. Have you put your trust in Him? None of what Jesus has done and is doing applies to you if you haven’t personally surrendered your heart to Him. That’s where it begins. It starts off by faith, saying Jesus I need you to forgive me and save me and make me yours-and then it’s faith all the way through, every day of this life, until He returns when we’ll be with Him forever-back to John 14:3. He’s the One we’re looking towards. Is your gaze fixed on Him? Are the eyes of your heart looking towards Him? Back to our picture from the Jesus Storybook Bible. We need to be a people looking up! It makes me think of a movie theater. Who doesn’t longing think of that-going to the movies! But back before stadium seating and the reclining chairs that basically turn into a couch, it was just regular old chairs-and you couldn’t pick out your seats ahead of time either-so there were many movies I saw stuck in the first or second row with my head almost straight up! Now that might not be the greatest for a movie-but it is how we should be with Jesus. We need to be a people of sore necks from gazing upward to our Savior who’s ascended into heaven and is one day coming back for us! What did the angel say to the disciples in Acts-This Jesus who was taken up from you into heaven, will come back in the same way as you saw him go into heaven. That is still our hope today! Let’s be a people looking upward to Him!