God in flesh, free from temptation, healer and restorer, seeking and saving the lost, betrayed/denied/tried/crucified, and he is Risen and lives forever!
This is what we have been thinking about for the last seven weeks. Jesus has done, is doing, and will continue to do incredible things in our midst and in our world. Are we paying attention?
Now we go to the event Jesus was preparing his followers for – his departure.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus says something interesting to his disciples. He says, “But very truly I tell you, it is for your own good that I am going away.”Why would he say this? Think about it. If Jesus was still here in the physical body form, as we are, then he would only be able to be in one particular place at one particular time. We would have to go to him to hear him and so we could be in his presence. We might say we want Jesus in the physical flesh now, but then we would have to be the ones who go to him.
But, because Jesus ascended into heaven, we do not have to go to him because he is already with us. It really is better for us that he ascended into heaven, otherwise he would not have sent the promised Holy Spirit (see John 16:7).
So now, let’s take time to read the passage, from Luke 24:
50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God
The ascension event is found in all four Gospel accounts and in the book of Acts. All of them differ to some degree.
Matthew’s gospel concludes with Jesus telling the disciples he has all authority in heaven and on earth and then gives them, what we call, the Great Commission, “go and make disciples of all nations…”
Mark’s (longer ending) gospel says something similar, but then adds, “After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat down at the right hand of God.”
Luke’s gospel is above.
John’s gospel shows Jesus alluding to his ascension when he speaks with Mary Magdelene after he rose from the grave. Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
The book of Acts says, “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.”
I used to picture the ascension like most people, Jesus floating off in the clouds and disappearing into the sky as he was on his way to heaven – a far-off location. But, as I have paid closer attention to the scripture, I now realize this was written in a similar form as when Moses went up the mountain to receive the law from God. Moses “ascended” the mountain and went into the clouds. This means Moses walked up the mountain to where the clouds were, and he was not seen for 40 days.
This is what I now picture. Jesus goes up the mountain and the clouds come down upon him and he disappears. Why clouds? What do they mean?
Clouds throughout scripture represented the fullness, the glory of God. When Moses was in the clouds, he was in the full glory of God. Jesus, when the clouds surrounded him, entered into the realm of heaven to be where he could reign forever.
All of the written accounts of Jesus’ departure (his ascension) point to his authority over all. This event also shows us he is King now. Jesus will not be crowned King when he returns. He is King now. He has full authority over all humanity and creation. The New Testament writers believed this too.
Do you know what the most quoted Old Testament scripture is? It may surprise you to know it is actually in the book of Psalms. Can you guess it? This scripture is quoted 23 times in the New Testament. Ready to find out what it is?
It is Psalm 110:1. That may seem like a strange scripture. But, it shows the authority and Kingship of Jesus here and now. The New Testament authors wanted to show Jesus’s authority to the believers so they could have the assurance Jesus is not in a far away place, but ruling now.
Psalm 110:1 says, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” (NIV)
Jesus sits down at the right hand of God. Why? The right side has always been referenced to as the strong side, the highest honor, the position of authority. Jesus sits down meaning his work has been done.
Hebrews 1:3 points again to the placement of Jesus’ position in heaven. “[H]e sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”(NIV)
What all of this is showing is that because Jesus has ascended into heaven, humanity now has a position and place in heaven! Why? Remember it was not the Spirit of Jesus that went into heaven. Jesus did not shed himself of his physical body to enter heaven. His body was made perfect before ascending. It was Jesus, in human bodily form, that entered into the realm of Heaven.
This means there is a human (Jesus) ruling in Heaven. Now, this is not diminishing Jesus in any way. Remember, in Heaven, humans are higher than the angels. Jesus is still fully God. He is also fully human. As Steve Seamands writes, “Because Jesus ascended, humanity has been exalted and brought into the life of God.”
See, it is not the resurrection that gives us life everlasting with God in Heaven. It is the ascension. Because Jesus is there, humanity has the place in Heaven now.
The ascension is so much more important for our life with God than we realize. The importance of this event has slipped from our minds, but this doesn’t change the reality of what Jesus did.
Jesus’ ascension is so important that, in the Roman Catholic Church, there are only six mandatory days to attend Mass. The Feast of the Ascension (Ascension Day) is one of them.Is this event as important to you? I hope the importance of this event is more real now and we can come to celebrate Jesus’ ascension more prominently.
WHERE IS HEAVEN?
As I have said, I do not picture Jesus going off into the sky on his way to heaven. Too often, we tend to think of heaven as some far off place that we go to after we die. Remember Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God is at hand. He was proclaiming God’s Kingdom here on earth. He was not proclaiming a place far away from earth. Neither was he saying we “go to heaven.” Jesus was proclaiming heaven on earth.
Steve Seamands reminds us of how NT Wright teaches about the realm of Heaven. This is what Jesus seems to be proclaiming while on the physical earth. “As NT Wright points out, in biblical cosmology, heaven and earth are not two locations within the same special continuum; rather they are dimensions of God’s creations. And since heaven relates to earth tangentially, the one who is in heaven can be present everywhere at once on earth. ‘The Ascension, therefore, means that Jesus is available, accessible, without people having to travel to a particular spot on earth to find him.”
Heaven is not some place we go after we die. Heaven is the reality of the full presence of God here and now AND in the life to come. Heaven, therefore, is already here. We just do not have the eyes to see it fully nor live into it because Jesus has not come back.
Heaven is here among us. We see glimpses of heaven each and every day. One day, the fullness and glory of heaven will take over the earth once again. Heaven and earth will become one, just as in the Garden of Eden. This earth will not be destroyed, but it will be transformed and redeemed. This is why we pray, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This is our prayer. That earth will be just like heaven.
JESUS IS STILL HERE
Since heaven is here on earth, as another dimension of the reality we live in, Jesus is still here. And, we are with Jesus in heaven.
The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 2:6 that we are in Christ. We are really with him in heaven at the same time we are here on earth. Heaven can be, and is, experienced here on earth because, as Paul says, we have one foot in heaven and one foot on earth. Because we are in Christ, we also get to be with him in heaven too! The reality of Jesus is here. We are also with him.
Seamands reminds us “Jesus is always with us in actual presence. Because we are with him in heaven and he’s with us on earth, that means we can live every moment in the holy of holies presence of God.”
Remember in the Old Testament, the Tabernacle , nd the Temple? There was a room, separated by a thick curtain called the “Holy of Holies.” This was the space that only the High Priest could enter. This was the most sacred space on earth, the place where God resides.
When Jesus was crucified on the cross, the curtain in the Temple was torn in two, symbolizing there was nothing separating God from the people anymore. God has broke the barriers created by Sin and has allowed humanity to enter into his presence anytime we want. We get to live in the presence of God here and now and we do not have to go through a mediator.
We can live, knowing the reality of Jesus is with us always. Look at Psalm 16:
I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,
You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
STAY HEAVENLY MINDED AND EARTHLY FOCUSED
I’m sure you may have heard the phrase, “don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good.” Well, we really need to scratch that phrase so we do not use it again. We really do need to remain heavenly minded, because we, who are in Christ, are with Christ in heaven here and now. This is the reality we know will come to fruition at the right time.
We need to remember that we are called to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven wherever we are and wherever we go in whatever we do. Our focus should always remain on Jesus Christ because it is his image we are being molded and transformed to.
Jesus is on the throne and this has an incredible impact for how we live our life. Because Jesus is on the throne, we can approach with confidence the Throne of Grace. (Hebrews 4:16)
We exalt Jesus as the rightful King of the world (really universe) because if we do not, something or someone else will be exalted in our own lives and we will miss out on living in and experiencing heaven on earth here and now.
Jesus gives himself for the mission he called us to and he does not leave us on our own. Nor, do we go into the mission field in our own strength and power. Jesus guides and gives us all power and everything else we need. He does this through the Holy Spirit.
Whenever we love God by loving people and we love people by loving God, we are doing what we were created for. This is what we are called to do.
So, who is Jesus? Jesus is….
God in flesh, free from the power of temptations, healing and restoring, seeking and saving the lost, betrayed/denied/tried/crucified, risen and lives forever, ascended and reigns forever.
That’s who Jesus is. Now the question becomes, “What would Jesus say about you?”
John 16:7a NIV
Mark 16:19 NIV
John 20:17 NIV
Acts 1:9 NIV
Seamands, Stephen. “Unseen Real”
Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”
Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”
Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”
Psalm 16:8-9,11 NIV