Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
"BY HIS ASCENSION, JESUS HAS OPENED FOR US THE WAY TO THE FATHER."
46. Q. What do you confess when you say, He ascended into heaven?
A. That Christ, before the eyes of His disciples, was taken up from the earth into heaven, and that He is there for our benefit until He comes again to judge the living and the dead.  Mark 16:19; Luke 24:50, 51; Acts 1:9-11.  Rom. 8:34; Heb. 4:14; 7:23-25; 9:24.  Matt. 24:30; Acts 1:11. 47. Q. Is Christ, then, not with us until the end of the world, as He has promised us? A. Christ is true man and true God. With respect to His human nature He is no longer on earth, but with respect to His divinity, majesty, grace, and Spirit He is never absent from us.
 Matt. 28:20.  Matt. 26:11; John 16:28; 17:11; Acts 3:19-21; Heb. 8:4.  Matt. 28:18-20; John 14:16-19; 16:13.
48. Q. But are the two natures in Christ not separated from each other if His
human nature is not present wherever His divinity is?
A. Not at all, for His divinity has no limits and is present everywhere. So it must follow that His divinity is indeed beyond the human nature which He has taken on and nevertheless is within this human nature and remains personally united with it.
 Jer. 23:23, 24; Acts 7:48, 49.  John 1:14; 3:13; Col. 2:9.
49. Q. How does Christ's ascension into heaven benefit us?
A. First, He is our Advocate in heaven before His Father. Second, we have our flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that He, our Head, will also take us, His members, up to Himself. Third, He sends us His Spirit as a counter-pledge, by whose power we seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God, and not the things that are on earth.
 Rom. 8:34; I John 2:1.  John 14:2; 17:24; Eph. 2:4-6.  John 14:16; Acts 2:33; II Cor. 1:21, 22; 5:5.  Col. 3:1-4.
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Beloved Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ!
Suppose that our Lord had died on Good Friday and was buried, then arose on Easter Sunday from the dead Ė but thereafter never ascended into heaven. What difference would the absence of His ascension mean to you today? I put it to you, my brothers and sisters, that the Christian faith would be vain and worthless if Jesus had not ascended into heaven.
The lives we are given to live on this earth include much of sweat and tears, much of sorrow and pain, much of toil and frustration (cf Gen 3:16ff); we reap the fruit of our fall into sin. As we busy our minds with the trials of this life, as weíre deep in thought in searching for solutions to the dilemmas we face, we walk around with our eyes on the ground. Thatís symbolic, I would suggest, of our natural inclination to see the problems of this life as being problems of this life alone, problems of this earth, this world-as-we-see-it. Itís a natural thing to our sinful minds to forget or ignore the God of heaven who involves Himself with every event of this life. Our eyes and our minds are focused on the here-and-now, and not on the reality of His sovereign leading in our daily lives.
But as it is, brothers and sisters, every step we take is made in the presence of sovereign God. Whether we acknowledge it or deny it does not change the reality one dot; God is very directly involved in the bits and pieces of our daily lives. That is why, in the face of the trials that be, we need to lift our eyes off the ground, need to lift our eyes to heaven where Christ our Advocate is as the right hand of the Father. You see, Jesusí ascension means that now we can pray, speak to God about the struggles of our lives. And the promise is that our covenant Father will hear us.
I summarise the sermon with this theme:
BY HIS ASCENSION, JESUS HAS OPENED FOR US THE WAY TO THE FATHER.
The wealth of this ascension
The disciples were standing with Jesus on that mountain near Bethany. As Jesus had His hands raised to bless His disciples, Jesus began to rise from the earth, to go up, up, up. As the disciples watched with mouths agape, a cloud reached down to enfold the ascending Master and carry Him aloft; He disappeared from their sight. They stood there, staring after their departed MasterÖ, till two angels informed them that Jesus would one day return as they saw Him goÖ. The event was so amazing; what, O what might this mean?!
This ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ into heaven, congregation, had been foreshadowed for Israel hundreds of times in the Old Testament dispensation. To draw out the significance of what the disciples saw before their eyes on that mountain near Bethany, I wish to set before you today how the Lord God foreshadowed this ascension in Israelís tabernacle.
The tabernacle God told Moses to build included first of all a courtyard. Just inside the door to this courtyard was the big altar where sacrifices were to be made for the peoplesí sins. Beyond the altar inside this courtyard was the tabernacle itself. That tabernacle was divided into two rooms, the Holy Place in the front and the Holy of Holies (or Most Holy Place) in the back. The Most Holy Place in the back was exactly 10 cubits in length, 10 cubits in width and 10 cubits in height; it was a perfect cube. It contained the Ark of the Covenant, where God dwelt on the mercy seat. On the ark were two cherubim, and on the veil separating the Most Holy Place from the Holy Place more cherubim were embroidered with gold thread. The ark itself and the cherubim on it were also overlaid with gold.
What it was that this Most Holy Place symbolised for Israel? This Most Holy Place, brothers and sisters, was as it were a little piece of heaven, was heaven on earth. Here was Godís dwelling, on the mercy seat of the ark. Here were cherubim, angels, even as there are countless angels gathered around Godís throne in heaven. Here was all gold, a representation of the glory of heaven. And the shape of the room was a perfect cube, representation of the perfection that abounds in heaven. That Most Holy Place in the back of the tabernacle: it was a little piece of heaven on earth!
The Lord God gave instructions that every year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest was to enter this Most Holy Place, to enter this little piece of heaven. As he did so, he had to wear on his breastplate the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. Thatís to say: he entered Godís presence once a year as representative of the people, came into Godís presence on behalf of the people. Yet he could not enter as he was; the High Priest had to take with him blood from the altar of burnt offering in the courtyard outside. For he and the people he represented were sinful persons while God was holy; so blood had to be shed, had to be brought before God, lest He reject the High Priest, reject the people represented by the High Priest. As the High Priest made his way from the courtyard where the people were into the heaven of the Most Holy Place, the High Priest also had to pause at the altar of incense and take along some incense. This incense Ėit was a symbol of prayer- had to be brought into the Most Holy Place, into heaven, before God.
The whole thing was so richÖ, and at the same time it was so poor. It was so rich because here Israel was taught that man could enter heaven, Godís holy presence. Through the shedding of blood it was possible for a man to come to God, and when he came into Godís presence in that little piece of heaven known as the Most Holy Place he could come with the prayers of the people. This was so different from the words God spoke to Adam and Eve after the fall into sin, when He told them to get out of the Garden, out of His presence. In the tabernacle, in that Most Holy Place was delightful gospel; sinful Israel, through the person of the High Priest as their representative, could enter Godís holy presence and not perish!! Yes, this is rich!
But at the same time it was so poor. For the people themselves had to stay outside in the courtyard, they could not enter into Godís presence themselves, could not come into this piece of heaven. Distance remained between God and themselvesÖ. And the High Priest too could enter the Most Holy Place no more than once a year, and then not when he thought the need was great but only when God stipulated Ė on the day of Atonement. Again, the High Priest could not stay in the Most Holy Place either. Was he there for five minutes, ten, twenty? I do not know. But I do know this: he could not stay. After he put the incense before the Lord and sprinkled the blood on and around the mercy seat, he had to leave the presence of God again, had to leave heavenÖ, return to the brokenness of life on earth, return to the sweat and tears and toils and weeds of this earthly lifeÖ.
It was rich, and it was poor. It was a foreshadowing of the reconciliation that Jesus Christ would one day obtain between God and men; sinners could again one day enter into the presence of God in heaven. But it was only a foreshadowing; the real thing was not here yetÖ. The High Priestís annual trek into the Most Holy Place, into that piece of heaven-on-earth, foreshadowed Jesusí ascension into heaven, yes, it cried out for that ascension to occur.
On the hill near Bethany the disciples watched as Jesus ascended from the earth into heaven. What this ascension was? This: here Jesus was fulfilling the annual pilgrimage of the High Priest into that little piece of heaven-on-earth in the Most Holy Place! As did the High Priest every year anew, so Jesus did today: He left the community of men in order to go the presence of God. But Jesus did not go to that little piece of heaven-on-earth in the back of the tabernacle; Jesus went to heaven itself! And lo, as the disciples stood to watch Jesus was not dismissed from heaven after five or ten or twenty minutes. More, the angels who came from heaven announced that Jesus had arrived and would one day return in glory on heavenís clouds! Here was a man in heaven, fulfilment of what the Lord had prophesied to Israel in the annual journey of the High Priest!
Do I say too much when I consider the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ into heaven as the fulfilment of the High Priestís annual journey into the Most Holy Place? But this, congregation, is precisely what the Scriptures say. Itís the point of the author of Hebrews in chap 9. "Then indeed," he says in vs 1, "even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary." Thatís to say: the Old Testament dispensation with its tabernacle and sacrifices Ėthatís the "first covenant"- had something divine in it (the Most Holy Place, that little piece of heaven) and something earthly (the people with their sins). In that tabernacle, the author continues, were two rooms, "the first part" (vs 2) "in which was the lampstand, the table, and the showbread, which is called the sanctuary; and behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All" (or the Most Holy Place), which had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with goldÖ, and (vs 5) above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seatÖ."
Once that tabernacle was built, the author continues in vs 6, "the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services. But into the second part (the Most Holy Place) the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the peopleís sinsÖ." What that meant? Vs 8: "the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest," had not yet been opened for the public, "while the first tabernacle was still standing."
"But," the author continues in vs 11, "Christ came as High Priest of the good things to comeÖ. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption." So it is Ėvs 15- that Jesus Christ "is the Mediator of the new covenantÖ, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance." You see: Christís ascension into heaven is presented by the apostle as the fulfilment of the High Priestís annual journey into the Most Holy Place. Vs 24: "For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us." This is what the disciples on that mountain near Bethany saw before their eyes. This fulfilment is what we confess in our LD.
With the pilgrimage of the Old Testament High Priest in mind, we can, brothers and sisters, move on to our second point: the significance of Jesusí ascension into heaven.
The consequence of this ascension
Jesus was true man, like the High priests of the Old Testament, true man like you and me. Because of our sins, there is no way that we can stand in Godís holy presence, no way we can enter into heaven without God consuming us in His holy anger. Yet Jesus was not consumed! Instead, the angels reported to the disciples that Jesus would come again in Godís own time, and meanwhile He could stay in the presence of God. How this is possible? Recall: the high priest of the Old Testament took with him blood from goats and bulls, and sprinkled that in the presence of God in the Holy of Holies. But Jesus ĖHeb 9:11- "came as High PriestÖ. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption." In the presence of the Father in heaven, Jesus offers the work He did for sinners on Calvary. That is to say: by appearing before God with the work done at Calvary on His record, Jesus reminds the Father unceasingly that sin is atoned for. The Old Testament tabernacle spelled out distance between God and man, distance since God was holy and man was sinful; there could be on earth a little piece of heaven only because of the altar that stood between God and man. Itís the prophecy of that altar that Christ has fulfilled on Calvary, and through His presence in heaven before God He reminds the Father continually that this altar has finished its work; the distance between God and man is bridged. The very fact that Jesus Ėunlike the high priest of the Old Testament- may remain in heaven, in the presence of God, is all the evidence one needs that the distance truly is bridged.
Then itís true: Jesus alone has ascended into heaven, we have not. Yet the apostle to the Hebrews is emphatic that Jesusí ascension is not for Jesusí benefit as such; He has ascended for our benefit. When the high priest of the Old Testament entered the presence of God in that little piece of heaven-on-earth, he carried on his breast the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. The high priest was the peoplesí representative; he entered heaven on their behalf, brought blood before God for the people. Jesus has done so much more. He has "appeared in the presence of God for us", says the apostle in vs 24. More, Jesus has opened for us the new and living way to the Father so that we can join Jesus in Godís holy presence. When Jesus died, we in some way died with Him. When Jesus was buried, we in some way were buried with Him. When Jesus arose from the dead, we in some way we canít comprehend were raised with Him to new life (Rom 6; Eph 2:4ff). Similarly, when Jesus ascended we in some way ascended with Him into the presence of holy God! Itís what Paul says to the Ephesians: God "made us sit together [with Christ] in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (2:6). Here is a wealth that far surpasses the wealth of the Old Testament tabernacle; God is pleased today already to welcome all His people into His holy presence, to give us free access into His holy courts! No longer are we sent out of Godís presence, away from the Holy One; today for Jesusí sake we have free access to the Father! That, congregation, is the glorious significance of Jesusí ascension; He opened for us the way so that we might freely come to God.
Given such wealth, there follows, of course, a most delightful duty Ė third point.
The duty in this ascension
For of course, if Jesus has done so much for us in opening the way to the God who controls every aspect of our daily lives, it is for us to make use of this open door. Every step we make on this earth is made under the watchful eye of the God of heaven and earth. Every step we make is with His approval or His disapproval, and He in turn grants His blessing on our acts of covenant obedience and His curse on our acts of covenant disobedience. What shall we do then: ignore this God? Shall we walk with our eyes on the ground, look at life as we see it with our human, limited, earth-bound eyes? We know: that wonít do! Here itís for us to work with the reality of Jesusí ascension. He has opened for us a way to the Father, and so itís for us to make us of this road. That is: itís for us to approach this God, to come into His presence in order to tell Him of the challenges and the struggles of this broken life. This God is not uninterested in us; No, He sent His Son specifically to open up the way for us to approach God again. His death on the cross, His resurrection on Easter Sunday: these were steps leading to His ascension. As the high priest of the Old Testament had to pause at the altar to gather blood before He could enter into the heaven of the Most Holy Place, so Jesus had to go the cross of Calvary to shed His blood before He could enter into Godís presence in heaven. That is why He came to earth: in order to go back to the Father, yes, to open for us the way to the Father. Well then, let us use the open door Jesus Christ has created into the presence of His Father.
How shall we go through that door? No, we cannot ascend into heaven as Jesus did. Yet enter Godís presence we may Ė in our prayers. Freely talk to this God, commune with Him about the things important to our minds: this is what God wants from His children. Openness on our part with Him, free conversation with Him, a warm and close relation with Him: this is the will of God for His children.
This is what the apostle draws out in Heb 10. "Therefore, brethren," he says in vs 19, [we have] boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus." That "holiest" of which he speaks here is, we understand, the Most Holy Place of the Old Testament tabernacle, is Ėin New Testament terms- heaven itself. The argument of Chap 9 was that Christ has opened the way; well, then, says the apostle in 10:19: travel that way! Vs 22: "let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith." Thatís to say: speak freely to God! Do not be afraid to approach God, to tell Him what is on your mind. For Christ has opened the way to you to enter heaven, and in heaven He intercedes for you. So: speak to God, openly, freely, boldly. Tell the Father the concerns of your heart as you live the lives youíre given to live. Converse with Him, have communion with Him. Given the ascension of the Lord, be people of prayer!
I know: today we do not see the glory of heaven as Jesus does; we are not physically in Godís wonderful presence. In that sense we too, like Israel of the Old Testament, have not yet received the fullness of Godís redemption. But soon, brothers and sisters, the Christ who ascended into heaven shall return to earth. And with Him shall come the dwelling of God, the New Jerusalem. And God shall make His dwelling with on this earth. No, Heíll not dwell in another temple, in a Most Holy Place out of reach for common people. God shall dwell with us, there shall be open access to God Most High, and nothing shall hinder the perfect communion we shall have with our Lord and Saviour.
For that day we long eagerly. And as we long for that day, we reach toward it in our communion with God, already speaking freely with the God of heaven and earth about the things that keep us busy day by day. And as we pour out our hearts to the God we love, we are assured: for Jesusí sake Heíll most certainly hear us. After all, He sent His Son to earth to reconcile us to Him. And the ascension points up the reconciliation. Amen.