Dr. Mohler is continuing his series on the Apostle’s creed continuing where he left off last year.
The Apostle’s creed is the oldest confession of faith in Christianity. The church has confessed these truths throughout the ages. At the center of the Christian faith is credo. Faith is central to what we believe. Faith is belief. Faith is doctrinal. The church has the ongoing responsibility to guard these truths. We must seek to keep these truths unblemished so that we could see lives transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
A Narrative Gospel
The gospel is a narrative gospel. It has a past, present and future. The central character is Christ. It is His story that is central to this confession. His story is the story of the salvation of mankind.
We are a narrative people. We are imbedded in a temporal form. The story has three basic tenses: past, present, and future. Far too many Christians believe the gospel is about the past and the future but not about the present. The past is what we call the gospel. The future is the second coming of Christ. We know Christianity has established a historical past. We know that there is hope for the future. We live in an impoverished present looking back and forward.
Christ’s ascension is for the present. He sits at the right hand of God the Almighty. A most central object of human learning is direction. We understand the difference between up and down. Up is always better than down. In terms of direction right is better than the left.
You don’t have to know much about the gospel to understand that ascent here is a statement of glory, supremacy, and exaltation. To sit at the right hand is a place of authority and privilege.
Why are there so few sermons on this event in the life of Christ? There is nothing in the Christian year that necessarily celebrates the ascension. We celebrate the incarnation and the resurrection, but not the ascension. We know it is true, but it seems to have no direct relevance to our discipleship.
Why such a low level of interest? I think it is because we live in an age of willful impoverishment. We will allow ourselves to slander what took place in the ascension. If we do not understand Christ’s work in the present, then we are people who will be unfaithful and unfruitful in the present time.
The Gospels and The Ascension
We will turn our attention to the two-volume work by Luke. We will begin with Luke 24. While Christ blessed His followers, He was carried up into heaven. In the summary of just a few words, Luke describes the ascension as “departing from them and being carried up into heaven.” The disciples worshipped Him.
Acts 1 presents the most extensive description of Christ’s ascension. In the gospel of Luke there is a host of angels announcing Christ’s birth. When Christ returns to heaven, there is a host of angels present explaining to the disciples what took place. Before he ascends, Jesus gives his “final orders” to wait and then go. They are to wait on the Holy Spirit and go to the entire world.
It is interesting that each gospel ends differently. Matthew ends with what has come to be called the Great Commission. Notice that Christ says He will be with “you” always to the end of the age. Matthew does not speak of the ascension. He doesn’t have to because he ends with the commissioning of the church and Christ’s promises to be with the church always. When Matthew wrote that gospel, Christ was no longer physically present then just as now.
Mark ends abruptly. Jesus was received into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. He was “received up in heaven” just as the Father said at His baptism that He was well pleased, the ascension is the acceptance. In demonstration of His authority, Christ sat down at the right hand of God.
John’s gospel ends with one of the most fascinating summary statements ever written. John ends with the post resurrection appearances to His disciples with the promise of martyrdom. John then concludes that there was much more that took place. Does John speak to the ascension? Not at the end, but throughout the entire gospel. John speaks of the meaning of the ascension in chapters 14-16. Jesus says He is going to prepare a place for us in heaven. That is happening now. In His leaving, there will be a presence of another leader in the church…the Holy Spirit. Christ promises that He will not leave His church as orphans. In the end, John actually speaks the most about the ascension in his gospel.
We are not living in the shadow of His second coming. We are living in the light of His presence with us now through the Spirit. Jesus says that it is better the Spirit be with us in this age than if He were to remain here. The present ministry of Christ to us through the Holy Spirit is that the Spirit is leading man into Truth. The Spirit is teaching us all things.
Jesus says over and over that it is to our advantage that He goes away and that the Spirit comes. He tells his disciples that He is going to prepare a place for us. He is doing that now. It is a place…don’t let that slip by. It is an actual place where we will reside. Jesus did not merely disappear. He was lifted up in a cloud ascending into the heavens.
What The Ascension Means for Us Today
We need to be careful that we do not think that this place is in this cosmos. Heaven is a place, not a state of mind or attitude. Christ is their preparing a place for us. The Spirit is here leading us to the Truth.
The ascension presents us with the reality of his victory. It is the end of His humiliation as coming down to the earth. It is the evidence of His vindication. He is received back to His Father with the joy that only they can know. Christ did all He was sent to do. “It is finished” carries so much more weight than we can ever know. It is the continuation of His Incarnation. As He is now so shall we one day be. The resurrected body is not a mere human body. By having a real body, we see that Jesus went to a real place. It is also the promise of our future. The theme here is glory and exaltation not humiliation. The ascension is the crescendo.
Just as every major event in the life of Christ has been denied, so to has the ascension. Liberal scholarship has attempted to explain away the relevance of the ascension. Most have tried to call it a mythology and that we, as educated and enlightened people, cannot possibly believe in this. It may have been important to the early church, but no longer can it be held as essential doctrine.
If you buy into the concept that hell, heaven and what the Bible says about Christ, then the gospel has not claim on you at all. If Christ did not ascend, then there must be a grave somewhere waiting to be found. It would be a mockery of Christianity.
The statement of the creed is concise but of most importance. However, in those few words, we are reminded of Christ as prophet, priest and king. We are shown the honor and glory He received. We see that all things have been put into subjection under His feet. The book of Hebrews is central to our understanding of the impact of the ascension.
May it be that we would look at what Christ is doing for us now. He is at the right hand of the Father interceding for us. We must be aware of our desperate need for Christ as priest who continues to intercede for us. It is His righteousness and His alone that He is able to sit where He sits. We certainly need a priest and oh what a priest we have in Christ! Everything we do is because of Christ’s intercession. We can boldly approach the throne of God because of intercession.
You cannot understand the Great Commission without understanding what the ascension means for the present time. As He intercedes for the saints, we are commissioned to go. What difference does this make? Actually, it makes all the difference in the world. In Acts 7, Stephen looked and saw Jesus sitting at the right hand of God at the moment of his death. If you can die because of Christ’s ascension, you can certainly live dangerously.