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Grasped By Glory

Acts 1:6-11

It’s a rare thing these days to hear a sermon preached on the subject of the ascension of Jesus Christ, and yet that’s what I intend to do. But the fact that it’s not often preached about, I find to be rather strange. I mean after all there are three different instances in Scripture where the ascension is described in some detail. And not only that, but the earliest creeds of the Christian church, all are unanimous in setting down the ascension of Jesus Christ as one of the basic doctrines of the Christian faith. And yet, in spite of that, it is rarely mentioned in the pulpit.

Now, I think I know the reason why. It is because the ascension of Jesus Christ is so hard for us to visualize and to comprehend. I mean, it’s hard to think about Jesus ascending to his Heavenly Father without somehow getting the picture of some kind of first-century astronaut soaring off into the wild blue yonder. And I believe it is precisely that difficulty which has led some people in our time to say that the biblical accounts of the ascension are merely figurative references. They are not literal descriptions of what actually happened. Now, you and I know – do we not? – that the Bible sometimes does employ figurative language. When Jesus said, “I am the door,” we know that He was not speaking literally there. He was speaking figuratively. So yes, the Bible does at points, use figurative language upon its pages.

But I want to say to you today that the biblical accounts of the ascension are not merely figurative references. They are literal descriptions of what actually happened, and I say that for good reason. In the first place, we all are aware of the fact – it’s a historical fact. We are aware of the fact that the ministry of Jesus came to an end. And there are three different accounts of the ascension in the Gospels, and those three accounts were written by three different people at three different times, and yet they all agree that the ministry of Jesus came to an end, and it came to an end in this particular fashion. Not only that, but if you take the time to read through the Biblical accounts of the ascension, you are going to discover for yourself, I think, that they have about them the unmistakable ring of truth.

So I say to you that Jesus Christ, literally, ascended to the Father in Heaven, and He did so exactly as the Bible describes it. And in light of that belief, it’s been rather exciting to me to find some great truths tucked away. Under this doctrine of the ascension of Jesus Christ. And I want to invite you right now to come along with me for a few minutes. And let’s take a look at some of those truths. Let me try to share with you something of that sense of excitement.

I want to start here. First this. The ascension tells us that Jesus Christ is God, and the glory of God is His. 

We need to remember the fact that the disciples of Jesus were Jewish. And so given that fact, when we read here in the Book of Acts 1:9, that He was lifted up and a cloud took Him out of their sight. Well, that would have had a very special meaning to those disciples simply because they were Jewish. Because you see right from the very beginnings of the great Hebrew religious tradition, the cloud has symbolized the glory of God.

Do you remember when the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness for all of those years, how it says in the Bible that they were led by the glory of God in the form of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night? Do you remember how when God delivered the ten commandments to Moses on the slopes of Mount Sinai, the Bible says that God came to Him clothed in a radiant, shimmering cloud? Do you remember how when Jesus met the Father on the Mount of Transfiguration, the Bible says that they were overshadowed by a cloud? And so when the cloud surrounded Jesus, wrapped Him and grasped Him in its glory, well, that would have had a very special meaning to those disciples as they watched because that would have been the proof positive to them that He is who He says He is. Nothing less than God Almighty Himself, come to us in human form.

God has been gracious enough to me to permit me to see some of this world in which we live. I have stood in the very places where Alexander’s armies conquered, where Caesar’s legions marched, where Napoleon conducted his campaigns, where Hitler performed his atrocities, and where Joseph Stalin used his Red Army to menace the world. By God’s providence I have stood in those places, but I tell you those armies are there no more. Those legions have vanished from the face of the earth, and every last one of those leaders – call them whatever you will, call them kings, or emperors, or tyrants, or dictators, call them whatever you will – every last one of them has gone down to a dusty, dusty death.

But God has also been gracious enough to me to permit me to kneel at a spot in a little town called Bethlehem, where one bright starlit night, nearly 2,000 years ago, a baby king was born. And from that moment to this, there has only been the increase of His kingdom. It has encircled the globe so that today, more people bow before the name of Jesus than ever before in all of human history. And more men, and women, and boys, and girls have committed their lives to honor the name of Jesus than who have committed their lives to honor any other name ever to grace the face of this earth. Jesus is the King of kings, and He is the Lord of lords, and He is marching through time, and He is marching through history, and He’s marching through our world, and the legions of His followers are marching after Him.

And there are those who would dare to say to me today that the age of Christianity is past, that the power of Jesus Christ has been eclipsed in our time. I stand in this pulpit to say that is not true. His reign shall never end. His power shall never be eclipsed. His authority shall never be undermined. He shall reign forever and ever. He stands pure and undefiled, the same, yesterday, today, and forever. 

And that is simply because He is who He says He is. Nothing less than God Almighty Himself come to us in human form. That’s what those disciples saw in that cloud. When the cloud of the glory of God lifted Jesus to the kingdom of heaven, they found in that all the proof they ever needed that He is who He says He is. That’s a part of what the ascension tells us.

But then secondly, the ascension tells us that Jesus Christ went away from us in order to be with us more completely. 

Catch that, please. It doesn’t sound logical – I know that – but it actually is. Jesus Christ went away from us in order to be with us more completely. You heard someone say, “Oh, I wish Jesus were still here in the flesh. I wish that I could talk to Him and see Him face to face. I wish that I could touch His hand or maybe even just touch the hem of His garment.” And that’s a beautiful thought. And I would never dare for a moment to belittle it. But I want to ask you to do something right now. I want you to use your imagination with me for just a moment, and let’s try to imagine what it would be like if Jesus were actually here in the flesh today. 

In the first place, where would he be? In Washington, or New York, or Paris, or Berlin, or Tokyo? Well, you name the spot. It doesn’t matter. But wherever He happened to be, can you imagine the lines of people that would be formed as literally millions, upon millions, upon millions of people tried to get into His presence? And what chance do you think that you would ever have of getting there? The poor would never be able to see Him. They couldn’t afford the journey.

But let’s suppose for a moment. Yes, let’s suppose that you could muster enough money for the journey, and let’s suppose that you were willing to wait in line long enough to be able to stand in His presence. Just how long do you think you would be permitted to stand there? How long do you think those crowding hordes behind you in line would permit you to stand there in the presence of Jesus? I submit to you it would only be for the flash of a second, and then they would have you moving on, and you would walk away from that experience knowing full well that that one flash of a moment would be the only time in your life when you would ever be able to see Him and to be in His presence, and to know Him personally. Do you get the point?

What I’m trying to say to you is simply this: That it was adequate for Jesus to be here in the flesh when there were only twelve disciples and a veritable handful of followers in a tiny little Middle Eastern country. But now, it’s different. Now, the legions of followers of Jesus number more than one billion, and that number is increasing every year, and the followers of Jesus are to be found in every single nation on the face of this earth. It is no longer adequate for Jesus to be here in the flesh, and Jesus knew it would be so. And so He went away from us to His Heavenly Father. But the Bible says – did you hear it in the reading? The Bible says that at the moment He went away, He gave to His followers the gift of His Holy Spirit, and what a marvelous gift that is because you see the Holy Spirit is not confined to some physical place or some geographical location. The Holy Spirit is in the heart of every believer.

When we make our commitment to Jesus Christ, when we commit our life and our way to Him, at that moment, the Holy Spirit is born within us, and we are born in the Spirit. And the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ moves into us, and He begins to take possession of our lives, and He begins to direct our lives, everything that we say and do and think. And that means you see that we don’t have to go to Washington, or New York, or Paris, or Berlin, or Tokyo in order to see Him. He is within us. And that means that we don’t have to stand in line day after day or week after week even to be in His presence. He is with us always. And because He’s with us always, that means we don’t need to feel the pressure of time in His presence. We can come to Him anytime of the day or night, and we can stay with Him just as long as we like. That’s the glorious gift of His Holy Spirit. And that’s why I say to you that Jesus went away from us in the flesh so that He could come to us in the spirit, so that He could be with us and we could be with Him forever. That’s a part of what the ascension tells us.

But then thirdly, the ascension tells us that the glory which lifted Jesus to the Kingdom of Heaven will one day lift us there as well.

I suppose that the subject of death is too much on my mind these days. You see, in the last ten days, there have been nine deaths in this congregation, and all of the ministers are stretched almost to the breaking point, trying to provide some significant ministry to these families who’ve lost their loved ones at all hours of the day and night trying to reach out to them somehow to these who are wondering what has happened to their loved ones, to these who are wondering, now, in the face of their loss how, in the name of the Lord, will they be able to go on with the living of life and how, in the name of Heaven, will they find any hope to which to claim, and they keep asking the questions, and we keep trying to answer them? And I have to say to them, and I have to say to you that here in the ascension of Jesus is all the answer we ever need, for – do you remember in John 14 where Jesus says, “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.” Do you hear that? “I go to prepare a place for you.” That is the ascension. “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, then I will come again, and I will take you to myself so that where I am, there you may be also.” That’s what He says. That’s the promise of the ascension.

“I go,” He says, “to prepare a place. And then when the time is right, I will come to you, and I will take you to myself so that where I am, there you may be also.” My friends, that means that at the very moment when our loved ones’ eyelids closed in death, at that very moment, Jesus Christ appeared to them, and He said to them, “I know you by your name because you are My very own. So come with Me now, and let Me introduce you to our Father.”

That means that we need not be filled with worry or anxiety about those whom we love, who have preceded us in death because you see, the same glory which lifted Jesus to the Heavenly Father, that same glory has lifted them there as well. And one day, yes, one day, that same glory will lift us too.

Let me try to express it this way. Cecil B. DeMille. You recognize the name. A great movie director and producer. You may not also be aware of the fact though that he was a deeply committed Christian. Shortly before his death, he wrote of an unusual experience, which was his. He was on vacation. He was out in a canoe on a lake. Well, he had just stretched himself out down on the bottom of that canoe, and he was just lazing there in the sun allowing the canoe to simply drift along the water as it will. And while he was lying there, suddenly, he saw a great, black, ugly water beetle climbing up the side of the canoe and over the top, and it walked right out onto one of the spanners, and there it stopped right in the full light of the sun right before his eyes. And there, that ugly black water beetle proceeded to die. And there before DeMille’s eyes, suddenly, the shell on the water beetle cracked wide open, split from top to bottom, and the carapace parted.

And then DeMille saw, in the midst of that broken shell, a white formless mass. And as he watched, transfixed now by what he was seeing, as he watched the sun was shining, and the heat of the sun began to work on that white formless mass so that suddenly it began to move, and then it began to grow, and it began to expand right there before his eyes. And then as he watched, suddenly, that white formless mass now moving in the heat of the sun began to form a long, slender wing, and then another long slender wing, and another, and another wings, which reflected the light of the sun in 1,000 different hues and shades.

And then while he watched in utter astonishment, the white formless mass began to form itself into a long slender body, and DeMille realized that he had watched the creation of a dragonfly. And suddenly the wings began to move up, and down, and up, and down, and faster, and faster, and faster. And suddenly the dragonfly was literally lifted up out of that great, old, ugly, black shell, and it began to fly. And it soared up, and then it dived down toward the water. And then it arched back up toward the sun. It was soaring, and it was sailing in the sky. It was perfectly beautiful, sailing and soaring in glory. The old, ugly, black shell was still there, but the dragonfly was soaring in glory. A little bit later on, Cecil B. DeMille wrote these words. “If God could do something like that for one of the lowest of His creatures, then how much more will He do for us for we are the crown of all that He has created.” There it is.

John says it with power in his gospel. He says, “One day, we shall see Him face to face, and we shall be like Him.” That’s the promise. That’s the glory of the ascension. The same glory that lifted Jesus to Heaven. That same glory has lifted those when we love to Heaven. And one day, that same glory will lift us to heaven as well.

I wonder why there aren’t more sermons preached about the ascension of Jesus Christ, for it tells us that Jesus Christ is God, and the glory of God is His. And the ascension tells us that Jesus Christ went away from us in order to be with us more completely. And the ascension tells us that the same glory which lifted Jesus to Heaven will one day lift us to heaven, too. That’s why I think it’s so important for us to remember. Acts 1, verse 9: “As they were looking on, He was lifted up and a cloud took Him out of their sight.”

Let’s pray. Heavenly Father, Jesus said, “If I be lifted up, I shall draw all people to me.” O Lord, you have lifted Him up. Let us now be drawn to Him. Amen.

 

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