“And it came to pass, while He blessed them, He was parted from them, and carried up into heaven.” Luke 24:51, 52
“Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, He hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear.” Acts 2:33
Natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God!
In this short sentence, which we have taken literally from God’s Word, you have the explanation why the wonders of Christ’s coming, dying, resurrection, ascension and return in the Holy Ghost leave him cold, does not interest him, or provoke him and even awakens his laughter and scorn. When the Godhead came to dwell in a very special sense in the church, making the church blessed forever, the wicked spoke of drunkenness: they are full of sweet wine.
The things of the Spirit of God are foolish to the natural mind, for these things are spiritually discerned, i.e., you must have eyes of the illuminated mind, and eyes of the reborn heart in order to see the verities of God’s wonderful kingdom.
Yet how wonderful are these things when once you are enlightened!
Attend to this: Christ came into our prison, the prison of eternal death and the curse and utter condemnation. And that prison could not hold Him, for one very simple reason: He loved God! And His love of God was so intensive that He loved Him for you and me and for the billions of the chosen Israel of God. When these billions presently shall stand before the great white throne, God will reveal His eternal love in the Lord Jesus Christ, and that love shall show the justification of the redeemed. It has made you whiter than snow. You shall be as the Bride who stands in all her beauty and splendor before the face of her Bridegroom, ready to enter the palaces of the King and to be very happy forever and ever.
He loved God so much that the cords of death could not hold Him. Hark to the voice of the triumphant heralds of the Gospel of God: Christ is risen indeed!
And that risen Christ of God, with healing in His wings, walked with His disciples no more after the resurrection. He appeared unto them ten times. And the reason is plain: He wished to instruct them about the things of the Kingdom that was coming; He wished to leave His witnesses behind, witnesses of the greatest miracle ever performed: His resurrection!
But when the forty days are fulfilled in which He gave them all this blessed instruction, He took them to Bethany, beautiful Bethany.
Travelers tell us that it is beautiful for situation, and I can well believe it. It had to be so. The horror of Golgotha is no more. Jesus is risen. God made Him a Prince and a Christ. His triumphant ascension must needs be from a garden of beauty.
They have arrived at the mount, called Olivet. From its sides a view of the city of the King is given. He views it as the Conqueror and as the sole Possessor. Watch Him! He is going to take Jerusalem with Him to heaven. Paul will instruct us later: when Jesus went to heaven, Jerusalem went to heaven, which is the mother of us all.
They have arrived at Bethany.
We know that Jesus loved it. There He would often go in order to converse and to have fellowship with His most beloved disciples: Mary, Lazarus and Martha.
Listen to the risen Lord!
He commands His disciples not to depart from Jerusalem. He gives them the promise of the Holy Ghost.
He answers a foolish question.
And gives the missionary command.
And then comes the end of His last discourse on earth.
The sound of His harmonious and beauteous speech lingers in the grove of olives, and slowly dies away.
Look strongly on Him: He will soon be taken away from the church!
He lifts His hands and arms in blessing. He spreads these blessed arms over the little group that stands in silence, waiting, waiting.
And then it happens!
Jesus went to heaven.
The text in the Acts of the apostles tells us that “while they beheld, He was taken up; and a cloud received Him out of their sight!”
Do you note the mysteriousness of it, the strangeness of every episode that deals with Jesus since His resurrection? He comes and He goes, and no doors hinder Him. He stands and He walks with His most intimate followers, and they doubt, they durst not ask Him whether or not He is the Lord, because they knew that He was indeed the Lord. Some believe, and others doubted. He must condescend to eat and to drink in order to convince them that He is no apparition to be dreaded, and you and I know that Jesus had no more need of bread and drink. For Christ to eat and to drink at the lake of Tiberias, I would almost call a miracle in reverse. But He did it in order to put the minds of the fearful and wondering disciples at rest.
But everything is strange.
And we should not marvel over much at this, for Jesus is the risen Lord. Henceforth, He belongs to a different world. He is the first fruit of the New Heavens and the New Earth that is coming. Paul tells us that our life is hid with Christ in God. In a sense that life is even hid in heaven. For the present heaven of heavens is not even pure in God’s sight, and will presently have to make place for the pure and eternal things that are being ushered in at the last day.
And thus it is here at Bethany.
The disciples saw Him. They saw His outstretched arms and hands.
And then a cloud!
No, I do not believe that it was a common cloud of vapor and mist such as we see above us so often in this world of ours.
I think it was a glorious chariot which God sent in order to receive His Son in heavenly places.
Our resurrected and glorified Redeemer is the wholly other now. He was earthy, but He is now heavenly.
While He blessed them, the cloud came and received Him out of their sight.
I do not think that it took Jesus very long to go to heaven.
And when we say these things, we do not know what we are talking about. The heavenly beings have their own laws, and they are different from ours.
We speak of so many miles per hour. In this vein we cannot speak when we speak about Jesus’ ascension. You may leave your measurements and yardsticks at home when you are invited to attend the Ascension at Bethany.
You may look, and you may marvel.
And that is your blessedness.
Even now, after so much study, dogmatics, exegesis and meditation, we go to Bethany, listen for a while, and then we simply wonder and marvel at the things that came to pass.
The disciples did not fare any better.
They heard the lingering sweetness of His last words.
They saw His benign and loving Face.
Perhaps they heard the softly spoken blessing. Maybe, I do not know for certain, but maybe He said 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!
At least, if not these words, then surely their content. For that is the blessing of God for His people Israel.
And then He went to heaven.
But attend to this: while He blessed them, He was taken up into heaven!
There is a revelation of unspeakable consolation.
The last time I saw my Lord on earth, His arms were extended over me in divine blessing. While I write to you, and while you read these simple words, His arms are above you and me: He is still blessing us!
The musical and melodious song of our triumphant resurrection Gospel has acquired additional charms. The chorus is swelling in notes that have their origin in God’s heart. The resurrected Lord is blessing us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places.
Is it wonder that we begin to sing of hallelujah here on earth already?
No, I do not know how long it took for the cloudy and glorious chariot to bring Jesus to the throne of God. Perhaps He arrived there at once. As a child I always thought that the journey to heaven took ten days since there is that space of time between Ascension Day and Pentecost.
Now I know better(?).
But Jesus did go to heaven. We have abundant proof.
Jesus had told His disciples before His ascent that they should abide in Jerusalem until they should receive the promise of the Holy Ghost.
And they were obedient to His words, for at the day of Pentecost, or rather, after the Jewish day of Pentecost was fully come, that is, after it was entirely past, we find the little group of disciples in an upper room. I like to think that this upper room was in the temple. I do not know for certain, and it seems as though no one knows for certain, where this upper room was located. But I would found my opinion on two grounds. First, because that temple was the embodiment of the very idea of Pentecost: God dwelling with His people in wondrous unity. And, second, because the great multitude at once go to the place where they were sitting, and if this place had been a common house, in a common street of the city of God, I cannot understand how they all with one accord find this place where the disciples are. But if we understand the place to have been an upper room of the Temple, then it is plain. The people of Jerusalem, hearing the mysterious sound as of a mighty and rushing wind, at once realize that it is something supernatural, and for them the super-natural was not unknown. They had the Holy Scriptures which abundantly testified of many strange things which had happened in the glorious past. And therefore they all with one accord go to the right place in order to find out about the origin of this strange phenomenon.
And, finally, read verse 46 of Acts 2. It was their custom to congregate in the temple. But now let us attend unto the proof that Jesus went to heaven, blessing His people. The effects are very convincing.
The tenth day after His glorious ascension they were with one accord in one place, and suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the house where they were sitting.
There was no wind, so that a man could feel it, or so that you could see things sway in motion because of it. No, but it was the sound of a rushing mighty wind. Moreover, it came from the heavens; that also was noted; and it filled the house, the upper room, where they sat.
At the same time, there appeared a great column as of fire, darting downward in as many tongues as there were disciples, and this mass of cloven tongues sat upon them.
It was no actual fire, but appeared as fire.
And, finally, they heard them speak in strange tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. They did not know those languages before this event, but at its occurring, they spoke the languages and dialects of every nation that God sent to them for an audience.
These three things are the revelation of the blessings of Jesus Christ. He shed forth ‘This which ye now see and hear.”
Three things, and they are signs of the Gospel of God. That Gospel was being fulfilled as never before. It is the flood of waters upon a dry ground of the prophet Isaiah. It is the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy: And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh. . . .
It is the coming of the God of our salvation who through Christ and His Spirit is making His home in our hearts. The blessing arms of Jesus are still over us, over the whole church!
This, which ye now see and hear!
Let us look into these things a little more closely.
They are signs of God’s eternal covenant of grace.
There is the sign of the rushing mighty wind from heaven. If you will remember Paul’s instruction of Romans 5 when he says that the love of God is spread abroad m our hearts through the Holy Spirit that is given to us, then we can see something of this sign’s significance. God throws Himself irresistibly upon His beloved church through Jesus the Lord.
God had exalted Him to the highest place in heaven, His own throne. And being seated at the right hand of the majesty on high, He gave Him the promise; that is, the Holy Ghost. And the Holy Ghost is given by Christ in His turn to His beloved church, from then on to dwell in her as the Spirit of Christ. For there is a difference. Henceforth, the very quality of Jesus Christ shall dwell in the church of God, making us taste Him in all the wonders of His love and lovingkindness.
A strong and rushing wind. God is irresistible when He comes to bless and to save us. Nothing can stop Him or His Spirit.
And then the sign of the fire. Negatively, fire is the sign of the purging power of the Holy Spirit.
Are you a child of God? Well, you can prove it to yourself and others by your sanctification. The fire of God’s love will purge away, burn away all the dross in your life. Here and now only in principle, but at your death this selfsame Spirit will burn away all your sin and evil. Positively, the fire of the Holy Ghost is the love of God that is spread abroad in your heart. You are set on fire of heaven, and heaven’s God. You will love Him above all and your miserable neighbor as yourself.
And then the tongues! It is the healing of Babel’s confusion. “And God confused their language there!” Do you not remember that line in your catechism book?
But Babel is healed. Everyone understands. And thousands glory in the God of their salvation. They hear the speech of the Holy Spirit. What else could it be but the recital of God’s wonders and praises.
The last thing which the disciples saw of Jesus was the wonderful spectacle of those blessing hands.
They are still over us. They gave the Holy Spirit and all His attending blessings.
We look to the heavens to His return. We wait, as those that wait for the morning, the morning of the resurrection. And our waiting is not in vain. We have the pledge of that wonderful Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds and souls. Amen.