A Profitable Departure
May 16, 2004 / No. 3202
Dear radio friends,
To take your leave of another person is sad. It is hard to say good-bye. Especially is that the case when the person who leaves you is one whom you love and on whom you have depended. You can hardly bear the thought of being without him.
Still more is this the case when the departure is permanent as far as this life is concerned — your loved one will never come back to you the way he was once with you. To say good-bye, to take your leave of another one whom we love, that fills our hearts to the brim with sorrow. We can hardly bear to think about it.
Apparently this is the case with the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Head of the church, into heaven. This Thursday will mark the 40th day since the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. And it was on that day that Jesus Christ ascended bodily up into heaven, there to remain until He returns yet once more at the end of the world.
The disciples responded to Jesus’ announcement that He was going to go away with sorrow filling their hearts. Let us listen to it in John 16:5-7, these words of the Lord, “But now I go my way to him that sent me; and none of you asketh me, Whither goest thou? But because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart. Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.” The Lord was telling them that soon the time would come when they would see Him return to His heavenly Father. He was bidding them good-bye. And sorrow filled their hearts, they were crushed. They shrank back at the thought. It was painful and unbearable.
Maybe you too, then, as a child of God, upon a moment of reflection when you consider the truth of the ascension of the Lord into heaven, greet that truth in a similar way. Jesus, Son of God in glorified body, risen Lord, proof positive of full salvation, is not with us in the body here on earth. He went away into heaven.
But if our response to the ascension of Jesus Christ is sorrow, then we are wrong! We are mistaken, we are downright foolish. The Lord immediately corrected the disciples and arrested the sorrow that was coming up in their heart by pointing out the profit of His ascension. He said, “It is expedient for you that I go away, it is very advantageous, it is profitable. And it is expedient because, by going away, I will send the Comforter, that is, the Holy Spirit, with the fullness of My salvation.” In effect, the Lord Jesus Christ was saying that by going away in His ascension and returning as the Holy Spirit, He will, in fact, draw nearer to us than ever before. The Lord was saying that the ascension into heaven is a rich, deep, profound, spiritual advantage for you and me as His disciples upon the earth. A great work of Jesus Christ was performed for us when He ascended into heaven.
Is that the way you think of the ascension? Are you at a loss to explain why the Lord’s going up into heaven is so profitable for you and for the church? Or do you greet the ascension with some type of indifference, or with some type of uneasiness? We must know the ascension of Jesus Christ as yet another great and mighty deed of our Lord for the salvation of the church. We must not bury it in insignificance behind Good Friday and Easter and Christmas. But we must remember it with joy and we must live in its confidence and blessedness. Through the ascension of Jesus Christ the Holy Spirit comes to us. No, we may put it this way: through His ascension Jesus comes to us exactly in the way that we need Him to fill our hearts with all His salvation through the Holy Spirit.
Yet, apparently, of all the great works of Jesus Christ that were done for the church, apparently the ascension could be cause of sorrow or heard with a tinge of grief. That is immediately different from the other great works and events of our Lord Jesus Christ. Consider His birth. There we hear the tidings, “Behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy.” His death — we call it “Good Friday.” We boast in the death of Jesus Christ. Resurrection — what joy and victory floods our souls when we hear that He is risen. Then when we consider yet another great work of Jesus Christ — His return at the end of the world in judgment — that is our hope, that is something we look forward to. We shall see Him again. What joy that shall be, we say.
But the ascension? When, 40 days after the resurrection, He went up into heaven — that is a sad event, is it not? Never again would He be on earth as He was. We cannot follow Him right now. The realm of the heavenly? The realm of the glorious? He is on that side, and we on this side in the valley of the shadow of death.
The departure of Jesus Christ in the ascension was a real departure. Jesus said to His disciples, “I am going My way to Him who sent Me.” In chapter 14:28 of the book of John, He said, “I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I.” The Father is the One who dwells in heaven, as Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven.” The heavenly Father had sent His Son, Jesus Christ. The Son of God, Jesus, dwelt in our flesh. In the flesh He paid for our sins and is risen from the dead. And now in that glorified flesh He returns to heaven to the Father who has sent Him. In the glorified body Jesus is not on the earth. But where is He then? He is in heaven, seated at the right hand of God, says the Bible. And through Him God rules over all things to lead perfectly to the full and final glory of the church.
Jesus went to heaven.
Learned men in religious circles today deny that. They say that heaven is a state of mind. They talk about nirvana, or reincarnation. Man first begins by denying the reality of hell as a place of torment. He denies, basically, his responsibility to God for his sin. From that foundation, that error, he proceeds and begins to teach that heaven is not a real place either.
But God’s Word is plain. Heaven is a place. So real is it that when Jesus ascended, He went there. He is now there with the saints and with the angels. Jesus left the realm of the earthly, the physical, and He entered into the realm that the book of Hebrews tells us is the realm of just men made perfect, the place that is described as Father’s house of many mansions, a place of indescribable bliss and glory — God’s very sanctuary.
But although that must have been glorious, and was glorious, for Jesus Christ, is it not too bad for us? The disciples, at least, responded that way. Jesus said, “When I tell you this, sorrow hath filled your hearts. Floodgates opened, floodgates of grief.” Their grief, really, was first of all selfish. We get that from Jesus’ mild rebuke in verse 5. The Lord said to them, “And none of you asketh me, Whither goest thou?” The word “ask” refers to a polite request, a question indicating interest in another person. None of you asked me, “Where are you going?”
Jesus had been explaining to them that He was going back to His Father, and now was the time for questions. What does that mean for you, Lord? What does that mean for us? We know that you have done everything for us. What does it mean that you are now going to go to heaven? But they did not ask. Their own loss crowds out every other consideration. And their failure to ask was selfishness on their part.
It was, secondly, not only selfish, but serious. Sorrow filled their hearts. Not a sorrow that, if left alone, would simply pass away. But a very profound and deep sorrow in their heart. The heart, of course, according to the Scriptures, is the spiritual center of our entire being. And when sorrow filled their hearts, the Lord tells us that they experienced a sorrow that left no possibility for hope, for courage, for peace, for enthusiasm in the work that He had left them to do. In one word, the disciples were filled with despair. What had they ever been able to do without the Lord? Now He was going away from them.
It was, in the third place, an understandable sorrow. Jesus was leaving them for a place where they could not follow. They would witness His ascension up into heaven. But then the old earthly tie that held them to Jesus would be severed. They felt that already after the resurrection of the Lord. The risen Lord was different. He did not arise to return to them as He had been with them before. He was now heavenly. He was spiritual. He was incorruptible. He no longer belonged on the earth among the corruptible. And they loved Him. They depended upon Him. If they lose Him, they lose everything. He was their beloved. And, what is more, Jesus left them with a task, a great task. That task was to disciple all nations in His name, a task that He had been telling them repeatedly would be a difficult one. He had prepared them, in His words in John 14 and John 15, for the reality that they would be opposed and persecuted and that all the forces of hell would be unleashed against them. They would have to battle. They would have to fight the good fight of faith. They were left with the task of spreading the gospel of the crucified, risen Lord, and the entire forces of hell would be unleashed against them. And now, apparently, they must do it without Him. He leaves them alone — apparently.
Finally, their sorrow was a shared sorrow, for we share it, do we not? Sometimes we might ask, “Would it not be better if the Lord Jesus were right here with us today in the church?” Oh, yes, we have the full Scriptures, the revelation of the truth. It is all there. Yet, are there not times when it burns in our hearts that we would say, “Lord, if Thou hadst been here!”
And, as we confront the task of the church to be faithful to the truth, to spread the gospel, to live a holy life, we battle the enemy who sneers. The sneers of the unbelieving world are all around us. You see, it is not a problem to those who do not know, personally and experientially, fellowship with Jesus Christ. For them it cannot be a problem that Jesus is ascended up into heaven. It is not a problem for those who are not concerned with the high calling of the church, the calling to be faithful to the truth. It is not a problem for those who do not feel the intensity of the assault of Satan, of the world against them, and the power of sin within them.
But it is a problem for those who do know all of these things, for those who love Jesus Christ, for those who are committed to His cause, for those who fight against the powers of sin within them — would it not be better if He had been here and if He had remained with us? Would it not be better if He were physically here in times of trouble in our home and in our marriage, when we face problems that defy solutions, in times of sorrow and death and depression and battle against temptations and the sneers of the enemy? Would it not be better if the church had the physical presence of the risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ with us?
Do you not want to say, “Oh, if only the Lord were with us in body so that we could see Him and hear Him. It would be better”?
But that is not true. The Lord corrects us. He says, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away.” With all the other works of Jesus Christ — the work of His birth, death, and resurrection — so the ascension is a work that is aimed at our profit. He did this for us. So we ought to respond with the saints in heaven as they responded to the ascension: Revelation 12, “Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ.” It is profitable for us. It is glory for us. It is a great work of Jesus Christ for the church. That means, for you, believer.
In this work Jesus says, “I don’t forget you. But I’m doing this work of ascension with the same focus I had when I was born and while I was on the cross and when I arose from the dead. I do it for you.”
Now, our Lord Jesus Christ is singling out one of the benefits of the ascension for us in His words in John 16. There are other benefits that the Scriptures reveal to us. The Bible makes very plain that the Lord’s ascension into heaven in the body is the pledge that we go to heaven in death.
Still more. It is the assurance that now we have access to our Father, for our Lord intercedes for us with His Father. And, still more. The rich profit is that our Lord, the One who was made like us in all things yet without sin, the glorified Lord, our elder Brother, sits at the right hand of God to rule over all things for our advantage and to bring the day of days, the day of final victory in His return.
But in John 16 our Lord is referring to a different benefit. He says, “for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.” Who is the Comforter? The Comforter is the Holy Spirit, as Jesus has made plain to them. He has called Him the Spirit of truth, the One who will take all that is of Christ and show it unto us (John 16:14). Literally, the Comforter is the helper, He is the One who will stand by our side, by the side of one who is in trouble, by the side of one who is defenseless and weak. The Comforter is the Holy Spirit. I go away, said Jesus, so that the great helper will come to you. He will come to you exactly because you need Him the most. Jesus considered the coming of the Holy Spirit as the Comforter to be of greater profit to us than if He had remained with us physically as the risen Lord.
Why? Because the Comforter is the One who brings Christ and all of His blessings to our hearts. The Holy Spirit is the One, the only One, who can put Christ in us. Christians are not self-made. Christians do not become Christians by accepting Jesus out of their own will. Their will is depraved and dead. They are dead in sins. It is the Comforter who puts Jesus in us and makes us Christians. The Holy Spirit coming in the name of the ascended Lord comes with all the benefits of Jesus Christ. He comes with the forgiveness of sins. He comes with adoption as a child of God. He comes with comfort and with peace. In the coming of the comforter Jesus Christ comes to us in the only way that will do us any good. That is what the Lord means to say. He means to say to us that He ascends, He goes up into heaven, for our profit, in order that through the Holy Spirit He may now return to be in our hearts and to illumine the Scriptures to our minds and to work powerfully in us. He returns, not simply to walk by our side as He once did in Galilee, but to dwell within every believer and to dwell in the church. He comes not to hold our physical hand, and He comes not so that we can see Him with the physical eye, but He comes that He might dwell in our hearts in a covenant of faith. Christ will be, in us, the hope of glory, says the Scriptures.
But for this to happen, for this great blessing of the coming of the Comforter, the coming of the Spirit of Jesus Christ into our hearts, Jesus must go away in the ascension. Note His words, “For if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.” To send Him to us, He must first ascend to the Father. The Scriptures reveal that, in ascending to the Father, He received the Spirit of the Father. In the ascension, Jesus returned to the One who sent Him. God sent Him in the incarnation, in the virgin’s womb, with a mission. And that mission was this: Obtain the eternal salvation of My church, the salvation that you will freely bestow upon them as their Lord. Now, in the ascension, Christ returns to His Father. What a moment that was in the history of our redemption! It was the triumphant entrance of the conqueror. It was then that the angels sang and the trumpets sounded forth and the saints shouted, “Ye gates, lift your heads, the glad summons obey; ye doors everlasting, wide open the way; the King of all glory shall enter in state!” It was a royal pageantry. He came before the Father’s throne, the One who had sent Him, and He said, “Father, glorify Thou Me. I have finished the work that Thou gavest Me to do and I have lost none of those given to Me. My mission is accomplished. I have done Thy will.” And the Father crowned Him with many crowns and gave to Him all power in heaven and on earth. And He gave Him the Spirit, so that the Comforter may now come to us and breathe upon us and make us His temple and seal to us the day of full redemption.
And so, in the ascension, just as in His birth, we cry out with the angels, “Glory to God in the highest!” We have the helper. We do not just have help, but we have the helper. We have the Comforter. We do not just have comfort, we have the Comforter. We have the Comforter in all of our life, in all of our work, in our home and school, sorrows and joy, struggles and temptations. He is not simply next to us, by our side. But He is in us, in our hearts. He is with us. Christ Himself is with us.
His ascension into heaven was not sorrow. It was not loss. It is not too bad. But it is joy. It is the news of salvation for you in the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. His words have come true. We know it. And now therefore ye have sorrow. But I will see you again. And your heart shall rejoice. And your joy no man will take from you.
The Lord is ascended and has poured out upon us the Comforter. Hallelujah!
Let us pray.
Father in heaven, we thank Thee for Thy word. Now, heavenly Father, seal it by the Comforter to our hearts. In His name we pray, Amen.