He Ascended into Heaven

Sermon by James Baird on March 29, 1989

Acts 1:6-11

March 29, 1989
Acts 1:6-11
He Ascended into Heaven
Dr. James M. Baird

And as we are studying the ascension, this is the account
found in the book of the Acts. I suggested to you previously that there are six
historical events, and these events have all occurred in the past, and this is
what Christ is and what He is like. It is upon these historical events that
Christianity is based: 1) the prophetic teachings in the Old Testament of the
coming Messiah, 2) the birth of that Messiah, 3) His sinless life, 4) His death
on the cross, 5) His resurrection on Easter Sunday, and 6) the one we deal with
tonight, 40 days after His resurrection, His ascension into heaven. May this be
the Christ we see, not in any one of those events in the scriptural presentation
of Christ, but in all of them, because it is a pattern that is lovely. It is a
doctrinal study: it is a study of a God who fits everything perfectly together.
It is a thing of beauty, intellectually, but it is a thing of power in terms of
our salvation. In the book of the Acts, 40 days after Christ’s resurrection, He
meets with His disciples on the Mount of Olives overlooking the city of
Jerusalem. Beginning to read in verse 6, chapter 1.

Acts 1:6-11:

6 When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying,
Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? 7 And
he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times
or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. 8
But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is
come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all
Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. 9
And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and
a cloud received him out of their sight. 10 And while they looked
stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white
apparel; 11 Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up
into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so
come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.

God give us insight.

I. The
definition of “the ascension of Jesus Christ.”
It was a bodily ascension.
First of all, we want to
deal with the definition. What are we talking about when we’re talking about
the ascension of Jesus Christ? These things: 1) It was a bodily ascension, 2) a
bodily ascension into heaven, and 3) a bodily ascension into heaven where He was
received in glory.

Number 1, it was a bodily
ascension into heaven. It was with the resurrected body that Christ ascended
into Heaven. This body was the same body in the sense that it was identified
with the body that came out of the grave, and yet it was a spiritual body. It’s
helpful to remember those two words: the same body but with the scars,
yet a spiritual body in that it had capabilities that our bodies do not
have. For instance, He passed right through walls. He could leave like that,
appear just like that, yet it was a real body. On that first Easter day,
when they thought it was a ghost because He came into the Upper Room not through
the door but through the wall, and He said, “That you may know that I am not a
ghost, here handle Me. Give me something to eat.” It is the kind of a body,
beloved, that you and I will receive at the great day of resurrection, because
His body is the first fruit. You also shall have that kind of a body, a real
body. Now these are things that we don’t totally understand and yet we know
that the composition our body is being changed constantly. We were told
formerly that the change took seven years, but now some say within one year. So
the fact is that the earthly body is changed.

But Paul speaks of something
else, as he says in Corinthians, “a real body and yet a spiritual body with
capabilities that we do not have.” You see, I think there is a clue to the
ascension of Christ, [and] one reason why Christ was not fully recognized on
that day of resurrection even when He was with His disciples to the road to
Emmaus. Yes, it was a physical body. And it is a physical body, the angels
say, that will be seen upon His return to this Earth. When He comes this second
time, He will come in like manner as you have seen Him go. The return of
Christ is going to be a visible return
. There are some who have suggested
that the return of Christ takes place when He comes into your heart and things
such as that. The last event in the life of Jesus Christ, the return of Jesus
Christ, will be a physical, visible return. That’s what the text says. This
first time He came in a very private way and then He ascended up into heaven.
The next time He comes, the Bible says, in glory, in power, and the world will
know. We don’t fully understand, but the world will know, of that there is no
question.

It was a bodily ascension into
heaven.
Then, He bodily ascended
into heaven. He bodily ascended up into heaven. Let me speak about the
heavens. When we use that term, we think about the stars, the moon, and that is
one way the Bible uses it and yet it uses it beyond that. There is a place:
the heaven as it is used here is where God is
. Now some folk will
say, “Is it this side of the moon, that side of the moon?” There are people who
I have dealt with who are critical, almost obnoxious. We have come to
understand in our day that the cosmos out there is immense. Heaven is where
Christ is: that’s what the Bible teaches. Where Christ is, right now, is where
heaven is. Everyone who is there in heaven is there in spirit, except Christ in
His spiritual body. And it says He ascended up into heaven.

Now, there are those who will
say, “Well, how about those poor folks in China? Heaven is from Israel up. How
about those folks? They have no heaven or is there a second heaven?” Well
again, that is a very obnoxious way of dealing with Scripture. It is a way the
Scripture always uses this kind of terminology in terms of looking at it from
the viewer’s point of view. We still use it that way when we’re talking about
the sun that is going to rise at six tomorrow. We know the sun does not rise;
it’s not going to set. It is simply as it is viewed.

Now that’s the way that Christ
is. At that point, He went up to a place that is heaven. He went in a
spiritual body. Men have asked me, “Well, when we bring our spaceships down we
have all these protective plaques around the spaceship because there is
tremendous heat; or it is cold up there–what happened to Christ’s body?” And
then, “How long did it take Him to get there?” Those are ridiculous
questions. He was there immediately. When He ascended up into heaven and left
their sight, I think in the next moment He was in heaven because He’s not bound
physically. And He passed right through all of the barriers, all of the
celestial bodies, and everything else, just like that, because He was in a
spiritual body. We don’t understand all these things and yet it is not as
though we are stupid or that the Bible is presenting stupid ideas to us.

It was a bodily ascension into
heaven where He was received in glory.
He bodily ascended into
heaven, 2) in heaven is where He is, and 3) He was received. The 24th
Psalm speaks of the receiving of Christ into glory. “Lift up your heads, you
everlasting gates, let the King of Glory come in.” The scene is, as we would
understand it, a great conquering victor coming home from battle, and the city
gates are opened up (this is the city of heaven) and He is received. “Who is
this King of Glory, the one mighty in battle?” He has won the battle on this
Earth and He is received into heaven, and the angels and all of the heavenly
beings honor Him, glorify Him. That’s the picture in the book of the
Revelation. He is vindicated. He leaves this Earth as One who was crucified by
mankind and with only a handful of believers; He is received in the next moment
into truth in heaven with glory and honor and majesty.

And in John 17 He prayed to the
Father, on that night before He was taken, that He would be received back into
heaven that He might receive the glory He had before He came to this Earth. He
is glorified and received again, not only with the glory of God that only shone
forth once through His physical being on this Earth, on the Mount of
Transfiguration; but He receives the glory of the conquering hero, the
conquering God, who conquered, what? Death. And gave His life for our sins.
And He is received in all glory, the book of Hebrews says, that “He sits down,”
at the beginning of the book of Hebrews, “with the majesty on High.” And He is
received to sit with God. That means, He rules. Every local Presbyterian
Church has as its ruling body, a session. The word session means “a
sitting,” “a sitting body that rules.” That’s why they are called ruling
elders
. That’s what it means when a session sits, “it comes to make
decisions and rule.” And that’s what it means when Jesus Christ is received up
into heaven: He is seated on the right hand of God the Father almighty–on the
right hand, the place of honor. And so Christ is in glory, honored, received,
and ruling, ruling.

II. Application
Jesus Christ ministers to us on Earth through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Now that leads us to the second place and that is
application. I want to go through three things, I believe, that Christ does.
You see, the ministry of Jesus Christ on this Earth, in a sense, was finished in
that He gave His life, as an atonement for sin. His ministry continues; His
work continues. We are not serving a God who did something 2,000 years ago.
We are serving a God, the Lord Christ, who is alive and who is at work, now,
today, in this year
.

Do you see the difference? There
are religions and there are some of us as Christians, I believe, who look at
Jesus Christ as simply something in the pages of the history of the Bible. But
we have failed to see that from pages of the Bible, Christ is presented as One
who is alive now and at work. He is at work on this Earth. How is He at work
on this Earth? He leaves and ascends, and when He enters into heaven, He sends
the Holy Spirit. He said in the 16th chapter of the gospel of John,
“it is expedient that I go,” and they were concerned about His leaving this
Earth and leaving them alone. He said, “I will not leave you alone. I will
give you the Comforter, One who will come along side of you. He will lead you
into all truth. He will convict you. He will speak of Me.” And so He goes, and
ten days after the ascension of Jesus Christ, when He has just told His
disciples, “Go back to Jerusalem and wait,” ten days later Pentecost comes and
the Spirit of God descends in power and force as never before on the day of
Pentecost.”

The ministry of Jesus Christ
continues through the work of the Holy Spirit, whom He sends
. When the Holy
Spirit comes, He gives us power. We are weak (are we not?) and feel helpless.
And He said to His disciples, ‘Wait. You shall receive power.’ When they were
in the presence of Jesus Christ on this Earth, the disciples, physically, ah
they were so confident as long as He was present. He is no longer present with
them. But do you see the essential nature of His sending the Holy Spirit? If
He were physically present on this Earth, He might not be in Jackson,
Mississippi and He might not be in First Presbyterian Church tonight. He might
be in another city, another country. But He is here with us because through His
Holy Spirit He is with all His people individually and corporately around this
world and He empowers them. You are not alone and you are not operating simply
under your own power. He not only sends the Holy Spirit to give us power; it is
the Holy Spirit who continues and inspires the apostles to write this book. By
the way, the relationship and communication of Christ through His disciples
changed after the resurrection. Up until that time it was very physical. They
put their arms around Him. In the last 40 days after His resurrection, I
believe the whole purpose of His coming, leaving, showing that He had a real
body, was to teach them, ‘You now live with Me, communicate with Me, in a
totally different plane, on a spiritual plain.’ It’s the plane that you and I
deal with Him tonight, not on a physical plane, but on a spiritual plane. But
He is with us always.

He not only empowers us from
within; He gives us the Scripture
. It is the Holy Spirit who comes and who
takes the apostles and writes the New Testament, all the doctrines, all the
truth. It is the New Testament that enlightens the Old Testament. This is the
way that Christ rules, this and every church. When we speak about Christ ruling
the Church, how does He rule the Church? Now, through two means: through the
sending and work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, and through the rule book,
the Bible. He sends the Holy Spirit to write His truths and He rules the Church
through the Bible. That’s why when there are groups that have authorities other
than the Scriptures. There are always those authorities, you see, that are
man-made authorities. A direct rule of Christ is through the work of the Holy
Spirit and through the Scriptures. This is how He rules His Church.

The Holy Spirit is also the
One who brings salvation
, the work of Jesus Christ that was accomplished on
the cross. That’s what John means when it says, “You are born from above.”
That’s what the Bible means in John 3 when it says that, “Life comes by the
Spirit.” You must be born again. It is the Holy Spirit who enters into your
heart, opens your eyes that you may see what was accomplished by Christ on the
cross, through His sinless life, and His virgin birth. And so it is the Holy
Spirit who not only gives us power for living the Christian life, Christ governs
His people by sending the Spirit personally and bringing you alive and ruling
you through the Scripture. How is Christ actively alive and at work today?
Through the work of the Holy Spirit whom He sends.

Now there is a sense in which in
the Old Testament, the emphasis is upon God the Father. In the gospels, when
Christ was on this Earth, this emphasis is upon the Son. It doesn’t mean that
Christ was not mentioned in the Old Testament. If you come Sunday I am going to
enter into a series of sermons on the life of Sampson, and I believe Christ
physically dealt with Sampson’s mother and father. The emphasis is upon the
Father in the gospels; but it is upon Christ, physically, when you come into the
New Testament. In terms of after the ascension, it is primarily a new emphasis
on the life, ministry, and work of the Holy Spirit whom Christ has sent. The
Father sends the Son; the Son sends the Spirit
–all in total agreement, all
sitting and ruling in heaven at this moment. How is Christ at work tonight?
Through the Holy Spirit. We must teach and believe and trust and know. You
cannot but read the book of the Acts and the New Testament epistles without
seeing the work of the Holy Spirit. That is how Christ is at work.

Jesus Christ ministers to us in
heaven through intercession.
He not only is at
work…and this is the last thing that He is doing (I suggest to you among others,
but these are the major things). How is Christ ministering to us tonight? He
ministers through the direct work of the Holy Spirit: He ministers on this Earth
through Holy Spirit. He ministers in heaven by interceding for us. He
intercedes for us in this way. A number of years ago, perhaps some of you
remember there was fire in a hotel in Atlanta. This would have been 40, 50
years ago. Many people died; many laws were changed. Two who died through
smoke inhalation were two teenage girls who had been visiting Atlanta at a youth
ministry. They were teenage high school girls. When they found them dead, they
had the Bible open to John 14. They knew they would face death and John 14,
“Let not your heart be troubled, you believe in God, believe also in Me, in My
Father’s house are many mansions, if it were not so, I would have told you. I
go to prepare a place for you.” The first ministry of Jesus Christ as the
intercessor is He prepares a place for you that when you die…How many times have
I had a funeral and I have not used those verses? Seldom. He is the One who
prepares a place for you
.

He not only prepares a place for
you in heaven, but He also intercedes for you as your great high priest.
The whole book of the Hebrews is basically about the priesthood of Jesus
Christ. The priesthood of Jesus Christ is that you have direct access to the
Father through your high priest, Jesus Christ. That’s why, in the Reformation,
one of the great marks of the Reformation was the priesthood of all believers.
We do not have any man or any church that intercedes for us. That’s why in a
worship service I don’t turn my back on you. I am not interceding for you as
though you must go through me. And it is still a critical mark of the truth of
our church.

Now, what are we saying about the
intercession of Jesus Christ? It means that when He interceded into heaven,
remember the priest who took the blood of the animal in the Old Testament, He
takes Christ’s blood into heaven. Not a bowl of blood but He brings His marks.
You remember in His body, He shows the scars.

Have you ever tried on a pair of
glasses? Let’s say a rose-colored pair of glasses. They are tinted rose;
everything is rose. When God looks at you, He looks at you through the
rose-colored glasses of Jesus Christ. You are not here and Christ there. He
always looks at you through Jesus Christ and with Jesus Christ
. And Jesus
Christ is always interceding for you, saying, ‘That one I purchased on Calvary’s
cross, Father.’ Your standing in heaven is dependent tonight upon that One
who is interceding for you and who gives you ground for your salvation
.
That’s what His work is in heaven for you.

He is your great high priest.
He is also your great high priest in that all of your prayers go through Him
.
That’s why we pray in the name of Jesus Christ. It’s not a little thing we tack
on in the end. We are acknowledging to God that “I cannot approach You in my
sin. I cannot even approach You in prayers, except through my Great High Priest
who has cleansed and given me a ground, a standing before You forever.”

It also means, as Christ
intercedes, that we on this Earth are not perfect. He is interceding for us in
that He presents, as the book of Hebrews says, “our works and our worship.” We
like to believe that we have worship services that have some power, that God is
honored and that God moves in the hearts of His people. Would there be a soul
here who believes that you have worshiped perfectly tonight? That there’s
nothing wrong? That you’ve given your best and your whole? The worship that we
offer to Him is not always fully in the Spirit, Spirit-filled, and fully in
truth. Yet, Jesus Christ takes our worship and presents it to the Father. He
said, ‘Whatever you do…If you give a cup of cold water in My name, I’ll remember
it and honor you for it.’ The same is true of our work. Our work is not
perfect but Christ intercedes for us
.

Conscience will kill you.
Conscience will say, “You believe that you are going to heaven?” Conscience
will be attacked by Satan who is the accuser of the brethren. And Satan will
accuse and accuse, and he will use people, and he will use your conscience and
you will be walking with such guilt trip that it is unbelievable. But the Lord
Jesus said to Peter in that Upper Room, “Satan seeks to sift you like wheat, but
I have prayed for you.” When you are converted, when you trust Me, and when you
have understood it’s not you, it’s Me–and then He restored Peter after His
resurrection. That Christ, as 1 John says, ‘He is our lawyer.’ “He is our
advocate when we sin before the Father,” the One who loved us and died for us.
He is taking your work and your worship and He is perfecting it in heaven, until
one day we, our work, and our worship will be perfect. And then one day He will
come, and when He does your soul will be resurrected, your body will be
resurrected and joined with your soul; then you will have the glorious body.
And that will be the last great event in the life of Jesus Christ
. He
will bring His kingdom, and we shall live on this Earth
. I am going to
close by reading these few verses.

For whom he did foreknow, he
also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be
the firstborn (firstborn not only spiritually but physically) among many
brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he
called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.
What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against
us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall
he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the
charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemns? It
is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right
hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from
the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine,
or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed
all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all
these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am
persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor
powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any
other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in
Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:29-39)

Who was predicted,
born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died for our sins on Calvary, rose on
the third day, and has ascended and intercedes and works now and will come again
as we pray together. The loving Father, we come to Thee and offer Thee
praise and thanks for our great Savior and for the work of Thy Holy Spirit, and
our prayer is also for one another. Forgive us if we have a low, a
contemporary view of our great Savior. Father, if there be a single soul here
on this night who hesitates about commitment of life to Christ as Savior and as
God, even now may Your Spirit have made sense in that one’s heart and soul, and
may the risen Christ be His God and Lord and Savior now through faith. And if
there be one here highly discouraged or troubled, may he lift his eyes and see
the conqueror and see the end. And if there be any here who are afforded great
opportunity to do great things for Jesus Christ, may they know of the risen
Savior. Hear our prayers, we pray, in His holy name as He taught His people to
pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by Thy name. Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day, our daily
bread, and forgive us debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into
temptation, but deliver us from evil, for Thine is the kingdom and the power and
the glory forever. Amen.

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