This message is based on Acts 1:1-11 and 1 John 1:1-3. It was preached at the Central Schwenkfelder Church on June 5, 2011
A movement leader’s death benefits His organization? How could that be? How could the retirement of a star player be a benefit to a team? Throughout history, one could argue that this is opposite of the truth. Our country was not the same after John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The Philadelphia Phillies were not the same, at least for a little while, after the retirements of Larry Bowa, Pete Rose and Mike Schmidt. The 76ers weren’t quite the same after Allen Iverson left town the first time. So how could the church thrive after the death of Jesus Christ? Well, I’m leaving out a couple of significant events that contributed to the success: Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and His ascension into heaven. Today is Ascension Sunday, which marks the event described in our Responsive Reading for today. Ironically, the departure of Jesus Christ into heaven was a benefit to the church.
You might be interested to know that our Amish brothers and sisters considered Thursday of this past week one of their holidays to fast and meditate on Scriptures. This is an important day with invaluable lessons for our faith. Yet, it is one of those holidays that goes unrecognized, unnoticed. What can we learn from the Ascension of Jesus?
To discover this, we must go back to the question: “Who is Jesus?” We’ve been studying the Apostles’ Creed which states that Jesus: “…suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hades; the third day He arose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”
Why does the Apostles’ Creed present a litany of the events that characterized Jesus’ life? For its answer we have to go back to the basic question of why creeds are written in the first place: to answer false teaching of the time. In this case, it was the heresy known as Gnosticism, which denied the physical manifestation of Jesus. They falsely taught that the Son of God could not inhabit a human body because the divine has nothing to do with this sinful, material world, so they believed. So… the two can never meet. It was inconceivable. Other Gnostics taught that the Spirit of the Messiah could only rest upon Jesus at his baptism and shortly before His death. From this, we know that truth is
- objective in nature.
- outside of ourselves.
- proven over time.
- in contrast to false doctrine.
This section of the creed also affirms what the Apostle John wrote in his first letter, chapter one, which Tim read earlier, that Jesus is the Word of Life. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched– this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” Or what he wrote in his gospel in 1:14 that Jesus is the word become flesh: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
To this point the Apostles’ Creed affirms the arrival of Jesus in bodily form, His earthly ministry, death, burial and resurrection, then His ascension. Some have pointed out the decline and incline of this section of the creed. In the last days of Jesus earthly existence and during his death, He suffered, was crucified dead and buried, descended into hades, then resurrected, ascended and sits at God’s right hand. And He is coming back. Remember that the angels said: “And that this same person will one day come to judge the living and the dead.” God values the body! He values human life! It was a point of contact for Jesus. He fully identified with us. If there was not this blessing in our lives, there would be no reconciliation with God. There would be no hope of knowing God; there would be no forgiveness of sin; only death, destruction and misery. That is why the gospel is so critical in our world today, as many disregard what they do with their bodies and trying to be more spiritual. The gospel states that man’s efforts to be more spiritual are feeble and in vain without the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Some have problems with the statement: “He descended into hell.” The Scripture speaks of His incarnation as a “descent,” but not that He journeyed to hell. What is important to note is that Jesus underwent the pains of hell on our behalf. Listen to how John Calvin puts it. “The point is that the Creed sets forth what Christ suffered in the sight of men …and that he paid a greater and more excellent price in suffering in his soul the terrible torments of a condemned and forsaken man.” This really puts what Jesus did for us in perspective. Jesus underwent the pains and torments of hell in being separated from His father, the same thing that those who die without Christ will undergo.
BENEFITS TO JESUS’ ASCENSION
Next, we must ask, what does the Ascension of Jesus Christ have to do with our Christian faith? It marks a transition. Let me teach on three significant points of this transition. That brings us to Jesus’ statement in Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” From this we know that Jesus had to go, so that the Holy Spirit could come and stay. I will elaborate on this more next week. Think about it. It is through a band of 12 misfits that the church took root and became a worldwide movement that has lasted for over 2,000 years. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to do just that in the lives of the apostles.
Next, Jesus had to go to take His place as the established Divine authority over heaven and earth. Remember it was after His resurrection from the dead that Jesus said to His disciples: “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to Me…” In the creed we state that He is seated: “…at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”
Lastly, we benefit practically from Jesus’ ascension in that He prays for us. Romans 8:34 tells us: “Who is he that condemns? 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.” It is a marvelous thing to know that Christ prays for you and for me. Saying the right thing, subject to rejection, seems to take on a different light. In Christ’s position at the right hand of God, I have an advocate; someone who sticks up for me; a helper, who also loved me and gave Himself up for me.
This all should encourage us and give us an anticipation of the future. As the Listen to the words of Alexander McClaren, minister of the Union Chapel in Manchester, England, often referred to as one of the greatest preacher of the 19th century: “Let us learn (a lesson) from this great fact that our Lord Jesus Christ is ascended into glory. The faith of each humble believer may be gloriously strengthened as he or she thinks of the ascended Jesus. If a soul doubts his own acceptance with God let him think that Jesus who died for him is welcomed back to glory because the work is done. May not also our faith penetrate the clouds and say, My Jesus has gone to prepare a home for me? May we not by faith see that home? Let our faith be so strong that it will look right through the cloud and say, My Jesus is there.” Acts 1:9: “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. 10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”