Word of Encouragement, Wednesday, May 20
I appreciate the church calendar. The church calendar teaches a theology of time that centers on the work of Christ. The calendar both reminds us of what Christ has done and directs our gaze to what Christ will do. In her wisdom, the church emphasizes the “already/not yet” dynamic of the Christian life. We celebrate Christmas and Easter with this “already/not yet” dynamic, celebrating the incarnation and the resurrection as we anticipate the second coming of Christ and the final resurrection. Thus, life is not lived between January and December but between the first coming and the second coming of Christ.
Not all the Reformers were against the church calendar. While ridding it from its extrabiblical celebrations, most recognized the importance of celebrating the major events in the life and work and Jesus, such as Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. Tomorrow is another important reminder. Forty days after his resurrection, Jesus ascended to sit on the Father’s right hand. The right hand of the Father is a position of authority. The Father gave the Son all authority in heaven and earth, as Jesus declares in Matthew 28.
A key to understanding the ascension is to recover a biblical account of heaven and earth. They are not dueling forces. Instead, they interact. There is a pattern of ascending and descending. At the incarnation, the divine descends to earth. At the resurrection and ascension, something on earth moves into heaven. Again, with the Pentecost of the Spirit, something from heaven comes down.
This interaction occurs in the church, the temple of the Spirit. A main emphasis of the book of Hebrews is that when we gather for worship, the line between heaven and earth is blurred as we ascend and join the heavenly chorus in praise. We come to Mount Zion. We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.
Why does the ascension of Jesus matter? Lord’s Day 18 of the Heidelberg Catechism explains that the ascension guarantees our intercessor (Rom. 8:34), our inheritance (Eph. 2:4-6), and the Holy Spirit as the instrument of sanctification (John 14:16).
An intercessor had the role of mediating between two parties. Christ as our intercessor mediates between God the Father and us. He intercedes on our behalf in prayer. We pray to the Father through the Son. It also means that he intercedes in prayer by perfecting our prayer.
Paul tells us that “we have already been seated with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Christ was raised bodily to the heavenly throne. His bodily ascension is our guarantee of our inheritance with Christ. Eternal life is not a place of disembodied souls wandering around. The eternal life in the kingdom to come is a restoration of creation. Christ’s bodily ascension is a guarantee of such a great promise.
Lastly, we receive a twofold gift from the Father (Gal. 4:4-7). The Father sends us his Son to secure our justification. Through the death and resurrection of Christ, our sins are atoned, and the Father received the sacrifice. We are declared clean. The Father also sends us the Holy Spirit to continue the work of Christ in believers for our sanctification. Through the power of the Spirit, we progressively grow up into Christ. On the one hand, we are legally declared clean through the blood of Christ and adopted as children of God. On the other hand, through the work of the Spirit of Christ we experience cleansing and live as children of God. The Spirit applies the work of the ascended King. This could only happen, as Jesus said, if he was to ascend. He needed to ascend so that we would receive the Holy Spirit and continue God’s work of redemption.
Good Shepherd, let us remember that the Christ who secured our redemption is the ascended king over all creation. He already is king; yet, his work is not yet complete. We should all be looking forward eagerly to that final day when our king returns, but let us not forget that we are even now reigning with our Savior in many ways. Sin no longer has dominion over those who believe in Jesus, for we live in the gracious era in which we have been adopted as God’s children (Rom. 6:14; Gal. 4:1–7). By the Spirit, we can now conquer sin and grow in holiness. We are also free from the tyranny of the Law over guilty consciences. Forgiven in Christ, we may fulfill the royal law of liberty in serving our Creator (1 Peter 2:16; James 1:25).
In Christ, Pastor Jud