This past week Thursday the church of Jesus Christ celebrated a great work of Jesus performed in her behalf. Perhaps you missed it. It is what we call the ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven.
Apart from faith in God, perhaps one would judge the ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven as a very sad event. The Bible teaches us that forty days after He arose from the dead, Jesus Christ, in the presence of His disciples, ascended into heaven from Mount Olivet. Jesus Christ went away. And, judging without faith, perhaps one would conclude that the One whom we confess to be Savior has left us and that Christians are nothing but idle dreamers.
Does His departure not mean that His cause is defeated? Perhaps the world would say to the Christian: “You call Him the Prince of Peace, but where is He when He is so needed in a world of chaos and unrest? If Jesus Christ is all that you say that He is, why is He not here? Really, then, His work and all that He came to do is nothing but a fizzle, a big failure. And you Christians, if you are going to remember His ascension, should remember it as a funeral or as a wake, in memory of one who is gone.”
But that is not what faith says. Faith in Jesus Christ remembers the ascension of Jesus Christ as the most glorious event that Christ has yet performed in the working of our salvation – an event which is going to be outshined in glory only by Christ’s return at the end of the world. It is a triumphant and victorious event. Jesus Christ went up as the conqueror, in absolute triumph, to claim His rightful crown, and now to rule over all things.
And that ascension of Jesus Christ is the pledge, the guarantee, of our salvation. It means that our salvation is now secure in the heavens and is kept there by the power of God, as Peter says in I Peter 1:5.
Still more, it means that from heaven Jesus Christ sends His mighty Spirit to dwell within the hearts of Christians so that He abides within us forever.
And still more. It means that our Lord has passed into the heavens as the victor and now rules over all things, executing God’s eternal plan as the Lord of lords and King of kings.
Because of the ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven every Christian today may live in assurance and may take the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 8 as his own: “Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God.” Jesus Christ is at the right hand of God. He is ascended into heaven. And, therefore, no one can separate the child of God from the love of God. All things must work together for good to them that love God. Why? Because our Lord is in the heavens ruling over all things.
I would like to consider with you today the ascension of Jesus Christ in the words of Psalm 47.5. There we read, ‘”God is gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.” Psalm 47 was a psalm written by David in order to be sung in the tabernacle in times of worship. It was a psalm that David composed in commemoration of the ascension of the Ark of the Covenant up into Jerusalem. When the Ark had come up into Jerusalem and rested upon Mount Zion, David rejoiced and wrote Psalm 47.
It is important for us to consider the history of this psalm, if only briefly. What was living in David’s mind when he wrote this psalm was the memory of the Ark of the Covenant which, throughout the Old Testament and especially in the days of Israel’s being in the wilderness, was carried upon the shoulders of the Levites. David was remembering when the Ark was carried up into Jerusalem and placed at rest in the tabernacle.
We read this in I Chronicles 15:28, “Thus all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the Lord with shouting, and with sound of the cornet, and with trumpets, and with cymbals, making a noise with psalteries and harps.” At that time there had been a triumphal procession led by David, who danced with all of his might as the Ark ascended up the Mount, through the gates. and finally rested on Mount Zion. As the people shouted in praise, as the trumpets sounded forth with their beautiful blasts, and as all the people rejoiced before God, David, commemorating this, says: “God is gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.”
That was a figure or picture of the ascension of Jesus Christ. The Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament was the most important sacred piece of furniture in the Old Testament tabernacle. It alone rested in the Holy of Holies. God had commanded Moses exactly how the Ark was to be built. It was to be overlaid with gold. On the top was the mercy seat of pure gold, and two cherubim with their wings spread over the Ark and their faces looking downward. Within that Ark of the Covenant was placed the pot of manna, two tables of the law, and Aaron’s blossoming rod. The Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament was the symbol of God’s presence with His people, for the people would sing: “He dwells between the cherubim,” that is, God, in the cloud of His glory, would assure His people of His presence in the Ark of the Covenant.
It represented the truth that God had come down, that God had led them by His own hand through the wilderness and now had conquered the land of Canaan by Joshua. The covenant of God was represented in that Ark. When David says that the Ark has gone up, or God is gone up, with a shout, he is speaking figuratively of the ascension of Jesus Christ. For Christ came down as the God of our salvation. Christ has done all things to accomplish that salvation and now is gone up. God is gone up with a shout, Jehovah with the sound of a trumpet.
When we see that David’s words are fulfilled in Jesus Christ and in the ascension of Christ into heaven, then we have here a very clear testimony to the deity of Jesus Christ, that Jesus Christ is God in our flesh. God has gone up. The Son of God in our flesh has gone up. The ascension is the truth that the Son of God, having come down to do His Father’s will, now returns to heaven having completed the work that His Father gave Him to do.
Still more, the ascension means that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came down to the earth to take a certain task in hand. The ascension means that the Son of God came down and humbled Himself to perform the work that the Father had given Him to do. Paul speaks of this in Ephesians 4:9, 10. We read, “Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.” There the apostle says that God bent Himself down. In compassion He turned Himself towards us. He descended that is, He came down to the lowest parts of the earth, meaning that He humbled Himself under our curse. The Son of God came under our sin and death. He made Himself of no reputation. He came down to take upon Himself our sins and the curse which was due to us for our sins.
Now the ascension of our Lord declares the mystery that the eternal Son of God who came down to this earth, not simply to visit us, but to bear our sins away and to deliver us from those Sins, now He in our place is gone up. He is gone up with a shout, with the sound of a trumpet. He is gone up as a mighty conqueror. He is gone up as the One who has accomplished all that the Father gave Him to do.
So we may say that the ascension means this: God’s Son came forth from heaven to perform the work of our salvation and now He returns as the conquering Lord. He came down to do battle. He came down to fight the battle against the powers of darkness, sin, death, and hell which ruled over us. Having left the palace of His glory and come down to this sinful earth, He has waged war against our enemies and defeated them. And having now triumphed completely over them, He has gone up with a shout. His ascension declares to us that our salvation is accomplished, that the Son of God has fulfilled all that the Father gave Him to do. What was it that the Father gave Him to do? Jesus Himself puts it in these words in John 17: “All those given to me of my Father I have kept and lost none of them. I have redeemed them. I have made a complete sacrifice for their sins.”
The ascension of Jesus Christ proclaims the triumph and the victory of His work. The Son of God who came down from heaven on a divine mission to do the Father’s will now returns to heaven, having completed that work.
Therefore the ascension of Jesus Christ is triumphant It is something for which we give thanks and praise to God, for He has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. He goes up with a shout.
This shout that David is referring to in Psalm 47 is the shout of a people who greet a conqueror. It is the joyful, the heartlifting praise and worship of a joyful people, as in a battle when soldiers suddenly render a cheer as the conquering king appears before them. So also Jesus Christ has gone up with a sound of a trumpet, with a shout of victory.
Jesus Christ then did not simply sneak away. He did not beat a hasty retreat. That is not the ascension. He did not just slip away, happy to have made it through. Oh, no! The ascension declares to us that He has left as the royal and majestic conqueror. Although no one on the earth saw it (even the disciples did not see it, for a cloud received Him out of their sight), yet the Bible tells us about it. In Revelation 12:10we read: “And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven. Now is come salvation, and strength. and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.” When Jesus Christ ascended up into heaven, then in heaven there was a royal chorus of praise. And there was the shout: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing.” The ascension tells you that the struggle is ended, that the salvation of God’s people is secure, that Jesus Christ has conquered. The battle has been fought. He came to fight that battle, to do battle against all our enemies. But now He ascends as the conquering Lord.
Therefore, the word is this ( Ps. 2): ‘”Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way…. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.”
What a glorious message, then, the ascension brings to us. And how wonderful it is to remember this work of Jesus Christ.
When we look at the ascension of Christ we may look back over the field of battle and say, It is finished. The atonement, the payment for our sins, has been made. There never again needs to be a sacrifice to take away sins, because it is finished. By His one sacrifice upon Calvary’s cross He has perfected forever them that are sanctified (Heb. 10:14). There remaineth, therefore, now no more sacrifice for sins. Jesus Christ did not stay on the earth. He did not stay, because the work of salvation is finished. The payment for sin has been given. It is over. There is, therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? (Rom. 8:32). Righteousness for the people of God is earned. A covering for all of our sins has been made. Garments of righteousness have been woven for all the saints of God. The power of Satan is vanquished. Satan may tempt, accuse, and slander us. The world may kill us for our confession. But Satan is a beaten dog. And he knows he has only a short time. And he cannot overcome the people of God, because Jesus Christ is ascended as the Lord and conquering King. Death, the death of a believer, is now robbed of all of its might and power. Death has been vanquished too. Death cannot hold us. We will not be left in the grave. But because He ascended into heaven, we shall go to be with Him in heaven at our death.
But the ascension of Jesus Christ also speaks to us in the present. We are yet called to live upon the battlefield, the spiritual battlefield, as His people. But the outcome of this battle of faith is already decided. We do not labor in our calling as a Christian in doubt. We do not worry whether or not the cause of Jesus Christ is going to prevail. It will prevail even though the devil and the wicked world (and even our sinful flesh) oppose that work. Jesus Christ will glorify His people and He shall save His church. Why? Because He is ascended up into heaven as the conquering Lord. The victory is won.
Yes, as Christians we are still upon this earth. And we bear the marks of the battle, become weary, and have many troubles that beset us. But the victory, you see, is guaranteed. The time of struggle is short. We fight under the eye of the conqueror who will not suffer us to fall away from Him.
People who believe in God, lift up your head! Ours is the victory. Although it may appear spiritually dark around us, we shall pass through this darkness and we shall be brought to glory.
But the ascension of Jesus Christ also speaks to us of the future. It tells us that it is coming. This same Jesus who has triumphantly entered into the heavens will so come again in power and great glory, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on all who obey not the truth. And He will be admired in all them that believe (II Thess. 1). Those trumpets shall sound again. Trumpets are kept right now ready by the angels. They keep them in their hands. They are ready to be sounded. And the saints with Jesus will shout again. He will return with the clarion call of the trumpet. And all of heaven shall shout forth: Hosanna to the Son of David.
Then, at the end of the world, when Jesus comes again to destroy this present world with fire and to take His own unto Himself in eternal glory, then when Jesus Christ descends in all of His glory the people of God will meet Him and will ascend with everlasting joy upon their heads. We shall obtain joy and gladness; and sorrow and sighing shall flee away (Is. 35:10). We shall go up with Him to the sound of a trumpet, to the shout of victory. We shall enter the gates of glory and there be with our Savior and at rest at last.
Glory, victory, and eternal salvation is secure for everyone who belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ by the gift of God.
How do I know it is so? I know it because He ascended up into heaven and is now seated at the right hand of God in all heavenly glory. All power is given to Him. He has conquered. And those who belong to Him shall live forever.
Do you believe this? Blessed are those who believe.
Let us pray.
Our Father. We pray that Thou wilt bless this Word to our hearts that we may live in the confidence that our Lord Jesus Christ is ascended as the victorious Lord. In His name do we pray, Amen.