The Ascension Of Christ
May 24, 2009
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Christ Went Up To Heaven
1. Last Thursday the twenty-first was called "Ascension Day" as per the church calendar, and so it was the day for commemorating the ascension of Christ. In today's reading of the gospel the following was stated. "From there Jesus brought them to the vicinity of Bethany and lifting his hand he blessed them. While blessing them he left them and went up to heaven," (verses fifty and fifty-one). It feels pretty strange to me when I visualize the body of Christ going up into the sky floating like a balloon so to speak. Yet though, on the other hand, one could even make the case that it is not that strange even though Christ went up to heaven because even the fact that the risen Christ was there to begin with is a mystery that goes beyond human understanding.
2. Actually, in today's passage of scripture something truly strange lies elsewhere. It is that the disciples were not sorrowing over the ascension of Christ or acting like they missed him. The text there does surely say, "he left them." By saying he went up into heaven it means he departed from the disciples. Isn't that naturally a sad event? However, the disciples don't go through another time of dark sadness like they did that time when they lost Christ at his death on the cross. The scripture says, "After they knelt and worshipped Jesus, they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were praising God at the temple grounds without ceasing," (verses fifty-two and fifty-three).
3. They were rejoicing. They had great joy. They not only had joy. The ascension of Christ caused them to head to the temple. It caused them to go worship. It caused them to go to God. They worshipped God and they were giving praises to God.
4. After this one thing becomes clear. It is that to the disciples the ascension of Christ was not at all an event in which Christ "left for a far away place." If anything the opposite is true, it was an event in which "Heaven itself got closer" because of the fact that Christ had gone up there. Heaven got closer, God himself got closer, the world of salvation got closer. Therefore, they could not not be happy. Therefore, they could not not look to the heavens. They could not not worship God. They could not not praise God. Therefore, "After they knelt and worshipped Jesus, they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were praising God at the temple grounds without ceasing."
5. In today's second reading, The Epistle To The Believers At Ephesus was read, and there the phrase of "the body of Christ" can be found, (Ephesians 4:12). In that text it speaks of the relationship of Christ and the church as a relationship of the head and the body. We and the Christ who is in heaven are inseparably joined like the head and the body are. It also means that we and heaven are inseparably joined together. Thus, because Christ has gone up to heaven, we are a community which is joined together with each other and with heaven. As a result then, we live lifting our faces towards heaven. In no sense at all do we live hanging our heads down in shame and looking downward. We lift our faces looking heavenward and live worshipping God.
6. And what is more joyous than anything else is that the Christ who is in heaven and the Christ who is the head of the church is the [same] Christ who hung on the cross in order to atone for our sins. The one who loves us and offered himself up for us is in heaven. This is really the one and only basis upon which we can lift our faces towards heaven and have the hope like we do. There seems to be a need to put some stress on this point here in this place. I say that because this country has not a few who speak about heaven completely unrelated to faith. There are people putting it out of the way all too easily by saying things like, "I'm not worried one bit about dying. Because I'm just going to heaven." When we are going through life like that, then, without even realizing it, we end up forgetting that our being able to look up to the heavens is a special gift of grace given through the Christ.
7. Please think about it. If asked, "Is there any kind of connection between you and heaven?," what kind of answer can you give without Christ in it? Having been living all the while repeatedly unable to turn our faces to heaven, how in the world can we really speak about a connection to heaven with any kind of [real] basis for that claim? When we honestly take a good hard look at the reality of our humanity, we will hardly be able to avoid saying, "We truly do not have any connection to heaven." If we suppose that we in that shape are still able to look to heaven with hope, then just one thing, it is [only] because Christ is right there with you. It is because the Christ who atoned for our sins by hanging on the cross and who rose again from the dead is already in heaven as the head of the church. For that very reason then, we have peace and can look to heaven for help. As a result, with peace of mind we can finish out our lives on this earth; because Christ the head is already in heaven and we are a part of him.
We Live On Earth
8. Now, I said that because of the very fact that Christ is in heaven, with peace of mind we can look to heaven for help. But, that's not all. Before Christ went up to heaven, he spoke on matters pertaining to being on earth. He spoke about the duties of the disciples while on earth. Please look beginning with verse forty-five. "And opening the eyes of their hearts to illuminate the scriptures for them Jesus said, 'The scriptures declare as follows. The messiah will experience suffering and will be resurrected from the dead on the third day. And then, a repentance that causes forgiveness of sins will be proclaimed in his name to the people of every nation. Beginning with Jerusalem, you will become witnesses to these things.'," (verses forty-five through forty-eight).
9. The messiah certainly did experience suffering. And then he was resurrected from the dead. This is how he had accomplished the atonement for the sins of the world. But the grace gift of the atonement of our sin which Christ accomplished for us must be delivered to the people and be personally handed over to them. In other words it must be proclaimed to them. That's why the text says, "A repentance that causes forgiveness of sins will be proclaimed in his name to the people of every nation." Who is proclaiming [the message to the people]? Of course, it is the disciples. That is, it is the church. It is us.
10. The scripture said, "a repentance that causes forgiveness of sins." In saying "repentance" it means we are to change directions and turn to God. When we turn to God, God will forgive all our sins and accept us. That's "the repentance that causes forgiveness of sins." That meaning is made clear in a famous parable that is written only in The Gospel According To Luke. It is called "The Parable Of The Prodigal Son." The son left his father and ran through his fortune wastefully by debauched living, then he nearly starved to death during a famine, but then he suddenly came to himself. I am not where I really ought to be. The problem is I am not with my father. He realized that. Then he changes direction and returns back to his father. Then when he approaches his father's house, he sees the figure of his father with disheveled hair running up to him. It is the figure of his father forgiving everything and welcoming him. The father had already forgiven the son. Forgiveness of sin was already there with the father. After he returned to the father, he received that forgiveness.
11. This must be proclaimed. The lamb of atonement has already been slain. The atonement for sin has been accomplished. There is forgiveness with the father. When we turn [to him], the father welcomes us with forgiveness. Why should we be destroyed with our backs turned to the father, even though there is forgiveness with the father and even though there is salvation? We must proclaim to all peoples of all nations that there is forgiveness with the father, there is salvation. "The repentance that causes forgiveness of sins" must be proclaimed. The church, we, are entrusted with the message of that gift.
12. Christ went up to heaven. But, we must not turn only to heaven. We must turn our eyes on the earth. We must report what we are supposed to report to the people on the earth while we are on the earth. We must not be saying things like, "My plan is that after I die I will appear at my son's pillow night after night and tell him about Christ." We have got to be steady at doing it while on this earth, what we can only do while on earth.
13. Yet, on the other hand, it seems pretty obvious that this is not easy to do at all; because from the very start the scope with which the church was charged was "the peoples of all nations." We have a really hard time just telling of God's grace just to those close to us. When it comes to "the peoples of every nation" how much harder then is it, when we must climb over so many walls of division?
14. For that reason then, the Lord said, "I will send to you that which my father has promised. Remain in the capitol city until you are covered by the power from the high place," (verse forty-nine). By referring to "the high place" it means heaven, where Christ had gone up to. Thus, it is saying that after Christ had ascended to heaven, the disciples would soon be covered by a power from that same heaven. The heavenly ascended Christ will pour the Holy Spirit onto the earth. The disciples will be filled with the Holy Spirit, and they will be covered by the power from heaven. That is the promise of the father, says the Lord.
15. What might this mean then [for us]? It means that it is the power of God himself which gets things done. Of course, while we are on this earth we must tell what we are supposed to tell to the people who are on this earth. "A repentance that causes forgiveness of sins will be proclaimed in his name to the people of every nation." That is the task given to us. And the important thing is that the one who has given us this task has also given us the necessary power to do it. As a matter of fact, in "The Acts Of The Apostles," [which is] the second scroll that is a sequel to "The Gospel According To Luke, we can see the state of the early church as the power of God was vibrantly at work in it. And that same promise is being given to us as well.
16. If we are only focused on heaven, we won't really need the power from heaven. But, if we turn our focus to the people on the earth, our families, friends, the people in the region, the people in the world, as the Lord wills us to do, and if we try to fulfill the task given to us, then we will absolutely need [that] power from heaven. We must have the power of God cover us. Next week is Pentecost, the celebration of the descent of the Holy Spirit. As the disciples earnestly sought and waited to be filled by the Holy Spirit after the ascension of Christ, let's also pray and seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and let's seek to have the power from above cover us.