Ascended & Reigns Forever

Jesus is…

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.”[1]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.”[2]

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.’”[3]

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.”[4]

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)

HUMANITY EXAULTED

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.”[5]

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.[6]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.”[7]

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.”[8]

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.
[9]

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?”

Works Cited:

[1]John 16:7a NIV

[2]Mark 16:19 NIV

[3]John 20:17 NIV

[4]Acts 1:9 NIV

[5]Seamands, Stephen. “Unseen Real”

[6]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”

[7]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”

[8]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”

[9]Psalm 16:8-9,11 NIV

Sabbath Retreat

I came back from a week in the mountains with some great friends as well as some new men I haven’t met before. This was an incredible week to take time away and rest in the Lord, intentionally.

Sabbath rest is extremely important and it is a discipline that is overlooked. One of the books I was reading during this week was “Emotionally Healthy Leader.” This is an awesome book which forces you to look inside yourself and see how, through the grace of God, we can be better and more healthy leaders. This is a book that I would recommend.

In the chapter on “Practice Sabbath Delight,” Peter Scazzaro writes about a time when he visited a trusted friend. He was frustrated when the Christian leaders he taught all over the country preach about Sabbath rest and even say it is a great “idea,” would not actually practice a true Sabbath. Bob, his clinical psychologist friend told Peter, ““They can’t stop. If they stop, they’ll die. They’re terrified. They’re frightened to death of what they’ll see inside themselves if they slow down. And you want them to immerse themselves in things like solitude, Sabbath, and silent reflection?” He chuckled again. “Do you have any idea how foreign this is for any leader —Christian or not? Something so much deeper is driving them; they just have no idea what it is.” It was the penetrating truth of this statement that stunned me: If they stop, they’ll die. They’re terrified.”

Does this describe you? If I was honest earlier in my life and ministry career, I would have to say that that statement actually pinned me to a “T.” After all, why would I want to purposefully look into the depths of my character, passed mistakes, and anything else that God wants me to work on. My thought was “I can do this. I’ll spend time with God and make Sabbath as part of my daily life. But there was a problem with that mindset; I wasn’t discipline to take at least an hour away from “my day” when I “had to be productive and get things done.”

As I have learned and realized the importance, I try (not always though) to take a complete 24 rest from the work I have to do the other 6 days of the week and spend time to delight in God. This means I will rest from work (paid and unpaid) and only do the things that give me complete joy. Some of this includes spending time with family, more time for reading, prayer, reflection, play.

For the last few years, I have been going on week long men’s retreats to the mountains. During this time away (not off like we think of being off), I have learned how to structure my days so I can come back refreshed, joyful, and ready to get back into the work of life.

Each day I will take a minimum of 2 hours, and a maximum of 5 hours for reading, meditation on Scripture, prayer, taking a walk, etc. This is usually done by myself. The rest of the day I would spend time with the group and go hiking, go into town to walk or hangout. Basically, the second half of my day is play and spending time with friends.

I am not sure of your station in life, or what you are going through. But I would encourage you to take time every 7 days for a true Sabbath rest (not necessarily stopping work; but having no deadlines to focus on). If taking 24 hours to do this each week seems challenging, I would encourage you to take time to build up to it. Purposely plan what you will and will not do on your Sabbath time and just see how God refreshes your soul for the next 6 days of building relationships and your work.

After Hours

OFFICE HOURS Ministry in the Marketplace Part 6

What are your plans after you reach retirement age? Are we only working now so we can play and relax after we retire? I have come to the understanding that we have misguided ourselves when it comes to retirement.

Retirement is not simply quitting work and spending the rest of our life relaxing and doing nothing. This time is actually a gift. This is not the time to think we have “served our part,” or “I’ve done _______ for awhile, it’s time for someone else to do it.”

Growing older is a grand adventure. As we age, hopefully we are learning from our experiences and allowing God’s wisdom to sink into our hearts. I imagine it is easy to say it is time for “new blood” or “someone younger is better.” But this is the opposite of what we need to happen. The scripture focus for this week shows us, we should continue to respect and honor those older than us.

Take some time to read these words:

“Don’t correct an older man, but encourage him like he’s your father; treat younger men like your brothers, treat older women like your mother, and treat younger women like your sisters with appropriate respect. Take care of widows who are truly needy. But if a particular widow has children or grandchildren, they should first learn to respect their own family and repay their parents, because this pleases God. A widow who is truly needy and all alone puts her hope in God and keeps on going with requests and prayers, night and day. But a widow who tries to live a life of luxury is dead even while she is alive. Teach these things so that the families will be without fault. But if someone doesn’t provide for their own family, and especially for a member of their household, they have denied the faith. They are worse than those who have no faith. Put a widow on the list who is older than 60 years old and who was faithful to her husband. She should have a reputation for doing good: raising children, providing hospitality to strangers, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in distress, and dedicating herself to every kind of good thing.” ~ 1 Timothy 5:1-10 CEB

Notice the first part, “encourage.” So, to complete this series, I would like to encourage two groups of people: those who have retired, and those who have not.

First, to those who have had the opportunity to retire: Thank you for all you have done to pave the way for new generations to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ now and in the future. Your commitment to following him in and outside of your workplace has been an example to us all and we value you. We do not view you as someone who is obsolete. Instead, we value your input, your wisdom, because God has done incredible works in and through you. God is still working and moving in and through you. Embrace this truth and continue to be beacons of light for us all. 

Second, for those working people. You have been given an incredible gift also. You and I have the opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ at work, at home, in the community, in worship. Take head of this special time. We do not work just so we can retire. We work to make an impact for the Kingdom of God here on earth right here, right now. We are able to do this because of the grace that God has bestowed. Look to the older people. Be sure to encourage and include everyone because you never know who God is using to connect with another person. Value the time you have at work and continue to foster growth in your relationships.

I pray God continues to be known all through your life. At home, in the community, in worship, and even at work.

Praise God for the incredible gift of work!

Amen.

*Note: The concept for this series we first published on http://www.seedbed.com “Sermon Series – Office Hours: Ministry in the Marketplace”

Strong Hours

OFFICE HOURS Ministry in the Marketplace Part 5
If you are doing well at your job, or rather want to do well, there are trainings and seminars an employee should go to. These often talk about the “weak” areas that should be developed in order to perform better.
Think back to a seminar or training you attended recently. How much of it was trying to get improvement in one area or another? Many “self-help” books talk about this very thing: make your weaknesses your strengths.
Our scripture for this week comes from the book of Ephesians. This verse comes right after Paul telling the people they are saved by grace, God’s gift to us, which is something we could not have done nor can we boast about.
“Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.” ~ Ephesians 2:10 CEB
I have read several books and articles this year which talk about and teach leadership skills and management skills. Many employers and managers focus on what area of our work, our character, is not as strong as it should be. These are called “growing edges.” If we are not careful, we will begin to focus on the things that are “wrong” with us and forget to nurture the aspects that are “right” with us.
Each one of us has been given different gifts and talents. We cannot be like everyone else, nor can we expect everyone else to be like us. The gifts and talents we have, work with anothers’ gifts and talents. When we collaborate more using our strengths, we can, hopefully, find great harmony and see how much more will be done in a more joyful way.
I have a hard time continuing to work on what I am “weak” or “bad” at; but I love getting to work on and continue to nourish the areas God has given me strengths.
This week, I encourage you to take some kind of assessment to discover your Spiritual Gifts. You can also see what your strengths are. Some great resources for this are: www.spiritualgiftstest.com/test/adult
Work in your areas of strengths and give God the glory because “we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.”
*Note: The concept for this series we first published on www.seedbed.com “Sermon Series – Office Hours: Ministry in the Marketplace”

It Takes Time

Galatians 2:1 “Then after fourteen years I went up to Jerusalem again with Barnabas, and I took Titus along also.”

IMG_0050

Today I feel we should pause at this verse. There is something about this verse I believe speaks to our lives today and how we want things to happen quickly.

Here’s the basic timeline Paul has laid out from the end of chapter 1 to this verse today beginning chapter 2:

After Jesus revealed himself to Paul on the road to Damascus (and after the scales had been removed from his eyes), Paul went to Damascus and stayed there for three years. After this he went to Jerusalem for instruction with Peter for 15 days. Then he traveled to the churches of Syria and Cilicia, though they did not know him personally except by his former reputation. Now we get to today’s verse, “Then after fourteen years I went up to Jerusalem again with Barnabas, and I took Titus along also.”

Do you notice it? There is a span of at least 17 years described here of Paul’s life where he is learning, praying, discerning, teaching before he was really known and accepted as an apostle. It is easy for us to read this, and his story in the book of Acts, and not pay much attention to the amount of time and transformation took place in Paul’s life.

Remember Paul had all the education and credentials from his training in Judaism, but God wanted another form of training. God did not want Paul just to jump and, he gave Paul the gift of time in order to learn more about grace and about Jesus Christ.

In our instant gratification culture we live in today, how many of us like to wait for our goals? I don’t. I would rather my goals would be completed right away so I can move on to the next one. My guess is that you are like that too. But, what if we viewed the time it takes for the goals and dreams to be accomplished as a “gift?” Something else to think about, what if we looked at the time it took for us to realize our dream would not be accomplished as a “gift?”

Each day we have is a gift from God. When it takes awhile for a dream, goal, vision, etc. to be accomplished in our lives, God is giving us the chance to be different. God is allowing us time to be transformed into the creation he created us to be. God is working in our hearts so that we are stronger and have better character in the end. God is allowing us the time to appreciate what we have and what we are able to do. To focus on this goal so we can see the value in it.

Instead of multitasking or seeking immediate gratification, I invite you to see what you are doing and the time it is taking as a gift from God. Who knows what you’ll be able to do when it is all said and done; but you’ll have embraced the time to get it done right.

Paul would probably not have been so grace-filled, he may not have trusted the Lord like he did, he may not have been able to handle the prison time and the beatings he took if he did not take the time for God to change him and teach him.

Will you take this time this year?

#LiveFreeInChrist