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Sermon Acts 1 1-11 May 17 07 Ascension Day II

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Dear Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,

Today is an important day.  We mark Ascension Day.  It is the second-last stop on our annual journey through the events of Jesus’ life and ministry.

We start each year with Advent, remembering the promises and events leading to Jesus’ birth then we have Christmas and Epiphany, celebrating the coming of our Lord, Immanuel.  After Epiphany we read and study the events of the gospel: Jesus’ healing and teaching.  During Lent we remember the Journey to the cross, Palm Sunday, and Good Friday. 

Then after the quiet and sadness of Good Friday, we celebrate Resurrection Sunday, remembering Jesus’ resurrection and victory over death.  Now we’ve come to Ascension Day – forty days after Resurrection Sunday, we interrupt our regular Thursday scheduling and gather for worship – remembering how Jesus went into heaven.

Now the Q49 of the HC, may sound rude, perhaps even selfish:  “How does Christ’s ascension to heaven benefit us?”  But it isn’t offside, really.  We freely talk about the benefits we gain from Jesus’ incarnation, death, and resurrection.  Let’s talk about the benefits of the Ascension.  Let me follow the three points outlined in A49:

1st he pleads our cause;

2nd we have our own flesh in heaven,

3rd he sends his Spirit.

What’s the root problem with our world?  In a nutshell, sin has broken our relationship with God.  By extension, this fractures our relationship with other people.  Sin has made a mess of our relationship with God and our neighbour.  The biggest punishment for sin is our separation from the grace and love of our God – this is the curse: the death sentence as a result of sin.

Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross removes the curse, the punishment for sin from those who believe in him.  It opens the door for the relationship to be renewed.  Now Jesus enters into the presence of Godlike a priest.  He allows us to have a relationship with God, therefore his is our mediator in heaven.  He intercedes for us before our Creator and God.

Ø  In Scripture we have the delightful image of Jesus in the heavenly throne-room, talking to his heavenly Father on our behalf.

Ø  Paul paints that picture for us in Romans 8, writing about “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.” Romans 8:34

Ø  This reminder of Jesus role as our mediator gives us comfort when we face challenging choices, difficult situations, or even when the burden of our sin weighs heavily on us: “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.”  I John 2

It’s always helpful to have someone on the inside helping you: When you apply for a job, it’s helpful to know someone who works for the company.  If you’re applying to university, it’s helpful to know someone there who can help you tailor your application so it will get attention – it never hurts to drop names either. 

The ascension of Jesus Christ means that we have someone in the heavenly throne-room speaking on our behalf; an insider – assuring us of forgiveness of sins by pointing continually to his atoning sacrifice, bearing the curse in our place. 

But if that weren’t enough, he is also interceding for us bringing our prayers, petitions, requests for guidance and help.  It is even Christ who allows our praise be heard in the heavenly throne-room.  We have a mediator in heaven, right in the place where it counts the most, and he’s taking care of our interests in heaven, making it possible for us to enjoy our relationship with our Creator and Heavenly Father.

When I was a child, I really enjoyed reading the book Zarco the Explorer.  Zarco lived in Portugal during the years of great exploring by sea.  Merchants and kings sent sailing ships out to find a trade route to the orient so they could make riches by trading for spices and silk. 

Common superstition of the middle ages assumed that if you sailed too far in the ocean, you’d reach the edge of the world and fall off the world.  It sounds foolish, to us, but for most people of Zarco’s day the things they didn’t know frightened them.  If nobody has done it before, how do you know if it is even possible?

The HC assures us that it is possible for us to live with Christ in heaven. How do we know that?  Well a human being has already ascended into heaven.  Because Christ has already ascended into heaven – the disciples saw him go up – we have confidence, a guarantee that we can join him there.

This confidence is all the stronger because of our connection to Christ.  The HC borrows an image that Paul often uses: speaking of our connection to Christ in terms of Christ being our head and we are part of his body.  Because our head is already in heaven, the rest of his body will follow at the proper time.

This image gives us assurance of our final destination.  We have a tangible connection with heaven in Jesus Christ.  It is that whole tension between what we already have and what we will receive later.  When Paul speaks of our salvation in Ephesians 2, he speaks of our ascension into heaven as if it has already taken place:

Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.

Our future with Christ is so firm and secure that Paul can describe it as if it has already happened.  As we stand on earth with the disciples, gazing up at the sky where the cloud hid Jesus from view, part of us has already ascended into heaven with Christ.

What encouragement this is for us!  Several people have described to me how their thoughts turn to heaven all the more as they get older.  Today’s celebration of Christ’s Ascension makes our future all the more secure.  Because Christ is there, we have the assurance, the guarantee, that where he is, there we will also be – with him.

So, Christ’s ascension gives us a voice in heaven – someone interceding for us AND it assures us that humans like us who have received life in Jesus Christ will enjoy that life with Christ in the presence of God for all eternity AND Christ’s ascension means that the HS will come and live in us.

More than either of the other two benefits, we find the HS mentioned in Acts 1.  In vs 4, Jesus speaks of the “gift his Father promised.” In verse 5, Jesus assures them that “in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”  And in vs 8 Jesus tells his apostles,

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.

The gift of the Holy Spirit is the last big event in the church calendar.  We’ll celebrate that in 10 days in our Pentecost service.  The coming of the HS is a life-changing experience for the apostles and the early church.

It is the Holy Spirit who tunes our ears to hear God speaking.  It is the HS who breaks down our doubts, objections, and barriers and assures us that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is also for us.  It is the HS who gives us the boldness and the words to speak of God’s love to other people, our children, family members, or other believers. 

Jesus assures us in John 14 that his intercession for us is what causes the Father to send the HS to work among the church, giving us the power and ability to hear the gospel and bear witness to the salvation of our God through Jesus Christ.

When we lay it out like this, points 1, 2, and 3, we understand the beauty and comfort of Jesus’ ascension into heaven. 

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