The Ascension Of Christ
1. In today's worship service what we are given is the biblical passage which gives the record of the situation when the resurrected Christ ascended to heaven. When we read verse three just a short way back, as it has "For forty days he appeared to them, and he spoke about the kingdom of God," we understand that the ascension of Christ was forty days after his resurrection from the dead. If we're talking about forty days after Easter, then that day would fall right on the Thursday of this week. Having said that, today I would like for us to ponder the ascension of Christ together and to prepare for Pentecost celebrated two weeks from now [which is the fiftieth day after the resurrection and the descent of the Holy Spirit day].
Christ Is In Heaven
2. The situation of Christ's ascension is described as follows: "When he was done speaking, Jesus ascended to heaven while they were looking at him, but then he was covered by a cloud and became invisible to their view," (verse nine). The body of Christ went up into the sky like a floating balloon. When we imagine this scene in our minds like that, we just might feel more than a little resistance to it as per our commonsense based way of thinking. But, even beginning with the fact itself that the risen Christ appeared to his disciples is a circumstance classifiable as a mystery that goes beyond human comprehension. It's the same thing with Christ's ascension. We mustn't forget that an historical event that we cannot express with the proper words is being expressed in a limited human language. So the main thing is to get a firm grip on the very message itself, which the Bible is trying to give to us through limited words and by telling us of the ascension of Christ.
3. There is one thing then that we ought to take notice of. It is the fact that the disciples were not sorrowful at "the ascension of Christ." His going up into the heavens must have meant in a certain sense that he was "leaving" his disciples. The Bible expresses it like this, "Departing from you he went up into the heavens," (verse eleven). Isn't that a sad thing to happen? But yet, it didn't make them sad again like when the disciples lost Jesus at his death on the cross. At the end of The Gospel According To Luke the events around the ascension are depicted in the following way, "Jesus took them up to the area around Bethany, he lifted his hands and blessed [them]. Then, as he blessed [them] he left them and ascended to heaven. After they laid prostrate in worship before Jesus, they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and on the temple grounds they praised God without ceasing," (Luke 24:50-53). They "returned to Jerusalem with great joy." Why is that?
4. Getting to the point, one thing is clear from here, which is, when Christ ascended to heaven, it meant to the disciples that Christ was not just "departing from them at a great distance." Hardly so, but rather it meant the opposite, that through Christ's ascending, what was happening was that "Heaven itself was becoming very very much closer." Because of the ascension of Jesus, in transcending the boundaries of heaven and earth the tie between Jesus and his disciples became that which ties heaven and earth together.
5. Later Paul described the tie between the heavenly ascended Christ and the flocks of his disciples, that is, the relationship between Christ and his church, as the relationship between the head and the body. The church is "the body of Christ," (First Corinthians 12:27). This is how the church is tied to the Christ who is in the heavenlies. We could also say that the church is a community connected to heaven through the Christ who is in heaven.
6. There are a lot of things I could say about the joy that this brings us, but I would like to touch on just one today. It is an often quoted phrase, but in the Heidelberg catechism*, where it addresses the ascension of Christ, there is a question that goes like this: "Question 49: What benefits do the ascension of Christ bring to us?" Then it responds with three benefits that the ascension of Christ brings, but what I would like to present to you is the second one from it. "Second, it is that we will have our physical body in heaven. It is that Christ as the head is the one sure guarantee that he will gather us as bodily parts of his own to his very self."
7. I've happened to notice sometimes people talking about the kingdom of heaven [in a way] completely unrelated to the faith. Some of them just brush it off like it's nothing, saying "I'm not worried in the slightest way about dying. Cause there's a heaven." But, think about it. Can we really claim that there is any kind of connection between heaven and us human beings? If one says, "What relationship is there between heaven and you?," what could we answer them? We humans as flesh belonging to this earth, even worse, we humans as sinners in rebellion against God, how in the world do we say on that kind of basis that we can speak about any ties to heaven? If we were to take an honest look at the reality of humanity, we would have to admit that "We truly have no automatic ties to heaven at all."
8. If we can still look to heaven with any hope at all, it is because of just one tie alone, Christ is there [and he has the tie to us]. Christ was crucified, paid for our sins, and rose from the dead, and precisely because he is already in heaven as the head of the church, we can look to heaven with peace of mind. Putting it in the words of the Heidelberg catechism, the ascension of Christ is "the one sure guarantee that he will gather us as bodily parts of his own to his very self." Therefore, if we are joined to Christ, we can finish life on earth with peace of mind; for, Christ as our head is already in heaven and we are his bodily members.
We Live On Earth
9. So, I mentioned that since Christ is in heaven one can look to heaven with peace of mind. But, the story doesn't end there. There is more ahead. The disciples were standing [there] looking into the heavens. Whereupon, two [men] wearing white clothes appeared there and said to the disciples, "O men of Galilee, why do you stand there looking up into heaven? Jesus, who has departed from you and gone up into heaven, will come again in the same manner as you've seen in his going to heaven," (verse eleven).
10. Christ certainly is in heaven. But, we don't just live thinking of heaven alone and gazing at heaven alone because drawing us up to heaven is not God's final purpose. God's concern is always and ever directed to earth. God's purpose is that the rule of God be on earth. Christ did not teach us to pray "That we be drawn up to heaven." That's not [what he taught us], rather he taught us to pray "That your kingdom come. That your will be done on earth also just as it is in heaven." God's purpose is for his will to be done on earth also like it is in heaven. This is how heaven and earth are to become one.
11. Thus, Christ didn't go to heaven for good. "He is coming again." Thus, our eyes must be directed to this earth upon which Christ will come again. We should not stand [around] looking into heaven. We must keep steadfast in doing only what we can in this world and while on this earth.
12. In verse nine, it is written that "When he was done speaking, Jesus ascended to heaven while they were looking at him." "When he was done speaking" - what was he saying to them? Just before that it is written that, "When the Holy Spirit descends upon you, you will be granted power. Then you will become my witnesses not only in Jerusalem, but in all the regions of Judea and Samaria, and even unto the ends of the earth," (verse eight). Going by how Luke tells it, this is the last statement from Jesus while on the earth. "You will become my witnesses." After leaving that statement with them, Jesus returned home to heaven.
13. A result of that then is that the church is being built on this earth as witnesses to Christ. As part of the church we live on this earth as witnesses to testify to Christ. Christ became human and came to this world, Christ was crucified on the cross for the redemption of our sin, Christ rose again and lives right now, Christ went up to heaven and is seated at the right hand of God, and Christ will soon come again and judge the living and the dead - this Christ - we live to point to him in the midst of this world.
14. It makes sense and doesn't really need to be said so much, but after we die we won't need to be witnesses to Christ in heaven. The time we need to be witnesses for Christ is while we are alive in this world. While on earth, we have got to tell other people on earth of Christ. We shouldn't say, "After I die, I will tell my son about Christ appearing at his beside every night." While we are on earth we must keep steady doing only what we can on this earth.
15. However, that is not accomplished according to our own physical strength. Jesus commanded his disciples, "Don't leave Jerusalem, but wait for what has been promised of the father, which you heard from me before," (verse four). Then in verse eight he said, "When the Holy Spirit descends upon you, you will be conferred with power. And, ... you will become my witnesses." Thus, witnessing for Christ is not accomplished by some innate strength that humans have. The church does not witness for Christ by the greatness of the abilities of the people who belong to it. This comes from strength from above. It comes from the power of the Holy Spirit. If you only stand there looking up, you don't need to seek for the power and workings of the Holy Spirit. But, if we are trying to be witnesses for Christ in this old world, then we have got to seek for power from above, for the power of the Holy Spirit.
16. As a result therefore, the disciples who saw the ascension of Christ were seeking diligently in prayer for the descent of the Holy Spirit as promised by the Father. As we pass through the holy day of the ascension, we too are moving towards the Pentecost celebration of the descent of the Spirit. This is the inevitable flow [of things]. After we've finished our lives on this earth, we won't need to worry about this and that about heaven. Christ is in heaven. We should have peace of mind in that. We should apply our minds on this earth where we will be greeting Christ again. The promised Holy Spirit has already been poured out on this earth at the day of Pentecost two thousand years ago. Oh, that the Holy Spirit would give us power, that he would make us witnesses for Christ! Until that day when Christ comes again!
* A more official translation is as follows.
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.