Alfred Place Baptist Church

24:50-53 The Ascension (2)

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 worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
Luke 24:50-53

“Our God reigns;” that’s what we claim. It was the chorus of a Christian song thirty years ago. We Christians brag about the power of the Lord Jehovah. Before the Lord Jesus became incarnate our God was reigning. A perfect example of this is seen in the ten plagues that plagued Egypt. Our God reigned over the river Nile. Our God reigned even over frogs and gnats and flies and locusts. Our God reigned over Egypt’s cattle. Our God reigned over the health of the Egyptians. Our God reigned over the weather, over hail and drought. Our God reigned over darkness and light. Our God reigned over the firstborn. They all lived and moved and had their being in him. Their breath was in his hands. Our God reigns over all creation, disease, the Baals and even death, and this was so throughout the Old Testament period, when he delivered his people, and took them to the Promised Land, later sending them into exile and then bringing them home all at his will. He raised up Cyrus whose heart was in his hands, and so Cyrus the emperor of Babylon did what God determined him to do. A predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar, said, “His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No-one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’” Dan. 4:34&35). God’s rule was over all his people’s enemies in every nation around them, the mighty Assyrians and Babylonians, the Medes and the Persians. Those enemies feared and fell at his behest. That was the God who ruled throughout the Old Testament.

There is no diminution of his power in the New Testament. Our Lord continues with the same power today, but since the ascension of Jesus all this omnipotence has been given to Christ and it’s administered through our Saviour. The Lord is king. All authority in heaven and earth is his. It is the man Christ Jesus who is reigning from the throne of the universe. All this is anticipated – the Ascension and the reign of Christ – at the very beginning of Luke’s gospel with the angel Gabriel making an extraordinary prophecy about Jesus to Mary, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; his kingdom will never end” (Lk.1:32&33). In other words, Mary’s boy child was one day to be in charge of the cosmos. The one who had left mission control in heaven to be born in Bethlehem (not to be served but to serve), he would one day be recalled to the headquarters of the universe henceforth to be its managing director.

Mankind had once rejected the rule of the Lord though it was a reign of peace and fruitfulness. The serpent persuaded Eve and then Adam that a life of servitude to God was bad news. Our first parents chose self-rule instead and so became slaves to their fancies and desires, but the God of pity promised them that one day a son of Eve would crush the head of Satan and this son of Adam and Eve would be the one in charge of things. He would be one who’d be of the line of David, great David’s greater son, greater because in the words of Peter, “David did not ascend to heaven, and yet David said, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand”’” (Acts 2:34). David was not to be the ultimate king. He did rule over the largest expanse of territory that Israel ever had, but King David didn’t ascend to heaven. He reigned only from his palace in Jerusalem, but our Lord Jesus is the king of Jerusalem, and Israel, and the ruler of all the nations of the whole world (where most are in rebellion against him). He is the Lord of heaven too (where all adore and worship him), and the ruler and keeper of hell (where all without exception hate him). He reigns over all from his throne in heaven. There is not one rogue molecule in the whole universe which is not under the control of King Jesus. The writer to the Hebrews reminds his readers of the breath-taking sight we now have of Christ, “We see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour” (Hebs. 2:9).

  1. THE GOD-MAN WHO ASCENDED HAS BEEN MADE THE KING.

The sovereignty is Christ’s. Who is this one with all authority in heaven and earth? Please understand carefully that it is not the Word who was in the beginning with God and was God himself. And it is not the human nature of Christ. And it is not the spirit of Christ who is now high over all. It is particularly and specifically the God-man, Jesus the Son of God, who has left the earth and has ascended to the throne and the sovereignty of that throne. It is the incarnate God who reigns, the one who just minutes earlier, before he sat on the throne, was visible to the eyes of his disciples, who had just finished speaking to them and lifted up his hands in blessing and a farewell wave of good-bye, that same one whom they saw ascending, their friend and teacher, Jesus of Nazareth – he is the one who rose before them. This is the one who now has all authority in heaven and earth.

So why did he ascend and was made the King? It wasn’t that he ascended because he had two natures, human and divine, in one person. He’d been that God-man for 33 years, and he still remained here on earth bound to it by the law of gravity just like all of us are throughout our lives. It was after the cross and after his resurrection and another forty days that then Jehovah Jesus ascended before their very eyes, not before, even though always he was God and man, two natures in one person for ever. It was exactly then that God took up the man Christ Jesus, as he’d taken up Elijah. Why was it at that point that he ascended and was given this highest rank and power that God could bestow upon him?

i] He ascended because it had to be demonstrated to all the inhabitants of heaven and earth and hell that he and his Father are absolutely one. He was not a second class or a second rate god. He was not like God. He was not like God at all. He was as much God as God himself. Let all of heaven and all the earth and all the inhabitants of hell know this. In other words, he had the rank and gifts and honours for such an elevation as this was, and he alone. There never will be another to share that throne with him. He was in the beginning, and he was with God, and he was God. He had all the qualifications for this elevation. He would not have been elevated to such exultation, to share a throne with God, to exercise kingly power and rule over all of heaven and all the earth and this vast universe  if he were not God. Do the Jehovah’s Witnesses put a mere man in that place? Yes they do. And don’t they challenge their great heresy? Don’t they tremble that a less than God is in control of heaven and earth? When a man was in control in Eden how disastrous it was. How great the fall! It is because of Christ’s equality with the Father in all his excellences that he has been given every entitlement to this place of supreme majesty and magnificence. It is because he is the brightness of the Father’s glory, the express image of his person, and he is upholding all things by the word of his power that he has this name and this authority above all others. None ever shall have this glory and power. He alone. He is God the Son and now he ascends to share in his Father’s throne. But there is another reason why he ascended . . .

ii] He went up and up to the throne of the universe because he’d once gone down and down even to the death of the cross. This is made so clear in the New Testament, that he was exalted by his Father because of God’s delight in all he was and all he had done. “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased,” and never so pleased with him as when the Lord Jesus let his enemies crucify him to death! Ascension to the throne is God’s reward; this honour is the presentation of the Father to the Son in appreciation of all of Christ’s person and work. “After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (Hebs. 1:4). The investiture followed the propitiation. After his agony and bloody sweat, after he had tasted death for us, not before, it was then that he ascended. This is insisted on; “we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death” (Hebs.2:9). And again, “he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name” (Phils. 2:8&9). And so on – there are other similar references in Scripture. The reasons for his ascent to the heights of dominion in glory are because of who he is and what he has achieved.

  1. THIS GOD-MAN RULES OUR WORLD AND ALSO OUR LIVES.

Let us examine who this is reigning there . . .

i] It is a man. His exaltation to heaven has not altered Jesus’ human nature. He has all the attributes of a man made in the image of God. He is the son of Adam ascended, the son of Abraham, the son of David, the son of Mary. That human nature has not changed and become divine nature. It has not been transmogrified. The human has not become mixed with the divine. In the throne is not some composite of God and man. He remains the man who was conceived by Mary and begotten by the Holy Spirit. He is still a certain weight and height. His eyes have a certain colour. His body still has the same biochemical composition as our own, exactly the same anatomy and physiology, the same central nervous system. It is a human body with a genetic composition similar to ours. His mother on earth, almost 34 years earlier, had made the same contribution to the body he now has in glory as any earthly mother makes to the genetic make-up of her child. It is a man in the midst of the throne.

ii] It is a man with an identity and a name and a personal history. He is not ‘humanity’ who is seated at the right hand of God. The ‘representative man’ is not the one who is there. The individuality of Jesus’ unique character has not been changed by his ascension. He is still Jesus; he is still the Jewish Jesus, rooted in the culture of his people, but also keyed in to the life-stream of the human race and the whole created order. He is linked with the world of matter, and that link will never be severed when we’ve been there ten thousand years. He is still the friend of publicans and sinners. He still has the very same body and soul that he assumed and bore on earth. Yes, glorified, but it is the same body and the same spirit that is glorified as it was on the mount of transfiguration a year earlier. It is the one who washed the feet of his disciples who is there. It is the one who held children in his arms and prayed God’s blessing on them before returning them to their mothers. It is the one who said to the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more.” That is the Jesus who is in the midst of the throne, our Saviour and Lord.

Those who knew him on earth knew him when he was glorified on the mount of transfiguration when he was talking with Moses and Elijah. They also knew it was Moses, and they knew it was Elijah, and they knew it was Jesus. None of them was some sort of floating cloud. They had known him immediately, with no effort at all that time when they returned to Sychar in Samaria and saw him sitting on the well drinking water and talking to a woman. They didn’t ask one another “Who is that? Which one is Jesus?” So too they will know him immediately when they see him exalted to the right hand of God, and it will be just as natural for us to know him though we have never seen him with our eyes, the Saviour we have served and spoken to, who has been preparing us for that moment. We will also somehow know him in a unique way from the glorified marks of his redemption; he is like a Lamb that was slain. I think you have to say that with care. We are not to suppose that for ever gaping wounds will be visible in Jesus any more than those who died atrociously will display their wounds eternally. The aborted baby will not remain an aborted baby for ever. The hundred year old woman confused with dementia will not be like that for eternity. But it is certainly our Jesus of Nazareth, and no one else at all, who is reigning as the king of the Universe, of heaven and earth and hell.

iii] It is a man with a human psychology. Let’s emphasize again the two-fold nature of Christ. His human mind and human emotions never possessed all his divine perfections and they never will. His divine nature does, but his human nature certainly does not. In other words, as a man he’s not omnipresent in the entire universe and beyond. A man’s human brain does not, even in heaven, know the infinite, immense God exhaustively, because his is still a limited, measured, extraordinary, human brain of a certain size that can be held in our cupped hands, but God is inexhaustibly and immeasurably divine. God has no limits, no edges; he is simply infinite and immense. As a man Jesus does not comprehend his own divine nature comprehensively. He is an eternal wonder to himself. There are glorious complexities in his divine nature that he himself cannot understand – as a man. Jesus the human being is not omnipotent – though his divine nature is. He could not – as a man – even in heaven say, “Let there be . . .” and as a man create another universe. He is a human being still. He is bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh. There is a true man in the midst of the throne of God.

So as a man in heaven Jesus rejoices as any godly man might when a sinner repents. He laughs, can we say that? Mustn’t we say that? He knows contentment and peace and he delights in creation and he loves the companionship of angels and the spirits of those Christians who’ve gone before us to glory. He loved them all through their lives. He kept them from falling, he died for them, he ever lives to pray for them, and he presented them to his Father faultless with exceeding joy. Do you think that once they get to heaven in eternity that he ignores them? He has time for each one of them. He is interested in each one of them for every one is different and each one has his own story to tell. He delights in each one of them, as unique as people, and unique in the way they were saved by him and served him. Then surely he also admires the beauty of this vast universe that he designed and made. You understand that I am trying to show to you that there is no stoic or robot or super-computer in the midst of the throne of God but a man whom we know, who loves us.

But of course he is one personality, although truly divine and perfectly human he was and is one person. The one who sits on the throne is the one who created the world, the one who sustains everything, the sparrow when it falls, the king when he dies, the flood that drowns everything. The Lord Jesus is the one who died and rose and ascended. A nature didn’t do this. He did it. He bled and died to take away our sin. He gave not merely his sufferings for us, and not merely his human nature: he gave himself for us.

iv] It is a man with an experience of pain, sorrow, bereavement and temptation. The one in the midst of the throne has shared our experience of pain, sorrow, bereavement and temptation. Think of it, that the one most tempted in all of human history, is now the one who has most power in human history. We are men and women who always yield long before the Tempter unleashes his full array of tricks and persuasions and wiles and guiles. We cave in, but Jesus never did. Satan cranked it up and came at him from another angle and with another temptation, and another irresistible suggestion, making the obtaining of something so very, very desirable, and yet our Lord never acceded to his promptings. The one on the throne of the universe today is the one who could dare the devil to his utmost and he stood resisting him to the very end. He knew temptation and he knows temptation to the utmost today, as we shall never know it. That is why today he is the chief psychologist and the wonderful counselor of his people.

Jesus in heaven today is the one who has tasted something we’ve never tasted, and never will if we are Christians. He has tasted death, the death of judged sinners. He tasted whatever Golgotha tasted like. He tasted whatever anathema tasted like. He tasted whatever dereliction and abandonment tastes like. He tasted it when he was not dulled by pain-killers, fully conscious, sensitized with all the splendid purity of his gentle and holy nature, all of that being an enormous accentuation to his pain. He . . . he was made sin for us, and he tasted death for us. He did not live in a sanitized spiritual environment, on the contrary he was plunged into the world where men crucify young men, and blaspheme and gamble 20 yards away from three tortured, dying men ignoring them to win the gamble. That is where he came, and yet there was no propensity to sin, and no affinity to sin, and certainly no stain of sin on his reputation.

Let us never imagine any time that God doesn’t understand what we’re going through. The ascended one who sits on the throne, God’s Son, once took our nature never to release it. He once entered our experience. He has not grown forgetful in the past 2000 years. Not a memory cell has died. He remembers every event of his life as if they’d occurred this morning. He knows what it’s like for nails to be hammered through his hands. He knows what it’s like to be all alone. He knows what the loss of God is. He who stood at the throne to receive Stephen once stood in the darkness where there was no comfort, in the place of absolute ‘Why?’ where he needed God as no man has ever needed God so much. He cried and God was not there. He bore a burden that no Colossus could carry, and he was left without comfort. Stephen was surrounded by his executioners; all the bulls of Bashan surrounded our Lord. He hasn’t forgotten.

We never go beyond the threshold of his pain. Our darkness is never more intense than his. Our ‘Why?’s are never more bewildered than his. Sometimes when we cry, “Lord, don’t you see what I am experiencing?” then part of his answer is, “Me too!” There is in heaven now a Father who watched his Son suffer, and heard his Son cry out and he could do nothing but wait. The Son suffered the loss of his Father, but the Father suffered the loss of his Son. Which was worse? For the Son to cry ‘Why?’ or for the Father to be unable to help him, hearing the voice of one he loved more than anything in the world crying to him from the Far Country of the damned?

The ascended King is the one touched with the feeling of our infirmities. In other words the King can say, “It is very touching when you talk to me and you tell me of your grief. I am truly touched. I’m not ignorant of what you are going through. My own experience was just like yours. We are yoked to one another and I know how to help you. I can make it easier, though you might not appreciate that I really am doing this. Let me say again that you can always come to me and talk to me about the pain. I won’t grow tired of you doing that, in fact I want you to come and cast your burdens on me. That’s what I’m here for. You mustn’t try to carry them alone.” That’s how Jesus speaks to all of us who trust in him. He never forgets the smoking flax Christian or the bruised reed Christian. He remembers that we are dust. He knows how we creak. He knows the rubbing of the interfaces of soul and spirit, affections and mind, how we know we should be feeling at peace but in fact are experiencing an immense struggle. Jesus knows this from the inside because he’s been there. He has looked into a cup given him to drink and he has asked for the possibility of changing it for another cup, just like us. He has battled with Apollyon. He has walked through the valley of the shadow of death. He has been in darkness that goes on and on. He is in charge of your life and the life of your family, and the congregation, and our land. He can look down at us today and he can say, “I know how that little boy feels . . . Father, I know what that woman is going through.” The Lord is my Shepherd. The Lord is also the Lamb of God, and what he went through in taking away our sin affects how he deals with us today and all the days of our life. It is all indelibly etched on his memory, and it sustains a sympathy that always reaches every single one of his people, even the weakest and the worst and the most backsliding.

Who is God? Who controls the world? Let me tell you of the experience of John Duncan, a genius and the son of a shoemaker, who was to become the professor of Hebrew at New College, Edinburgh and was nicknamed by the students who simply loved him, Rabbi Duncan. When he was himself the age of students he was plagued with this problem of suffering and human pain and reconciling it with a Sovereign God of love. He lived for three years in what he called ‘dreary atheism.’ In fact he had some influence over a younger man and he made an atheist out of him and that man died in his rejection of God. John looked back to those times and he said, “I wandered to the furthest verge of creation, and there I saw a socket where an eye should have been, and I heard a shriek of a fatherless world.” You would think, “No hope for him. God will abandon him,” yet far from that, but very, very slowly, a change took place. God brought a man called Duncan Mearns into his life and through his influence John Duncan came to believe that there was a God, the Creator. He had an intellectual conviction that that God was, and then he tells us how assurance flooded his heart, “I first saw clearly the existence of God in walking along the bridge at Aberdeen; it was a great discovery to me; I stopped in an ecstasy of joy at seeing the existence of God, When I was convinced that there was a God, I danced on the Brig o’ Dee with delight,”

Do you understand what he saw? Not that some god or other, in some way or other, was the cause of this world and everything in it. It was not that. It was this God, the Father of the Lord Jesus, the God whom we have been talking about, this God who so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son to the stable and the cross and the tomb and the ascension and the throne. This God lifted up his Son to the midst of the throne of the universe and gave him real and absolute power. He gave him all authority in heaven and on an earth. This is the God John Duncan saw, who has the whole world in his hands. This God who can be touched with the feeling of the weaknesses that I so frequently experience – this God is the one who is in control of this world and my life and the lives of all whom I know and love and even the destiny of our beloved nation. He has ascended and sits high in glory and power and determines everything that takes place in my life. He is the one who daily fills my cup with whatever he determines to put in it. This God, our God, reigns! It makes we want to say, “Shall we dance too? Shall we leap for joy to know that such a God is in control of this world and its future?”

  1. THIS GOD-MAN IS THE ONE WHO WOULD DRAW US TO HIMSELF.

Now the desire of so many of us is that you should all come to this God, to this Jesus Christ who is the king and lord of the universe. You should come to him as your Saviour, your salvation and all your desire. You must already be drawn to him in some way or you wouldn’t be reading this today. Are you being drawn? Drawn more and more? If this Christ has been having dealings with you then I’m sure he hasn’t finished dealing with you. We are not so near to Jesus as we should be. We are not as much under his influence and care as we might be. You who have been drawn by him are being drawn still, drawn to this town, and drawn to the services and so you are nearer to Christ than you were some time ago.

He is saying “Come!” He is saying, “Come to me where I am,” and you are going. Your heart is being drawn to him. Speaking personally I cannot understand why any one of you should stay away from this powerful and loving Lord. I cannot think of any god or lord who is better than this God. Are you going to be your own god? Will he help you when you die, or will he die with you? Here is one who died to purchase our pardon. Here is one who died and on the third day he rose again. Here is one who ascended to heaven and now is head over everything for our sake. He turns and says to God about you, “Constrain a friend to invite him to the meeting . . . draw his attention to this conference . . . make his heart and mind desire to go . . . make his mother say to him, “Son you ought to go to the Conference and see how things are.” These feelings of conviction, and peace, and trust don’t come into your heart because I’m a sweet talker. I’m not manipulating you. I am in fact saying, “Count the cost!” But I am also saying that the Jesus Christ of the Bible is fascinating, he is a wonderful teacher, and he is worth knowing. He is also the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

What stumbling blocks in the way of your own journey are you having to get over? What other attractions are being loosed so that you feel more open and freer today than ever before, to think seriously about coming to Christ? Aren’t there some risings of love in your heart for him now? Some of you know there will be troubles in your family. They might not be overjoyed at a new direction in your life but you know you can take all that from them because they are great people. Do you feel the influence of this great and mighty Jesus?

Often we find it hard to come directly to the most important Being in the history of mankind, and the greatest One in the whole universe. I’m a nobody. What can I say to him? For myself I find it hard to come to him directly, but I can always come by sin. What do I mean? Jesus Christ is so high and lifted up, elevated up and up to the heights of heaven, while I am down so low, as low as maggots’ dung I once heard someone say and I can never forget that. Jesus is so high, glorious and great, unattainably high, and I so very low. But there’s an elevator. There is a lift, and on the door of this elevator is the word, ‘sinner’. Only sinners are allowed to enter this lift. So there is just one simple question for you to come into the presence of Jesus, “Are you a sinner?” Have you loved God with all your heart? No. You’ve loved him very little. Then you are a sinner. Have you loved your neighbours – the other people in your family, and the people you work with, or the boys and girls in school – have you  loved them like you love yourself, have you always treated them as you yourself would like to be treated? No. Then you are a sinner, aren’t you? Aren’t you a sinner, in God’s presence? I know that in our eyes you are one of us, better than us, lovely and loving in our eyes, but when you and I are measured by this standard – how are we compared to the Lord? – then we have to bow our heads. We are sinners.

Then I say there is an elevator that’s been designed by God. An Old Testament believer was once given a sight of it. His name was Jacob and he saw it going up and up and down and there were beings from heaven riding on this elevator. There is room for you in it, and you are invited to come aboard. It’s not a big thing, is it, to step into an elevator? Have you ever said when Mummy or Daddy pushed the button on an elevator and the doors opened, “Oh it is much too difficult for a little boy like me to get into an elevator.” Mummy would look at you and say, “Don’t be silly. Two steps and you’re inside.” That’s all you have to take, one step, two steps, and you are in the elevator, that’s all, and do you know that even the strength to do that the Lord provides.

Then up and up and up you go. Some of you may have already been to the top of the newest highest skyscraper in London, the Shard, 72 stories high and the highest building in western Europe, and I guess what a ride that was, right to the top. You took just a step into the elevator. I have been to the top of the Empire State Building in New York, up and up and up, but here is the greatest ride in the universe, and only people who know that they are sinners can take it, and if you say, “I qualify . . . it’s for me” then jump aboard. Get in and up you’ll go to where Jesus is, and the first person you’ll meet there will be him, smiling to greet you, so pleased to see you. “Why didn’t I come sooner?” And he will say the same thing. “I have been waiting for you. Welcome! Welcome! Welcome!” He will take you to himself and never let you go. This wonderful person, the King of the universe, to become your very own Saviour, your teacher, your protector, and the one how forgives every single one of your sins, and he will be with you for evermore, your very best friend, and your God.

28th July 2013   GEOFF THOMAS