Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
"FOCUS YOUR LIFE ON CHRIST IN HEAVEN."
46. Q. What do you confess when you say, He ascended into heaven?
A. That Christ, before the eyes of His disciples, was taken up from the earth into heaven, and that He is there for our benefit until He comes again to judge the living and the dead.  Mark 16:19; Luke 24:50, 51; Acts 1:9-11.  Rom. 8:34; Heb. 4:14; 7:23-25; 9:24.  Matt. 24:30; Acts 1:11. 47. Q. Is Christ, then, not with us until the end of the world, as He has promised us? A. Christ is true man and true God. With respect to His human nature He is no longer on earth, but with respect to His divinity, majesty, grace, and Spirit He is never absent from us.
 Matt. 28:20.  Matt. 26:11; John 16:28; 17:11; Acts 3:19-21; Heb. 8:4.  Matt. 28:18-20; John 14:16-19; 16:13.
48. Q. But are the two natures in Christ not separated from each other
if His human nature is not present wherever His divinity is?
A. Not at all, for His divinity has no limits and is present everywhere. So it must follow that His divinity is indeed beyond the human nature which He has taken on and nevertheless is within this human nature and remains personally united with it.
 Jer. 23:23, 24; Acts 7:48, 49.  John 1:14; 3:13; Col. 2:9.
49. Q. How does Christ's ascension into heaven benefit us?
A. First, He is our Advocate in heaven before His Father. Second, we have our flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that He, our Head, will also take us, His members, up to Himself. Third, He sends us His Spirit as a counter-pledge, by whose power we seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God, and not the things that are on earth.
 Rom. 8:34; I John 2:1.  John 14:2; 17:24; Eph. 2:4-6.  John 14:16; Acts 2:33; II Cor. 1:21, 22; 5:5.  Col. 3:1-4.
Ephesians 4: 1-16
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Psalm 68: 1 and 2
Psalm 68: 11 and 12
Hymn 35: 1 and 2
Hymn 35: 3 and 4
Psalm 47: 1,2 and 3
Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,
It is not that long ago that the Russians sent their first manned spacecraft into outer space. After their exciting voyage through the universe the two cosmonauts returned safely to earth. And - as you can imagine - a brief a press conference followed. They told the gathered press: ‘We have seen beautiful things. We looked around closely. We were really impressed. But nowhere did we see God.’ They jauntily drew the conclusion: the heavens are empty. There is no God.
Their conclusion did not appear out of the blue. After all, we live at the end of the twentieth century. Science has reached an unprecedented height. Scientists have made countless discoveries. Our world view has been completely changed. They have discovered stars which are millions of light-years away. Thanks to the newest devices of science only they can explore only a very little part of the universe.
Does the ascension of Christ make sense then? Can we as modern people accept the ascension of Christ? Can we in our time still believe that Christ, as a kind of super-cosmonaut, has been lifted up from the earth into the stratosphere without any technical aid? Or is it necessary to relegate the ascension of Christ to the world of fantasy as a kind of fairy tale?
But wait a minute! Remember that facts are often stranger than fairy tales or fictions. Because we write fiction to suit ourselves. Stories that are invented for mass consumption are usually molded to what the public is likely to believe. True stories, facts, on the other hand, are not invented for the public.
And indeed, it is incomprehensible to us that the ascension could happen.
This does not mean that the incomprehensible things do not happen in reality.
If that would be the case then more recognised facts would fall! And the
Lord has given reliable eye witnesses who reported the fact of the ascension.
Without the ascension even a great deal of Scripture will be incomprehensible.
The Scriptures make clear that through the fact of the ascension of Christ
the work of Christ assumes enormous proportions. In heaven Christ continues
with His work of deliverance. And being in heaven Christ involves us here
on earth. He went to heaven to be with us always. Therefore He urges you
to focus on Him in heaven.
I assume that everybody here in church has heard about the wave of emigration in the years after the second World War. Thousands upon Thousands of Dutch people, for instance, decided to seek a new future outside the border of their country. They left the Netherlands for Canada, the United States, Brazil and so on. For the majority of you, your parents or grandparents came to Australia. And emigration always means: you have to say farewell, good-bye. And remember, or ask your parents or grandparents, saying ‘good-bye’ in those days was very emotional. They often thought: ‘we shall never see each other again.’ They often cried buckets. quite a few handkerchiefs came in handy. To say farewell causes grief.
Therefore the happiness of the disciples is striking at the parting of Christ. We read after the ascension: ‘The disciples worshiped Christ, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God.’ [Luke 24: 52f]. Their sadness because of the suffering and death of Christ was only temporary. ‘Your sorrow will be turned into joy’, Christ had said. ‘Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.’ [John 16: 20.22]. The joy of the wedding-guests, interrupted by the suffering, will return and remains.
What’s the joy at this parting? During the forty days after His resurrection Jesus taught His disciples. He explained a few things about the kingdom of heaven. In this way they got insight into the nature of this parting. And they knew His work was not finished yet. Christ had laid the foundation. And now He continues building on this foundation. He says farewell. But He parts in order ‘that He might fill all things’ [Eph 4:10]. It is not a final farewell. Soon everything will be finished. Then He will return. "Let your heart not be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you also may be." [John 14: 1-3].
The Lord Jesus uses here a word that not so much emphasises His forthcoming departure, but rather emphasises His acts for the benefit of His congregation. He goes to get the mansions ready, which He has destined for His children in His Father’s house.
Imagine a bridal couple in our midst. They look forward to their wedding. They have made their plans. They have bought a house. However, they have a long way to go yet. They have to get everything in readiness. However, time and again the bridegroom has to say farewell. But every time again he can rightfully say: ‘I go to prepare a home for you and me.’ And for that reason, the parting every time again, does not bother His bride. No way! If He kisses her goodbye, she knows: he sets forth to work for the benefit of our marriage. He prepares everything so that we get on married later. This makes her happy and this certainty stamps her expectations.
Well, happiness and certainty stamps the expectations of the disciples too at the parting of Christ. Jesus had said farewell and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And they knew: ‘Christ enters into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us’ [Hebr. 9: 24]. ‘For us’, the apostle said. Christ did not go into heaven for His own sake. Christ did not go into heaven because He had nothing to do on earth. Rather, He entered into heaven for our sake, for our benefit.
What might be meant by the fact that He entered into heaven for our sake? Well, says the apostle, Christ the High Priest ‘is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him since He always lives to make intercession for them’ [Hebr. 7:25]. Christ has gone into heaven to labour for the benefit of His children or, to say it more specifically, to intercede on their behalf; to continuously intercedes on their behalf!
That is, I think, what we really need. For what does the apostle John say? "And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." [1John. 2:1]. John tries to encourage us to fight against our sins and to keep God’s commandments. But he also knows that if we try to do so, it is impossible that there is no sin. Even our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin. So, if you try to serve the Lord and try to meet His norm and if you, in so doing, sin, then you can be sure that you always have an Advocate with the Father. That is what Christ does for you in heaven. There He always pleads on behalf of sinners before His Father. So it is not necessary to be desperate because of your sins.
Now we have to be careful, for some people will misuse this text in this way that it is not necessary to fight their sins seriously. They think that they will always receive forgiveness of their sins as long as they pray and ask forgiveness. It does not really matter how we act or live: the Lord will inevitably forgive us. They think: that is His job. And you will see this in the behaviour and lifestyle of those people. Their is no real struggle to fight against their sins and to please the Lord. If that is the case, there will be no forgiveness of your sins at all.
But the secret of true repentance is found in the word ‘if’. The apostle says: ‘My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin.’ "But nevertheless, if this will be the case; if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." If you are really sorry because of your sins and you confess your sins sincerely, then Christ will appear for the defendant and He will plead for you, because the blood of Christ cleanses you from all sin.
Now I ask you: where else do you find that? At home? I don’t think so. Even if your parents are very patient and compassionate, in the end they will come with their punishment when you continue in your disobedience. Do you find this at school? I can’t imagine. After the teacher has warned you three time, he will write your name on the whiteboard and then you have to do lines. The government perhaps? Take for instance traffic offences. You can plead if you like, but the law is unrelenting in that respect. In the end you will lose all your points and your licence.
Only in heaven will you find an Advocate who continuously pleads for you and will forgive all your sins. Not only for a short moment. But He remains busy with this task ‘until He comes again to judge the living and the dead’. And therefore the Lord urges you to focus your life on Christ in heaven. The ascended Christ remains busy in heaven, interceding tirelessly before God for our benefit. In this way He will continue day by day, until the day when Christ returns. If we daily resort to Christ, He will daily be active in God’s presence pleading on our behalf. Therefore, focus your life on Christ in heaven and He will forgive all your sins.
No wonder that the disciples rejoice at the parting of Christ from the earth. Yes, it is still a departure. We are on the earth, Christ is in heaven. But with this parting, this farewell, God did not leave us to fend for ourselves. On the contrary, we will find an Advocate in heaven and He continues in heaven with His work. For that reason: rejoice! Only on the basis of the excellence and worthiness of Jesus Christ in heaven, will we receive the forgiveness of our sins. His righteousness is yours by faith!
I have to point to a striking difference between with the last Lord’s Day. Lord’s Day 17 spoke about the resurrection. And the catechism gives only one question: ‘How does Christ’s resurrection benefits us?’ But in our Lord’s Day we find no less than four questions about the ascension. You hear as it were the catechism student anxiously asking: ‘When Christ ascended into heaven, what happened to His presence here on earth? Is Christ then, not with us, until the end of the world as He has promised? If that would be true, then we would feel faint at heart. Christ has then disappeared and if that is the case, there is an infinite distance between Christ and us.’
The Catechism will find an answer to this question because of the considerable differences of opinion between the Roman Church and the Lutheran Church on the one hand and Scripture and Calvin on the other. The Lutheran as well as the Roman Church will insist that Christ isn’t only present on earth with His Divinity. In their opinion Christ does make constant physical appearances on earth. He does so in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. Although there are important differences of opinion between themselves, the Romanists and the Lutherans agree on this point: Christ is indeed physically present on earth. He makes constant appearances in the flesh, and must therefore be worshipped and adored in bread and wine.
The Catechism refutes their arguments in the saying that, as a matter of course, Christ is present on earth. However we have to realise that also after the ascension an important distinction has to be made. The distinction between Christ’s divine and human nature remains. With respect to His human nature He is no longer on earth. Before the eyes of His disciples Christ’s body, His human nature, was taken up from the earth into heaven. With respect to His human nature He really said good-bye. He, His body, is in heaven. No doubt about that. He has been true man. And He remains true man. As man He said farewell. And now as man He is in heaven.
This is important to know. Because now I am sure that my flesh, the same human body as I have, is in heaven already. Christ carried my body into heaven at the moment of His ascension. Now I am convinced and it is sure that Christ came to deliver me completely, not only my soul, but also my body. Soon my body will live in glory. Christ, our Head, will also take us, His members, up to Himself. Our body will not sink into the filthiness of the rubbish tip in this world. We expect a glorious future. The body we have is not a useless covering for the time being only. Our bodies are precious in God’s eyes. Because of my body too Christ went to the cross. He bought my body with His precious blood.
All of a sudden I see my own body in a different way. When I see my body in a mirror, when I think about tattooing, body piercing, alcohol, drugs, my sexual desires, then I have to focus my life; then I have to focus my body on Christ; on the body of Christ in heaven. And I know, because they pierced the body of Christ on the cross because of my sins, I can’t pierce my body in a sinful way anymore. Because they tattooed Christ’s back with whiplashes and His head with a thorn-crown, I can’t tattoo my body in a sinful manner. The apostle Paul does not say for nothing: "How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? … just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of His Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. … knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Christ, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin … therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall have no dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace." [Romans 6: 1-13]. And in 1 Corinthians 6: 15 we hear: ‘Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not! … Flee sexual immorality. … He who commits sexual immortality sins against his own body." And I’ll add here: He who pierces his body or is tattooed; he who uses drugs or alcohol in an excessive way sins against his own body. "Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s." [1 Cor. 6:18ff].
This already indicates how Christ is present on the earth. Focussing your life on Christ in heaven, that does not mean that He is absent from the earth. Certainly not. Christ said, after my ascension I will intercede with My Father, and ‘He will give you another Helper, that He may abide in you forever … you know Him, for He dwells wíth you and will be ín you.’ [John 14: 15ff]. Christ will not leave you orphans. He is present in a better way than ever before. The catechism says: ‘with respect to His divinity, majesty, grace, and Spirit He is never absent from us’. It is clear from the passage of Scripture I quoted before: ‘do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is ín you’. Christ is with His Spirit wíth you, but He is also ín you. That is close!
It is as Calvin wrote [Institutes II,16.14]: ‘Being raised to heaven, Christ withdrew His bodily presence from our sight, not that He might cease to be with His followers, who are still pilgrims on the earth, but that He might rule both heaven and earth more immediately by His power;…’
The physical distance between Christ and us is immensely great. He has penetrated all heavens. Yet, He is closer to us than ever before. From heaven Christ rules the earth. Till He makes all His enemies His footstool and His victory becomes visible on the earth too.
Sometimes I’d like to take a glance into heaven. What is happening there? Is there only one big chorus of God’s children singing the glory of God. Is it silent in heaven, or are all the people laughing? It can be dangerous to add our own fresh fantasies to God’s Word. I don’t know exactly what is happening in heaven. But Calvin once said: ‘Don’t be so stupid that you imagine the Lord sitting in heaven and that He is only busy counting the little stars!’ It is true, at the moment of His ascension Christ had finished His work here on earth. But He had not retired. For at the same moment He started His work in heaven. Christ is there, in accordance with the word of the apostle, "that He might fill all things". He sits at His Father’s right hand, not to rest, but to rule. We hear in Scripture that He is standing ready to act. That is how Stephen the Martyr saw our Lord: ‘Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ [Acts 7:56] He shows His sympathy with His children and acts accordingly with His almighty power. We hear that Christ is walking between His people. He walks between the seven golden lampstands and says: ‘I know your works, your labour, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil.’ [Rev. 2:1] . He is riding to battle and in His righteousness He judges and makes war. [Rev. 19: 11-16]. So, if you wanted to have some key-words about Christ’s activities in heaven, then you have to think of: ‘progress’, ‘motion’, ‘active service’, ‘Sympathising with His children’, ‘judging His enemies’. He reigns and rules. Determined in all His activities He aims at the fixed target of God: the fullness of the whole creation. In His divine power He is busy, building the Kingdom of His Father.
For that reason starting from heaven, He sets everything in motion on earth. He does not sit by and watch from a distance. He does not look down His nose at our earthly jostle. He is with us; here, on earth. He is with us today, tomorrow, till the end of the world. He takes the initiative in everything. He helps, He is in charge, He protects, preserves and safe guards His people. He pushes everything towards the Last Day. He keeps you in His Father’s name. Not one of God’s children will get lost [John 17:12]. He has bought them all with His precious blood. As the Head of the Church He prepares the earth for the Last Day.
And now, tomorrow you will go and buy a newspaper, or you will listen to the news. But you will have a completely different view about the facts in history and world. Focussing on Christ in heaven you can see that He is busy preparing everything for the Last Day. Everything that is inexplicable to man, becomes transparent in faith. No, it does not mean that I can explain everything. But I know by faith in the ascended Christ that He uses people and circumstances. Leaders of the government, revolutions, political intrigues, wars, fanatics and peacemakers; Sadam Hoesein, Clinton and the United Nations, the abortion discussion in our own country, He uses all that to come to His own aim: the new earth where righteousness dwells. He will destroy all His enemies.
The parting of Christ from earth, is really an enjoyable fact. Christ went to heaven. He has chosen a strategic position. As King of the world He surveys the whole world. He knows what is in each heart. He sits on His throne, He rules. His throne, is still in heaven. However, soon the throne will be on earth. And everyone who overcomes will sit with Christ on His throne, as ‘Christ also overcame and sat down with His Father on His throne’ [Rev. 3:21]. And you may rule over the entire creation of God.
For that very reason, rejoice in your exalted Lord. He has been crowned with majesty and honour. Soon you will see Him like He really is. Then our lowly body will be made identical to His glorious body [Phil 3:21]. Yes, then the whole creation comes to its aim.
The ascension, a joyful good-by to be with us. He made a new beginning. And the highly exalted Lord took you with Him to that future. The glory is waiting for you. This glory is waiting for everyone who focuses His life on Christ in heaven. Amen.