There and Back Again, the Savior’s Journey: The Ascension | Luke 24:44-53
Brian Hedges | April 28, 2019
Turn in your Bibles this morning to Luke 24. For the last several weeks we have been looking at the Savior’s journey. This began with Andy’s message a number of weeks ago from Philippians 2, where he showed us the downward and then upward movement of Jesus in his incarnation, then his crucifixion on the cross, and then resurrection and ascension. We’ve then been tracing the details of that story through the gospel of Luke, and last week we looked at the resurrection; today we’re going to look at the ascension of Jesus Christ, right at the end of the gospel of Luke.
Now, it’s interesting that the ascension of Jesus is so important to Luke that he ends his gospel with it and he begins the book of Acts with it. In fact, one New Testament scholar, Joel Green, goes so far as to say that the ascension is the salvific (that is, the saving) event in Luke’s writings, in his understanding of the gospel. Everything leads up to the ascension in the gospel of Luke, and then everything follows from the ascension in the book of Acts as Luke records the continuing work of the Lord Jesus Christ through his church.
So this morning we’re going to look at the ascension and its surrounding context, and I want us to notice several things, really implications for us as a church, that are based on this great part of the redemptive story, the bodily ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven. So let’s read the text together; we’re looking at Luke 24:44-53. So if you were here last week, we’re picking up right where we left off last Sunday. Luke 24, beginning in verse 44:
“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.' And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.”
This is God’s word.
So these last few verses record for us the ascension of Christ into heaven, and when we look at that event and then the surrounding context (the words that Jesus says leading up to that) I think it has three things to teach us about the ascension, or three things, we might say, that the ascended Christ does. Now, there’s lots more that could be said about the ascension, but I’m going to limit myself to just these three things.
I want you to see that the ascended Christ commissions (he commissions us and gives us a mission), then secondly he empowers us, and then thirdly he blesses us. Let’s look at each one of those.
I. The Ascended Christ Commissions Us
First, he commissions us. You see it right there in verses 46-48, which give us Luke’s version of the Great Commission. We know the Great Commission from the gospel of Matthew, and when people talk about the Great Commission they’re usually thinking of Matthew’s record of this. I think Luke and Matthew are giving us, probably, summaries of something more that Jesus said. Jesus probably said more than we have recorded, but they’re giving faithful and accurate summaries, in some cases verbatim quotations, of what Jesus said at this event, when Jesus stands there on the Mount of Olives, overlooking Bethany, before he ascends into heaven.
So Luke puts it this way (picking up in verse 46): “[He] said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.’” Alright, you see the commission; you see the same kind of language, especially the “nations” language; you’re witnesses, and you’re to proclaim this in all the nations.
Now, here’s what we have in the gospel of Matthew, Matthew 28:18-20. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Now, I think when you put these two passages together they give us a very well-rounded theology of Christian mission, and I want us to think about that for a few minutes. Don’t miss the connection here to the ascended Christ, okay? These are the last words that Jesus gives to his disciples before he ascends into heaven, and then Luke begins the book of Acts by recalling this event once again and then describing the mission of the church in the first couple of decades of the church. They are on mission, and it’s all flowing out of the ascension of Christ and what follows. So there’s a real connection here between our mission and Christ’s authority as the ascended Lord.
Let me just point out three things here.
(1) First of all, just the mission itself. Notice the way the language is used in the two passages. In Matthew 28, it’s, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Disciple-making. We are to go and make disciples; that is, make learners of Jesus, or make followers of Jesus.
Luke also talks about all the nations, but he uses slightly different language. He says we are to go proclaiming, right? We are to go “proclaiming repentance and the forgiveness of sins.” Matthew also uses the word teaching; we are to teach them to observe all that Christ has commanded us.
I think when you put all that together it becomes clear that the scope of our mission is all the nations, panta ta ethne (παντα τα εθνη); it’s all the nations, that is all the people or all the people groups of the world. That’s one reason why at Redeemer Church we prioritize unreached people groups, people who have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. But “all the nations” is embracive of everyone, okay? It’s everyone! All the peoples of the world, including the people who are right in our own communities. We are to make disciples, and the way we make disciples is by proclaiming and teaching.
You’ve probably heard this statement, sometimes attributed to Francis of Assisi. The saying goes like this: “Preach the gospel. If necessary, use words.” I think that’s a well-intentioned statement, but very misleading, because by very definition you can’t preach the gospel without using words, because the gospel is a word! The gospel is a message. Proclamation is one of the key aspects of disciples-making. The way in which we make followers of Jesus is by sharing with them the new of Jesus.
When you hear this word “proclamation,” don’t think only about what happens in a pulpit on Sunday morning; the proclaiming includes every time you open your mouth to share Jesus with someone who’s not heard the gospel. That’s the mission.
Now, the mission includes many other things. There are many other things that are part of our obedience to Jesus Christ and part of the way in which people come to faith. We might think, for example, of good works. That’s important. Jesus says, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father, which is in heaven.” Alright, so that’s right. Let your light shine by doing good deeds. That’s part of it.
We might think of contextualization; that is, making the gospel message understandable and applicable to people in their own context. The apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9 says, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.”
So every time the New Testaments gets translated into a new language, that’s contextualization. Every time songs get written and sung in a contemporary style or a style that matches a culture, that’s contextualization. Every time we share stories or illustrations from the culture - from our reading or from our music or from our films or whatever - that’s contextualization. It doesn’t change the message itself; it’s a way of contextualizing that message so that people can hear it and can understand. That’s part of the mission.
I would even argue that worship is a crucial part of the mission, because in 1 Corinthians 14 the apostle Paul is addressing the church as they’re meeting for corporate worship, and he assumes that there will be unbelievers in the church, and he wants them to be in the awe of the manifestations of the power of God through the prophetic gifts of the church, so that the secrets of their hearts are unveiled and they bow before the living God.
All of that is included in mission, but listen: at its heart, at its very core, the Christian mission is truth-oriented. The Christian mission is word-centered. It is the proclamation of the message, the good news of Jesus Christ.
(2) Now what is that message? You see the mission, but what is the message? What’s the message that we are to share?
Well, Luke puts it this way, that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in all the nations. Before that, Jesus has been instructing his disciples about how even the Old Testament Scriptures prophesy of his crucifixion and resurrection. Just back up two verses, verse 44, and he says, “‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”
This had to have been the best Bible study in all of church history, right? You have Jesus himself opening their minds to understand the Old Testament Scriptures; the New Testament wasn’t written yet. You might say, “Well, what is it that he was teaching them?” I think we get a pretty good idea of what he’s teaching them by reading the rest of the New Testament, because I think that’s what the apostles were doing. They are interpreting the Old Testament for us in light of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ; they are giving us the teaching of Christ.
Verse 46 continues; he says to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name…”
You put all that together, and it becomes pretty clear that the message is the message of the gospel (it’s the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ); it’s the message of the gospel, but it’s a message of the gospel according to the Scriptures, alright? 1 Corinthians 15; he died for our sins “in accordance with the Scriptures,” he “was buried, and on the third day rose in accordance with the Scriptures.” That is, they understood this event in light of all of the Old Testament Scriptures who had gone before.
Then it’s our response to that event. It’s repentance. That’s the response, to believe and to repent. That’s part of the message, repentance for the forgiveness of sins. So the message, then, is sharply focused, like a laser, on the person and work of Jesus Christ, but it includes our response to that gospel, and then it includes, of course, our obedience to Jesus as Lord. In Matthew 28, it’s also “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you,” which is what Dallas Willard calls “the great omission,” the great omission of the church in failing to train the church and train believers and train disciples to obey all that Jesus said.
So all of that is included in our message, and it just shows the need for pointed gospel proclamation and witness on one hand, and for systematic exposition of Scripture, Bible study, discipleship on the other. All of that comes together in the Great Commission.
(3) So the mission, the message; here’s one more thing I want us think about for a minute: the motive. Why do we do this? Again, there are all kinds of motives that I think are implicit here in the text. One motive is the resurrection. They’ve seen him alive! They’ve seen him alive! He says, “You were witnesses of these things.” They couldn’t help but tell. That’s the way it is with witnesses.
Have you ever had some kind of experience that was so moving to you or it was so thrilling to you or so enjoyable to you that you just immediately go talking to people about it? I had a wonderful experience last night. I’ve never done this before, but I went all by myself to the South Bend Symphony orchestra, because it was sci-fi night, and they were playing the themes from all of my favorite movies. I had two teaching things today; I was ahead in preparation, I thought, “Yes! I can afford this; I’m going to do it.”
And I did it, and I’m on the second row, and I’m almost in tears as I’m hearing the symphonic music of John Williams. And I was telling people this morning! You know why? Because I love it!
You do that too. You talk about your favorite movies, and if you’re a grandparent you show pictures of your grandchildren. You go on a great vacation and you’re showing people the footage of your vacation. “This is what we did when we were Europe,” and so on, because we share what we enjoy.
Listen: that is the heartbeat of mission! If you love Jesus, you’re going to talk about him. If you have been changed by the gospel, you’re going to want to share it. If this is part of your story, you’re going to want to tell it. Indeed, that’s how worship connects to mission. That’s why worship is so crucial. Worship is the fuel for the mission of the church.
In fact, what you see here in this passage is that Jesus ascends and the disicples go back to Jerusalem and they are worshipping. They are “continuing in the temple, blessing God…” They are worshipping. They have great joy in their hearts, and it’s ten days later when the Holy Spirit comes and the mission of the church begins to take off. But the epicenter of it all was worship.
One of my good friends, Wes Ward, has often said that we on Sunday mornings are “worshippers gathered,” and during the week we’re “worshippers scattered,” and that’s right. We’re scattered, and we’re scattered to talk about the one whom we worship. That’s the mission.
So the first challenge for us this morning is just to ask ourselves this question: are we engaged in that mission? Have we experienced that kind of life-transforming ministry in our own hearts and lives that we are wanting to share with others?
Let me tell you for a minute about a man named Lesslie Newbigin, then I’m going to give you a quote. Lesslie Newbigin was a missionary to India; he was Anglican British, missionary to India in the 1950s. Newbigin was a profound theologian; we wouldn’t agree with him in every respect, but he had profound insights about the nature of mission. What Newbigin found is that when he went to India he was learning how to contextualize the gospel to an unreached culture, to an un-Christian culture, and he was working with missionaries and people there, doing that.
When he retired and he came back to England, what he realized was that the West had changed, and that the West was no longer a Christian culture, and the church had not caught up and had not learned to start contextualizing the gospel in the culture in which they lived. He’s written some wonderful books on this. But Newbigin understood that worship was right at the heart of mission as well; it fueled the mission. I want you to hear just one quotation from him.
Newbigin says, “Mission begins with a kind of explosion of joy. The news that the rejected and crucified Jesus is alive is something that cannot possibly be suppressed. It must be told. Who could be silent about such a fact? The mission of the church in the pages of the New Testament is more like a fallout which is not lethal, but life giving.”
Think about a nuclear bomb. When a nuclear bomb goes off, you know, you have ground zero and then you have fallout for miles and miles and miles, people who are affected. Newbigin is reversing the illustration; he’s saying it’s a fallout, but it’s a fallout of joy, of worship, of power. There’s this fallout, and the effect is not lethal, it’s life giving. At the heart of mission is thanksgiving and praise. Mission is an acted-out doxology. Mission is worship. Worship fuels mission.
In fact, John Piper says worship is the fuel and the goal of missions. The reason we take the gospel to people who do not know Christ is because Christ deserves to be worshipped by them! Missions exist because worship doesn’t.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, are you on mission? If I were to ask for a show of hands this morning, “Who are the missionaries in this room?” my guess is that maybe two, three, four, five hands would go up. But the reality is that every follower of Jesus should raise your hand, because you’re a missionary, and your mission-field is your workplace, it’s your neighborhood, it’s where you get your hair cut, it’s your school. It’s wherever you are, living as a disciple of Jesus; that’s your mission field, and the mission is to share this explosion of joy that we’ve experienced in our hearts because of the saving, transforming grace of God in Jesus Christ; it’s to share that with others.
Listen, God is still in the business of saving people who are hard to reach. I was so blessed a few days ago; I had a phone call from someone, this is a Christian friend in another city, and he called me late at night. He said, “I just have to share with you what happened, what has recently taken place,” and told me of how six weeks ago or so he had started sharing the gospel with a very intellectual atheist. He was not a Christian.
He shared his testimony with him, asked if he’d like to start reading the Bible with him. They started meeting together every week to read the Bible. This guy starts coming to church with him. Last week he’s reading the gospel of John and reading in Scripture, and last Sunday morning he hears an Easter sermon and believes, became a Christian. This is an intellectual guy, this is a smart guy, this is a guy who had all of the academics, right? And God saved him, and he saved him in part through the means of a very simple testimony and an invitation, “Would you like to read the Bible?”
I want to encourage you to have that mentality. Be on the lookout for people who do not know Christ. Share the gospel with others. This is the commission that the ascended Christ gives us. When Jesus ascends into heaven, these are the last words he gives to his church, “Go and tell.” Go and share. Go and make disciples. Go and proclaim the gospel. That’s first. He commissions us.
II. The Ascended Christ Empowers Us
Here’s number two: the ascended Christ also empowers us. This is the wonderful news here, isn’t it? He does not give us a mission without the means to accomplish the mission. He empowers us for the mission, and you see it in verse 49. Look at verse 49. “And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
What’s Jesus talking about here? He’s talking about the Holy Spirit. The promise of the Father is the Holy Spirit given to the church. I think that’s obvious when you look at Acts 1:4-5. “While staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” It’s very clear: the promise of the Father is the Holy Spirit! He says, “Wait for the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem; you’re going to be baptized with the Spirit. There’s going to be this effusion, this huge outpouring of the Spirit,” they’re going to be immersed in the Spirit. The Spirit is going to come with great power, and that happens ten days later, on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit is given to the church.
Like the ascension of Christ, Pentecost is one of these decisive, epic events in the history of God’s saving plan. From one vantage point we could say, and I think it’s right to say, that Pentecost was a one-time deal, that one significant time the Holy Spirit is given to the church, and that happened on the day of Pentecost. I think that’s true. I think the Spirit was given decisively to the church and given to believers in a new and a special way on the day of Pentecost, something that was different than what had happened in the Old Testament, and something that is different from anything that has happened subsequent to that.
But when you read the book of Acts, what you see is that even after the day of Pentecost believers meet together for prayer (you see this in Acts 4), and they are praying for filling with the Spirit! Even though they are filled on the day of Pentecost, we read in the book of Acts over and over again when they were filled with the Spirit. Paul tells us that we are to pray to be filled up with all the fullness of God, and we are to pray for the Spirit of wisdom and revelation to be given to us that we might know him better, and we are to pray to be strengthened by God’s Spirit, so that Christ would dwell in our hearts by faith. We’re to pray for the Spirit, and I think it’s right, even though the Spirit is given to the church, it is right for us to say, “Lord, give us more. Lord, send your Spirit. Lord, fill us with your Spirit. Give us power from your spirit.”
Because here’s the reality: you could share Jesus all day long, and apart from the Holy Spirit there will be no fruit. The Spirit is the one who makes the word effective, the Spirit is the one who makes the word powerful, the Spirit is the one who takes what you share and then uses it. The Spirit is also the one who works in us. The Spirit is the one who gives us the motivation, gives us the courage, who helps us overcome our hangups of fear and intimidation.
There’s so much more that the Spirit does. We could talk also about the sanctifying work of the Spirit in the church, the Spirit coming to regenerate and bring dead sinners to life in Christ; all of this is the work of the Holy Spirit, but the focus here is the power of the Spirit. “I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” That needs to be descriptive of the church as well. This is what the Spirit does, then; the Spirit empowers and equips the church for the mission.
You know, here’s the connection again to the ascension of Christ. We’re looking at the ascension, but talking now about the Holy Spirit. Why? Because Christ, in his exaltation, Christ who is ascended to the Father, is the one who pours out the Spirit. There’s a very real sense in which Jesus had to ascend to the Father before the Spirit could be poured out as the Spirit of Christ. When the Spirit comes, he comes (to use Sinclair Ferguson’s language) imprinted with Jesus, he comes as the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit who had been with Jesus, had filled Jesus, had empowered Jesus through his entire earthly mission. Everything Jesus does, he does in the power of the Holy Spirit, and that same Holy Spirit is given to us.
Notice this: the Spirit not only empowers us, he equips us. I’m drawing that from Ephesians 4. I don’t have time to go into this in detail, but let me just reference it. Ephesians 4 talks about the ascension of Christ. He descended to the lower parts of the earth, and then he ascended. He led captivity captive, and he gave gifts to men. And then Paul goes on to talk about spiritual gifts: apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, this five-fold gifting that has been given to the church to equip it for the work of ministry. The ascended Christ gives the Spirit, and he gives the gifts (which are called spiritual gifts because they’re Spirit-empowered gifts), and he does that to equip the church.
You remember this line from Luther’s hymn? I’d never thought about this until this week: “The Spirit and the gifts are ours / Through him who with us sideth.” We need both, and God gives us both. Christ gives us both. He gives us the Spirit to empower us, and he gives us the Spirit gifts to equip us.
I want you to be encouraged, Christian, that every single one of you, if you are indwelt by the Spirit of Christ, you have power, you have access to the power of the Holy Spirit in your life, and you have a gift, and the risen, ascended Christ wants you to use that gift to build up the body of Christ and to share Christ with others. We are absolutely dependent on the Holy Spirit.
John Stott says, “Without the Holy Spirit, Christian discipleship would be inconceivable, even impossible. There can be no life without the life-giver, no understanding without the Spirit of truth, no fellowship without the unity of the Spirit, no Christ-likeness of character apart from his fruit, and no effective witness without his power. As a body without breath is a corpse, so the church without the Spirit is dead.”
By God’s grace, I think we can say with confidence that Redeemer Church is not a corpse. This church is not dead. I see the evidence of God’s work in you and among us. We praise God for that. But surely all of us, when we think about what God has done in the church in ages past, what God is doing in some places in the world right now; when we think about our own capacity, we think about our own failures, surely every one of us should also say, “Lord, give us more. Do more in this place. Send your Spirit to us in great power and do a might work.” The ascended Christ commissions us, the ascended Christ empowers us by his Spirit.
III. The Ascended Christ Blesses Us
That’s not all. There’s another piece here that it would be easy to just read over and kind of gloss over and not even think about, but I want you to see this in verses 50 and 51: the ascended Christ blesses us. He blesses us. Look at verses 50 and 51. “And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.”
Isn’t that beautiful? Jesus’ very last act, even as he ascends into the heavens, is to bless his church. I think there’s so much that’s just packed in there.
If you go all the way back to Genesis 1, you see that when God created the world he blessed it. He blessed the man and the woman and he blessed his creation, he said it was very good; but then in Genesis 3 a curse comes on the world. Here is Christ, the new Adam, who is blessing the creation. He is the new man, he is the exalted and ascended second Adam, the head of God’s people, who is blessing.
So maybe there’s a new creation motif here, the reversal of the curse. I think probably the most likely thing here is that blessing was the work of a priest in the Old Testament, and here’s Christ in his priestly ministry, who blesses his people.
Do you remember Numbers 6? Sometimes we say this benediction together at the end of a service, Numbers 6:26. We usually do 24 and 25 and 26, but in Numbers 6:22, just read how this whole passage goes.
It says, “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to Aaron [he’s the high priest] and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, The Lord bless you and keep you…’” So the priest is uttering these words to bless the people. He’s pronouncing a blessing on them by, in a sense, praying for God to bless them. “You shall say to them, The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” Verse 27, “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel,l and I will bless them.”
Christ, as our High Priest, does that supremely! He does that definitively! He blesses, and he blesses in his own name. He pronounces a blessing, he pronounces benediction, blessing, goodwill over his church, over the people of God. And get this: he lifts up his hands to do it. Don’t miss this. I hadn’t even thought about this until I read Spurgeon.
Listen to this. The hands he lifts up are pierced hands, they are wounded hands; and in fact, he had just shown them his hands! In verses 38-40 (we read this last week) he had just shown them his hands in a resurrection appearance. He says to them, “‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see, for a Spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see that I have.’ And when he had said this he showed them his hands and his feet.”
Why is he showing them his hands and his feet? Because his hands and his feet bore the scars of his crucifixion. Just as he had shown doubting Thomas, in John 20, and had told Thomas, “Put your finger there in the nail print.” So now he blesses his people, and he blesses them with lifted-up hands, and they are the hands, the same hands, that had healed the sick. They are the same hands that had turned a few loaves and fishes into a feast to feed a multitude. They are the same hands that had cast out demons and overcome the powers of darkness, and they are the same hands that had trembled as he knelt there in the olive grove of Gethsemane, and they are the same hands that had been stretched out with nails pounded through them as he was crucified on the cross.
With those hands now glorified in his resurrection body, he lifts his hands and he blesses his people. It is a reminder to us that every blessing we receive comes to us through the hands of the crucified Christ.
It also shows here the posture of Christ towards his church. His posture is one of blessing. He ascends into heaven blessing, and he’s still there blessing. Even right now, Jesus is at the right hand of God, and what does Scripture tell us he’s doing? He’s interceding for us! He is praying the Father’s blessing down upon his people. Hebrews 7:25, “Consequently, 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.” He makes intercession, asking the Father to bless, even as his posture towards us is one of blessing.
Listen to what Spurgeon says. This is so good. “The wounds of Jesus alone can cure the wounds of our sick humanity. The way to God’s heart is through the wounds of Christ. You cannot get anything from God except through those wounds. This is that ladder which Jacob saw in his vision. This is that gate of paradise through which the righteous must enter. This is the refuge of those poor souls that are hunted by the roaring lion of hell; they must speed away, like frightened fawns, to Jesus’ wounds, and find protection there. In those pierced hands alone you can find salvation, for all power in heaven and earth is given to those hands, and therefore is it that we preach the gospel to you. I think,” Spurgeon says, “that this action of Christ is an epitome of the gospel, the substance of the whole matter, pierced hands distributing benedictions and blessings.”
That’s the gospel. Blessings come to us through the pierced hands of Christ. In the words of Matthew Bridges:
“Crown him the Lord of love,
Behold his hands and side,
Rich wounds, yet visible above,
In beauty glorified.”
Brothers and sisters, this is so encouraging to us as the church. The Lord Jesus is ascended in his glorified humanity. He is ascended to the Father’s right hand, and he’s coming again, in the same way, just as he ascended. But in his ascension, this is what he does: he sends the church on a mission, he empowers them for that mission, and he blesses them with every spiritual blessing, everything they need to accomplish that mission and everything we need for life and godliness. He gives it to us! He gives us the blessings of salvation, he gives us sanctification, he gives our souls rest, he gives us comfort in our affliction.
This is one reason I think the ascension of Christ is so central to the book of Acts. Do you remember when Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian church, do you remember when he’s being stoned to death in Acts 7? Do you remember what happens? He looks up and he sees Jesus standing there! The ascended Christ is visible to him in that moment. You know why? Because there’s never a time when the church suffers where Jesus Christ in his ascension is not right there with them. He sees and he knows and he cares and he helps and he strengthens and he welcomes the martyrs home. This can give us great confidence. It should give us great confidence as we seek to obey God in fulfilling our part of the Great Commission.
Let me just end in this way. Let me end with an exhortation to the church, and then let me end with a word to the non-Christian.
Exhortation to the church. I believe that Redeemer Church right now is at a crucial crossroads in our history. We’ve been at many of these; there are lots of crossroads in the life of the church. I think we’re at another one. I think we’re in a season of real moment and growth. We have a solid leadership team, we have a solid core, we have a solid community, we see things happening that are good, that I think are evidence of God’s grace and mercy to us.
But let’s not fall short of the opportunity, and I think the opportunity before us is to really adopt a missional mindset as a church, and in particular I mean a mindset that cares deeply about evangelism. That’s what I want to see in the next chapter for us. I want us to see you guys and myself regularly sharing the gospel with others. Regularly, so that it’s second nature.
I want to see us cross the threshold from being slightly intimidated (or maybe scared out of our minds to do it, which is where some of us probably are); I want us to get past that, to the point where it’s second nature, regularly we’re in a conversation with someone, to steer that conversation towards Jesus, to befriend those who need friendship and to talk to them about Jesus, because it’s the mission. It’s the command. Your Lord, your King commands you, “Go and make disciples.”
I don’t think the church in America is doing very well at it, and I don’t think Redeemer Church has done as well at it as we could. I think we’re making efforts, we’re moving in the right direction; but there’s so much more for us.
Let’s adopt a missional mindset, but let’s do it with absolute dependence on the Holy Spirit. The last thing in the world that I want is for us to think that we can accomplish this in our strength; we can’t! We need the Spirit, we need God, we need help, and that means we have to pray. We pray for the ministry of the Spirit, we pray for filling, we pray for help, we pray for grace. We pray that the witness would be made effective.
Let’s be a praying church, let’s be a missional church, let’s be a praying church; and then, throughout, let’s not lose what I think we have grasped as a church. I think one thing that Redeemer Church has pretty much grasped is that it’s all about the gospel, right? This is one of our core values, right? It’s the gospel! It’s trusting in Christ and his finished work with all of our hearts. Let’s not forget that. Let’s not forget that everything, including the power for mission, including everything we need in life, comes to us through the wounds of our Lord Jesus Christ. That’s my exhortation to you as a church. Adopt a missional mindset, depend on the Holy Spirit with earnest prayer, keep the gospel central.
If you’re not a believer this morning, if you’re not a Christian, let me just say to you, this is the best news in the world. Now, it may be that you have doubts, and I understand. I’ve had doubts. I understand doubts. But let me commend to you this message, this gospel, and give you something that you can do. I mentioned this last week; I’ll say it again today. Go home and just read the gospel of Luke. Read it through start to finish. Read, praying a prayer something like this, “God, if you’re real, if this stuff about Jesus is really true, would you show me and convince me as I read the Scripture?”
I will read it with you! I would love to do that. If you’re a non-Christian and you want somebody to read the Bible with you, I’d be happy to do it, and I’m sure there are others in our church that will do that with you as well. Believe the gospel. It’s good news, and there is salvation, there is grace, there is mercy, there is pardon, there is meaning and purpose in life; there’s everything we need, found in Jesus Christ. Let’s bow together in prayer.
Merciful and gracious God, we bow in your presence again. We pray that you would use the word that we’ve just heard, that you would use it to change us, use it, Lord, to embolden us for the mission you’ve called us to. We pray for the work of the Holy Spirit. We know that we can’t manufacture that, we can’t make it happen, but, as has often been said, we can set the sails so as to catch the wind of heaven should you choose to blow it. We pray that you would. We pray that you would help us keep Jesus in his cross and resurrection at the center of our minds, of our hearts, of our affections, and at the center of our message.
Lord, I pray this morning for any who do not know Christ, that right now you would give the gift of saving faith, that they would move out of darkness into light and take out the hard heart and give a sensitive heart that feels the conviction of your Spirit and is moved into a trusting relationship with Jesus Christ.
Father, as we come to the Lord’s table this morning, we pray that you would help us. We must examine our hearts, so that we take this bread and take this juice thoughtfully. We pray that you would give us the right measure of both self-examination and also real joy, that we would remember that when we come to this table we come to celebrate the broken body and the poured-out blood of Jesus. We come to remember what he has done for us, and we come to Jesus himself, by faith, to lean on him. Help us to do that this morning. We ask you to draw near; we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.