Dear radio friends,
Our Savior’s ascension into heaven forty days after His resurrection is important for us. From heaven, our ascended Jesus is the One entrusted by the heavenly Father with all power. And He is the One who, from heaven, blesses us His church and upholds us in the good fight of faith.
If the other three events of Jesus’ ministry (His birth, His death, and His resurrection) mean more to us than His ascension, and if we make more of them than of the ascension, then, as Christians, we are showing that the world’s holidays dominate us and not the knowledge of our faith. The ascension is as important as (no, we may say it is the crowning of) the other three. His birth, His death, His resurrection all led to His ascension.
From heaven Jesus blesses us. From heaven He is directing all things for the good of His church. From heaven He holds each one of His children up in the fight of faith. He upholds His church on the earth so that it continues to witness of Him and of His saving truth. This makes all the difference. This is our absolute assurance. We now, as individual Christians and as the body of Christ, are in the valley here below. But He is on the mount of God, and He extends His powerful blessing over us with unwearied hands.
The ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, then, is the reminder that we, now, on the earth, are the church militant—the church on earth that is headed toward the heavenly Canaan. Sinful of ourselves, with many enemies seeking our destruction, we are now a militant church. We are left on the earth for a purpose—to fight, to fight the battle of faith, to fight sin in our own selves, to fight error and pride and self and everything that is contrary to our God and to His Christ. In this battle of faith we are over-matched. We are unworthy and ill-prepared. But we fight under the banner of our ascended King Jesus. We fight under His extended hands of blessing. We fight under Him who holds the rod of God in His hands and has promised to bless us.
I call your attention today to the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ, from a text of Scripture found in the Old Testament: Exodus 17:8-16, where you have the attack of Amalek upon the children of Israel.
Israel had been delivered from the land of Egypt by Moses, led through the Red Sea, and has not yet arrived at Mount Sinai, where they would receive the law from the hand of God.
We read, “Then came Amalek and fought with Israel in Rephidim” (v. 8). The Amalekites were descendants of Esau, Jacob’s twin brother—Esau, who hated what was represented in Jacob. Amalek was the grandson of Esau, and Amalek and Esau represent the forces of this world as it hates the cause of God in the world; the reprobate world lined up against God’s elect church. Amalek is called in Numbers 24:20 “first among the nations.” That is, they were the first to enter the list as the enemies of God and Israel. And they are the nation that has no respect for God and is moved in contempt against God and His cause as represented in Jacob (or Israel).
The Amalekites were desert fighters. They were plunderers. And they were fierce, strong, and cruel. They were masters of the ambush, of the hit and run, and they were confident of the victory.
Now we notice two things of their attack upon the children of Israel at this point. Number one. As I have indicated, they were motivated by hatred and a desire that Israel not get to her destination, namely, Canaan. Rephidim is nowhere near where the Amalekites lived themselves. They came a long way from home. They have journeyed with a great consuming purpose—hatred against Jacob. They have heard what God has done to Egypt and of how Israel is on her way to the promised land of rest. But they do not want Israel to inherit that land of rest.
Secondly, we note that their attack was cowardly. It was not, send out your best to fight our best. But they bushwhacked Israel from behind. They attacked the old, the feeble, the women and the children who trailed behind the columns of Israel. Israel traveled like a large family. At Sinai they would learn how to travel more effectively as a nation. But now they simply followed en mass behind the pillar of cloud or pillar of light. And the old, the faint, the weak, and the mothers and the children would end up in the rear of the column. These are the ones that Amalek attacks.
So also the battle of our faith today. In our battle our enemy, the flesh and the wicked world, is motivated by hatred of the God we confess. The purpose of the enemy is to keep us from the heavenly Canaan. Our enemy is a very skilled opponent. And their attack is always upon the rear, upon the children, upon the weak, upon the feeble.
Israel was not prepared to fight. Physically they did not know at this time how to make an army. They had been a slave people. They were not skilled in the sword. Spiritually it was worse. They had just come from the chiding of the children of Israel at Meribah. They had almost been ready to stone Moses because there was no water to drink. They were very angry when they did not get their way. They had just sinned against God in a grievous manner. They had tempted the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or is he not?” They meant to say, “He is not among us. He makes it too hard. He doesn’t care about us.” They enter this battle ill-prepared and spiritually unfit. Amalek, the enemies of God’s people, said, “This is the best time to attack Israel. They are down.” The devil says concerning you, “Now I will attack because you are down.”
But let us not miss the truth that in the battle we are led by Joshua.
We read, “And Moses said unto Joshua, Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek.” This is the first time that Joshua is mentioned in Exodus. And Moses calls him “Joshua,” a name that had not yet been given to him. He calls him “Joshua” here because he is presented in this action as the picture as Jesus, “Jehovah Salvation,” “leader of the host of God.” Joshua quickly, confidently goes forth and chooses men to go with him to fight Amalek. And Moses says to Joshua: “And I will take my rod up on the hill to overlook,” for the battle would take place in a valley below. And that rod had just been used by Moses to part the Red Sea and to smite the rock out of which came the water. So that rod represented the power, the almighty power, of God with His people. That rod and Joshua, then, represented that, in the battle as we go forth to fight, it is the Lord Jesus Christ and His mighty power that are the strength to uphold the cause of God. We go forth to fight. His Spirit within us makes us willing to fight the good fight of faith. We read, “And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.”
So also the church on earth, and you and I as members in Jesus Christ, are called to go forth and fight the battle of faith. We fight against a sinful flesh within us. We fight against the devil who is the tempter. We fight against lust and greed, jealousy and pride. We fight against the willingness in us to give up in a marriage—just go along and give up. We fight against anger. We fight against the unwillingness to forgive another. We fight against the loss of love for the truth. We become apathetic. We fight against heresy. We fight against hopelessness and despair in the cause of God. We fight against conformity to the world. We fight the good fight of faith.
In this battle our strength is to have our eye upon our ascended Lord Jesus, who holds the rod of God in His hand and has extended His hands in blessing over us.
We read, “And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed.” The picture is this. In the valley below, Joshua and his raw recruits line up and come at Amalek. And Amalek offers battle. Above on the hill is Moses holding above his head the rod of the Lord, and so long as that rod stays up, Joshua and Israel drive back the line of the Amalekites. It begins to bend. And Israel goes forward.
But Moses wearies. The rod comes down to shoulder level and then down to chest or waist. And as the hands come down, Israel is driven back. The lines of Israel begin to waver. Israel now is on their heels and being driven back by the Amalekites. We read that Aaron and Hur aid Moses. They tell him that he must sit upon a rock and they hold up his arms till the going down of the sun.
This is a picture of the powerful blessing of the ascended Christ over us now in the battle of faith, of His tireless arms and of the certainty that through the ascended Christ the army of God will prevail in the battle of faith. The rod of Moses, the rod of the Lord, was the symbol of God’s power. It was equated to the hand of God.
In Exodus 3:20 we read, “And I will stretch out my hand, and smite Egypt with all my wonders which I will do in the midst thereof: and after that he will let you go.” And then He tells Moses: “Take thy rod, and stretch out thy hand….” The rod of Moses brought the Ten Plagues. The rod of the Lord parted the Red Sea. It was the symbol of the mighty power of God invested in our Lord Jesus Christ. We read in Revelation 12:5 that the woman, the church, “brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up onto God, and to his throne.” Over us, over the church, is the greater Moses, the One who has ascended up on high, to the hill of God, to whom all power and might are entrusted. And it is by His strength, by Him whose rod breaks nations in pieces, that the church fights the battle of faith.
Tomorrow you must go to work. Tomorrow your children will play or go to school, and moms will be at home. Do you know who you are as the people of God? We read, “Then came Amalek.” Amalek, the forces of evil and sin, will battle against the church and all who confess the name of Jesus. They will assault, they will attack where they believe there is weakness. There will be temptation. There will be discouragements. They will try to push you off the path of life eternal. How will you fight?
Follow Joshua. Look up to the ascended King Jesus at the right hand of God. Live in the assurance that all power, might, and glory belong to Him. See the ascended King with His arms and His hands raised above you with the rod of God. Realize that you are under His sight. By prayer go to Him and by faith fight, fight in His strength.
We soon become weary. Moses’ arms grew tired, for he was only a shadow of Jesus Christ. You try to do that once. I remember, as a boy, going home after hearing a sermon on this portion of Scripture. And I took my mother’s broom and tried to hold it outstretched over my head. Soon I grew most weary and could not hold it up there any longer. So also we grow weary. We become discouraged. It seems that the Amalekites are going to break our line. They are going to rout us.
Then remember in this battle of faith these things. Number one. There is no weakness or weariness in our ascended Lord. He is the almighty Son of God who faints not neither grows weary. The ascension declares that everlasting power, strength, dominion, and faithful love are entrusted to Christ, and He is the One who now holds the church. Look to Him. Lift up your eyes to the hills, from whence cometh our help. Our help cometh from the ascended Lord. Our help is in the name of the Lord Jesus, ascended in power and glory.
Second. The uplifted rod of Moses was not only a symbol of power but also a symbol of blessing. The hands of Jesus Christ extend up over us. They are extended in blessing. That means that in the conflict, in the battle of faith, in the struggles against sin, we are yet assured that He is blessing us. We cannot always see that with the human eye. We cannot feel that with the human emotions at all times. We cannot understand that. It seems that Amalek prevails. It seems that sometimes children and families are swallowed up and lost to us. It seems that the church suffers setbacks and deteriorates. But it is not so. The cause of God shall know no defeat in this world. The hands of blessing are extended over the cause of God. Not only power is extended over us, but the promise to work all things for good, the promise to bless us.
This is, of course, not an excuse for us not to fight diligently in the battle. It is no excuse for discouragement. We must not leave the field. We must not run. We must not ask as Israel did, “Is the Lord among us?” But we must look up to the hill of God. We must hold fast to the truth of Scripture. We must rejoice when we see our Lord ascended up on high and His hands extended in blessing over us His church.
Our assurance is the victory. And Moses, we read, “built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovah-nissi”: Jehovah, our banner.
For our assurance in the battle, a banner has been raised over us. A banner was a very important thing in any army. Maybe not as much today, with all of the communications, but in times past the banner of the army was crucial. The banner was the flag or pennant each regiment or battalion would have—their colors. Perhaps you have seen pictures of this in battles of the Civil War. The banner was where the leader was, where your company stood, where your battalion had made its stand. In confusion and in shouts of battle, in screams and smoke and explosion, you needed to see where the banner was. There you had to stand. Where the banner flew, you would rally to the flag and you would make your stand around the colors because there is where the leader stood.
There is a banner over us. And, as I said, that banner is the Lord’s hands extended in blessing and holding the rod of God. Jehovah, the I AM THAT I AM, has given the victory to us in the ascended Lord Jesus Christ. He has gone up on high above all powers and principalities, dominions and might. He is given a name above all other names. He is Lord of lords and King of kings. We fight, but we fight not uncertainly. We fight under the banner of the ascended King. He goes forth conquering and to conquer.
You face relentless temptations? You become downcast over God’s cause in the church? You struggle personally with Amalek, who bushwhacks you, who comes suddenly behind you and robs you of your hope? Look to the banner! Jehovah-nissi. Then, with renewed strength, zeal, and confidence go forward. Follow Joshua into the valley below. And stay around that banner—the banner that is the full truth of God in Jesus Christ. There are false banners being unfurled in the church—banners representing a limited God and a powerful man. There is no safety under that banner. Banners that are representing the denial of the inspiration of Holy Scripture, the compromise of a holy life. There are many false banners. If you stand under those false banners, you will be put to flight. The enemy will see your backside.
Stand under the true banner of the truth of God in the Holy Scriptures, the truth of the sovereign God in Jesus Christ His Son. Then, if there are only fifty of you, if only forty, if only ten—if you are under the right banner, stand.
Our assurance is that the victory is ours in Christ. We read, “And Moses’ hands were steady until the going down of the sun.” Jehovah will put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. When the sun goes down on the earth in the day of the Lord’s return, only the church will occupy the field of battle. His hands are steady until the sun goes down in your life and you die. Think of the ascended Lord Jesus and yourself and your life right now. Over you is Joshua, Jesus, who holds all power and who loves you and rules in a perfect way so that, as you fight, you will not be destroyed. And all your hardships must work final glory. Over the head of the church are the hands of power and blessing, steady, until the sun goes down on the earth and He returns again. Amalek will not be found. Full victory will belong to us. Now go and fight the good fight of faith. Look to the banner. Look up to the hill of God. For this is His word: His saints shall not fail, but over the earth their power shall prevail. His church shall be built. His glory shall be seen. I know that. For over us, right now, is Jesus, the King of salvation, with arms outstretched, hands holding the rod of God containing all power and blessing.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for the truth of the ascension of Jesus Christ and the victory that we have in Him. Bless Thy precious Word to our hearts. In Jesus’ name, Amen.