McLaurin Memorial

The Impact of Christ’s Ascension and the Spirit’s Descension

MORNING MESSAGE – John Cline

Text:  John 14, 15, 16, Acts 1, 2, Philippians 2, 1 Peter 2, 3, 5

Scripture Reader:  Ele Bender

  “THE IMPACT OF CHRIST’S ASCENSION AND THE SPIRIT’S DESCENSION”

June 5th, 2022 John 14, 15, 16, Acts 1, 2, Philippians 2, 1 Peter 2, 3, 5

Author Justin Dillehay said about the ascension of Jesus that, “It may be the most important doctrine you never think about.” Roman Catholics call Ascension Day a “Holy Day of Obligation”, which means that Catholics must attend Mass on that day. The ascension is in the Bible. It’s in the Apostles’ Creed. It’s the day of Jesus’ exaltation as king of kings and it’s ignored by most of us! Today, we will be talking about the ascension plus the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost and how we are to live in response to that.

The movie Selma chronicles the efforts of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr to secure equal voting rights for the black citizens of the USA. The tumultuous time period set in that movie of 1964/65 focuses on that dangerous campaign in the face of violent opposition. The movie begins with four black girls in 1964 walking down some stairs in the Birmingham, Alabama 16th Street Baptist Church when a bomb set by the Ku Klux Klan explodes and they are killed. By 1965, four members of the KKK had been arrested by the FBI but no charges were filed against them due to obstructionist work of racist bureaucrats. King and his brothers and sisters in the Civil Rights Movement decide that they will not meet violence with violence but will instead try to change the system through voting. Retelling the actual events of the day, Martin Luther King and his followers go to Selma, Alabama to attempt to achieve, through non-violent protest, equal voting rights and abilities for black people. More than 50% of the residents of Selma are black but they are not allowed to vote. While constitutionally black citizens had the same voting rights as other Americans, they were hamstrung by racist local registration workers, politicians, as well as police officers. The movie shows them going to register to vote but they are turned away by racist white officials. King and his followers stand in silent protest outside the Selma courthouse, but it ends in violence as police officers descend upon the crowd and kill a boy, Jimmy Lee Jackson. King and his supporters decide to march from Selma to the capital city of Montgomery, Alabama in a peaceful protest but their attempt to cross the pivotal Edmond Pettus Bridge ends with the participants being bludgeoned and beaten and a clergyman killed. Why am I mentioning this today? We will see.

Jesus going up, the Spirit coming down, and us going out. Those are our topics today. We will start with Jesus going up. The ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven is one of the most important events recorded in the New Testament but it doesn’t get a lot of attention today. Ascension Day was two Thursdays ago, on May 26th. My guess is that you haven’t read any books about the ascension or heard many sermons on it, other than one I gave many, many years ago. On the night before his death, Jesus shared about that coming tragedy with his apostles at the so-called, “Last Supper”. They responded with fear and sadness but Jesus comforted them with words about his coming ascension.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:1-3)

Jesus would go up into heaven and prepare a place there for his followers. At some later date, he will return, here prophesying his Second Coming. For the intermediary period in which we live, he would send the Holy Spirit to his followers, the one he called “The Advocate” because the Holy Spirit advocates for Jesus and his message. Jesus ascends. The Spirit descends. We go out.

“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father – the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father – he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” (John 15:26,27)

Jesus going up, the Spirit coming down, us going out to testify about Jesus, and then later, Jesus coming back. The apostles were gobsmacked as they listened to his words. They were grief-stricken at the thought of Jesus leaving them. They didn’t understand God’s plan in all of this up, down, out, and returning stuff. Jesus told them:

“Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things. But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:6,7)

It is “for your good” that “I am going to descend”, Jesus said. How is it possible that it is for our god that he went away into heaven? “For unless I ascend to heaven, the Advocate/the Spirit will not come to you.” Now, the ascension is described by the Gospel book writer Luke at the end of that book, and then at the beginning of his sequel, the Book of Acts. It occurred 40 days after Jesus’ resurrection. I imagine that the disciples had gotten quite used to meeting with Jesus in his resurrected body and hoped that would never end but he reminded them that he needed to go away for the Spirit to come because once that happened, they would be his witnesses throughout the world, instead of just in Jerusalem or Galilee. It was Jesus’ way of getting them off their couches.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. (Acts 1:8,9)

To Jesus’ ascension, the disciples responded as we would – jaws dropped, mouths wide-open, pointing up, peering into the sky, talking amongst themselves when an angel broke into their scene, “Why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken away from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” Their adventures were just about to begin but, first, the disciples quickly realized that Jesus’ ascension was about his exaltation, the proclaiming of him as the King of Kings and Lord and Lords. If Jesus had remained dead, his absence would require no explanation. After all, none of us wonders why we’ve never seen Peter or Paul or Julius Caesar. But he’s not dead, so his ascension matters. If he had remained with the disciples in his resurrected body, the taking of the Gospel message of salvation to the world would have never happened. And the disciples loved him though they would never see him again in this world. That is true for us, and it was true to the Christians of first century Asia Minor to whom Peter wrote,

“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.” (1 Peter 1:8).

In a sense, because Jesus is eternally in heaven, he is more alive today than when he was confined to a human body. Death will never come to him, again. In his ascension he went back to his home, to heaven, returning to his Father, to the place he had left to take on human form while on earth, only once back in heaven he was different, because with him were the keys of death in his nail-scarred hands. Just imagine the welcoming party!

Jesus had gone home to take up the throne he had earned in completing God’s plan of salvation. That is why the New Testament writers and speakers referred to his ascension as his “exaltation”. We will read passages stating that in just a few minutes. He is not like us. We cannot consider Jesus to our “buddy”, a close “confidant”. If we do that, our Christianity is insipid and weak and nonsensical. He may call us, “friend” but we are never to consider him as our buddy. Having been in human form, Jesus understands everything about us, but he is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and his ascension/exaltation was the crowning proof of that. Let’s not take Jesus or his ascension for granted! The ascension wasn’t simply Jesus going home, it was Jesus being enthroned. This is the message of the most often-quoted Old Testament passage in the New Testament,

“The LORD says to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’” (Psalm 110:1)

The ascension is how he got there, to that place of sitting at God the Father’s right hand, exalted on his throne. But he is not just sitting there. No, he is working, interceding on our behalf, working for our salvation and comfort. Hebrews 7 and 10 state that he always lives to make intercession for us in heaven, our eternal high priest.

D-Day (Decision Day, Doomsday, whatever you want to call it) happened in the European portion of World War II on June 6th, 1944. At that point, everyone knew who the winner was: the Allied forces. The Nazis knew it. Everyone knew it. But V-Day (Victory Day, also called VE Day, Victory in Europe Day) would not occur until May 8th, 1945. In those intervening 11 months, when everyone knew what the end result would be – victory for the Allies and the downfall of Hitler and the Nazis – there were more casualties than in the previous 5 years of the war. Why? Because the defeated Nazis were desperate and angry about losing.

On the spiritual level, D-Day occurred on Easter Sunday when Jesus rose from the dead and that victory was cemented on Ascension Day when he took up his throne. V-Day, Victory Day, will occur when Jesus returns. In the meantime, we live in that intervening period. Satan is angry about losing and prowls about, roaring like a lion, seeking to destroy whoever he might. And God’s protection against that is the Holy Spirit in us, protecting. Teaching, and guiding us and propelling us to go into the world as witnesses to others of what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen. The gospel good news message of salvation always includes this message of courage, strength, and comfort. The ascension of Jesus serves as the launching pad for His conquest and return. Jesus didn’t ascend into heaven for nothing. He may have been seated, but he hasn’t been idle. On the contrary—after crushing the head of Satan’s resistance at the D-Day of his death and resurrection, it was from heaven’s throne that Jesus launched his last-days offensive. That was Pentecost when he poured out the Holy Spirit and began liberating the nations. Now, in truth, this present age in which we are living won’t last, and the mission of liberation won’t be completed with Jesus sitting down in heaven forever. One day he’s going to get up, and when he does, the whole world will know it. His return will occur and everyone will see it and know it. Until then, though, we live and witness for him, filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit, who is God’s presence on earth.

So, the ascension of Jesus happened 40 days after Easter. The disciples were told to wait and pray until God would send to them His “gift”, and they would be filled with “power” when that gift, the Holy Spirit, was given to them. God’s gift to them and us came on the 50th day after Easter – “Pentecost” being the Greek word for “fiftieth”. Thus, on the 50th day after Easter, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit, God’s gift of His presence on earth, came Today is the anniversary of that day but Pentecost was not originally a Christian holy day, but a Jewish one.

Jewish pilgrims who had emigrated to different Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries annually returned to Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost, a feast originally called the “Feast of Weeks”, which was instituted to thank God for the first harvest of the year. Later, the Jews retrospectively added to the Feast of Pentecost the element of YHWH God’s covenant with Noah, which took place 50 days after the great deluge, and still later, they also added to this feast the occasion to thank God for His covenant of the Ten Commandments and the Covenant made with Moses, which occurred 50 Days after the beginning of the Exodus from Egypt and the instituting of the Passover Feast at that time. So, the older name, the Feast of Weeks was replaced by the new name Pentecost and had a triple significance for the Jewish pilgrims. By the way, when referring to both Noah and Moses, I am sure you have heard the old joke: “how many pairs of animals did Moses take onto the Ark?” Answer: “Zero. It was Noah who was on the Ark.” In any case, the Feast of Pentecost became the second-largest Jewish feast, after only Passover, at least in terms of the sheer numbers of expatriate Jewish pilgrims who would return to Jerusalem from their new lands of living.

Now, in that particular year of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, with the thousands of expatriate Jewish pilgrims who had returned to Jerusalem, as they were gathering in the Temple courts, they heard a mighty rushing wind, and hearing it, they rushed to the spot where it was coming from and there they saw and heard Jesus’ followers, all speaking and praising God in the languages of those nations in which the Jewish pilgrims were now living. They were amazed to hear the apostles, as we read in Acts 2, “speaking and praising God in their native languages and they wondered how that could be”. Humorously, they concluded that the apostles must be drunk.

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”’ (Acts 2:14-18)

Peter informed the people that a new day had dawned. Today, I am calling it the era between D-Day and V-Day and you understand, but, using language those Jewish pilgrims would understand, Peter explained from a widely-known Old Testament prophecy from the Book of Joel that long-awaited day of the Holy Spirit coming upon everyone was happening that day. The day of the Holy Spirit descending upon all people and not just upon kings or prophets or judges was occurring before their very eyes. He went on to explain to them about the events that triggered the Holy Spirit descending upon everyone that day: the death and resurrection and then the ascension and exaltation of Jesus. He said,

“And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Acts 2:21)

3,000 of those gathered pilgrims did accept Jesus as their Lord and Saviour that day. The church was born, its’ birthday being observed today, the birthday of the Holy Spirit filling and empowering the disciples to go into the world to share the Gospel. Part of that message is that Jesus is in heaven, enthroned and exalted as the King of King and Lord of Lords, while God is with us here on earth in the person of the Holy Spirit.

“Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” (Acts 2:33)

So, what does all this mean practically for us? It’s not what you are thinking. Sure, it is about witnessing for Jesus and telling people what happened, explaining what is happening, and then pointing out what is going to happen, the entire D-Day to V-Day scenario, but our message is about much more than that. It is about how we live while witnessing for Jesus. The apostle Paul writes:

Therefore, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross! Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:1-11)

The ascension/exaltation of Jesus that paved the way for the Spirit to descend and enter into us, needs to result in us having the same attitude as Jesus: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” How is this lived out? In humble submission.

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)

We are to humbly submit ourselves to lives lived for Jesus, out of reverence for him. Those were the apostle Paul’s words, but Peter put it much more directly by talking about all the different ways that submission – which is done out of reference for Christ – needs to be played out. First, toward our human leaders…

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. (1 Peter 2:13-15)

Second, towards those we work for…

Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. (1 Peter 2:18)

Third, with a wife towards her husband…

Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. (1 Peter 3:1,2)

Fourth, with a husband towards his wife…

Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. (1 Peter 3:7)

Fifth, within the church, with all of us towards each other…

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (1 Peter 3:8,9)

Sixth, for the elders within a church to everyone else in the church…

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them — not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. (1 Peter 5:1-4)

Seventh, for the people in the church being ministered to by the elders…

In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. (1 Peter 5:5a)

Eighth, for all of us to one another…

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. (1 Peter 5:5b,6)

It is impossible to live well within the church, within marriages, and in our society without attitudes of submission. Submission does not mean blind obedience, particularly so when corrupt, mean-spirited, or evil-doing people are the ones we would like to submit to, “out of reverence for Christ”. But submission is much greater than obedience because submission is an attitude, a way of living in which our hearts are in tune with Christ. Obedience can be mere rule-keeping without wishing the best for anyone else. Submission requires love, respect, and a willingness to yield to another, all that the greater good may be accomplished. Obedience – other than to a person deserving of it because they are also doing things “out of reverence to Christ” – may not require any personal relationship but can be mere rule-following, at its worst. But God calls us to mutual submission to one another “out of reverence for Christ”. God gives grace and strength to those who act as He wants, humbly and submissively. This may not come easily for Satan does not want us to live in reverence to Christ nor does he want us submitting to one another. He prefers discord and violence. As Peter writes,

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. (1 Peter 5:8,9)

Listen, Satan can take us down, but that doesn’t need to automatically be. We can stand firm in the faith and resist him. The way to do so is to be aware, but, more so, to be faithful to do what the Lord has called us to do and be. That is what made Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. successful. He knew he wasn’t perfect, but as much as he could, he submitted his will to that of Jesus, “out of reverence for Christ”. After the first march from Selma to Montgomery was thwarted by goonish and racist officials, King met with the then-President of the United States of America and shamed him into bringing to the American Congress a bill to end the voting restrictions. Then, the courts reluctantly granted the legality of the march from Selma. Opposition to it was still strong, however. Despite being threatened, fire hosed, bit by police dogs, and shot at, King and his followers – this time joined by thousands more supporters, including hundreds of white clergymen and Roman Catholic nuns, marched successfully from Selma to Montgomery. None of that would have happened without King’s understanding of the exaltation of Jesus who was sitting on his throne intervening for the marchers, without the presence of the Holy Spirit who was empowering and guiding them, and without the determination to be submissive to everyone “out of reverence to Christ”. Martin Luther King, Jr. often told his followers the following: “Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus. Remember always that the nonviolent movement seeks justice and reconciliation, not victory. Walk and talk in the manner of love, for God is love. Pray daily to be used by God in order that all might be free. Sacrifice personal wishes in order that all might be free. Seek to perform regular service for others and the world. Refrain from violence of fist, tongue, or heart. Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health. Follow the directions of the movement and the captains of a demonstration.”

American society was changed not by violent people but by submissive people such as Martin Luther King, Jr, who submitted “out of reverence for Christ”. The Roman world in which the early Christians were living and suffering and being persecuted in was changed by submissive people who did so. Jesus going up, the Spirit coming down, us going out and doing so because we have “reverence for Christ”. And that is how our world, our society, our church, our family, our marriage, our friendships and relationships can be changed. Let’s pray.

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