Jesus Is In Heaven!
Perhaps you have seen the plaque which some people have on their bathroom door? Question: “How long is a minute?” Answer: “Depends on which side of the bathroom door you are.” How we look at something depends very much on where we look at it from.
The same principle is true in these drawings. From the point of view of looking with our eyes, we would say that the two lines on this drawing are different lengths. If we measure them, we find that they are actually the same length. Once again, how we look at things makes a significant difference.
This coming Thursday, we will celebrate one of the days of the Christian year. Because it occurs on a Thursday, we often forget that it happens and so we also forget its importance. We celebrate especially Christmas but also Easter and so we are quite familiar with them and where they fit into the story of Jesus. But where does the ascension fit? The story of the ascension occurs briefly in Luke 24:50-53 and more clearly in Acts 1:1-11. There are numerous passages which reflect on the theological importance of the event. We know that three days after Jesus died on the cross, he rose again. Over the next forty days, he appeared a number of times to his disciples. He met two of them while walking along the road to Emmaus. He met the twelve in a room with closed doors and He met a number of them by the sea of Galilee. After these forty days, Jesus ascended into heaven in their presence and did not appear to them on earth again. Ten days after this, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the believers on what we call the day of Pentecost. What the ascension tells us is that Jesus is now in heaven in the presence of God.
Furthermore, we need to recognize that we live in the reality of the ascension. We are not in the OT time before Jesus came; we are not in the time when Jesus was on earth and we are not in the time after Jesus returns. We live in the time when Jesus is in heaven. What does this point of view have to do with our Christian life? How does it make a difference in how we view ourselves, how we view God and how we live for God?
I. The Ascension Implies Victory
During the Stanley Cup playoffs, many of us sit at the edge of our seats until we know that our team has won. Then we relax. Victory gives us a different outlook. The ascension implies that Jesus was victorious, what an encouragement! What peace comes with this perspective!
A. Jesus Won Over Sin
The way into God’s presence is locked. There is no way that we can go there because we are filled with sin. Throughout the Old Testament, God provided a way in which people could approach His temple, but it was very restrictive. They were to bring sacrifices of animals so that their sins could be atoned for. Once a year, the high priest was permitted to go into the place called the holy of holies which was the place of God’s presence. To enter into this place required absolute holiness because anything less would result in immediate death. When he went, and again I remind you that it was only once a year, he had to make atonement by blood sacrifice first of all for his own sins and then also for the sins of all the people and as their representative, he was then permitted to appear in the presence of God in the Holy of Holies. These rituals represented the limited access to God’s presence because of sin.
The door to the Credit Union is locked in the evening. At one time, that would have meant that I had to go back during office hours, but not any more. If I want money after hours, I can simply put my ATM card in the slot and the door opens for me and I can get money from the machine. We now have a key which opens the locked door.
The fact that Jesus is in heaven means that, unlike in the Old Testament, the door of access to God is now opened. Hebrews 9:12 explains this when it says, “…he (Jesus) entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.”
This is a powerful passage. There are several things we need to note about it. First of all we note that Jesus was permitted into the presence of God. The fact that he entered the holy place, by ascending into heaven meant that the way was opened for access to God.
Furthermore, he did so not once a year, but once for all. That is, he entered into God’s presence only once but was not required to leave. This indicates the victory of Jesus through His blood and tells us that because He is now in heaven, his sacrifice on the cross was accepted as the means of eternal salvation. This tells us that the restrictions have been removed. The blood of Jesus has given us an access card into God’s presence.
Last week, I saw a news story on Bishop Spong. He is a retired Episcopal bishop in Newark, but does not believe that Jesus needed to die for our sins. He thinks that God should just forgive people without the need for blood. He considers it gross. If he is right, then it opens the door to all unrighteousness. Jesus was not permitted into God’s presence because God just decided to forgive. Hebrews 9:12 tells us that he entered into God’s presence in his ascension because he gained victory over sin by the shedding of his blood.
So the first thing we need to recognize is that because Jesus is now in heaven, victory over sin is assured. Jesus has been accepted into the presence of God having obtained our salvation! That is cause for rejoicing! God has accepted His sacrifice and we can rest in the assurance that by faith in Jesus we have eternal redemption.
It is so sad that so many Christians continue to live in the bondage of legalism and in the fear that their efforts and their life will not be acceptable to God. The fact that Jesus is in heaven tells us that there is most certainly victory over sin and access into the presence of God!
B. Jesus Won Over Death
Have you ever seen Jesus? If he rose from the dead, why has no one seen Him? Many wonder if he really gained victory over death.
The ascension explains this. We know that after Jesus died, he rose again. For forty days after his resurrection, he appeared to many of his disciples in order to let them know that he was alive. When he ascended into heaven, he did so in order to show them that he was still alive, was in heaven and would not be seen by them again on earth until the day when he would return. After the ascension, Jesus was seen again, but not on earth, but rather in heaven. When Stephen was martyred we read, “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”
The ascension is part of the resurrection victory. The empty tomb assures us that Jesus is alive. The ascension comforts us to know that he is alive in heaven. Sometimes when we speak of a person becoming a Christian, we speak of it as “having Jesus come into your heart.” It isn’t wrong to say that, but strictly speaking, it isn’t true. The truth is that Jesus is in heaven and a much greater reality than “Jesus in your heart” is the perspective from which we operate. Because Jesus went away, He sent his Holy Spirit. So it is really the Holy Spirit who comes to live within us. The greater reality is that God is still present with us, not in a person in one geographical location, but in every believer by His Spirit. All this is true because Jesus is in heaven.
We live in resurrection victory. Jesus is alive in heaven but continues his work on earth by His Spirit. Jesus is in heaven which assures us of victory over sin and death!
II. The Ascension Assures Our Acceptance
We know that Jesus has gained this victory as a theological fact, but sometimes in the midst of life, we begin to doubt. When we sin and our conscience bothers us or when Satan attacks us that truth may be lost to us. More than once, I have wondered if I really was forgiven or if God really accepts me.
When I applied for Employment Insurance a few months ago, I was not sure that the system would understand my situation. I had felt that God was calling me to complete my ministry and so I resigned from the church. I wondered how a secular institution, which likely seldom deals with ministers, would understand the language of call? One day I had a telephone interview with an EI counsellor and when she told me that she had a brother who was a minister, I knew that I had an advocate in the system who would understand my situation. Someone in power who understands is even more important when it comes to our relationship to the ruler of the universe. The fact that Jesus is in heaven assures us that we have an advocate in the presence of our Holy God in heaven.
The fact that in the ascension, Jesus went into heaven to sit at the right hand of God assures us that we have an advocate in the system of righteousness. Now an advocate is one who understands the one needing advocacy and also has authority with the one in power.
Jesus is an advocate who understands our situation. Hebrews 4:15 reminds us, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” Because he walked on earth, he knows how weak we are, how often we sin and how much we struggle to do what is right and to trust in God.
Jesus not only understands us, but he is in heaven, in the presence of God and God listens to Him. Romans 8:34 says, “Who is he that condemns? 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.” Jesus stands in God’s presence and says to the Father, this one is acceptable because I died for him. Look with grace on this one because she has trusted in my shed blood. The basis of our acceptance is what Jesus did on the cross, the assurance of our acceptance is that Jesus is in heaven interceding for us.
So we can see that the ascension is very important for us. Because Jesus ascended, he is now in heaven interceding on our behalf. Our acceptance with God is assured because Jesus is at God’s right hand on our behalf.
III. The Ascension Declares His Power
But the fact that Jesus is in heaven is even more exciting than that. What are the implications of his being at God’s right hand?
Abu Bakkar Sidhikki of Bangladesh was a Muslim, but one day some Christians visited his house and told him about Jesus. He accepted the message and became a Christian. When the rest of his village found out about this, they decided that they would kick him out of the village and burn down his house. A group of 25 men formed to carry out this plan and began to sneak up to his house.
We live in a world that hates and rejects Jesus and his followers. Many times, we feel powerless in the face of those who oppose and reject.
There is a wonderful passage in Ephesians 1:18-22 which reminds us of the way things really are because Jesus is in heaven. It says, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20 which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”
Jesus is at the right hand of God and because he is, he has been put into the position of authority over all things. The authority and power he has is not random power, but is “for the church.”
When we as God’s people deal with governing authorities, whether democratic or authoritarian, we do not need to fear what can happen to us. The supreme authority is not Clinton or Chretien or any other head of state. The supreme authority over all things is Jesus Christ. This means that when it matters to the building of his kingdom or the care of his children, these other authorities can do nothing apart from what Jesus permits.
There are many who fear the attacks of Satan. They are afraid of manifestations of power which have an evil and demonic source. These are frightening experiences and I am not anxious to have such encounters with the forces of evil, but the fact that Jesus Christ ascended and is seated at the right hand of God gives us complete confidence that such powers may roar and fight, but they will not defeat us and indeed they will not hurt us as long as we recognize that Jesus is in the position of absolute power.
As the crowd of people approached Abu Bakkar Sidhikki’s house, they heard him praying. He was praying for the whole village and asking Jesus to forgive everyone in the village. This made them really angry and they began to rush the house. As the 25 men approached the house, there was an invisible force that would not let an of them enter the house to drag him out. They became scared and ran home. Later at least one of those 25 men returned to Abu’s house in order to ask him how to became a Christian.
1Peter 3:22 says, “Jesus Christ, …has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.”
Such a perspective ought to remove all fear from us and ought to give us boldness to confront the world with the claims of Christ and courage to live for Him.
IV. The Ascension Anticipates Eternal Life
As the disciples stood and stared into heaven, watching where Jesus had gone, angels came and asked them why they were standing and staring into the sky. Departure is always a sad experience. I remember the first departure I experienced. I don't know how old I was, probably about 8 or 9. My dad's youngest sister had been living with us at the time and she was a special aunt. She was only about 10 years older than me and was sometimes our babysitter. After she graduated she went to work in The Pas for several years. We went to see her off at the train station and I remember how sad I was to see her go, I am sure I must have cried.
Were the disciples sad? Did they long to see Jesus again? Do you and I long to see Jesus? The thing that makes departures more bearable is the hope that we will see these people again. As the disciples stood there staring into the sky, angels came and told them that just as Jesus had ascended into heaven in the cloud and in great glory, he would also return again in the same way.
The situation of Jesus in heaven and us down here is not final. He is coming back and the ascension anticipates the return of Christ and all the glory that will come with that. Whenever we struggle with life on this earth, we can remember that Jesus is in heaven now, but he is coming back again. The ascension assures us of the promise of his return.
In John 14:1,2, Jesus added another aspect to this hope when he said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.” While in heaven, a place is being prepared for us, an eternal mansion in heaven which will be ours in the presence of God forever.
Jesus left and is in heaven now, but he is coming back again. And with the disciples we look forward to that coming and pray with John in Revelation 22:20, "Come, Lord Jesus."
We live today in the time of Jesus’ ascension. It is the reality that defines our existence as Christians. Jesus is in heaven and we are here living in the power of the Holy Spirit and waiting for his return. The fact that he ascended indicates that God accepted his death on the cross. The ascension is part of the resurrection victory. That reality impacts our life today in many ways. Because Jesus is in heaven, we have one who intercedes for us. We have assurance that the one we serve has all power and we rejoice that he is preparing a place for us for eternity and will return in the same way that he went away.
Living with the perspective of the ascension encourages us to live boldly in victory each day of our life on earth.