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Sermon 2019-05-19 Ross Woodhouse

The Joy of His Ascension

When the disciples ‘saw’ Jesus, saw who he was, they worshipped, with great joy, the Bible says. As we have worshipped in song this morning, what is it that has inspired us and motivated us? What did Isaiah the prophet see? The Lord, high and lifted up, he said my “eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty”. God had shown his holiness, his majesty to Isaiah.[1]

Like most if not all in this room, I know it is a life of worship we are called to, I/we, know the why. But have I really grasped, worship? Have my eyes “seen” the Lord Almighty and if I have, if I do, where is that evident?

We, worship an ascended and living Christ, we worship a loving Father, we worship the Holy Spirit. We worship because we see Christ for who he is. Worship that touches every pocket of life, and where every pocket of life is lived into as worship[2], that is underpinned[3] by joy (Gk= Charas).  Joy, that is aware of his grace disposed toward me. Joy that believes in a Christ who died, rose again, ascended to the Father and has given the Holy Spirit.

What did Paul mean when he said “in view of God’s mercy, offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. This is your spiritual act of worship” (Rom. 12:1)? He meant all of me and all of you are laid down, offered up to God, for him…I call this total abandonment in worship. Note what Paul says here, “in view of God’s mercy”.

What is between us and that total abandonment in worship?  This all of life offered to him out of joy, worship…it is seeing him, seeing his grace, it is in view of God’s mercy. Seeing Christ for who He is.

In Luke 24:36-53 this is what Jesus wanted the disciples to see.  Jesus asks, “do you still not believe…why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your minds?…I told you all this while I was with you…you are my witnesses…” And then he “opened their minds”, because he wanted them to see him, and what he had done, in order for them to be effective. What is worship if it’s not for a risen Lord, not out of joy, and is a response to his mercy?

We have an opportunity today, encouraged by this story, to have our minds opened by the Lord, to ‘see’ Christ, to see the significance of Christ’s ascension and its place in the giving of the Holy Spirit.

LUKE 24:36-53

“While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’  They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your minds?  Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, ‘Do you have anything here to eat?’

They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence. He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’ Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, ‘This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised, but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’  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.”

The final words Jesus used here before we pick up the continuing story in Acts is a blessing. In the midst of that blessing, Jesus was exalted to the right hand in heaven, and the response of the disciples, with their ‘eyes open’ was to worship Jesus, to return Jerusalem with great joy, and praise God continually in the temple.

Humanly speaking we may have expected tears and sadness at Jesus’ departure, after 3 years of a close relationship. Any grief was outweighed by joy and worship…now they ‘saw’, they knew he needed to go so the Holy Spirit could be given…

Across these next few messages, we’ll be looking at key passages on the initial giving/sending of the Holy Spirit, and how the Holy Spirit was/is essential to the life, worship and mission of the church.

We’re talking about the person of the Holy Spirit. Him, not, it. He is the 3rd person of the Godhead, with a unique but complementary function with the Father and Son. (See John 14:16).

The Holy Spirit is God. He is God, the Holy Spirit. For many, he’s the one person of the Godhead we know least and the least about. It is with/about him I suggest there is often considerable misunderstanding, uncertainty about how to relate to Him, His place and role in the church, particularly as this relates to the operation of the gifts of the Spirit – that “are given for the common good…just as he determines”[4]. Yet, God, the Holy Spirit has just as much a prominent function in the church as the Father and Son do.

Oftentimes when you might be in Raglan, you’ll note down the end of Bow St, and around the campground area, when the tide is out boats are sitting out in the middle of nowhere, on the mudflats, and you can’t really do much with them. Ever tried to row or power a boat on mud?  Until the tide comes in and lifts the boats, that’s when they’re useful, do what they’re designed to do. 

Do we want to welcome and embrace and receive all the Holy Spirit might want to do in us, in the church? What does that look like?

That’s an important question because it’s from Him the power and the gifts come…

I’m starting here with the concluding text of Luke – even though the story doesn’t end here – because the ascension of Jesus is an important part of the giving of the Holy Spirit. Howso? “Unless I go to the Father…the counsellor (HS) will not come to you” (John 16:7b).

What started with doubt and fear ended with them being faith-filled.  Jesus had “opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures”. Jesus helped them to see something they were not able to see, like a lifting of a veil, like a spiritual eye-wash! What was it? The significance of Jesus’ ascension! And that he needed to go so the Holy Spirit would come. And what was their response when their minds ‘saw’ Jesus?

“…they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.”

What today does Jesus want us to see, that we’ve not yet “seen”?

4 Key reasons why Jesus’ ascension would cause us to worship him –

  1. He will return

That he will return is something we can be confident will happen. For the disciples this was an initial physical separation, he reappeared physically – eating fish with them – then he ascended. In verse 11 of Acts 1 we see Angels reassuring the disciples he will come again: “Why stand looking into the sky…this same Jesus will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11)

“Christ’s ascension is an indispensable aspect of NT teaching. It is the basis for recognition of Christ’s exalted status and for the Christian’s confidence and hope”[5]

Jesus’ resurrection and ascension is not the end of the story. There is more to come. There will be a reuniting with Christ the Lord. And that is why there could be joy at his physical absence. Scripture gives us clues on the signs of his coming again but gives nothing specific on the when. When is when God wants to. How he will come is important but not as important as, that he will come. And, that he will return is cause for joy and worship.

For us today who have not had the benefit or the privilege of seeing Jesus physically, Peter’s words speak to us, he says “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9).

There is a second element to this: trusting there will be a reunion with Christ is the first thing. But to truly be content and at peace with this, we need to know, like the disciples, that it is for our good. “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7).

I recall the moment Karyn and I put our son Braden on the bus to Auckland to start his journey as a student at Auckland University.

Slightly numb feeling at first, then we went through a kind of grieving process. This was what he wanted to do, we needed to release him, bless him in that endeavour, it was for his good and for ours too! Once we pulled ourselves together we realised we would see him again.[6]

In the end, the disciples realised this as far as Jesus was concerned. Their initial grief turned to continual joy and worship.

  1. Christ is glorified and is with his Father

The 2nd cause for worship is that Jesus is now with the Father. We worship him for this because this was his will accomplished, “it is finished”.

Six weeks earlier the disciples had seen Jesus sweat like drops of blood and pray out of the anguish of knowing what was ahead. They saw him asking the Father to take the cup of suffering away but knowing for the sin of the world he needed to complete his work. They heard him say “I have obeyed my Father’s commands…I have told you this so my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15).

“You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe” (John 14:28).

“If you loved me…”, Jesus said. If we love him, we must be glad, we must worship and have complete joy at his ascension because Jesus did what he said he would do. He returned to the Father who loves the son, and who has glorified the son, Jesus.

“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).

I want us to try and picture something: if heaven rejoices over one sinner who repents, can you imagine the worship and the glory in heaven when Jesus returned there?

For Christ, the ascension was the necessary entrance to his “glorification” in heaven, where he now sits on the right hand of the Father. By his ascension he rose overall and fills all (Ephesians 4:10), receiving “the name which is above every name” (Philippians 2:9–11).[7]

  1. He will send (has sent) the Holy Spirit

Honesty time. How many of us have seen, heard, been a part of something, we think was bizarre, made us uncomfortable or didn’t rationalise with scripture, regarding the Holy Spirit? And furthermore has given us caution, has made us put some walls up for ourselves and for the church, and possibly reluctant to allow the Spirit to do all he might want to do?

I want to reassure you. I and the elders are absolutely committed to doing everything here in a manner, the Lord helping us, that honours Christ.

But, we need to give space for the Holy Spirit to do, what he needs to do. Scripture[8], wisdom and discernment guiding us. We do not want to “quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19) by resisting or neglecting Him. Certainly don’t want to “grieve the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:30).

His ascension causes us to worship him because without it there would be no gift of the Holy Spirit, who could not come until Jesus had ascended and sent him (see John 16:7).[9] The place and purpose of God the Holy Spirit is paramount to the function of the church.

I think we can all see what God is doing among us.

I know that a few of you have been keenly involved in groups who have recently studied the Holy Spirit, learnt new things about the Spirit and perhaps have begun to relate closer to him for who he is, God, and what his function is, to come alongside, as our comforter, as our empowerer. We’re all on a journey with God, aren’t we? Are some of us like the disciples, who Jesus was asking “do you still not believe…why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your minds?” 

Do we want to welcome and embrace and receive all the Holy Spirit might want to do in us, in the church? What does a church that is full of the Holy Spirit look like – Acts 2:42-47 – expressed in their devotion, worship, sharing, giving, hospitality, loving on each other and people getting saved, daily?

LUKE 24:49 (Amplified Bible). “Listen carefully: I am sending the Promise of My Father [the Holy Spirit] upon you, but you are to remain in the city [of Jerusalem] until you are clothed (fully equipped) with power from on high.”

For those disciples it was to wait for that power from on high, then it happened, and we have that power, today. There’s a lot more to speak beyond this morning about the Holy Spirit, but for now, let’s be open. Let’s be waiting. Let’s be prayerful about what…how he might move among us…ready…

  1. It brings blessings for the church

Christ’s ascension means we worship because he will return, Christ is glorified, he has given the Holy Spirit and lastly, this means blessing for the church.  How does it?

1st blessing: Sins are covered, dealt with

When Jesus had offered, for all time a single sacrifice for all sin he sat down at God’s right hand, and that signified the final payment for sin had been made. Therefore, the ascension of Jesus is the seal that everything has been done to cover all the sins of those who trust him and are sanctified by him. Jesus left the disciples, he ascended into heaven meaning the Holy Spirit was able to come, because ‘it is finished’.

2nd blessing: Jesus intercedes for us

Romans 8: 32-34. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”

3rd blessing: nothing can separate us from his love

Romans 8:35f. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? ….…37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

4th blessing: Jesus reigns supreme over all.

We’re familiar with Paul’s statement that our struggle in this life is not so much physical opposition, but against principalities and powers and spiritual hosts of wickedness (Ephesians 6:12). The Bible teaches us that Jesus has conquered all these by his death, and by his ascension reigns sovereignly and supremely over all “authorities and powers” (Ephesians 1:20-23; 1 Peter 3:22).  And all this is “for the church” (Ephesians 1:22b), the body of Christ…

Finally, the 5th blessing: He is the head!

 

Conclusion

Is there any reason on earth why we would not be motivated to worship him?! When the disciples “saw” him, the exalted Christ, they worshipped, and they worshipped!

We have an opportunity, encouraged by this account, to have our minds opened by the Lord, to ‘see’ Christ, to see the significance of Christ’s ascension and its place in the giving of the Holy Spirit.

 

TAKEAWAYS

See the Lord Jesus, for who HE IS

Worship HIM for what HE has done

 

[1] Isaiah 6

[2] Worship is not compartmental to a few areas, but every area of life.

[3] And expresses itself in…

[4] See 1 Corinthians 12:7,11: prophecy, word of knowledge, speaking in tongues.

[5] Davids, P. H. (1988). Ascension of Christ. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 210). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

[6] Bless close friends who have made the decision to move on from a church I was pastoring, you get close to people. Take hands off and give it to God…

[7] Adapted from: David’s, P. H.

[8] Look at Gal. 5:22-26

[9] Adapted from: David’s, P. H.