Thursday, May 29, 2014

LUKE 24:50-53 ' HOW ASCENSION DAY HELPS US TO WORSHIP JESUS "

[50] Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. [51] While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. [52] And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, [53] and were continually in the temple blessing God. (Luke 24:50-53  ESV)

Taking leave  of your loved ones is never easy. Sometimes  there are goodbye’s  where we even have to say  to  Christian  brothers and sisters,   “see you in heaven!”  The thought  of parting always fills us with sorrow .  Now Jesus  had come to the end of His  time on earth. In John 17 :4 -11  He said  to His Father in His high priestly prayer :

 “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. [6] “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. [7] Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. [8] For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. [9] I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. [10] All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. [11] And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.

It was  now  time for Jesus to  go back  (to ascend)  to the Father and  amazingly,  we read  here that  this parting   was not  characterised by grief  or sorrow – it was  characterised by  great joy (Gr. charas megalēs) …  and they  worshiped Him and  returned to Jerusalem with  great joy !  
What made the disciples   so  ‘greatly  joyful’   at  Christ’s ascension that  thoughts of  parting were overshadowed  by this  worshipping joy ?  And what  implication might  the thought of the  ascension have  on  our joy today ? 

There are at least  four  reasons  why Jesus’ ascension, properly understood,  should bring us joy :
(i)                      The thought of His finished work
(ii)                   The thought of His present heavenly ministry
(iii)                 The thought  of  our empowerment for effective ministry  in this world
(iv)                 The thought of His return,  and our finished work


1.       We may be joyful  because we  know  that His work is truly finished .
I don’t know  about you , but my present work never seems to be finished .There are aspects  here and there  where I can say , “ Well, thank God  that  this is  now finished”, but then when I look at the bigger picture,  there is still so much that is not finished, and it won’t be finished   until Jesus returns.  The Lord Jesus,  however  at this moment can truly  say  that His work on  earth  for the purpose for which He was sent ,  was  now finished! There was nothing  more left to do. He could go back to the Father  knowing that He had glorified Him on earth , having accomplished the work that the Father  had given Him to do (Jn 17:4)
The night before  He died, He told His disciples : “I came from the Father and have come into the world and now  I am leaving the world  and going to the Father” (Jn 16:28). His work was finished  ! 
But how   can  that  fact  make us joyful ?   Let us think about this for a moment .  The finished  work of Christ was  His work for us on the cross .  The work  of the cross was to make atonement  for sin – to purchase a people for God  with the price of  His own blood ,  so that they  could  be   freed from  that sin which would keep them out of heaven!  That was the purpose of His first coming. Before  Jesus  was born an  angel had  appeared to Joseph  and he  told Joseph plainly, “Call Him Jesus  because  “He will save His people from their sins”  (Matt. 1:21).  Jesus affirmed this  in Luke 19:10,  when He said  “ For the Son of Man came to  seek and to save  the  lost.”
If you are a Christian today be joyful because He has now finished  His work for you and therefore,  “there is therefore now no condemnation  for those who are in Christ Jesus.” ( Rom 8:1). Your sins are forgiven in His name.  You are reconciled  to  God through Jesus’ blood.  You are now ready for heaven . Therefore   you  can worship Him and rejoice because His earthly ministry for you and for all His church  is  now completed. Nothing more needs to be added .
The only thing that you can do  is to be obedient to His commission   for you to  share the good news  among   all the nations in your generation,  so that there also God’s elect people may hear , believe  and be saved from their sin and go to heaven !

2.  We may be joyful  because Jesus  has commenced  His heavenly ministry.
In John’s gospel   (Jn 13 – 17) Jesus had told the disciples in the upper room a number of times  that He was going away from them .  At that  stage their hearts were troubled  and He needed to remind them,  “If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father  is greater [1]than I” (John 14:28).   In returning to the Father, He would be restored to that  place of glory and power that was His before  He became the incarnate Son of God.   

How does  Jesus  ascension  to   heaven help us today ?  How can that though make us joyful  ?  Consider  these 4 facts :
(i)                      We  are joyful because we have  a glorious, enthroned King in heaven .  He is our representative  and guarantee before the Father.  Jesus is  our man in heaven. He is our  Advocate before the Father ; He is our brother ; He is the firstborn from the dead  and the hope of our resurrection .  In our resurrected bodies  we will,  one day,  share His glory. But  think also about this: He is now   worshiped, loved  and adored  by  our  dear  departed brothers and sisters  who are before the  throne where they say,  “Worthy is  the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing.”  They also say  : “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever” (Rev. 5:12, 13).
(ii)                   We are  joyful  He intercedes  for us in heaven. (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25). This  prayer involves not only presenting our prayer petitions and needs before the Father.  Heb. 9:24 tells us  that He appears  in the presence of God on our behalf .  1 John 2:1, 2 tells us that he is our Advocate  in heaven . Therefore we have  continual access to God through  Jesus our Advocate. 
(iii)                 We are joyful  because He said that He was going to prepare a place for us   that we  may be where He is. (John 14:1-3).
(iv)                 We are joyful  that  at the  ascension  Jesus  has declared  His  dominion over heaven and earth.  Peter tells us that Jesus is now “at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him” (1 Pet. 3:22). Paul says that Jesus is  seated at God’s “right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet” (Eph. 1:20b-22a). There is, of course  a sense in which all things are not yet subject to Him (1 Cor. 15:27-28; Ps. 110:1; Heb. 10:13). But when He comes again in power and glory, He will conquer every  enemy and reign forever and ever. So,  it is as good as done , and this fills us with joy .

3.       We may be joyful  because now we  are empowered  to  effectively continue His work in the world until He comes.   
Why did  the Lord Jesus not  take His followers with Him into heaven when He ascended? The answer is simple . He  has work  for them to do in His name.[2]  Future generations  still have   to be reached.  The church’s mission   is to continue to proclaim  the saving work of Jesus  to every generation and to all nations .  However, the Lord Jesus also  knew that  in ourselves  we could not do  it. He told the disciples, “It is to your advantage that I go away;  for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I  go, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7). So , He had to  provide  His church  with  power and authority.  For this reason the church had to wait until it was  endued with His power  (Lk 24:49 ; Acts 1:4,8) and so we see then that when Christ ascended,  the Holy Spirit descended. Jesus  had promised:   “ I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you .” (Jn.  14:18) . It is essential that we are clothed with the power of the Holy Spirit if we want to succeed in that mission.  So, thank God that  we  have the Holy Spirit. Let our work  be done His strength alone.



4.       We may be joyful at the thought of His return and the prospect of our  finished work .
The promise of Christ’s ascension is also the promise of His descension,  that is , His  second  coming. No man knows  the day or hour (Matt. 24:36). We are to be prepared  at all times ( Matt 25:1-13). But this we know , that  when He comes , our work will be done  and  then we too shall ascend  with  Christ to heaven (John 14:3; 1 Thess 4:17). Then too,   all  suffering , challenges , tears , sorrow , sadness, sickness, pain  etc.  will be over   and our work will be done , and our eternal  rest (Hebr.  4:9-16)   will begin.

Three  Principles for joyful work :

a.        We need Christ’s blessing  in order   to be effective representatives  for Him in the world . Note that He blessed the disciples before He left  ( Lk  24:51 ;  ; Acts 1:12). “He lifted up His hands and  he blessed them. While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:50b-51). The  picture is that of the Old Testament priest blessing the people after  offering the sacrifice for them (Lev. 9:22).  Jesus wasn’t just wishing the disciples well when He blessed them. His blessing was absolutely essential for them and for us, if we are to carry on His work. Without Jesus’ blessing, we may have  an  outwardly successful  ministry , but it will all  be burned up .   “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it   labor in vain ” (Ps. 127:1).  In  God’s work, His blessing means everything. Seek God’s blessing before man’s approval!

b.        We must learn  to  worship Him before  we  work for Him. Worship should always precede work. Any work we do for the Lord should be the overflow of our hearts being full of adoration and love for Him. We hear a lot about burnout in ministry. One major cause of burnout is when our work gets ahead of our worship.  Jesus lifted up  His hands in blessing and they  were nail  pierced hands!  He has done the work . He has purchased a people  . Your  and my job  is not to  die for people – nor  to save them . We  are to be  worshippers first  and  then  to do our work  to  proclaim the gospel , and as people hear  the gospel  we are confident  that  His sheep will hear His voice and be drawn to their and our Saviour .

c.        We must learn to bless God  because of His  great blessings to  us . In v 50, Jesus blessed the disciples; in v 53, the disciples are in the temple, continually blessing God.  So , when the disciples see the risen and ascended Savior, they go away praising  (lit., “blessing”) God. God has blessed us with all the promises  of His Word and  we in turn bless God for  His Word. 

Dear brothers and sisters , I trust that this brief meditation on the ascension of Christ has helped  you to worship  your Lord Jesus  with greater joy ! Amen !



[1] Incidentally , He was not denying His own deity ( Godhood) , but rather was referring to the limitations of His humanity.  Remember, that during  His earthly ministry, Jesus voluntarily limited Himself in  dependence upon the Father. His glory was veiled for a time . He submitted  to the Father’s will, including the cross
[2] The parable of the  talents  ( Matthew 25:14-30)  indicates  this

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