Sunday, May 8, 2016

He Ascended Into Heaven

At a recent Bible study we were looking at Exodus 13 where God establishes the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This was one of the feasts that Israel was to celebrate every year. And God insisted that they do this so that they would remember how God rescued them from Egypt. That rescue was one of His great acts of redemption. As we discussed Exodus 13, it became clear that God still wants His Church to remember what He has accomplished, the great acts of redemption that Jesus has done.

So, today I’m going remind you of one particular act of redemption, the ascension of Jesus. And today is the right day to do that since it is Ascension Sunday and celebrated as such in many faithful churches around the globe.

Let me start by simply explaining what happened. Luke gives a rather clear account of that at the beginning of the book of Acts.

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Acts 1.1-11

So, what happened? It’s not complicated. Jesus, physically, went up into heaven. The apostles watched as He went higher and higher until they could no longer see Him. That’s what happened and I think that you will agree that it’s not complicated. Jesus ascended into heaven.

Let’s develop this by asking a question. Now that Jesus is in heaven what’s He doing? Is He just waiting for the day for Him to return? Luke has told us. Listen again.

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach …

That ‘first book’ that Luke is referring to is the Gospel that he wrote. And if that’s about all that Jesus began to do and teach, then the book of Acts is about all that Jesus continued to do and teach. And that answers our question. After His ascension Jesus is still doing and teaching. It’s just that He’s doing and teaching from heaven.

This explains why it’s important for us to remember Jesus’ ascension. God’s plan of redemption is not completed. Jesus did some things to fulfill that plan while He walked the earth. Here, along with other things, you can include the Cross and the empty tomb. But there is more to be done.  Jesus is still busy fulfilling God’s plan of redemption. Jesus is still doing and teaching.

Next question. What exactly is it that Jesus is doing? He is actually doing many things. But let’s just talk about this one thing. Jesus is still busy doing and teaching so that you will become human. Now, that will probably sound a bit odd. We are not beasts. We are humans, right? Well, yes and no. It’s true that we are not beasts. In contrast with them, we are humans. And yet, I think that it’s important to understand that something has happened to our humanity. When Adam sinned in the Garden, something horrendous happened to him. Something happened to his humanity. It was mutilated and corrupted. He didn’t become a beast. But something of the essence of what it meant that he was human was destroyed. Adam was no longer fully human. He became - how shall we label it? - ‘kind of human’. And every person who has descended from him since has likewise been affected. We all have started out as only ‘kind of human’. There are aspects of what it means to be human, really human, that we are all missing. And that is one huge problem for all people everywhere. We are all only ‘kind of human’.

But Jesus has come. He has come to execute God’s plan of redemption. And one big part of that plan is to take those who are only ‘kind of human’ and change them. Jesus has come so that we can become human, fully human.

Jesus began that work of redemption while He was here. But that work was not completed when He left, not by a long shot. So, He has been busy doing and teaching. It is true that because of what Jesus has already done in us we are more human than what we used to be. And thanks be to God for that. But we are by no means fully human. By no means. There is more work to be done. And that, you see, is exactly what Jesus is doing right now. He is continuing His work of making us fully human.

Next question. How does He do that? How does He change us from only ‘kind of human’ to fully human? Think back over the last week. Think about some of what happened to you. Think about the situations that you found yourself in, situations that affected you a great deal as well as those that really didn’t. Did all of that just happen, a bunch of random events? No, in all of that Jesus was doing. He sent those situations your way. All of them. He was continuing to work on God’s plan for your redemption.

Some of those situations were His blessings sent to encourage you in your efforts to be a person of integrity and virtue. Other situations were ways in which He tested you. There are rewards for passing His tests. You grow in favor with God and man. But please note that much good can come about even when you fail a test. You can get to know yourself better, your weaknesses and your sins. You need to know things like that so that you can work on them. And then, some of what happened last week were opportunities for you to watch others try to live without Jesus. This was to show you the futility of trying to do that.

Think back over some experience of last week. And then, tell yourself, ‘Jesus was doing something in that situation’. And He was. He was continuing to work at making you human.

Those situations were things that you could see. But there was more. There were all the things that you couldn’t see. Last week Jesus acted to change your soul. You probably didn’t notice any of that. This sort of change is usually quite small and usually quite subtle. But Jesus was busy last week changing your soul. This change is a key part of completing God’s plan of redemption in you, of making you really human.

So, what have I done this morning? I’ve applied the message of Easter. Jesus is alive. He is alive and still very busy saving us. His plan for us is not yet completed. He is still busy making us fully human. It’s just that to do that for all of us He needed to ascend to the Father’s right hand to do and teach from there. So, you see why I say that His ascension is one of His great acts of redemption, something we need to remember.

As all of this becomes clearer and clearer to you, as you remember it, it affects how you understand your life. Each day, you work through your todo list. You interact with people. You confront problems. You accomplish goals. You see all this happen. But there is another level to each day. Each day, Jesus is busy changing you. He deals with you in ways that usually go unnoticed. But He is changing you, quietly changing you. Jesus is working in quiet, subtle ways so that, little by little, you are becoming human. A day’s events are more than the things that you can see.

Remembering this, remembering that Jesus is still doing and teaching us, will show. It will show as joy. There will be a persistent tone of optimism as we work through our day. To be sure, there will be those situations where we are frustrated by something or other. We might even be saddened by what we experience. And yet, we are still able to maintain that optimistic tone. And why not? Jesus is still busy doing and teaching. He has sent even that sad situation to do us some good, to move us another step closer to being fully human. That optimism, that joy, will lead to hope. Jesus has made a promise. We are going to become real humans with all of the glorious qualities of being real humans. It’s just a matter of waiting for Him to keep that promise.

Remembering that Jesus is still doing and teaching will also show as a grateful spirit. Thanksgiving will be a theme of our lives. We will even be able to be grateful for the hard parts of life. We can thank Him for them because we know that even they are part of His doing and teaching that will result in our becoming human.

Jesus has ascended to heaven in order to continue working on His plan for our redemption. That is something worth remembering and enjoying. And when He descends from heaven on the last day that plan will be completed. And from that point on we all will be fully human, never to be changed.

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