Soli Deo Gloria: For the Glory of God Alone
Posted: Thursday, March 15, 2012 4:10 pm
The Messenger, March 15, 2012
Christ’s Ascension, Our Benefit
By REV. WALLY BUMPAS
Special to The Messenger
Imagine waking each morning to the sound of a person praying for you in the next room. You clearly hear this person praying that you will be kept from evil, that you will grow through your struggles and that your faith will not fail. Imagine that this person is none other than Jesus. Having overheard God the Son praying specifically for you, could you face the day with courage and calmness?
Our last article discussed the current whereabouts of Jesus. The Apostles’ Creed says that Jesus “ascended into heaven” (see Acts 1). Yet He is also present with His people through the Holy Spirit, called “the Spirit of Christ” (Romans 8:9). In His human nature, however, Jesus is not here but in heaven. What does He do there?
Question 49 of the Heidelberg Catechism asks: How does Christ’s ascension to heaven benefit us? Answer: First, He pleads our cause in heaven in the presence of His Father. Second, we have our own flesh in heaven — a guarantee that Christ our head will take us, His members, to Himself in heaven. Third, He sends His Spirit to us on earth as a further guarantee. By the Spirit’s power we make the goal for our lives, not earthly things, but the things where Christ is, sitting at God’s right hand.
Jesus pleads our cause before the throne of God the Father in heaven. Jesus prays for us. “Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34). “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).
In I John 2:1, Jesus is called our “advocate with the Father.” An advocate is like an attorney arguing your case. What is Jesus pleading when He “pleads our cause?” And why is this necessary? It is necessary because we have a mortal enemy who accuses us (see Revelation 12:10) before God.
This enemy is Satan, who is real and is determined to keep as many human beings away from their Creator as he possibly can. He goes before God and says, “Joe and Jane Christian over there are very poor Christians. Their faith is flimsy and they sin a lot. They’re not good enough for You and they certainly don’t deserve to go to heaven.”
Though Satan is called a liar and the father of lies in the Bible, when he says such things about Christians he is telling the truth. So, when Jesus pleads our cause, He doesn’t defend us based on our obedience and our great faith. He pleads His own life and death in our place. A Christian cannot be condemned for his sin, because Jesus was condemned in his place. That’s how Jesus pleads our case. That’s what keeps Christians saved: not our performance, but Christ’s substitution and intercession.What a relief and comfort. This is good news.
A second benefit of Christ’s ascension into heaven is simply to show us it can be done. Someone in a human body like ours is already there. After the final resurrection, heaven will be a real place that we will enjoy in real, flesh-and-blood bodies. We won’t be ghosts floating on clouds, but our whole selves, body and soul, living on a new and perfected earth (heaven and earth will have come together; see Revelation 21-22).
The Bible doesn’t say very much about what happens to dying Christians now, other than we are “present with the Lord.” But after the resurrection we will be with the Lord “in our flesh.” That Jesus is already there in our flesh guarantees that we will someday follow. “We have our own flesh in heaven.”
The third benefit of Christ’s ascension is the sending of the Holy Spirit. The night before His death, Jesus said it clearly: “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7). In that same passage the Helper is identified as the Holy Spirit, who makes Christ real to us, though His physical presence is in heaven.
The Christian is one whose whole outlook on life is progressively being changed. His hopes, dreams, longings, priorities, and goals are gradually changed by the indwelling Spirit, who is sent by the ascended Christ. His hopes and longings move from things in this life to things in heaven where Jesus is.
Paul said, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is” (Colossians 3:1). What Paul tells us to do, the Spirit enables us to do, the Spirit whom Jesus sent to the Church after He ascended into heaven.
To summarize: Jesus prays for us, which keeps our place in heaven secure. He went to heaven “in our flesh” as a guarantee that we will one day follow. And He makes us long for heaven in the meantime. It is a sweet, painful longing that cannot be described but only known by experience.
“Let not your hearts be troubled … I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-2).
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Editor’s note: The Rev. Wally Bumpas serves as pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Dyersburg.