Christianity 201

April 4, 2016

What Would Jesus Do This Morning: The Ascension (Part 1)

Ascension of Jesus

Even among those who pride themselves on reading a wide variety of Christian material online, I believe if you were to check their history, 90% of Americans are reading more than 90% blogs and websites produced by other Americans. So today we ‘cross the pond’ for an article from Christian Today (not to be confused with the U.S. Christianity Today) to look at an article about a vital topic that I decided we would carry in two parts because of the length. But if you’re wanting to read it all in one go, click the link below, and then take tomorrow off.

Where is Jesus now? And what is he doing?

•••by David Robertson

Where is Jesus Now?

It’s the week after Easter.

We repeat the joyous affirmation of faith. “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.” In St Pete’s as we have some Greeks in our fellowship we always use the Greek version – “Christos Anesti...Alithos Anesti.” But then comes the question: OK, He is Risen. Where is he then? And it’s not just the question of an inquisitive child, it should be a question for every adult and for every Christian.

The Apostles’ Creed tells us – “On the third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”

AscensionSo Jesus is in heaven. But where is that and what does it mean he ascended? It’s not just non-Christians who regard this as somewhat fanciful, many Christians struggle with this idea. Is the idea that Jesus was on earth and then went up into the heavens like a spaceman? Is this not something that clearly belongs to a past where they believed in a three-tiered universe – heaven above, hell below and earth in the middle? Are we not so much wiser now?

This question is all the more important to our non-Christian friends because Christians talk about knowing Christ, having a personal relationship with Jesus, talking to Christ, and wanting to introduce them to Jesus. Unless this is just spiritual code or mumbo jumbo we need to be able to say what it means. Surely it requires a real Jesus, with a real presence and not just ‘Jesus living in my heart’ (as a child that always made me think about some weird John Malkovich-style body!)

The key to this is the biblical teaching about the Ascension. I have been enormously helped in thinking about this by my book of the week this week, Gerrit Scott Dawson’s Jesus Ascended – the Meaning of Christ’s Continuing Incarnation. I have unashamedly relied on it for much of what follows.

1) What is the ascension?

It is stated simply in at the end of Luke’s gospel –

When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God. (Luke 24 – NIV)

The Ascension seems such a strange doctrine. It’s hard enough to believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead. But the idea that he physically rose to heaven seems far-fetched. The usual liberal dismissal of this is expressed by Bishop Richard Holloway who says Jesus is not coming back. And the best way to honour him on his birthday is to look for him not in the skies, but in the streets of our own town. That’s one solution: deny the Ascension happened and spiritualize its meaning so that it becomes all about us.

For those who actually believe the Bible and don’t just make up their own faith the teaching is quite clear. Two Greek words are used for Ascension. One talks about Christ ascending himself, reflecting the Old Testament’s Psalms of ascent (Ps 120-134), another talks about Christ being raised up. He was raised up. An early church statement of faith is expressed in Paul’s letter to Timothy:

Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great:
He appeared in a body,
was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
was taken up in glory.

There is the key. He was taken up in glory. He was taken up to glory. Again, what does that mean? “I’ve gotta home in Gloryland that outshines the sun” – but where is Gloryland? Where did Jesus go? Where is he now?

Where did Jesus Ascend to?

Heaven. The bible uses the term heaven or heavens in different ways. It can refer to the sky above, or the vast region of stars beyond our world, or another dimension altogether – the realm of God beyond all sense perception. The Ascension does not mean that Jesus is somewhere up there in the stars – where if only we could get a spacecraft which could travel far enough and quick enough we would be able to get to him. One of those ‘ignorant’ earlier Christians, John Calvin, put it clearly: “What? Do we place Christ midway among the spheres? Or do we build a cottage for him among planets? Heaven we regard as the magnificent palace of God far outstripping all this world’s fabric.”

Heaven is the place where God is. He is of course everywhere, but this universe has been tainted by sin and it is therefore not, in Moltmann’s phrase ‘totally pervaded by his glory’. Heaven is. To put it in modern terms, heaven is another universe. Out of this world, but nonetheless real.

What does the Ascension of Jesus tell us about Jesus?

Many Christians seem to think that the Ascension means the undoing of the incarnation. God became man in Jesus, and after Jesus ascended to heaven he became God again. CS Lewis observes: “We also in our heart of hearts, tend to slur over the risen manhood of Jesus to conceive him, after death, simply returning into deity, so that the resurrection would be no more than a reversal or undoing of the incarnation.”This is an enormous error. When Jesus became man he did not cease to be God, and when he ascended he did not cease to be man. He is still the God/Man and that has enormous practical consequences for us. Karl Barth said: “The son of God maintains our humanity to all eternity. It is a clothing which he does not put off. It is his temple which he does not leave. It is the form which he does not lose.” The dust of earth now sits on the throne of heaven.

Tomorrow: What Does the Ascension Mean for Us?


David Robertson is minister of St Peters, Dundee, Scotland; director Solas CPC; husband of Annabel, father of Andrew, Becky and EJ; author, debater, broadcaster and Uni chaplain. Follow him @theweeflea

June 14, 2015

The Day That The Lord Has Made

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This is post # 1900 at Christianity 201.


 

One of my earliest memories of singing choruses (as opposed to hymns) was the highly repetitious “This is the Day.” I think much of its popularity had to do with the fact that we didn’t need printed or projected lyrics in order to sing it; but somewhere in the process we may have missed out on a lot of its context.

We tended to sing it on Sunday, which first left me believing that it was a song about our day of worship. But then I broadened out that thought to understand that every day is a gift from God. As you’ll see below however, there is a lot more going on in Psalm 118. To read this at source from the website aBible, click the title below:

Psalm 118:24 – God Made This Day; Let’s Rejoice In It

 Psa 118:24 (NIV) This is the day the LORD has made; let us
rejoice and be glad in it.

This is the last of the “Hallel” or “praise” psalms (Ps.
113-118), which were sung at the Passover. This was probably the hymn sung
by Jesus and the disciples in the Upper Room before they departed
for the Mount of Olives (see Matt. 26:30). [New Bible Companion]

Psalms 113-118 are sung yearly by devout Jews at the celebration
of Passover, the first two ( 113-114) before and the last four
(115-118) after the Passover meal. Thus it is possible that Psalm 113 was
one of the last songs our Lord sang before His crucifixion (Mark
14:26). [Your Daily Walk SB]

This psalm of jubilant thanksgiving was sung by worshipers in
procession to the Temple. It contains an acclamation of praise (vv. 1-4),
an acknowledgment of past distress, petition, and deliverance by
God (vv. 5-21), and an anticipation of the future day when the
Foundation Stone will bring salvation (vv. 22-29). [Ryrie SB]

Look back to see ahead. Turn to yesterday to see tomorrow.
It’s almost a paradox. But it’s true. When Israel looked back
each Passover season at the redemption won for them from Egypt, they
were in fact looking ahead, and viewing the ministry of the Messiah.
What will His coming mean? A shout of praise, that “His love
endures forever” (vv. 2-4). Freedom found by taking refuge in the LORD
(vv. 5-9). A fresh awareness of our desperate need, relieved by the
fact that the LORD “has become my salvation” (vv. 10-14). Shouts of
joy punctuating the realization that “I will not die but live” (vv.
15-18). Endless praise, as we enter the gates of heaven to give God
thanks for our salvation (vv. 19-21). And in it all, the exaltation of
Jesus who, rejected by the builders, became the cornerstone of God’s
plan of salvation (vv. 22-23).

Then comes the stunning realization that “this is the day that
the LORD has made”–a day that spills over into eternity; a
never-ending day throughout which we will give God thanks, exalting Him for
He is “my God” and because “He is good; His love endures forever.”
Today when you and I turn to look back, we see our tomorrow in
the cross of Jesus, our Passover sacrifice. In the shadow of Calvary
we sense the dawn of the day that the LORD has ordained for you and
me. When we turn again after looking back at the cross, and look
ahead, we can see just beyond the horizon of tomorrow the return of
Christ.

What will that return mean? How clearly this majestic psalm
tells us. For you and for me, Christ’s return will mean freedom,
shouts of joy, and endless days of praise. [The 365-Day Devotional
Commentary]

When you look back to the cross, look intently until you see
tomorrow. [The 365-Day Devotional Commentary]

Saying this verse to ourselves each morning can be a great way
to remember the practice of living one day at a time. How valuable
to remind ourselves that God made this day, with all its blessings
and opportunities, and gave it to us. We can thank him for it and
enter the day with anticipation. [Life Recovery Devotional SB]

God’s ways are not the same as our ways. What people may cast
aside as unfit for use, God uses to do awe-inspiring work. This can be
true for us, too. We may feel that our life has been ruined beyond
repair. We probably think that we will never be used by God for anything
significant. God often uses the most unlikely people to work his greatest
miracles, proving to the world that God is at work. As willing vessels of
God’s power, we can be transformed to make an impact on others that
goes far beyond our wildest dreams. All we have to do is entrust our
life to God. [Life Recovery SB]

We have the assurance that in the storms of life today, Jesus
Himself will be standing just outside the door waiting to be invited in.
He is waiting to share a meal with us, waiting to share our
sorrows, to renew our courage, to come in and talk intimately.
We are not alone. We never shall be. He has to be there; all we
need do is open the door to Him. What is your need today? Do you need
comfort in your personal trials? Christ is waiting. Do you need
forgiveness for your sins? He is knocking. Do you need to make a new
commitment to serve God with your life? Whatever your spiritual need, right
now Christ is knocking at the door of your heart. He is Lord of the
universe, and He wants to be Lord of your life as well. (Stern Warning by
Billy Graham) [Inspirational SB]

Click here to read the full Psalm.

December 5, 2010

Eschatology as Entertainment

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This is David Wells, General Superintendent of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (direct Canadian equivalent of the Assemblies of God) writing this month in the denominational magazine, Testimony.  I believe his writing has broad application to Evangelicals and Christians in general…

An emphasis on the soon return of Christ (“Are you ready?”) has been replaced by a speculation regarding prophecy that tends to thrill more than mobilize.   It has to be said of Pentecostals that “…upward social mobility is clearly affectin gthe apocalyptic fervor and urgency as the world looks a little better to contemporary and more affluent North American Pentecostals.”  Thus in our orthodoxy (doctrine), we believe in the parousia (second coming); but in our ortopraxy (practice), the majority of us are not influenced by its reality.   This has obvious impact on values, lifestyle and ministry priorities.

When Jesus told His followers He would return again, He warned them about slipping into speculation or apathy.  “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father”  (Matt 24:36).  Then, using three parables, He taught them to focus on watchfulness and fruitfulness while waiting for his return.   Lots of things were going to distract them from kingdom truth and priorities, so their posture had to be to one of watchful prayer (Parable of the Ten Virgins, Matthew 25: 1-13).  In that condition of readiness they were not to go and hide in a cave, but they were to live their lives in Him with productivity (Parable of the Talents, Matthew 25:14-30) and selfless service (Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Matthew 25: 31-46).

While we may not speculate quite as much today as those before us did on issues such as the identity of the Antichrist, we must ask ourselves if we are prepared to take Jesus’ promise of His second coming seriously.

~ David Wells

 

Quotation is from Steven Land, Pentecostal Spirituality (Academic Press, 1994)

September 21, 2010

What Would He Say?

Today a classic.   My father always had multiple copies of this poem in his Bible.  I was sorry to see that one of the last copies had fallen out and gotten somewhat trampled, so I decided to make it today’s post in order to preserve it for the ages, so to speak.

Christians live looking forward to the imminent return of Christ.   While certain prophetic markers have yet to fall before that can happen, some believe that they are stacked like dominoes, and when one goes, the others will follow quickly.   Besides, the second coming per se may not happen tomorrow, but who’s to say when he could come for me?

If He should come today
And find my hands so full
Of future plans, however fair,
In which my Saviour has no share,
What would He say?

If He should come today
And find my love so cold,
My faith so very weak and dim
I had not even looked for Him,
What would He say?

If He should come today
And find I had not told
One soul about my Heavenly friend
Whose blessings all my way attend,
What would He say?

If He should come today
Would I be glad — quite glad?
Remembering He had died for all
And none, thru me, had heard His call,
What would I say?

Unfortunately the author’s name is torn off.  The one online version (containing an error) has it credited to Grace Troy.    This is a kind of sentiment you don’t hear much these days.   It’s strange that living even closer to the imminent return of Christ, we’ve tended not to think that much about it.